The Stokes house was a typical working class rental in Dunedin in the 1880s. It was lit with kerosene, which was also quite typical. I have used kerosene lamps while camping, but the kind of lamp in the Stokes residence would be more like ones I have seen in antique emporia than those in hunting and fishing shops. Until reading the sad story of the Stokes girls, I had no idea that they could spontaneously explode.
THE Friends of Mr and Mrs John Stokes (late of St. Kilda) are respectfully invited to attend the Funeral of their late daughters Amy and Violet May (who were accidentally burnt at the late fire at Mornington), which will leave the Mornington Hotel To-morrow (Tuesday), 18th inst., at 3 p.m., for the place of interment in the Southern Church of England Cemetery.
COLE AND SPRINGER, Undertakers, 152 George street. -Evening Star, 17/5/1886.
FATAL FIRE AT MORNINGTON.
TWO CHILDREN BURNED TO DEATH
A fire which unhappily involved the death of two little children occurred at Mornington on Saturday' night. The particulars so far as ascertained are as follow: — About 9.15 on Saturday night Mrs Stokes, wife of John Stokes, labourer, who resides in Maclaggan street, Mornington, put their five children to bed. The eldest, Edward (11 years of age), and the second youngest, Jane (two years of age), were placed together in a bed in Mrs Stokes' own bedroom. Two others, Albert (9 years) and Amy (6 years) were in the next room, while the youngest, only seven months old, named Violet, was lying in the cradle in the kitchen. The house, it may be mentioned, was a wooden one, and contained three rooms. When Mrs Stokes came out of her own bedroom she left a lighted kerosene lamp on top of a chest of drawers in that room. She went into the kitchen and sat down by the fire there to await her husband's return from Dunedin. She states that she had not been sitting down more than 10 or 15 minutes when she heard a crash, and on proceeding to the bedroom where she left the lamp alight she found it all in flames. She succeeded in rousing the eldest boy, Edward, but appears then to have unfortunately become confused and lost her presence of mind, as instead of snatching up the baby from the cradle, or attempting the rescue of the two children in the other bedroom, the poor woman ran to the house of Mr Muir, the next door neighbour, for assistance. Edward, the eldest boy, states that he was just going off to sleep when he heard his mother cry out "fire." He at once jumped out of bed, and taking up his little sister Jane, who was sleeping in the bed with him, made his escape with her to Mr Muir's house. But for the lad's prompt action there is little doubt that Jane would have been burned to death. Albert, the other boy, also managed to get out unharmed; but his sister Amy, who was sleeping with him, appears from his statement to have become confused, and instead of making her way out, unfortunately went into her mother's bedroom, where the fire originated, and there perished. Messrs Johnston and Winter, who were in the Town Belt, hearing Mrs Stokes' screams, ran to the back of the house. They found the building almost enveloped in flames, while the poor mother was rushing about frantically, appealing to those who had gathered on the spot to save her children. Johnston tried to enter the house, but could go no further than the threshold of the kitchen. In about five minutes after the breaking out of the flames Constable O'Sullivan arrived, and shortly afterwards Mr Carmalt, Superintendent of the Salvage Corps, bringing with him a small hose, put in an appearance. A line was formed to pass buckets of water obtained from the tanks of neighbours, all present giving ready assistance. Mr Muir's house was saved by placing wet bags and blankets upon it. After the fire had gone down, which was not until the house had been totally destroyed, Constables O'Sullivan and Christie, with others, made a search for the bodies of the two children. That of the baby was discovered by Constable O'Sullivan close to the kitchen fireplace. The body was intact, but burnt almost to a cinder. The body of the girl Amy was discovered by another searcher in the room where the fire started. Both bodies were wrapped up and conveyed to the Mornington Hotel, where an inquest will be held this afternoon before Mr I. N. Watt, coroner. Mr Stokes, the father, did not return home until 10.30 o'clock, and by that time the sad affair was over. As may be imagined, both parents were very much distressed. The family are at present staying at the Mornington Hotel. Mrs Stokes states that up to Saturday night last she had not burned any kerosene for months past, and she had only sent for a small quantity on that evening in order to have the lamp burning because of the illness of one of the children.
The cottage was owned by Mr Muir and was insured, but for what amount is not ascertainable. The furniture was insured for £50, but Mr Stokes estimates its value as considerably above that sum. It is to be hoped that the sad occurrence will lead to the re-organisation of the defunct Morningion Fire Brigade. -Otago Daily Times, 17/5/1886.
THE FATAL FIRE AT MORNINGTON.
INQUEST ON THE BODIES.
An inquest upon the bodies of the two children, Amy Stokes (seven years) and Violet Stokes (seven months), who perished in the fire at Mornington on Saturday night, was held at the Mornington Hotel yesterday afternoon, before Mr Coroner Watt and a jury of six. The Mayor (Mr Stansfield) was chosen foreman.
