New Zealand Disasters and Tragedies
Dominion Private Hotel, Eltham, Taranaki, North Island, New Zealand
Wednesday 24 March 1926
ETHAM PRIVATE HOTEL BURNED.
A fatal fire occurred at Eltham about 2 o’clock this morning, when a thirteen-roomed wooden structure, known as the Dominion Private Hotel, situated at the corner of the Main Street just south of the Railway Station, was razed to the ground. Four of the inmates were burnt to death; another is in Dr. Saunders private hospital in a serious condition, while two others sustained minor injuries.
The victims are:
Miss Irene Cecilia HARRISON (17), housemaid
Mrs Priscilla Rebecca CRENFELDT (53), cook
George Charles NIELSEN (21), grocer assistant.
Victor Claude DAVIDSON (19), a visitor.
George Davidson (a brother of the last named), who jumped from a window on the first floor, was badly burnt, and is in serious condition.
At the time there were ten persons in the house, the others being:—
Mrs Julia TAYLOR (proprietress), Messrs J. W. CALDER, William MANSER (butcher’s assistant), E. B. H. STONE, of Kawhia, a retort setter who is employed temporarily at the Gasworks, and J. McQUEEN.
It is thought that the fire started in the sitting room downstairs, in which a fire had been burning last evening. When it was discovered, it had a good hold, and on the arrival of the brigade it was impossible for anything to be done to save the building or get out the inmates who had not already made their escape. A taxi driver, Mr W. GOWER, who had just returned to Eltham from a dance with a party of passengers, noticed the outbreak, and two of his passengers immediately gave the alarm.
Under Second Foreman Phillips, the Brigade turned out promptly, and the Deputy Superintendent (Mr S. Murray) arrived on the scene a few minutes later. Two leads of hose were run out, but as stated above the building was a mass of flames by the time the alarm had been given, and the Brigade had to content themselves with keeping the outbreak from spreading. This in itself was a difficult task, as there was a high wind blowing at the time. Flames were roaring through the roof and windows, and the whole building was soon reduced to a smouldering mass of wreckage.The bodies were recovered at about 6 a.m., and were so terribly mutilated that actual identification was impossible. Apparently Mr Calder was the first of the inmates to awaken. His room was on the ground floor facing the street, and when he realised that the building was ablaze he threw some clothes through the window and jumped out after them. The whole house, he said, seemed to go just like matchwood to the accompaniment of a terrific roar and the crash of broken glass. There also seemed to be sundry explosions which likely came from bursting windows, as it is understood no explosives were on the premises. Mr Calder smashed Mrs Taylor’s window and told her to come out which she did, and as he helped her through the window the flames roared through the room. “They appeared to follow her,” he said. He threw stones through the upstairs windows, of which the one in McQueen’s room opened first and two portmanteaux were thrown out. These were empty, as the occupant’s belongings were in the wardrobe, and he lost everything including £l3 in cash.
Stone and Manser gained exit by means of the fire escape ropes, but not before they had sustained injuries. Miss Harrison and Mrs Crenfeldt apparently tried to make their escape through the door of their room, and finding that they were doomed clasped one another in despair. When they were found they were in one another’s arms. The inmates who were fortunate enough to escape with their lives lost practically all their personal property and effects.
The building, which was recently purchased by Mr Barnard, of Helensville, was insured in the Standard Office for £675, while the furniture was covered by a policy of £5OO, which it is understood is in the A.P.A. Office. The funerals for victims of the fire will take place at Eltham at 2 p.m. to-morrow, Friday. The glare of the fire could be seen distinctly in Stratford.
From “Stratford Evening Post” 24 March 1926 - Thanks to the Stratford Group,Taranaki Central Family & Local History Society
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