90th anniversary of Redbank blast a reminder of city’s mining past

Redbank Colliery managing director J P Lestrange had probably inspected the mine he oversaw many times before.

So on the morning of 23 April, 1928 when he headed into the mine with deputy manager G Howells and director J Marstaeller it is likely there was no obvious cause for concern.

However, as history now records, this was no ordinary day and the inspection would be the men’s last.

About 7.30am a massive explosion, which was heard for miles and sent plumes of thick black smoke into the air, ripped through the colliery trapping the men.

The Mines Rescue Brigade and Ipswich ambulance officers were quickly on the scene but the extent of the blast had blocked the shaft, making the rescue attempt “difficult and tedious”.

Later in the morning, three miners volunteered to go down the mine with picks and shovels to clear away the debris.

As they worked, the hundreds who had gathered on the surface grieved.

About 2.30pm the body of Mr Lestrange was brought to the surface, with newspapers of the day reporting it prompted “a pall of sadness” to sweep over those present.

The bodies of Mr Howells and Mr Marstaeller were also recovered.

In a stroke of good fortune on an otherwise dark day, the explosion happened on an idle day for the mine, meaning it was not operating ordinary shifts.

If it had been, the death toll from the blast would almost certainly have been much higher.

An enquiry into the explosion was subsequently held and it was found that an open lamp coming into firedamp – flammable gas found in coal mines – was the likely cause of the blast.

Several weeks later, the mine returned to normal operations. Concerns about the quality of the coal from the mine led to its eventual closure in 1932.

Today, the site of the old colliery is home to Redbank Plaza.

Division 2 Councillor Paul Tully said while 90 years had past since the blast, it was important not to forget.

“It is a sad reminder of how difficult mining was for workers in those days, but it is also part of the history of our city, something that cannot be forgotten,” Cr Tully said.

G Howells (top) and J Lestrange.

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