This series consists of files relating to inquests conducted into the causes of fires by coroners courts throughout the state. The files were registered by the Office of the Registrar General. Some of the files in this series were at some stage prior to their transfer to archives part of VPRS 24 Inquest Deposition Files.
Section 4 of the Act for Preventing the Careless Use of Fire 1858 established that irrespective of whether a death occurred, the damage to or destruction of any building, ship, merchandise or growing crop could be investigated by means of an inquest provided that a Coroner was notified of the request in writing and a specified payment (initially 5 guineas) was made. Coroners could also decide to investigate fires of suspicious origin provided that the fire occurred within their area of jurisdiction. Fire inquests were conducted according to the same rules and procedures as those concerning the cause of death. (Inquest files for persons who died in a fire will be found in VPRS 24.)
The number of inquests held under this initial legislation was significantly reduced by an 1869 amendment to the Coroners Statute (1865) which had incorporated the original provisions. This amendment significantly increased the fee payable and also provided that inquests on fires of a suspicious origin required an order from the Attorney-General. Under these new provisions it was not unusual for no inquests to be held during a year.
The files in this series are generally more complete than those in VPRS 24 Inquest Deposition Files for the same period. All files contain at a minimum level, an inquisition form, a number of depositions and a cover sheet noting the subject, date and place of the inquest. Many files also variously include items of documentary evidence and exhibits, Victoria Police reports, the original written request or order and the receipt for payment of the fire inquest fee. Files relating to inquests giving rise to criminal charges (i.e. arson) will also contain copies of recognizances bonding witnesses to appear at the resultant trial and a statement by the accused, if that person(s) chose to make one.
The `inquisition form' is the official record of the inquest. It records the subject of the inquest as well as the verdict and if applicable, the names of accused persons committed for trial. It should also include the names and signatures of the Coroner and, if applicable, jury members. Depositions are the record of evidence of each witness appearing at the inquest. They are in handwritten or typed prose form in the first person although evidence is given on the basis of a question and answer format. The witness involved and the Coroner must sign them as being a true and accurate record.