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FIRE at the ROYAL HOTEL - Nelson 1915

Journal by ngairedith

the FIRE at the ROYAL HOTEL 4 March 1915
info taken from various editions of the papers of the day via Papers Past

MAN BURNED TO DEATH
Nelson, March 4 1915

... They Royal Hotel, a three-storey wooden building in Bridge Street, owned by Dodson and Son, E. Cann licensee, was gutted early this morning. The flames in the back portion spread rapidly. Some of the inmates had only time to escape. It was found later that one boarder named F. Aitken, a seaman of the scow Oban, was missing, and his charred remains were found on the floor joists.
The insurances are: On the hotel £500 in the Standard Office, and £100 in the Alliance


ROYAL HOTEL GUTTED
Narrow Escapes

... One of the most serious fires that has occurred in the city for several years broke out at 1:30 this morning in the Royal Hotel in Bridge street. The fire was first noticed by Constables Berthelson and O'Donnell, who were some distance up the street, and who took prompt steps to arouse the inmates and give the alarm. While Constable Berthelson ran to the Central Fire Station and sounded the bell, Constable O'Donnell entered the building and assisted the staff and boarders to effect an escape. The occupants were unable to save any of their effects, getting out in their night attire,

The hotel was a three-storeyed structure of wood and very old, and the flames, which had a strong hold on the back portion when the fire was discovered, spread with great rapidity. Within a few minutes the whole place was a mass of flames. Those sleeping on the first and second floors had considerable difficulty in getting out of the building, and two of the servants wrre rescued with difficulty in a more or less exhausted condition.

The Fire Brigade responded to the call in record time, and had six leads of hose playing on the flames within a very few minuts. They were none too soon, however, and only by the greatest efforts were they able to confine the fire to the hotel and an unoccupied shop adjoining it.
Mr W. Wilkens' boarding establishment, on the eastern side of the hotel, was for some time in imminent danger, and the roof actually ignited several times. The firemen, however, were able to avert serious damage to this building. The contents of the premises were hurriedly removed, and Mr Wilkens no doubt sustained some loss in the shape of damaged furniture.
The premises of Mr G. A. Day, baker and refreshment room proprietor, on the other side of the burning buildings, were also in great danger for some time, and the contents suffered considerable damage by water.
While the fire was in progress it was ascertained that one of the persons sleeping in the hotel had not been accounted for. This was Frederick Aitkin, a seaman who stayed at the house occasionally, and who occupied bedroom No 4 last night. It was impossible for some time for the firemen to get near the room, the stairs and floors being burnt. When the flames had been sufficiently subdued Constable Berthelson and Fireman Guy ascended by a ladder to the window and they were able to distinguish a body lying across the joists which had supported the floor. A bundle on the ned aroused the fear that there had been two victims, but when the room was thoroughly searched it was found that this was not the case. The body was secured with difficulty and removed to the morgue. Aitkin, who was about 35 years of age, was a seamn on the scow Oban.
The hotel and the adjoining shop, which were completely gutted, were owned by Meessrs J. K. Dodson and Sons, the licensee of the former being Mr Edward Cann


IDENTITY OF THE VICTIM Friday, March 5, 1915
The Brigade's Good Work

... It transpires that the name of the unfortunate man who lost his life in the fire which destroyed the Royal Hotel early yesterday morning was Frederick Bloomfield, not Aitkin, as was stated yesterday. He was 47 years of age, and was a native of Australia. He had been working about the district for some time, and recently joined the crew of the scow Oban.
The good work performed by the Fire Brigade is the subject of general commendation. Under the command of Lieutenant Dee, the Brigade reached the scene of the fire within a very few minutes of the alarm being sounded, and aided by a splendid pressure of water and the absence of wind, soon established a mastery of the situation.
Messrs W. Wilkens and G. A. Day, the owners of the premises on either side of the buildings which were destroyed, have each forwarded to the Brigade a donation of £10 ($1,345 in 2012), in recognition of their services.
An inquest touching the death of Frederick Bloomfield, a victim of the Royal Hotel fire, was opened at the Courthouse yesterday afternoon before Mr J. S. Evans, Coroner.
Senior-Sergeant Barrett represented the police, and Mr C. J. Harley appeared to watch the proceedings on behalf of Mr Duncan, the owner, and Mr E. Cann, the licensee of the premises
After the Coroner had viewed the body, Edward Cann was called, and stated that he was the licensee of the Royal Hotel. He knew the deceased and had identified the body at the morgue. The deceased was a lodger at the hotel. He first came to the hotel about a fortnight ago, but subsequently went away, returning again on Tuesday evening last. Witness knew nothing about him. The last time witness saw him was on the previous evening about 10 minutes to 10. The deceased was then going to bed, to romm No 4 on the top floor. He was perfectly sober, He had been to the pictures, and at half-time came in and had a drink and said he was going back. He had no more drink when he returned before 10 o'clock. Witness went to bed between 10.30 and 10.45. There were five lodgers in the house besides the staff of three females and one male. Witness then described the bedrooms on the upper floors and stated who occupied them. The room occupied by the deceased led out to the passage, and the doorway led out to the passage, and the doorway was about two yards from the fire escape, which led to the back yard. The fire escape was a wooden stairway, with handrails on either side as far as the second floor, from which there was a ladder, There was one window to the room, which looked out on to the kitchen roof, which was not more than 5ft from the window. The window was easily opened. A person could walk on the roof. He did not think there was a key in the door. There was a fairly wide landing on the top floor. He was awakened by Mrs Greaves, the waitress, screaming out. He partly dressed and rushed out, and found the passage full of smoke. He went down to see if the door was open and to find out who were out, and then returned. On his way he met Constable O'Donnell on the second floor.