The Coroner, in his preliminary charge to the jury, said: — I am instructed by the police report that the house in which these children were living caught fire and they were unfortunately burned. I do not know whether this is the best time for me to observe that many houses are burned down by explosions of kerosene lamps, and this appears to have been a case of the sort, so far as I am at present informed. I should like to state that if the wicks fit the burners, and the lamps are always filled before they are lighted, no explosion can possibly take place. When the lamps are lighted and half filled there is an explosive vapour on the top of the kerosene that ignites and bursts the lamp. The jury then viewed the body and the scene of the fire, after which evidence was called as follows:—
Elizabeth Stokes, the mother of the children, said: On Saturday night I got all the children washed and got them their suppers — I could not really state the time. It might have been nine o'clock or past— between nine and ten. I was sitting by the baby's cradle in the kitchen when I heard a noise which seemed as if it came from the bedroom. I ran into the room. My eldest boy Edward and his sister Jane were sleeping there. The fire had hardly got hold of the wall paper — it looked as if it was just beginning to flare. I told my little boy to get up and run into Mrs Muir's house next door directly. The lamp was in pieces on the floor. It had been left burning on the chest of drawers for the children. I told Mrs Muir I wanted her to come and help get the children out. I had left them all inside. If I had not run in there I might have got my children out. When I came back I could not get in at the same door.
To Mr Weldon — On Saturday night I put the five children to bed. I had sat about 20 minutes by the kitchen fire when I heard the noise. When I went in I saw the place on fire where the lamp stood. On my return from Mrs Muir I found Edward, Jane, and Herbert in the underground kitchen, but could not get to the two other children. My husband had gone down town to his mother's, and the children and myself were the only persons in the house.
To the Coroner: I never trimmed the lamp on Saturday night, but I filled it. I trimmed it now and again.
Edward Stokes, aged 11 years, the eldest son of the last witness, said: — I was between sleeping and waking when I heard the lamp go off. It was on the chest of drawers in the opposite corner of the room to where we were sleeping. I got my trousers and ran out with Jane, the sister I was sleeping with. Before this I had heard my mother calling me. Herbert and Amy slept in another room — the kitchen. I did not see them or know whether they were out or in when I ran out. As soon as I got out of the door it was all in flames. I carried my sister into Mrs Muir's house. My mother was just coming back again, but she could not get in at the door for the flames. When I carried my sister out, our room only was on fire, but as soon as I got outside the whole house was in flames.
Herbert Stokes, aged 8, who was not sworn, said: My sister Amy was sleeping with me when the fire occurred. I awoke and found smoke in the room, and I got out of bed and ran down stairs. Mother's bedroom was on fire then, but ours was not at that time. I do not think my sister was awake. I left her in bed. When I got downstairs I saw her going into mother's bedroom. I called to her, "Come here, Amy," but she would not.
Robert Johnston, carpenter, living at Mornington, said: At about half-past nine I was in the hotel in a back room, when I heard screams outside. At first we thought it was only some row on the Belt, and paid little attention for three or four minutes. Then as they got louder we went out. I saw it was the house opposite on fire. It was all in flames when I got over. I rushed round to the back, and met Mrs Stokes at the scullery door. She was screaming out for someone to save her children. I tried to get into the kitchen, but the flames were coming out at the top of the door, and I could only get in by crawling close to the floor. I could see no children or anything. It was impossible for anyone to get into the house when I got there.
To the Foreman: No alarm was given from the Town Hall bell. I do not think if it had been rung anything could have been done to save the lives of the children. No one takes any notice of that bell now there is no organised fire brigade here.
Henry Stokes, furnaceman, residing in Mornington, said: I saw the fire and ran down at once. As I got opposite the hotel, the roof fell in. It was hopelessly on fire. I was helping to throw water on the adjoining house, and after about a quarter of an hour I heard there were children in the burning house. I went round to the front of the building, and saw what I thought to be a body lying on the floor. I asked for two or three buckets of water, and threw them where it was lying, and then went in, moved some sheets of iron, and took the body out.
Constable O'Sullivan, stationed at Mornington: I arrived at the fire between 25 minutes and half-past nine o'clock. The house was in a blaze right through. As nothing could be done I assisted to prevent the fire spreading to the next house. When it went down I found one body of a child close to the'fireplace in the kitchen, and removed it to the hotel. I also removed the body of the other child to the same place.
The Foreman: Was any member of the Fire Brigade or Salvage Corps here?
Witness: Mr Carmalt was here some time after me. I have not the slightest idea whether he came up in the tram or on his machine.
The Foreman: What we want to arrive at is, whether if there had been a Fire Brigade or Salvage Corps here something might not have been done.
John Stokes, labourer, father of the children, said: I was down at my mother's when the fire broke out. I left my house between six and seven o'clock, and returned perhaps at ten o'clock, and found it was burnt down.
