On Saturday, October 12, 1912, a suspicious fire broke out deep underground in a copper mine on Tasmania’s rugged west coast. The fire released huge amounts of black smoke and carbon monoxide into the workings, killing 42 men. Odourless and invisible, science was only just beginning to understand carbon monoxide’s insidious effects on the human body. The gas caused hallucinations, muscle paralysis, unconsciousness, seizures and death. Men affected by it behaved as though drunk, “were argumentative” and “disinclined to obey orders”. Fifty men managed to retreat to the relative safety of a cavern 1000ft below the surface, where they were trapped for five days. Brimstone: The North Lyell Mine Disaster is the story of the fire, rescue operation, media frenzy and official inquiry as it’s never been told before. After 100 years, Brimstone represents the most detailed non-fiction account of a tragedy which captivated an entire nation; a tragedy with so many twists and turns that even a full Royal Commission could not reach a conclusion as to its cause. Was it an electrical fault? Was it carelessness with an open flame? Or was it revenge?
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