Ballantynes fire 1947

Where can I find information about the Ballantynes' fire in 1947?

Junior Secondary

(Years 7-10)

Black and white photo from 1947 showing the Ballantynes department store just before the disastrous fire.

Image: Christchurch 1947 by Canterbury Heritage on Flickr (modified from original).

Entry last updated: 7/02/23

Introduction

Ballantynes is a well-known department store in Christchurch. On 18 November 1947 a fire broke out in the store and many workers were trapped inside. 41 people died in total, which makes it the deadliest fire disaster in New Zealand history.

In this entry we will show you how to find information about the start of the fire, how it spread through the store, who was involved and what happened afterwards.

Facts and pictures

These websites are a good starting point for information about New Zealand disasters like the Ballantynes' fire.

Christchurch City Libraries

Because this was a local event, Christchurch City Libraries have gathered lots of information about the fire and put it all together on one page. To find it, follow this pathway:

  • Select Explore at the top of the home page.
  • Next choose Events, which is found under the Local History heading.
  • Then under the heading Death and Disasters you will find the link to the Ballantynes' Fire page.
  • On this page you will find links to news reports and images of the fire.
  • There is also a useful fact sheet about what happened during and after the fire, and the impact it made on Christchurch and New Zealand.

Tips: We like this website because all the information has been gathered by librarians and it links to heaps of useful primary sources.

Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara is an excellent starting point for all questions about New Zealand Aotearoa. If we look down to the bottom of the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable.

To find information about the Ballantynes' fire, follow this pathway:

  • Search using the keywords 'Ballantynes' fire'.
  • Choose the story Fires and fire services.
  • Then look at page three Fires in the 1940s.

NZHistory

NZHistory is a great website for information about New Zealand Aotearoa. If we go all the way down the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable.

  • From the homepage choose Events.
  • Then Events A-Z.
  • Now choose B to find the heading Ballantynes fire.

Tips: We like sites like Te Ara and NZHistory because they’re reliable. You can tell because of their web address – they have either .govt or .ac, meaning they are from government or educational organisations. They’re also New Zealand sites, so relevant for us.

Articles and videos

The Ballantynes' fire was reported by newspapers, as well as on television. It was also investigated by the government to find out why it happened, and what could be done to stop a disaster like this happening in the future. To find these articles, videos and reports, have a look at these websites.

DigitalNZ

DigitalNZ is a search site and an easy way of searching online resources from New Zealand libraries, museums, universities and government sites all at once, and has lots of primary sources. The results are grouped by the type of information, like images, videos, newspapers, articles and research papers.

  • Search using the keywords 'Ballantynes fire'.
  • Choose Videos to watch news reports of the fire and a short film called Spring flames.
  • Choose More to read articles.

You can also narrow down your results by date. This can be a useful way of finding primary sources, or information published at the time of the fire. To do this:

  • select date at the top of the search results
  • then choose the decade, eg 1940, and
  • select Apply filters.

Tips: Websites that have .org in the address can have good information, but you need to assess how reliable it is. Check the About us link on the website, if you can find one. That can tell you what the organisation’s mission and values are.

Christchurch City Libraries

After the fire, questions were asked about the way the fire was handled and why the death toll was so high. As a result, the government ordered a Commission of Enquiry to look at how the Ballantynes' staff and the Fire Service responded to the fire.

On the Ballantynes' fire page mentioned above, you will see a link to digitised resources about the Ballantynes' Fire. Here you can:

Papers Past

PapersPast is a great website for primary sources related to New Zealand. One of Christchurch's main local newspapers, The Press, can be found here.

  • Choose Newspapers.
  • Enter your keywords into the box at the side where it says search newspapers. Start with keywords like 'Ballantynes fire' but remember it is a good idea to try a few different keywords to see what else you can find
  • You can change the date using the filters down the side of the page, for example you could just choose news articles from 1947.

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Funded by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision is New Zealand’s audio-visual archive.

Tips: Websites that have .org or .net in the address can have good information, but you need to assess how reliable it is. Check the About link on the website, if you can find one. That can tell you what the organisation’s mission and values are.

EPIC Resources

EPIC is a collection of online resources that have been put together especially for New Zealand school students. For information about the Ballantynes' fire we suggest the two resources listed below.

Tips: To use the EPIC resources you will need a login and password from your school librarian or you can login to AnyQuestions between 1pm and 6pm Monday to Friday and one of our librarians will help you online.

Australia New Zealand Reference Centre Plus

Look here for newspaper and magazine articles from New Zealand and Australian newspapers and magazines.

  • Just enter 'Ballantynes fire' into the search bar.
  • Under Refine Results choose Limit To and Full Text so you can read the whole article.

New Zealand Geographic Online

This is an online collection of the New Zealand Geographic magazine from 1989 to today.

Books

Have a look at these books that have been written about the Ballantynes' fire. You can also look for general books about New Zealand disasters and check the contents page or index to see if there is a chapter on the fire. Remember you can always ask your school or local librarian for more recommendations too.

SCIS no: 1832642

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