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The great Suva fire

Matilda Simmons
Sunday, February 04, 2018

IN the year 1891 The Fiji Times reported a great fire that swept through Suva early on a Thursday morning.

The entire block of buildings occupied by the leading commercial men of the town, together with their valuable stock, were prey to the flames. According to the article a Sergeant Gostroy was at his office in the police guard room when a constable running in haste to alert him to the fire.

The fire started from Pier and continued to Thomson St as volumes of smoke engulfed the area.

Apart from the Suva residents, it was the timely arrival of about 70 to 80 seamen who had stopped by at Fiji port that came to the rescue.

"Almost immediately afterwards some 70 to 80 men of the ship Cordelia were landed under Captain Grenfell, Lieutenant Spearman, Mr Boughton and several of the midshipmen," reported The Fiji Times.

"These represented the starboard watch of the ship. They had with them the ordinary hand fire engine belonging to the vessel, hose and suction hose sufficient for the pump and to carry where it was placed. They also brought 15 fire buckets, tub for suction, grapnels three in number, hook ropes, tomahawks and hatchets."

The article later praised the heroic efforts of locals who came out to salvage what they could. However some could not keep their hands from picking the items that were salvaged and they were promptly arrested.

"From the commencement of the fire it was doubtful if it could be got under, and very soon afterwards it became a certainty that the entire block would be consumed. As building after building fell prey to the flames, considerable anxiety was manifested with respect to the safety of the other portions of the town. Happily however at a very critical juncture, just when the fire had reached to the corner of Pier St, opposite JC Smith and Co's offices, the wind which had been somewhat to the north-east, strengthened and blew dead east. This together with the exertions alluded to above, saved other portions of the town. The culmination of the affair took place at about half-past nine. Some three hours thus were occupied in the destruction of the block."

Losses were recorded by the businessmen who owned these buildings. A total of 30,000 pounds ($F 85,855.50) was recorded in the damage. Messrs H Marks and Co suffered heavy losses. Their stock in the various buildings that were destroyed were valued at 18,700 pounds ($F53,516.60).

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