At this stage the Coroner said it was necessary that a plan of the building should be produced.
Senior-Sergeant Barrett said that time had not permitted of that being done, and the inquest was then adjourned till Monday morning at 10.30


INQUEST ON THE VICTIM Monday, March 8, 1915
The Inquest Continues

... The adjourned inquest on the body of Frederick Bloomfied resumed.
Edward CANN, licensee of the Royal Hotel, continued his evidence. The fire escape near the room occupied by decased (No 4 on the top floor) was not destroyed by the fire. There was also a rope in a coil underneath the window by which he could have descended on the the roof of the kitchen. All rooms upstairs were provided with ropes, besides which there were two collapsible ladders and the back staircase. There were steel fire alarms on each floor, but they were not used on the morning of the fire. He believed that all the inmates were out of the hotel. He was told that a short man (whom he thought was deceased) was outside with Stewart and the barman, When he saw Stewart, the latter told him that deceased had not been with him. After the fire was partly got under he re-entered the building, accompanied by Police Constables Berthelson and O'Donnell, and pointed out deceased's room to them. Before he retired to bed he looked all round, and everything apparently safe.

BEATTIE, a lodger, who occupied No. 3 on the third floor, was the last to go to bed. There had been persons in the sitting-room on the ground floor during the evening. Smoking was allowed. The room occupied by deceased was on the third floor, directly above the sitting room. Between was an unoccupied bedroom on the second floor. The hotel appeared to be most burned from the sitting-room upwards. No hotel effects were saved, and witness got out with coat and trousers only on.

Amelia GREAVES, waitress at the Royal Hotel, stated that she retired to bed between 10 and 10.30 p.m. She was awakened by something falling, and on pulling the window curtains open saw flames and smoke. She occupied room 7 on the second floor. She awakened her two children, and then went out into the passage and called out "Fire!". There were no signs of fire or smoke in the passage. It all appeared outside the building. She then took her children downstairs and out into the street. She had time to save a quantity of her clothing

Richard T. E. ROBINSON, who was a lodger at the hotel on the night of the fire deposed that he occupied room No 5 on the third floor. He was awakened by his room mate (Kinzett, assistant barman) pulling him out of bed and telling him to get out of the building the best way be could. He picked up his clothes and went down the back fire escape. When he reached the passage leading to the fire escape he was met by smoke, which was coming from the back of the bulding. He did not know that room 4, which he had to pass to get out, was occupied. The fire appeared to be coming from the bar parlour, near the kitchen. The window sill of No 4 was on fire.

By Mr HARLEY: The ladder from the second floor to the gound was in position, and he got down easily

Campbell C. STEWART, a lodger at the hotel, said he occupied No. 3 room on the top floor. On the night of the fire he went to bed between a quarter to 10 and 10 o'clock. Bowden and Beattie were in the same room. He was awakened by Constable O'Donnell shouting "Fire!". He lit a candle and the room was full of smoke. He called his room mates and the three of them left together. The passage was full of smoke, and he could not distinguish anything. He groped his way to the staircase and then descended the stairs. He found the housemaid, Miss Delaney, on the floor in the passage, and tried to get her down, but she would not go. Someone came and took her out of his arms and downstairs ahead of him. There was no fire or smoke on the second floor. Deceased opened the door of witness's room and said "Good night, Billy" to the barman, and then went straight to his own room. There was nothing about the deceased to indicate that he had had liquor - judging by his voice, he was perfectly sober. After witness had been out of the building some time, Cann asked him if he had seen "Andy" (meaning the deceased) and he said he had not.

