Symons Memorial Explosion
The Symons memorial, depicted on this page in the 1880's, was an ornate structure at the junction of Hardy and Trafalgar Streets. It was destroyed in 1906 by a momentous explosion.
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The image, entitled Hardy St, Nelson NZ, depicts a street scene from Nelson in the 1880's. It was taken from Hardy St looking west with the ornate Symon's Memorial, a combined iron gas lamp and drinking fountain in the foreground.
On the 28th July 1906 a "sensational and serious explosion that was heard in many parts of the town, startled the residents shortly before 7 o'clock this morning" (Nelson Evening Mail 28th July 1906). The Symons Memorial, situated at the junction of Hardy and Trafalgar Streets, had been accidentally blown up and lay in ruins. The ₤170 lamp had been presented to the city 25 years earlier by friends of the late John Symons, a leading merchant in Nelson involved with the Anchor Shipping Company.
So how did this disaster happen? The Nelson Evening Mail on the day gave a detailed description of the event and reported the lamp was "blown to atoms", and the men were "hurled to the ground mid a deafening roar". It appeared that council workers engaged in the regular Saturday morning street sweeping operation nearby, noticed a strong smell of gas. One of the men, R. Kenning, lit a match to find the source of the leak which resulted in a catastrophic explosion.
The Colonist of the 30th July 1906 reported "the concussion from the explosion shook the buildings in the vicinity" and a window in the nearby Masonic Hotel had been shattered by a piece of flying debris.
There was an even more dire consequence from the explosion. One of the workers, William Vercoe, suffered severe head injuries, was taken to hospital in a serious condition and later died. At his inquest, several witnesses reported smelling gas in the vicinity of the lamp for several weeks prior to the incident but had failed to report it to the authorities.
The replica lamp now standing in Trafalgar Street was erected in 1992 as part of the city's 150th celebrations.
This article originally appeared in the Nelson Provincial Museum e-news, April 2010.
Updated May 15,2020
Sources used in this story
- Sensational gas explosion. (1906, July 28). Nelson Evening Mail, p. 2.
- Serious gas explosion. (1906, July 30). Colonist, p. 2.
Want to find out more about the Symons Memorial Explosion ? View Further Sources here.
Further sources - Symons Memorial Explosion
- Long, J. (2017). Shedding light on history. The Nelson Mail, p.17.
- Sensational gas explosion. (1906, July 28) Nelson Evening Mail, p. 2.
- Serious gas explosion. (1906, July 30) Colonist, p. 2.
- Symonds gas lamp. Retrieved from Nelson City Council: