The Great Levin Fire

The fire commenced in the Public Hall, and destroyed that and the two shops in front of it, which were occupied by Ernest F. Levy the chemist. Mr Levy’s stock valued at £500 was not insured.

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His stock was in one shop and the other was used as his office. The county council office, consisting of one large room, was destroyed together with its contents.


The safe, when seen after the fire, was smoking, and this led to the inference that the books and documents it contained had suffered from the great heat. Next, Mr T. James, the shoemakers shop was burned down. The stock was saved but his tools and machinery was lost.


Frank Keens billiard saloon, barber and tobacconist shop succumbed to the flames. The office of Mr H. Herbert, the solicitor shared the same fate. The door had been previously burst open and his books and papers removed to safety. Mr Herbert was in Wellington at the time. Mr F. Pinks bootmakers shop was the last to be destroyed. Fortunately the goods had been removed.

 Mr M. Fosellas shop was saved with the greatest difficulty. The Levin Hotel, which adjoined the hall had an extremely narrow escape. In such danger was it, that the wallpaper was burned in some of the rooms.

Only a change in the wind saved the hotel and Fosellas store, so it was said. The Te Aro House branch store, was nearly destroyed as well. The meagre water supply handicapped the efforts of those endeavouring to check the progress of the fire.

Photo at left shows an 1897 shop advertisement for Marco Fosella's store where Bonaventure Travel is now. Marco is second from the left. The shop was just saved from the fire after a shift of wind.

There had been a tea meeting of the Juvenile Foresters Lodge in the public hall the previous evening. When it was over an attempt was made to hold a dance for the adults, but it was not a success, and the hall was vacated at 11pm. The secretary of the Foresters Lodge said he personally checked that all lights were out and that all was in order before locking up the hall. 

Mr Hopkins, the sanitary contractor, said that he saw a light in the hall between 11 oclock and midnight, but did not consider it out of the ordinary, because of the meetings held there. 

This information, which appeared in the Manawatu Herald, on February 10 1898, was supplied with the courtesy of Mr Levy, who said that he had arranged to start business again the following Monday, in premises kindly placed at his disposal by Mr Brown the hairdresser, pending new premises being erected. 

After the fire, the safe in the county office was opened. It was a Milners 4 x 3 containing valuable county records, which were found to be badly charred. Between the iron linings of the safe, the packing was of Oregon pine wood. The safe was opened by Wilkinson and Anstice. The comment was made that such shoddy workmanship might have been expected if the safe had been made in Germany, but not by a respectable British firm.


Safe Not Safe At All

Item from the Herald, April 14th 1898.

At the last meeting of the Horowhenua County Council, a letter was received from Mills & Co agents for the Milners Safe Co complaining about the councils remarks regarding the safe destroyed in the fire. They claimed that the safe had not received fair treatment. Before being opened or forced open, it should have been allowed to cool. Under the circumstances, the company offered to supply a new safe at a reduced cost.


Levin being swept away by fire!

Such was the heading of a news item which appeared in the Manawatu Herald, shortly after the big Levin fire.

On Sunday morning, February 20 1898, John Hamiltons store at Weraroa, and an adjoining office were totally destroyed by fire. About a month later, a small item appeared in the Herald, saying that the jury inquiring into the cause of the fire, said that the fire had been deliberately lit, but by whom or for what reason, it was not known. 

It seemed fairly obvious, when in June a further item in the paper said that one John Hamilton, a storekeeper of Weraroa, Levin, had been ruled bankrupt by the Chief Justice in Wellington. Mr Hamilton had by this time left the colony and was believed to be living in Australia. The petition against him was brought by Bing, Harris and Company. 



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The Great Levin Fire

Creator:Corrie Swanwick
Creation date:26/07/1989
Publisher:The News

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