The Brunner Mine explosion of 1896 is New Zealand’s greatest work place disaster. Sixty-five men, virtually everybody underground, died when gas ignited. The impact on West Coast families lasted for generations.
A significant memorial commemorating the disaster greets the visitor to the Taylorville side of the complex. The area is important for its social history, in particular its long and vigorous history of trade unionism.
The Brunner Mine had the greatest coal production in New Zealand. At its peak over 300 men and boys were employed there, and a range of industries made up the wider complex. In 1891 the borough of Brunnerton had 2231 people. Even though it had passed its heyday by 1900 it remained a centre of great industrial activity until the late 1930s – nearly 80 years of industry in this narrow valley.
Alongside the extraordinary output of coal, coke and bricks were produced in large volumes. Brunner firebricks, in particular, were famous products in their own right and established the reputation of Brunnerton, as it was generally known in the 19th century.
The intervention of the Historic Places Trust to save the deteriorating complex in 1978 represents one of the earliest efforts to conserve (and interpret to the public) this country’s industrial heritage on a large scale.