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A car completely destroyed after a benzine explosion.

Explosion claims man’s life

As part of a Valley Profile series, MEGHAN HAWKES explores our local history by seeking out stories of life and death in the Thames Valley

In February 1916 John Peters, the Kaiaua postmaster, returning from Pokeno, alighted from the train at Mercer expecting to have a horse waiting for him.
Finding it was not there, he began walking along the road in the direction of Kaiaua. He came across one of George Stubbs’ wagons and got a lift as far as Stubbs’ farm at Mangatangi. On arrival at the farm, George offered John the loan of a horse, but discovered all his horses turned out for the night. It was now nearly 9pm and John had about seven miles to go. George offered to drive John home in his car and directed one of his employees, Rangi, to fill the tank. In the corrugated iron barn where the car was housed, John took a seat in the front of the car and Rangi the back. George tried starting the engine with a crank but it failed to catch. George then discovered that Rangi had emptied kerosene into the tank instead of benzine. He began pumping the liquid out by the light of a candle placed on a ledge at the back of the car. Suddenly a blue flame shot up, there was a violent explosion and the whole building was enveloped in flames. George was blown through the doorway of the shed and lay stunned on the ground for a minute or two. Rangi dived through the window at the other end of the building, but the sash of the window fell and pinned his foot.  He hung face downwards on the outside wall until he was able to wiggle himself free and then fell to the ground.
By the time George and Rangi regained their wits a fierce fire was racing from one end of the barn to the other, the flames being fed by tins of benzine and kerosene. There was no way to fight the fire and no way to rescue John. Rangi was badly cut and George severely shaken but he rode a horse fifteen miles to Mercer and informed Constable Horan what had happened. John’s wife and children were staying in Auckland but on learning the dreadful news, they returned to Kaiaua. At the inquest it was established that the vapour of the benzine that was being pumped out of the car spread to the candle causing the explosion. The jury found that John Peters was accidentally killed, no blame being attachable to anyone. They added a rider that attention should be called to the danger of using benzine in proximity to lights or fire, owing to its highly volatile nature.
John, 53, was a married man with three children. He farmed an extensive tract of country at Kaiaua. He had been postmaster and mail carrier there for seven or eight years and was much respected in the district. The Peters family, originally from Scotland, had been connected with Kaiaua since its early days. 
As well as running the post office and store, they donated land for the site of the first Kaiaua School. Their property was the original site of Kaiaua township. Although the funeral was reported to have taken place in Kaiaua, cemetery records show that John was interred at Hillsborough cemetery, Auckland.