Leslie T. KINZETT, barman at the Royal Hotel, deposed that he retired at a few minutes past 10 o'clock. Deceased came into the bar during the interval at the pictures. He was sober. Witness was awakened by someone shouting "Fire!" and he roused his room mate, Robinson, and told him to get out as best he could. When witness escaped from his room the passage was full of smoke. He passed Constable O'Donnell at the head of the stairs. The constable asked him to carry the housemaid downstairs, which he did. Someone said that "Andy" was upstairs, and witness and Constable O'Donnell went back to try and find him. but they could not get far owing to the flames. Some time afterwards he went to the back of the hotel, but he did not notice whether it was in flames or not.

Comstbale O'DONNELL stated that he passed the Royal Hotel on his way to the Police Station about 1.20 a.m. and everything was then all right. He remained at the station about seven minutes, and then left with Constable Berthelson. When opposite Armstrong's shop, in Bridge street, witness saw smoke, which appeared to him to be about Horton's butcher shop. When they got to Wilkens's boarding-house two little boys came out of the front door of the Royal Hotel. He then noticed smoke in the building and went inside, while Constable Berthelson went to ring the firebell. He opened the back door and found the place in flames. There was no one about, and he rushed upstairs. He met a woman coming down with a bundle of clothes. He next met the licensee on the land and said "Let's get them out". Witness kept calling out "Fire!" All on the top floor appeared to be asleep, and the place was full of smoke. The lodgers came out of the rooms and went donwstairs. He knocked at some of the doors. The place was in complete darkness owing to the dense smoke, and he could not use his lamp. There were no sign of flames. Witness described the rescue of the housemaid. On going back into the building he met the licensee, and asked him if they were all out. He said he thought so, but shortly afterwards he said he had not seen Andy, but thought Kinzett had. Witness went and asked Kinzett if he had seen him and he said he thought he had. They looked for him, and could not find him. They tried to get upstairs again, but could not do so owing to fire and smoke. Witness did not know which room was occupied by the deceased. Had he known the deceased was near the fire escape he would have tried to get him out. He told two firemen that he thought here was a man upstairs. When the flames were got under, witness, with Constables Berthelson and Wade, Fireman Guy, and the licensee went upstairs. Mr Cann pointed out the room the deceased was supposed to be in. Constable Berthelson and Fireman Guy looked through the doorway and saw the body on the floor. Witness described how the body was recovered.

By Mr HARLEY: He heard no sound from what he now knew was room No. 4. He heard no one else call "Fire!" nor any calls for help. All he heard was the screams of the housemaid

At this stage the inquest was adjourned until 2.30 p.m. to-day


INQUEST ON THE VICTIM Tuesday, March 9, 1915
The Conclusion of Evidence

... The inquest on Frederick Bloomfield, the victim of the Royal Hotel fire last Thursday morning, was concluded.
Constable BERTHELSON deposed that after ringing the firebell, he returned to the fire by which time the first reel had arrived. About a quarter of an hour afterwards he went to the back of the hotel, which was in flames and found one lead of hose playing on it. A man could have ascended the fire escape, but could not have got into the building. Volumes of smoke were coming out of No. 4 (the room occupied by the deceased). Flames were coming out of the door at the head of the fire escape, which descended on to the kitchen roof. Flames were also coming out of the windows. It was rumoured that there was a man in the building, and as soom as it was possible he went into the building with Fireman Guy. They found the charred remains of a body in romm No 4.

Joseph NESBITT, Fire Brigade foreman, stated that he went to the station immediately after hearing the alarm, and it was not more than 5 minutes after hearing the alarm that he arrived at the scene of the fire with the reel. Fireman Warren met him at the station. Within 3 minutes of their arrival at the scene of the fire they had water playing on the building. Flames were then coming out of the western side of the hotel over the unoccupied shop, but none out of the front of the hotel. He did not inquire whether there was anyone in the building as he was engrossed in getting the water started. It was perhaps 10 minutes before he went out the back of the hotel. He found Foreman Stewart attempting to get a lead of hose up the fire escape, but he had to give it up. The seat of the fire appeared to be near the kitchen. From the position of deceased's body on the floor, witness should say he had died without a struggle and had rolled off the bed on to the floor.

By Mr HARLEY: He did not hear any cries for help. There was a splendid pressure of water

Robert WARREN, fireman, deposed that from the time he was awakened by the bell till the water was playing on the fire was about 7 minutes. He went in the passage of the hotel immediately and heard someone say "There's a man inside". He ascended the stairs halfway to the first floor with the hose, but was forced back by the smoke. He did not see anyone leaving the premises. When he got outside the building he heard someone say it was only a rumour about the man being upstairs.

