The Braamfontein Explosion

 The city of Johannesburg, South Africa, was founded in 1884 by Jan Gerrit Bentjes on gold following the discovery of the precious metal on the Witwatersrand. Like any industry, and especially mining, the city suffered many disasters and accidents. However, the events that took place in Braamfontein, a suburb of Johannesburg, in 1896 remain in the memories of residents here, as evidenced by the granite monument in Braamfontein Cemetery, erected in memory of those who lost their lives in the great dynamite explosion. I went.

It was Sunday, February 16, 1896, when a train stopped at Braamfontein station. Eight of its trucks were loaded with dynamite – 2,300 boxes, each containing 60 pounds of explosive, or about 60 tons in total. Dynamite was sent to the mines and stored on the Braamfontein Ridge before being delivered to the mines for use. However, the magazines were full that day and there was not much space to accommodate the latest batch. The yard foreman advised leaving the dynamite on trucks until storage space could be found. Since the dynamites were being used daily, the consignee's representatives were confident that it would not take long to unload them.

The trucks were slowly moved to the goods siding, where they would remain for the next three days, basking in the hot February sun – the hottest time of the year. On Wednesday afternoon a gang of workers arrived at Braamfontein station with their mule wagons to begin unloading the dynamite. When it became necessary to move the trucks to another part of the siding one wagon had already been loaded and dispatched to the magazine. A small shunting engine was called in to assist. As soon as the loco pilot backed the engine towards the coupling, it came a little faster and the engine collided with the parked trucks.

According to another version of the story, the shunting engine was pulling a different set of trucks, but instead of pulling into the empty siding as intended, it accidentally pulled into the siding where the dynamite trucks were parked. When the pilot realized his mistake he applied brakes but it was too late and the train loaded with 31 trucks collided with the dynamite truck.

As soon as the coupling struck, the dynamite exploded with a tremendous roar, collapsing houses around Johannesburg and shaking doors up to 200 kilometers away. Workers surrounding the dynamite trucks were killed instantly, while sidings, trucks, and wagons were vaporized. The explosion left a crater 250 feet long, 60 feet wide and 40 feet deep. Two sets of rails were bent upward at each end of this crater.

In The Outlanders: The Men Who Made Johannesburg, Robert Crisp gives a vivid description of the devastation that followed:

The shabby suburb of Braamfontein and the infamy of even more colorful places were almost wiped out. Where ten minutes ago stood the houses and shops, warehouses and factories of a district full of labourers, there was now nothing but scattered sheets of corrugated iron, broken glass and strange heaps of wood. Entire roofs were lifted and dropped haphazardly, hundreds of yards from the homes they once covered. Beaten and dazed men and women were wandering in the debris; Only the dead lay unaware and silent.

More than 70 people were killed and more than 200 were injured. About 3,000 people lost their homes. The injured were taken to hospital until their condition became critical. The Wanderers sports ground was then converted into a hospital, while the agricultural show courtyard was arranged to shelter the homeless.

A journalist from The Cape Argus placed the blame squarely on the railway company and described their conduct as "gross negligence and ignorance". The journalist described it as "silly and bizarre, while causing a serious waste of time and energy". During the investigation, Frederick Krieger, director of the dynamite factory in Leeuwfontein, suggested that the handling of dynamite in this incident was poor. Eyewitnesses reported instances where railway workers would carelessly throw dynamite cans onto wagons from the train.

Another act of negligence associated with the disaster was that the detonator was placed in the same manner as the dynamite. While proximity to the detonator alone would not cause an explosion, storage of detonators near dynamite cases was explicitly prohibited. Additionally, there was a lack of caution in the transportation of explosives. Wagons filled with dynamite often passed through town and were manned by only one driver, and it was not uncommon to see the driver smoking a pipe.

Turning to the quality of the explosives, samples of blasting gelatin taken from the trucks before the explosion were tested, which showed that the explosives were of high quality and in excellent condition.

Ultimately, the commission of inquiry appointed to investigate the possible causes of the disaster ruled that the explosion was caused by negligence. However, the Commission held that the direct cause of the explosion could not be established, noting that the explosives were of good quality and that all witnesses who could testify testified that the explosives had been carelessly loaded and unloaded that day. Or not, killed in the explosion.

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