We didn’t start the fire

2nd_fire_15_Dec_1899On December 15th 1899, just two and a half months after the first devastating blaze another awful fire consumed a block of six shops in Terralong Street. These buildings had previously survived due to “strenuous efforts and prompt demolition of a shop on the opposite side of a green about 20 yards wide.”

Whilst no cause can be assigned for the fire, it is believed that the fire originated in the second of two shops occupied by Messrs Simmons Brothers, grocers, drapers and general storekeepers, at the Shoalhaven Street end of the block. When discovered, the fire had a great hold, and there was absolutely no hope of saving any portion of the block.

The alarm was given and shortly after 4 o’clock the fire bell rang. A vast crowd quietly collected on the scene, but beyond hurried efforts at saving a few articles of furniture and stock nothing could be done, the flames spreading all over the block with such appalling rapidity that within an hour and a half from the discovery of the fire only the bald brick chimneys were left standing as company for similar silent and grim sentinels, which now stretched from Collins Street on the west to Shoalhaven Street on the east.

Torys_Hotel_1890At one time, Tory’s 'fine brick' hotel, on the opposite corner of Shoalhaven Street, was in great danger, as were also the 'Independent' Printing Office.  The eaves of Tory’s Hotel balcony actually caught fire, and all exposed wooden parts were blistered and scorched. Fortunately a hose affixed to a pump at the rear of the hotel was kept playing on the building in the face of intense heat and the building was saved. The “Independent” newspaper office was also saved through similar means.

The Independent said that the “conflagration in its intensity and rapidity of destruction”, eclipsed the October 1 fire as the instances of loss by the shopkeepers was “far greater and harder to be borne”. It had a most depressing effect on the people of the town.  According to Australian Town and Country Journal, 23rd December, 1899, “Mrs Hammill, (wife of R H Hammill, fruiterer) was prostrated by the shock.  She states that, on being roused, and rushing down to her shop, the flames were breaking through the wall from Simmons’s drapery department next door.”

Kiama_Old_and_New_Independent_Office_Shoalhaven_St_1943One of the destroyed shops was occupied by George G Prott, hairdresser, tobacconist and fancy goods. This gentleman had been a victim of the last fire in the same street so that in his case the catastrophe is particularly unfortunate. He had just had his stock renewed and premises fixed up.

The fire reshaped the main street of Kiama and explains why all current buildings in that block date from after this time. However the rebuilders used many of the walls and foundations of the former shops when constructing many of those still in existence today.

The Great Fires also hastened the installation of the water supply and the establishment of the Kiama Fire Brigade.