As far as a I can tell, the first cement industry worker to be killed at Kandos was Henry Clement Abbott on Thursday 11 February 1919 (though in the interest of accurate history I would be pleased to be corrected).
Clem Abbott’s accident was shocking, both literally and emotionally. His death occurred at 11.30am at the Kandos cement works and, perhaps to our surprise, the coroner’s inquiry was held at 3pm that day in the Time Office. We can reconstruct the accident from graphic newspaper reports.
There was Clem working with his brother Fred and fellow worker C R Brooks on Number 3 elevator. The workers saw a problem – a bent iron plate – and Clem insisted he could fix it with a long iron bar. He climbed up 25 feet and stood on a girder balancing his arm against the wall. His brother could see danger – electric wires – and warned him they might be live, which indeed they were. In striking the plate, Clem touched the wires, yelled “stop the motor”, hung on to the wall by the bar, then dropped head first, his brother yelling “stop the motor”, trying to catch Clem at the same time, and seeing him crash four feet in front of him. C R Brooks believed Clem was dead before he fell, “he was all doubled up and did not make any attempt to catch anything”. So I guess that was some comfort to his workmates and family. The coroner gave a verdict of accidental death.
We can’t imagine that type of industrial accident happening today, with present day workplace health and safety requirements. However industrial accidents were common a century ago. Trove On-line Newspapers reveals twenty-six accidents at Kandos up to the time Clem was killed. Remember, the first group of workers started construction in 1915, the first cement was produced mid-1916 and the plant wasn’t in full production by February 1919. Early accidents included a man buried up to his neck in an earth fall, Alfred Field a young boy who jumped off a cart into smouldering ashes, Arthur Yates who stepped into a boiling well of water and Fred Gardiner who was struck in the neck by a flying fragment of stone. There were limbs crushed, fingers lost and bones broken, every other month it seems.
Thankfully workers got some compensation. Most workers belonged to the Kandos Accident Fund to which they contributed 4½d (fourpence halfpenny) a week, later reduced to 3d a week. Workers could claim for medical expenses and time off work.
Many workers also belonged to a friendly or fraternal society which provided medical, sickness and death benefits. Clem, for example, belonged to the Druids. They made a grant of £50 to Clem’s widow Josephine. In fact, the whole community rallied after his shocking death. Works staff donated £10/10/-, quarry workers gave £5, AWU members £35 (half a day’s pay i.e five shillings each), and miners £27. It was suggested the money could go towards a business for Mrs Abbott, though I don’t know if that happened. Members of her family lived at Rylstone and I believe she continued living there.
Workers and their families today rely on Workers’ Compensation which in NSW wasn’t compulsory till 1926. Indeed, accident prevention wasn’t taken very seriously before about 1910. However, some industries, including NSW Lime Cement and Coal Company, had introduced a compensation scheme. Through this scheme Mudgee District Court awarded Josephine Mary Abbott £360 to be paid at 25 shillings per week; and for each of her four children £30 when they reached 14. It wasn’t enough to live on but it gave the family some security.
The community learnt of fatal accidents like Clem’s through the sharp, shrill sound of the works siren, blasting in stops and starts for about twenty minutes. That heart-wrenching death knell would be heard many times over the almost one hundred years of the Kandos cement industry.
I am putting together a list of all fatal accidents at the cement works, mines and quarries at Kandos and Charbon. Can you help?
Rail skips at the entrance to Kandos. Photo Elwin Butler.