Molten metal a nightmare death

1909 – Mining accidents were common in the early days of the 20th century, yet when Ambrose Fox was burnt to death by an explosion of molten metal in the Great Cobar mine, his funeral was said to be the largest the town had ever seen.

The 44-year-old was killed after a repaired appliance known as a settler was put back to work.

Ambrose was tapping the No. 2 furnace, when the metal shot out, burning him on the chest, arms, legs and head. He was only three yards away.

He was rushed to hospital but died the same day.

 A four-day inquest was held into the incident.

The 44-year-old was a recently remarried widower, with three children to his first wife and a toddler daughter to his second.

He had been a butcher, most likely in Warren, but went bankrupt during a drought in 1902. Ater the death of his first wife Ellen in 1899, the children were sent to live with their grandmother in Gilgandra.

Ambrose went to Cobar to work in the copper mines, staying at the Great Western Hotel or the Railway Hotel, run by a Tom Clark/e and his two sisters. Fox married one of them, Rose, in 1906.

Several witnesses testified that prior to the explosion leaks had been noticed, and the men refused to work.

The repairs included the substitution of a spray pipe inside a steel casing in the ordinary jacket appliance.

 This and the alleged dampness of the new brick-work were said to be responsible for the explosion, “but the mine authorities claimed that no undue haste was made in putting the settler into operation after the repairs.

“The jury returned a verdict of accidental death, but added a rider to the effect that in cases of any accident in future the damaged jacket should be taken out, and properly repaired, that the brickwork be allowed to thoroughly dry before being used, and that proper provision be made for safety of tappers and others in anticipation of explosions.

The Great Cobar mine furnaces in 1912, three years after Fox died.

“The funeral took place on Friday afternoon, starting from the Roman Catholic Church, where the remains had lain throughout the day.

 The solemn procession wended its way along Barton Street to Becker Street, and was the most largely attended funeral ever seen in Cobar, or, at all events, for a great number of years.

“Along the route of the sad procession people were lined in big numbers.

“The cortege was headed by the President, Secretary and Treasurer of the Amalgamated Miners Association (AMA), to which Society the deceased had belonged.

The Town Band came next, playing the Dead March by Handel, followed by 340 members of the AMA,  walking four and five deep.

This was followed by about 60 cyclists,  the hearse, mourning coach and about 50 vehicles, several horsemen bringing up the rear.

The remains were interred in the Catholic portion of the cemetery.

Ambrose’s son Alfred, who was about 18 when his father died, was working as a junior clerk in Dubbo. He went on to become Town Clerk of Parkes Municipal Shire for a record-breaking 42 years and there is a park named after him in Parkes today.

Cobar, NSW, where Fox is buried.

SOURCES: The Argus Friday 5 November 1909 p 7

The Cobar Herald Tuesday 2 November 1909 p 2

The Sydney Morning Herald Friday 29 October 1909 p 6

AE Fox Park, viewed at

Library of New South Wales, Furnaces, Great Cobar Copper Mine – Cobar, NSW

Published by Sharyn Moodie

Travelling around Australia for work, I've found so many amazing headstones. But what is more amazing is the stories behind some of these deaths, and the way newspapers of the day reported them.

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