The Spottiswood Sewer Disaster

On this Day – April 12, 1895

Rush of Water in a Sewer Tunnel, Six Men Drowned.

An accident occurred this evening in No. 1 section of the Hobson’s Bay main sewer, which is under about the center, of the River Yarra, and in Mr. A. J. Robb’s contract at Spottiswoode. The soil, which consists of soft sand and clay, suddenly gave way, and the water rushed into the air-chamber, imprisoning six men. In consequence of the slippery nature of the soil it was found necessary to work under compressed air. The air-chamber was built in a tunnel, and the pressure under which the men worked was 27″. At 20 minutes past eight this evening, Watson, one of the Metropolitan Board’s engineers, was about to enter the air chamber, when a man inside, named Burke, pushed him back and shut the door in his face. Looking through the glass in the door Watson saw the water rising. Burke proved himself a hero. There was apparently no chance of saving his own life and of the others in the chamber, and he closed the door to save the lives of the men in the tunnel. Efforts have been made to pump the water out, but up to the present with no success. Buchanan, the engineer for the contractor, and Burke and four other men were in the chamber, and no doubt they have all been drowned.

Later.–The names of the men supposed to have been drowned are – John Buchanan, James Burke (boss of the shift), Thos. Johnson, Martin Gabriel; Joseph Jackson, and W. Foster. The water broke through the heading just beyond the air chamber. A fitter who was in the air chamber, letting air in preparatory to going into the face with iron plates, saw Buchanan, with a light in his hand, beckoning to him, and then in an instant the light went out and all was darkness. No bodies have been recovered.