Miner Modesto Varischetti defies all odds

Published on Tuesday, 8 August 2023 at 10:06:10 AM

Diver Hughes reaches the trapped miner. This is part of the Varicshetti display that can be viewed at the Coolgardie Visitors Centre

On March 19th 1907 a storm hit the goldfields town of Bonnievale, some 12km north of Coolgardie. This storm bought with it a deluge of rain, which flooded the Bonnievale’s Westralia underground mine where 160 men were working. All but one of these men reached the surface safely, Varischetti’s fellow workers assumed him dead until, once the rain had stopped, they entered the mine to assess the damage caused by flooding and the debris washed in with the water. Upon hearing tapping noises below they were amazed to realise Charlie was still alive, trapped in an air pocket below 50 feet of water. And so begun the rescue of Modesto “Charlie” Varischetti.

19 March 1907 – Day one. Italian miner Modesto Varischetti becomes trapped in the Bonnievale underground mine when it is flooded by rain. There is an estimated 13,365,000 litres of water along with debris left blocking Varischetti’s access to the surface. 

20 March 1907 - Day Two. After 9 hours of pumping the water levels has receded by 23cm.

Bonnievale Mine Manager Crab goes home for a rest after 30 hours awake; there his son asks if the men in funny helmets are going to help? The idea to use divers is born and Crab puts out the call for assistance in the rescue.

21 March 1907 - Day Three. Two experienced divers (Hughes & Fox) are now working as miners in the Goldfields and offer to help with the rescue.

Two more divers (Hearn & Curtis) and dive gear are loaded onto a Rescue Special train from Fremantle. The train arrives in 13 hours and 10 minutes, setting a new speed record which then stood for more than 47 years.

22 March 1907 - Day Four. Divers Hughes and Fox suit up and begin the work of removing debris blocking their path to the entombed miner. Hughes manages to move around 1/2 a ton of debris to gain access to the trapdoor to the next level, he is then told Fox has broken his leg. Hearn joins the rescue and together Hearn and Hughes continue to clear a path through the flooded mine. On their 5th dive of the day, they make it through to Varischetti and take with them supplies of food and candles. On seeing Hughes, Varischetti turns away trying to hide from the "monster" emerging from the flood waters.

23 March 1907 - Day Five. Water levels in the flooded mine have begun to recede, dropping 1 metre in 13 hours. It has been calculated that it will be another 5-6 days before the water levels are low enough to attempt to rescue Varischetti. Hughes and Hearn continue to visit Varischetti, delivering vital food and supplies.

24 March 1907 - Day Six. The day brakes to heavy rain. Despite this, the water levels in the flooded mine drop by 9 metres. There are now 20 men assisting in the rescue and bailing water out of the mine. The divers deliver Modesto a package including roast beef, boiled ham, roast potato, and watered-down claret.

25 March 1907 - Day Seven. The divers continue their task of clearing underwater debris while fighting fatigue. They deliver clean clothes, poultry, vegetables, fruit, and tobacco to Varischetti. They now have 30 men helping pump water from the mine.

26 March 1907 - Day Eight. Water level drops another 5.5 metres, pumping is delayed by 3/4 of an hour when vital equipment brakes.

Divers deliver chicken, bread, butter, potatoes, two bottles of watered-down claret, candles and matches.

27 March 1907 - Day Nine. Dr Mitchell voices concern for Varischetti’s health after being trapped in the mine for so many days, he warns that if the rescue takes much longer, Varischetti may not survive.

By midnight Varischetti has spent 200 hours underground.

28 March 1907 - Day Ten. Word has spread of Varischetti’s impending rescue and hundreds of people gather at the site, but water levels are still too high to begin the rescue attempt. Dr Mitchell warns Varischetti will need time for his eyes to adjust to sunlight and his lungs to adjust to the change in pressure.

At 4.30pm Hughes brings Varischetti out of the mine, he is very weak and needs to be carried most of the way. Upon being bought to the surface Varischetti refuses to go to hospital, choosing instead to recover at the mine manager’s house.

Several weeks after his rescue Varischetti returns to work underground.

This amazing story is one of the many that showcase Coolgardie as a pioneer’s wonderland.

The Coolgardie Visitors Centre is the keeper of these chronicles and houses physical items from the period which bring these stories to life.

Join us as we relocate the Coolgardie Visitors Centre with an official event.

Free entry, networking opportunities & light refreshments provided


For full event details please visit our events calendar here.

Back to All News