An attempt to murder an Albion Park blacksmith in 1877 caused community outrage, not only for the method used, but the fact that an innocent passerby became an unintended victim.
Blacksmith Mr J Keegan attempted to light a fire in the forge. Believing he had succeeded, he left it for a few minutes, but found it had gone out on his return.
He therefore lit it for a second time and just as he had done so, an old man, a carpenter who worked for Gabriel Timbs, came into the forge to boil his "billy", as he was in the habit of doing.
Mr Keegan left the forge to get his breakfast while the carpenter got his tea ready. The old man took hold of the bellows and blew the fire up briskly, and just as the water began to boil the neighbourhood was "startled by a loud explosion", according to the Mercury.
"On Mr Keegan and others running into the forge, the cause of the explosion was soon manifest.
"It seems that some fiend in human form had placed a quantity of blasting powder at the bottom of the hearth, probably on the previously night, and hence the catastrophe which might have attended with most serious consequences."
The carpenter suffered serious burns to his face and arms.
The Mercury said the explosion would have been much more serious but for the fact that, before lighting the fire, Mr Keegan threw some ashes and cinders out of the hearth, and among this a considerable quantity of blasting powder was subsequently found.
The Mercury could not express its outrage highly enough, describing the act as a "cowardly and fiendish attempt to destroy human life".
"It is humiliating to think that the neighbourhood is polluted by the presence of the author of such a cowardly act," it said.
Mr Keegan had only been in the area a few months, "and by his good conduct and obliging disposition" he had made himself many friends.
But it appeared as though he was not without an enemy.
His escape was regarded as providential, for had he been at the bellows, he would have stood much nearer the fire than the carpenter happened to do on that occasion.
The matter was placed in the hands of police with the hope that the would-be murderer would "soon meet the reward of his evil deeds". However the culprit was never formally identified.
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For a list of the NSW Department of Education Subject files, 1875-1948, go to records.nsw.gov.au
Picture: Police in the Albion Park community were unable to learn the name of the would-be killer in 1877. CREDIT: From the collections of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society.