William Nicholas was the manager of the Main Load GM in Burbanks. He had a long flowing white beard and was known for his eccentric behaviour, earning him the nickname ‘The Professor’. William married Alice Fowler and had two daughters, Alice May and Zoe Victoria, and two sons Clive Lanyon and William.
During the 1890’s the family migrated to Western Australia and Nicholas took up the management of Burbanks. His concern for mine safety no doubt owed a great deal to an incident near Bendigo VIC in the early 1880’s. At the time he was the manager of the North Creswick GM. Although a good manager he was not very good at sums. He made an error of 55ft when measuring the distance between an old flooded shaft and the new workings. When the water started to seep through, he was not unduly concerned as the pumps in the main shaft were powerful.
On Dec 12, 1882 two miners were extending a drive by candlelight. They heard a roar of water and saw slurry pour from the roof of their narrow tunnel. They ran 500 feet back to warn other miners that a wall of water was coming their way. They passed on the warning and then struggled back through the rising water towards the shaft that was the only exit. There were 29 men in the mine that day and only two managed to wade through the water to the main shaft and escape.
The other men were trapped at the end of the mine with water rising to their waists. They climbed up ladders to the main workings and hoped the water would not reach them. The water rose till it reached their necks, there was no light, the darkness was complete. Some started quietly singing hymns. Others hoped the pumps and bailing tanks would lower the water. The water ceased to rise but with the breathing of so many men the air soon became thin. Men one by one slumped down into the dark water and their mates did not have the strength to hold them up. Twenty-two men were drowned. Five survivors waited two days and two nights for the rescuers to reach them. This is the worst accident in the history of Australian Gold Mining which impaled the imagination of a nation.
This story was sourced from Moya Sharp, Outback Family History Blog