OCTAGON BUILDING FIRE
MONDAY 08 SEPTEMBER 1879
In the early morning of Monday 8th September 1879, fire broke out in the Cafe Chantant in the Octagon, Dunedin. The cafe, a rough and ready dive, had earned a bad reputation and the Dunedin police has threatened to take proceedings against William WATERS, the operator.
More than 50 people were asleep in the building that night, some drunken patrons, others innocent tenants. Most were on the upper floors and completely cut off from escape since the central (and only) stairwell was one of the first parts of the building to be engulfed.
Also in the building was the editor of the Otago Witness, Robert WILSON and his family, as his wife owned a shop there. Of the twelve people who lost their lives, the Wilson family of Robert, his wife and four of his six children made up half the total.
William WATERS was later charged with setting fire to the building for insurance purposes. He was also charged with the murder of Robert WILSON, but was found "Not Guilty". Setting a fire was a felony but the deaths were not intended. The coroner was Dr Hocken who later left his extensive collection of books and papers to the University of Otago. These became the nucleus for the Hocken Library.
For further information see Dunedin Holocaust - The Tragic Fire in the Octagon Buildings, Dunedin - 1879 by John McCraw (Square One Press ISBN 0 908562 57 8)
Thanks to John Wilson, Wellington for putting me on to this.
|MARTIN||George Augustus||Asst Librarian - Athenaeum|
|Two bodies unknown|
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