Crozier GUY, acting-foreman of the Fire Brigade, who resides in Waimea street, near Snow's Hill, deposed that he went to the fire on foot and when he got there the back part of the hotel was in flames. After he had been at the fire half an hour he was told by Lieutenant Dee that there was a man in a room upstairs. Witness detailed the steps taken to recover the body. In his opinion, deceased had been partly awakened, had struggled out of bed, suffocated by smoke, and on being so, fell on the floor

Cosier GUY, acting-formean of the Fire Brigade on the night of the fire, deposed that he was at the fire within 3 mintues of hearing the alarm. There was a reel there then. He detailed the steps taken to suppress the fire. He had been in and out of the building (downstairs) several times before he was told that there was a man in the building. There was nothing definite then - it was only suppisition. On hearing the rumour he inquired for the landlord. and found him with Sergeant Barrett in the centre of the road. Witness inquired as to the position of the room the man was supposed to be in, and Mr Cann pointed it out to him. He immediately sent Fireman Guy and King to report; He should think it was from about a quarter of an hour to 20 minutes after he got there that he heard about the man being in the upstaris room. There was then no chance of getting to the room occupied by the deceased. The police or the occupier of the premises usually informed the officers in charge of the Brigade if there was anyone in the building and then the firemen would direct their efforts toward saving life.

John FITZGERALD, clerk of the Licensing Committee, produced the minutes of proceedings of the last annual meeting of the Nelson Licensing COmmittee and the police report on the Royal Hotel, which included extracts from Inspector Coltman's report on the same building.
This concluded the evidence and the Coroner intimated that he would take time to consider his verdict


THE ROYAL HOTEL FIRE Friday, March 12, 1915
The Coroner's Verdict

... The Coroner, Mr J. S. Evans, S.M., gave his verdict in connection with the death of Frederick Bloomfield, the victim of the Royal Hotel fire on March 4th. He said:- "The circumstances surrounding this unfortunate fatality call for some remarks from me in view of the history of this particular house. For some years reports more or less adverse have been made to the Licensing Committee in respect of this house, though no objections have been lodged against the renewal of the license. The license has been in existance for some years. The adverse reports have been in regard to the structural arrangements of the house. It is a three-storey building. The passages and stairways were somehwat narrow. The building was old and the timber dry, consequently the inflammability of the building was increased. Repairs have from time to time been ordered and carried out. In particular the fire escapes have been under supervision. There was an outside fire escape from the top storey on to the roof at the back on the level of the second floor, and from there to the ground in the back yard. There were also ropes from all the windows on both storeys. These were in good order at the last meeting of the Licensing Committee, and they were also in good order at the time of the fire.
Attached to the report of the inspectof of licensed premises at the last annual meeting of the committee was a report from the Department of Public Health, recommending the Licensing Committee to condemn the building as being unsafe. The report of the inspector of licensed premises was as follows:- "Three storeyed wooden building, very old, fairly furnished, clean, fire escapes provided"
It is not the function of the Licensing Committee to condemn buildings and they have no power to do so. They might have power under section 10-3 of the Act to refuse the grant of a license for a building which from structural defects might be dangerous in case of fire, but their power to refuse the grant of a license is more extensive than their power ro refuse the renewal of a license already in existence. The grounds upon which they may refuse the renewal of a license are set out in section 109 of the Licensing Act. The section is as follows:- The objections that may be taken to the renewal of a license may be one or any of the following
... read more

The facts elicited in this case show quite conclusively that the structural defect of the house had nothing to do with the death of this unfortunate man. If he had been awake or wakened when the alarm of fire was given he would have had the best chance of escaping, as his room was immediately at the head of the back fire escapes. This fire escape was not destroyed by fire, though it was charred to some extent. While the fire was at its height a lead of hose was taken up this escape and played on the room occupied by the deceased. The evidence also shows that everyone in the building simply rushed to save himself, without giving much attention to alarming other persons. One inmate in escaping found a housemaid in a state of collapse at the head of the stairs on the top floor and assisted her to escape with the help of of Constable O'Donnell. There was a fire alarm on each floor, but no one sounded it. No muster was attempted of the boarders who had escaped from the building and though there was a general rumour that a man was still upstairs, the officers of the Fire Brigade were not informed until the fire had a complete hold on the building. There appears to have been a considerable amount of smoke in the building, but no fire for some time. The deceased seems to have been on his feet, and was overcome presumably by smoke. I am well aware that one cannot expect persons in such circumstances to have all their wits alert at a time like that, and I cannot lay criminal negligence to the charge of anyone, but it appears to me from the evidence that there should have been time to give more warning, and there was sufficient reason to apprehend that someone was missing, and to have informed the Fire Brigade officers much earlier than was done.

I find that the deceased met his death in a fire in the Royal Hotel on the morning of the 4th day of March, 1915, and that his death was not due to any defect in the fire escapes in the hotel. As a rider I would recommend that properly equipped fire alarm bells should be provided in all hotels capable of being sounded from each floor"


Frederick Bloomfied is buried:
PLOT 024, BLOCK 17, Church of England Area at Wakapuaka Cemetery



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NELSON FIRE BRIGADE
c1880-1920

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on 2013-03-14 19:47:10

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