Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Thames (NZ): Mining Dangers - Mr John BICE

There are sadly too many examples to list in a blogpost, concerning the dangers and injuries of mining on the Thames Goldfield. There were fatal and non-fatal accidents. Accidents caused by explosives, cave-ins and the dreaded gas. Then the chronic health consequences of Miner's Complaint that slowly and painfully killed the miner. The Goldfield's Hospital a necessity in the early years to deal with the on-going consequences of mining operations

One miner who had his life and his families seriously affected by an accident was Thames Pioneer, Mr John BICE. Mr Bice was a well known miner at Thames, and his name is mentioned often in the papers on mining related matters. John Bice was born in Cornwall in 1846. Bice arrived in Thames in 1869 from South Australia.  When he arrived all the hotels were full, so he had to stay at Smale's building for three weeks, until he built a house at Irishtown.

In 1885, he was living in Edwards Street, Block 27, when his wife Emeline Jane (nee Pascoe) Bice died 30 April 1885.

He was involved in a serious accident at the May Queen Mine on 8 May 1893. As a result of an explosion he lost his sight in both eyes. A set of events while lighting a charge of dynamite, meant that Mr Bice was caught by the blast as he went to relight the fuse. The paper mentioned that Bice was a widower, with five children to support and an elderly mother.

The town rallied to help the Bice family, something the mining and general community were renown for. Mr Bice wrote to the Thames Star 7 August 1983, and mentioned that he was very grateful for the care he had received at Thames Hospital and that he had been in contact with the Blind Institution of Auckland (Thanks to the generosity of friends). A fund of 152 Pounds 8s 6d was raised for the Bice family - of which the trustees agreed to pay 10 Pounds per annum until the money was gone.

Snippets from the Thames Star give us a glimpse of his life after the accident and show his determination to continue in the town. In 1896 Bice applied for and was granted a Rates remittance from the Thames County Council. In 1897, along with fellow Edward Street resident Richard Johnson, Bice approached the Council for a few loads of gravel for the street, which was approved. On 26 August 1903, his mother Sarah Bice died at the family residence. A couple of months later in October, John's eldest son married at the Methodist Church, to Miss Jennie Pickering.

In the New Zealand Herald 23 January 1923, Bice's memories of Thames and mining were published and gave an overview of his mining interests and what it was like to be a miner in the town.

At the time of his 80th Birthday, John Bice was living in Onehunga. He recalled again for those present his memories of life in Thames and his terrible accident. (photo right) It was a special, special time for Mr Bice, as he was honoured with the presentation of a silver mounted walking stick. It had been subscribed and paid for by the mining staff of the Alburnia Gold Mining Company and old residents of the Thames. It was in recognition of the fact that he was a past shift boss in the old Alburnia.

On 8 April 1928, John Bice died at Auckland Hospital aged 82 years. The Auckland papers contained several obituaries for this well known and respected miner - a true pioneer of The Thames.

LINKS For Obituaries: New Zealand Herald, 9 April 1928; Auckland Star, 9 April 1928

For more information on Mining Accidents at The Thames - the work of the late David Arbury is very comprehensive. Several of his booklets in the Thames Goldfield Information Series contain information on mining and accidents.
These can be obtained from The Thames School of Mines and The Thames Historical Museum. David's notes are at The Treasury, along with a booklet "A Diary of Accidents" which was compiled from his notes.
Family trees at ancestry.au
Below: John Bice is 5th from right in the back row
Source: Thames Diamond Jubilee by F W Weston

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