Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

History Revisited - how a town's fire brigade was born

On the night of Monday 14 March 1887, Armidale residents were wakened by the sound of the town clock bell being continually rung to sound the alarm. What the Express was to describe as “The Great Fire” had broken out and was threatening to destroy a significant section of the northern side of Beardy Street.

By the time it was finally put out, five buildings had been destroyed with adjacent buildings damaged.

Armidale residents had had enough. A public meeting was held on 22 March to consider the formation of a town volunteer brigade. The question of a possible water supply was much discussed, including the erection of a reservoir on Goal Hill (later the Teacher’s College) where the forces of gravity might be used to feed water to the town center. A committee was formed to inquire into the provisions of the Fire Brigade Act of 1884. The committee was also charged with investigating the water supply question. By the end of the year, driven partly by local insurance company representatives, a Fire Brigade Board had been formed.

Further action was slow. Then early in the morning of Monday 11 February 1896, another major blaze broke out in Beardy Street. Four buildings were destroyed, including the Court House hotel located where the Imperial now is.

Desperate action was required to save the Post and Telegraph Office on the other side of Faulkner Street since the wood roof shingles had started to smolder under the impact of embers drifting across the street. Volunteers armed with wet blankets climbed onto the roof and managed to smother the incipient fires.

Another public meeting was called. This time a brigade was formed, an action celebrated in September when a gala day saw the christening of the new fire engine and the first procession and public drill of the newly formed brigade in their smart and serviceable uniforms,

It was quite a day. From their headquarters at the gas works, the brigade accompanied their horse drawn engine down Beardy Street to Tattersall’s Hotel where they thrilled the crowd by scaling nearby buildings.  The Armidale brigade was now launched.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 23 January 2013. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013

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