The Hawkesbury River has a long history of floods and when Governor Phillip and his party explored the district shortly after arrival, debri was noted in the tree branches. In 1799 the river rose over 15m followed by three huge floods recorded including 1806. 1809, 1817 and 1819 saw a number of floods with heights reaching 14m and widespread damage in the Hawkesbury.
Inhabitants had a period of calm with no major floods for over thirty years. Then successive floods in June 1864 caused major problems in the Hawkesbury, when the river rose and peaked at 14.64m. Buildings were seriously damaged, several were completely destroyed. Over 1000 people were made destitute with many families having no homes to go to. The agricultural district suffered heavy losses. Stacks of hay and corn were carried away, also pigs, cattle and horses.
But the biggest was yet to come. On 17 June 1867 it began to rain. The rain continued and became heavier and strong winds blew. By 20 June 1867, the whole district was covered with water, as far as the eye could see. Within a few days the levels were almost to the height of the 1864 flood and rising quickly. All the available boats were answering the distress calls of inhabitants, so additional boats were sent from Sydney on a special train, arriving at Windsor. By 22 June the water was rising at the rate of seven inches per hour eventually reaching a massive 19.26m.
|Source: Illustrated Sydney News 16 July 1867, p. 8.|
Amazingly there was only one report of fatalities as a result of this flood. members of the Eather family drowned at Cornwallis. Two wives and their ten children were drowned, the two husbands and one boy were saved. Not all of the bodies were immediately recovered, but those that were, are located in the Windsor Catholic Cemetery. The body of a child was found several months later, at Freemans Reach, and another inquest was held.
When waters receded, the destruction along the Hawkesbury were revealed and heavy losses were recorded. The floods covered a large part of NSW including Goulburn and the Hunter district, however the Hawkesbury was the worst hit.
Although there have been numerous floods since European settlement, there has been nothing like the 1867 disastrous flood. It was almost 100 years later when floodwaters rose to 15.1m mark. A relatively short time later, in 1964 another flood occurred, the river rising 14.51m.
|Source: Windsor floods, date unknown. |
Tyrrell Photographic Collection, Powerhouse Museum