The Coroner said as far as he could see it was a wooden building, which would burn very rapidly. Mrs Stokes said she filled the lamp on Saturday evening, but she seemed somewhat hazy in giving her evidence, and he rather doubted from his own experience if she did so; but no doubt she gave her evidence truthfully as far as she knew. It was to be regretted that Mrs Stokes, instead of running for assistance to a neighbour, did not see her children out of the house, but that was want of presence of mind, and did not call, he thought, for any reprobation on the part of the jury.
The Jury, after consulting for a few minutes, returned a verdict of "Accidental Death," adding as a rider that in their opinion if there had been a Fire Brigade or Salvage Corps in Mornington the lives of these children might have been saved. -Otago Daily Times, 18/5/1886.
In connection with the fatal fire at Mornington on Saturday last, a meeting of the residents of the district was held at Mr Aikman's house last evening, to consider the best means of relieving the wants of Mr and Mrs Stokes, who, in addition to the loss of two of their children, have also lost all their effects. It was resolved to make a public appeal on their behalf, and that subscription lists should be at once circulated in Dunedin and suburbs. Mr John Aikman was appointed treasurer. At the inquest, which was held yesterday, on the bodies of the two children (Amy and Violet) who were burned to death at the fire, the particulars elicited substantially confirmed the account which we published yesterday. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death, and added a rider to the effect that if a Fire Brigade or Salvage Corps had been in existence in Mornington the lives of the children might have been saved. -Otago Daily Times, 18/5/1886.
TO THE EDITOR.
Sir, —I am requested by Mr and Mrs Stokes to return their heartfelt thanks to the undermentioned ladies and gentlemen for their kind and generous assistance in their hour of need, and also to thank the gentlemen who have kindly assisted me in collecting the very handsome sum of L68 13s on their behalf. —I am, Sir, your obedient servant, JOHN AIKMAN. Mornington, 5th June, 1886.
The names above referred to: — Per Mr John Aikman: Ferguson and Mitchell, L2 2s; John Aikman, L2 2s; Hordern, Brayshaw, and White, 30s ; Cole and Springer, 34s ; Paterson and McLeod, 20s; Herbert, Haynes, and Co., 20s; Robert S. McVickar, 20s; R. Hudson, 10s; a Friend, 43s; James Curie, 10s; Joseph Braithwaite, 10s; H. E. Williams, 10s; A. W. Morris, 20s; Robert Gillies, 20s; Neill and Co., Limited, 20s; Mackerras and Hezlett, 20s; R. Wilson and Co.,20s; W. Scoular and Co., 20s; Leslie, Lane, and Dobie (goods), 20s; North and Scoullar (goods), 20s; Brown, Ewing, and Co, 20s; Wright, Stephenson, and Co., 20s; M. Pym, 10s 6d; M., 10s; R. Glendining, 10s; H S. Fish, jnr. 10s 6d ; R. Briscoe and Co., 20s; J. M. Ritchie, 20s; Union SS. Co., 20s; a Friend, 10s; Dalgety and Co., Limited, 20s; Butterworth Bros., 10s; G. Young, 10s; J. Scoular, 20s; A B C, 10s; A. Thomson, 10s ; E. Star, 20s; Murray, Roberts, and Co., 20s; James Matthews, 20s; J. W. Kempthorne, 10s; Coulls, Culling, and Co., 10s; Hogg, Howison, Nicol, and Co., 20s; T. H. Trevena, 10s: amounts collected in 5s, 4s, 3s, and 2s 6d, L4 4s 6d. Amount collected by Constable O'Sullivan (Mornington), L7 3s. Per Mr Thomas Carroll: Donald Reid, 20s; amounts collected in 5s, 3s, 2s 6d, 2s, and 1s, L2 3s 6d. Per Messrs W. Campbell and A. Watson: Robert Rutherford, 20s ; Willam Wills, 10s ; J. E. D., 10s; Alex. Kyle. 10s; Mrs G. E. Tennet, 10s; Mrs R. C. Paterson. 10s; Thos. Bracken, 10s; amounts collected in 5s, 4s, 3s, 2s 6d, and 2s, L3 18s 6d. Per Mr S. P. Martin: S. P. Martin, 10s; J. C. Seelye, 20s; C. Statham, 10s; employees, B., E., and Co. (retail), 17s 6d; amounts collected in 5s and 2s 6d, LI 7s 6d. Per Mr Millar Anderson: Millar Anderson, 10s; amounts collected in 2s 6d, 15s. Per Mr Lightbourne, 7s 6d. Total amount of cash and goods, L68 13s.
Disbursements. Paid advertising, LI 11s 6d; cash handed Mrs Stokes, L46 0s 7d; goods received by Mrs Stokes, L2; paid sundry accounts at her request, Ll9 0s 11d. L68 13s. Evening Star, 5/6/1886.
Sixty eight pounds and thirteen shillings is worth around fourteen thouseand dollars today.
|Souuthern Cemetery, Dunedin. DCC photo.|