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Cope, Herbert (1869–1953)

by Chris Cunneen

Herbert Cope (1869-1953) mine wheeler, disaster survivor, butcher, greengrocer

Birth: 18 August 1869 in Shepherds Paddocks, Redfern, New South Wales, son of William Cope (1826-1880), a bricklayer, born in Stone, Staffordshire, England, and Jane, née Ford (1828-1901), who was native-born. His parents were not married. Marriage: 14 February 1894 at Woonona, NSW, to Wollongong-born Ann Puah Parsons (1874-1970). They had five sons and two daughters. Death: 9 November 1953 at Hurstville, Sydney, NSW. Religion: Anglican. 

  • At 2.30 pm on 23 March 1887 Cope was employed as a horse driver in Bulli Mine and was about 50 yards from the pit’s mouth when a huge explosion created a blast of hot air and gas which hit him. He was severely gassed and in a critical condition for nine days. An inquest on 10 May, at which he testified, heard that he staggered out of the mine calling for his mother. Eighty-one mine employees lost their lives in the disaster. Cope was the only person to survive.
  • The Bulli Relief Fund awarded his mother Jane a special grant of £25, and Cope received a £20 bonus and some annual payments for a time afterward.
  • A special commission of inquiry in mid 1887, which was biased in favour of the government and the mining company, found that it was common to remove the safety gauze from around the flame of the oil safety lamps that were used at the mine. Both the miners and the management were criticised by the commission for their safety failures. However, as Don Dingdsdag writes, “the official inquiries failed to resolve the safety breaches that precipitated the disaster.”
  • On 17 September 1887 Cope was again working in the colliery when he was kicked unconscious by a horse and sustained a severe wound on the side of his face.
  • He then went to work in his brother’s butchery in Woonona and in July 1895 was scalded when a boiler exploded as they were manufacturing sausages. Cope was again fortunate to escape serious injury, but two brothers died of their injuries.
  • Cope returned to work as a miner in Bulli and lived at Woonona, nearby. By 1920 he and his family had moved to Hurstville, Sydney.
  • In 1930 Cope was in business with his son Victor as greengrocers at Hurstville. In December 1936 that year, with Victor, he shared first prize in the State lottery. “I have had a lucky life” he remarked when interviewed.
  • He continued to work as a greengrocer until he retired.
  • Cause of death congestive heart failure.

Sources
Donald P. Dingsdag, The Bulli mining disaster 1887: lessons from the past (Sydney 1993): http://mineaccidents.com.au/uploads/bulli-explosion-1887.pdf

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Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Cope, Herbert (1869–1953)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/cope-herbert-32665/text40561, accessed 16 August 2022.

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