Shortly before 7 pm on 29 November 1905, fire broke out in Victoria Street, Taree. It started in a small room at Donnelly’s Red Colonnade Store. During the morning a fire was lit there to boil water for tea but it was not known if the fire was completely out when staff left at 1 pm, being the usual Wednesday half-holiday. Mr Thomas Donnelly, owner of the business, returned to the building about 3 pm to unload stock from the steamer Kincumber and shortly after 6 pm locked up and went home.
Margaret O’Sullivan, barmaid at the Royal Hotel, was the first to see smoke coming from the Colonnade and raised the alarm. Men smashed the front glass doors and found the whole drapery department in flames which quickly swept through the entire building. The fire brigade bell was rung and hundreds quickly gathered and commenced removing goods and furniture from the nearby Beehive Store. While some stock from the store was saved much of it was destroyed, including the family’s home and belongings which were on the second floor.
Meanwhile the fire destroyed the Royal Hotel and Miss O’Sullivan had just enough time to run upstairs to fetch the baby and flee the building.
The whole of Victoria Street, between Manning and Pulteney Streets, appeared doomed if something drastic was not done. Townspeople moved stock and demolished small shops to form a firebreak to save the rest of the block. It was this action that stopped the fire. Miraculously no one was killed.
The coroner could not say if the fire was started accidentally or otherwise, but the streetscape of Taree’s CBD was changed forever.1
Author: Katherine Bell
Further Information: Click here to read the full story of the dramatic events of the fire including a description of the layout of Taree’s CBD before the fire and the business people of the town.
1 Various articles from Manning River Times, 2 & 6 December 1905.