Mount Mulligan Mine Disaster

While checking the John Oxley Library collection for content relating to mining disasters in Queensland, I was particularly interested in the account of the Mount Mulligan mine explosion in North Queensland on September 19, 1921.

A coal mine, reputed to be one of the safest mines of it’s time, Mount Mulligan was the site of Australia’s second worst mining disaster, with seventy-five men losing their lives in the underground explosion on that fateful day.

Sketch published in “The Worker” following the Mount Mulligan mining disaster, 1921
Negative number 200447, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

At the time, Methodist Missionary George Wesley Brown recorded a brief account in his personal diary the same day as the disaster.

September 19th “…visited the Public School about 11 o’clock…first heard of the terrible explosion at Mt Mulligan where 76 [sic] lives were lost, not one being saved from the mine unhurt & all eventually dying.”

He writes a daily account of the sad events that took place in the small community over the next three days, before travelling to Mt Molloy for pastoral work. On the evening of Sunday, 25 September, Brown speaks of ”…faith …kindly light“ and silent prayers for the sufferers of Mount Mulligan, his entry stating, “It was a solemn service, may it not be in vain!”

Returning to the district a few days later on 28 September, a small entry in his diary refers to the baptism of 2-month-old Elsie May, whose father, Robert Spiers died in the explosion.
Interment.net - Cemetery Records Online lists the names of the men who died as a result of the explosion.

Forty years later in 1961, the Queensland Department of Education published a two page account of the Mount Mulligan disaster in the Third term School Paper.

George Wesley Brown wrote,

“Since that fateful day…so many world-convulsing events have happened that the memory of this, the second greatest mining disaster in Australian history, has somewhat dimmed in the public mind. At this time, however, it deeply stirred the hearts of all Australians, and the response to the appeal to aid the widows and orphans of the hapless miners was magnificent; a true indication of the instinctive generosity of the people when the call is adequate.”

Source: Queensland Department of Education – School Paper (Grades 7. & 8. Third Term Vol. XXIX. No 2, 1961.)

Recent events in our current history remind us of the enduring human spirit and courage shown during times of natural or man-made disasters. Human effort, bravery, and spirit continue to be demonstrated throughout Queensland communities in 2011, where history keeps repeating itself.

See the State Library's One Search catalogue for images and collections relating to the Mount Mulligan Mine disaster of 1921.

Anne Scheu

Library technician - Queensland Memory

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Such a moving story - first person accounts bring the history alive! Thanks Anne

Few good books published about MM disaster, from memory by James Cook, or Central Qld Uni. I have them at home and found them engaging reading. It is a very sobering experience to visit the cemetary at MM and walk about and see the same date on a lot of the graves.

Would love to see a digital version of the Royal Commission report - any chance SLQ?

Hi AlisonUnfortunately it hasn't been digitised yet, but it can be viewed on microfilm as part of the Queensland Parliamentary Papers. The original records pertaining to the Royal Commission would be held with Queensland State Archives.

My uncle, James Beattie, died in this disaster. I am trying to find the names of his descendants. He was born in Scotland in 1891, sailed on the Canberra to Sydney in 1913.

Hello George, my name is Jeannie Murphy. My grandmother was Mary Beattie Murphy. James Beattie was her nephew, the son of her brother James. I would love to hear from you. I did a family tree last year. Kindest regards Jeannie

We remember those lost in September 19 1921 MM explosion.