1865: Fire rages through commercial centre

For the third time within ten days, the inhabitants of Dunedin have been startled from their sleep by the fierce pealing of the alarm bell.

We have now to record a fire, which for its calamitous extent, is second in the history of Dunedin only to the great conflagration in Stafford street.

But that fire resulted in little injury to persons, and there was no loss of life.

The one that occurred this morning, has certainly resulted in very severe injury to several persons; glad, indeed, shall we be, if examination should prove that there has not also been a lamentable loss of life.

The alarm bell was rung shortly before two o'clock. Those who were in houses in the neighbourhood of Rattray street and High street, on nearing Princes street, were met by a suffocating smoke, through which nothing could be seen but which was laden with great flakes of fire.

Almost ere one could ask where the danger was, flames shot out high and most fierce from the back of the Exchange Hotel, which stood on the easterly side of Princes street, almost midway between the Bank of New Zealand and the corner of Dowling street.

At the same instant men and women, all but naked, rushed from the hotel into the street. One jumped from the front window; others leaped or scrambled through windows at the side of the hotel.

One man, bleeding freely from the head and neck, was taken into the care of the police and sent to the Hospital. His night-clothes were burned and he was most severely scorched.

Mr G. Donne, and one or two others, whose names we could not learn, forced their way into the hotel and roused some poor fellows, whom not all the din or the horrible flapping of the flames had aroused from their burning beds.

These, too, were much burned, and they were sent to the Hospital or taken into houses on the opposite side of the street.

The flames spread through the hotel with a rapidity that was simply terrible; and what seemed but a minute or two after the alarm, the shop occupied by Mr Fargie wine and spirit dealer, was on fire.

On the lower side of the hotel stood the two story brick and stone building of the Bank of Otago. Very speedily this was on fire, the flames finding their way through some windows in the side wall and also entering by means of the timbers in the roof.

Meanwhile the flames had spread through Mr Fargie's premises to those adjoining, which were occupied as a refreshment house.

Another brick building, the lower part of which is occupied by Messrs Isaacs and Co., general merchants, and the upper as offices, escaped with only slight damages, if any; and to the shop occupied by Messrs N. Salomon and Co., with the two stories of offices above it, and the Bank of New Zealand, which adjoined, remained untouched. Messrs Stanford and Co.'s shop became the victim after that of Messrs Wilkinson and Co., but most of the kerosene had been got out.

The premises of Mr Robertson, grocer; Mr Mackay, printer and bookseller; Messrs Ferguson and Mitchell, engravers, printers, and stationers; Messrs Gillies and Street, surveyors and land agents, and Messrs Evans and Kenelly, house and estate agents - all these, fronting Princes street, were soon caught and passed over by the flames. Then there happily came the gap caused by Dowling street.

On the opposite side of the way stands the fine unfinished three-storey building of Messrs Gillies and Street.

The fire spread rapidly backwards towards the harbor.

In this direction was the old Presbyterian Church, converted for the time being into a wool store.

A spirited effort was made to save the valuable contents of the old church and 200 bales of wool were saved.


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