A Tragedy at Yuin Reef

This post is part of the #OnePlaceTragedies blogging prompts from One-Place Studies.

As with any old mining towns, there are bound to be lots of tragedies. Poor working conditions, little to no medical attention and the harsh environment of outback Western Australia. There were a lot, probably more than I have on record. So far, however, there is one tragedy that sticks with me, and it occurred just before the closure of the mine-site in 1937.

Humfray Roy “Jack” Hassell was born in 1916 in Albany, Western Australia to Harold William Hassell and Hilda Eileen Grist. The Hassell family had been in Western Australia since 1839 when Humfray’s great-grandfather Captain John Hassell arrived upon the “Dawson”.

At the ripe age of 20, Humfray began work on the Yuin Reef mine in the late 1930s. At this point in time, it was hard to find workers to work on a mine that had barely yielded any gold for years. Those who did work on the mine did so in poor conditions. Unfortunately, on the 20th of April 1937, Humfray, known by “Jack” to his workmates, was in the engine room at 10pm. He was trying to access some petrol from a tin in the room, when the petrol tin suddenly exploded and his clothes were saturated in petrol. Nearby, there was a naked flame in the form of a miner’s carbide lamp and his clothes, now soaked with petrol, caught fire. Robert Gamble and Jack O’Connor, who were with him at the time, attempted frantically to extinguish the flames, but Humfray’s clothes were burnt from his body and he suffered severe burns.

“Fatality at Yuin Reef”, Geraldton Guardian and Express, 13 May 1937, page 4

W. J Nevill was then called to help transfer Humfray to Mullewa, where the nearest hospital was. Their journey began at midnight, but because of the flooded and washed out roads, the car became stuck in some areas. The party then had to walk to Yuin Station, carrying the severely injured Hassell through hundreds of yards of flooded land, to receive assistance. Yuin Station provided the party with two cars, and they eventually made it to Mullewa by noon the next day. Unfortunately, Hassell passed away that evening due to shock and burns, aged only 20.

Being an Albany native, his remains were transported by train to his hometown, where he was laid to rest in Memorial Park Cemetery, Albany.

To conclude, we all know that any death is tragic. For me, however, combining the young age of the victim, the accidental explosion of the petrol tin and the inability to receive help quickly due to flooded roads creates such a tragedy that could have been avoided. If any of those factors had been changed, it may not have resulted in death.

SOURCES:

“Fatality at Yuin Reef”, Geraldton Guardian and Express, 13 May 1937, page 4.

WA Department of Justice: Births, Deaths and Marriages. Reg No. 267.

“Humfray Roy Hassell”. FindAGrave.com, 2017. URL: Humfray Roy Hassell (1916-1937) – Find A Grave Memorial

“We regret to have to record the death of Mr. John Hassell”, Albany Mail and King George’s Sound Advertiser, 21 August 1883, page 2.

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