Brunner Mine

Useful Information

Location: Taylorville, north east of Greymouth
Open: no restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: MineCoal Mine
Light: n/a
Guided tours:
Bibliography: Anonymous (): New Zealand's heritage, Vol. 4. Wellington, [1971-73].
Anonymous (): Brunner Mine Disaster, March 26 1896, Information Files, Christchurch City Libraries
Brian Wood (1998): Disaster at Brunner: the coalmine tragedy at Brunnerton N.Z. 26 March 1896: a commemorative history, Greymouth, 1998.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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JUL-1847 explorer Thomas Brunner discovered a seam of good quality coal on the banks of the Grey River.
JUL-1864 first load of coal left the West Coast by ship.
1876 railway to Greymouth built, coal fields begin to grow rapidly.
26-MAR-1896 Brunner Mine Disaster.



The colliery Brunner Mine is one of New Zealand's most important early industrial sites. It is developed with interpretation panels to give visitors an idea of the history of the mine. The surface with the beehive coke ovens from the 1860s and many other interesting relics may be visited self guided during daylight hours. Even the old mine tummer mouth is easy to find, but there are no underground tours. The mine is dangerous so please do not enter.

This area has important coal seams, which were mined very early for development of the young colony. There were other mines in the area, like the Tyneside colliery across Grey River, the old chimney is the last visible remnant. There is also a historic swing bridge across the Grey River, which is an important example of early engineering.

But beneath all historic and industrial heritage, Brunner Mine became (in)famous for the country's worst mining disaster. On 26-MAR-1896, at 9:30 in the morning an explosion was heard, which sounded like artillery fire. Smoke was seen coming out of the pithead. The explosion happened deep inside the mine and killed 65 miners, almost half of the Brunner underground work force.

The explosion caused so-called Black Damp or choke damp, a mixture of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. This gas is not exactly poisonous, but often it is lethal, because it does not contain oxigen and the miners suffovcate. The manager and the underground engineer were the first to go in and check what happened. When they did not return, miners from other shifts followed them, and found them unconscious. The rescuers were affected by the gas and could only work in short shifts. It took until 14:00 the next day to bring out 64 bodies, and three more days to find and bring out the last one.

Explosions are a general threat in coal mines. The coal produces inflamable gasses, mostly methane, called fire damp by the miners. The ventilation system brings in fresh air for the miners to breathe, and if both mix in a certain ratio the result is extremely explosive. A spark or open flame will cause an explosion. The problem was partly resolved with the development of miners safety lamps, which cover the burning flame by a web of metal wire. So the heat was encased and could not cause the explosion, and at the same time the colour of the flame was an indicator of the methane level in the air.