Brunner Mine was a coalmine on the banks of the Grey River in an area known as Coal Gorge which is between the towns of Taylorsville and Stillwater and is an 11 km drive from Greymouth. Coal was discovered on the West Coast by Nelson surveyor Thomas Brunner while searching for land suitable for agriculture. The coal found in the region was of extremely high quality and it did not take long before it attracted interest. The added attraction of gold mining in the West Coast which offered many employment opportunities during the difficult economy of the time.
The mine is the site of New Zealand’s worst mining disaster where in 1896, 65 miners were killed following a gas and coal dust explosion in the mine. It is most likely that the explosion was caused by firedamp, a common hazard in coal mines when a pocket of methane gas is accidentally ignited and explodes. Firedamp is all the more hazardous because of the after effects of the explosion. Gases known as “afterdamp” – carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide produced by the explosion – often prove to be just as deadly and can kill miners unhurt by the explosion itself.
Rescuers entering the mine after the explosion found themselves suffocating on the afterdamp gas and had to return to the surface, often unconscious, carried by other rescuers, however the determination was such to find the bodies, and to find any survivors, that the rescuers – mostly miners from nearby mines – would insist on returning to the airless mine as soon as they had been revived on the surface.
Brunner Mine today
Today, a monument to the men and boys (aged from 13 to 70) who perished at the site, the ruins of the Brunner Mine and the support industries around it can still be seen while visiting the site. It is an interesting 2 km walk and can be easily done within an hour (although we spent a lot longer there). Although the actual entrance to the mine is now covered by thick bush and to this day emits toxic gas you can still see the remains of the mine, the coke ovens, brickworks and other support buildings. There is also a historic suspension bridge (built in 1876) to cross the Grey River and link with a walk up to the historic Tynsdale Mine chimney.
If you do visit the Brunner Mine you will find it greatly enhanced by downloading the visitor guide.