Wednesday, 30 July 2014

1809 Flood at Hawkesbury

This week in 1809, heavy rain had begun which eventually turned into a deluge and led to the Hawkesbury flooding. The July/August flood reached 14.49m with at least 8 people perishing as a result. This followed a big flood in May 1809 where the water rose 14.63m. There were heavy losses of crops, livestock and belongings. Read the accounts from The Sydney Gazette, 6 August 1809, p. 2. 

Hawkesbury River in flood by Michelle Nichols

Accounts were on Tuesday last received in town of the Hawkesbury Settlement being again flooded; and in the course of the following day those accounts were unhappily confirmed; a Mr. BULL of Sydney, who was at the house of Mr. John BENN, down the River, at the commencement of the flood, informs us, that little or no rain fell in that quarter until Saturday evening the 29th ultimo, when a heavy rain set in which continued without intermission until Monday morning. That a rise in the water was perceived between 10 and 11 on Sunday night, and continued for some hours to rise gradually, but afterwards with an astonishing rapidity until the whole of the surrounding farms were laid under water. About noon on Tuesday it was at the highest; and in the course of the afternoon abated 5 or 6 feet; but, in consequence of the deluges of rain that fell in the evening and night of Tuesday, the water rose again several feet. On Wednesday it began again to fall, and by the noon of Thursday had decreased 10 feet from its greatest height. Among the principal sufferers that we have heard of down the River, is Mr. BENN; he having lost upwards of 300 head of swine, 100 sheep, about 1000 bushells of wheat threshed or in stack, and a stack of barley, besides a valuable property contained in his dwelling-house and barn, among which were two chests of tea and a ton of sugar, but a few days prior received from Sydney. 

The Sydney Gazette, 6 August 1809, p. 2.

From the Green Hills, the following report contained in a private letter, dated on Tuesday night, 11 o'clock, was received in Town on Thursday; "With regret I inform you of the dreadful scene that at the present moment chills me with excessive horror. The whole of this extensive settlement is one uninterrupted sheet of water. The lower range of houses upon the Green Hills is immersed; and the River has formed a juncture with the South Creek, across the Hills, through RICKERBY's grounds upon the River side, and those of the Rev. Mr. MARSDEN on the Creek. Yesterday and last night was a most dreadful season! The danger encroached with a rapidity never before witnessed; and the cries of the numerous families who were more imminently exposed were rendered still more agonizing by the impracticability of affording them immediate relief. In one alarming instance, a young man a settler, his wife, and three children, were seated on a ladder lain across the fork of a tree, in which situation they contrived to sustain an equilibrium for nearly three hours, the man a great part of the time clinging by his hands at the end of the ladder; but alas; yielding to fatigue, he forsook his hold and all were in consequence precipitated into the deluge. The woman and children were picked up; but the fate of the unfortunate man is doubtful. A settler at Cornwallis passed the Hills this morning on the top of a small wheat-stack; his fate is unknown; but it is much hoped he may have been preserved by some of the boats employed in this humane work. In another, and truly melancholy instance, eight persons are supposed to have perished in one spot. The names of those supposed unfortunates have been mentioned; but from this I must refrain, hoping the account may be erroneous, or at the least exaggerated. At present all is uncertainty and dread, all terror and astonishment. Some lives are lost; many have been saved by the exertions of the mere enterprising, directed by our Magistrates, who by their example encouraged the toil of rescuing whole families from the very verge of fate. And I cannot omit to mention the active and indefatigable exertions of Messrs. THOMPSON and BIGGERS, to whom, under the direction of Divine Providence, many are indebted for their lives ... Their fatigues were equal to their dangers, which were increased by the extreme darkness of the nights; during which their boats were repeatedly stove, and it was with difficulty they could with their crews preserve their lives. Many others who volunteered their exertions are also entitled to every praise. At the order of Mr. BELL, the Church was appropriated to the reception of the sufferers brought to the Hills, and such as were destitute were victualled from the Store, and every measure that humanity could devise was adopted to alleviate as much as possible the misery of their condition. It is considered that the perpendicular rise of the River could not be much less than 85 feet from the general level, and to have exceeded that of March, 1806, by 6 or 8 feet or perpendicular height; and unfortunately happens at a time of year which totally destroys the prospects of the settler, and the dependence of the Colony upon this Settlement for the next year, as the sown wheat will in all probability perish in the ground in most of the lower situations. At the farm of Mr. S. TERRY nine persons viz COOLEY, of Toongabbee; MUNSEY, of Hawkesbury; HODGES, servant to a gentleman of Sydney; MAHOMED an Asiatic, his wife and two children, and two black men - had endeavoured to secure themselves on the top of the barn, which fell in about 5 on Monday evening; but as there was no other resource left, they continued upon the roof for about two hours after, when the wife of MAHOMED fell through the thatch with one of her children in her arms, and was no more seen. COOLEY endeavouring to save the other child, which clung to MAHOMED, the father, slipped off with the infant, and in like manner disappeared; as did MUNSEY also. MAHOMED and the two black men saved themselves in trees, and HODGES swimming about in the dark at length got into the stream, by which he was carried between 5 and 6 miles before any impediment opposed his rapid course; when happily he found safety among the branches of a tree; from whence he was at length taken by a boat, and conveyed to a place of safety.

The accounts from Richmond Hill are of the same distressing tendency; but from Portland Head no communication has yet been received. The loss of stock has been very severe, as well as grain, no possible estimate can be formed at present. As soon as the melancholy intelligence was received His Honor Lieut. Governor FOVEAUX left Town, accompanied by James FINUCANE, Esq. Secretary to His Honor the Lieut. Governor, with intention to proceed to Hawkesbury direct; but was obliged to return, as the roads were impassable. The Banks of George's River were unfortunately inundated at the same time; and a great quantity of stock and other property lost. In Major JOHNSTON's stock-yard 490 sheep were drowned; Mr. McCALLAM lost 300, and several houses were left in ruins. We have much satisfaction in reporting, however, that fewer persons have lost their lives than at first was apprehended; an account received last night stating, that many who were unaccountably missing have since been heard of, and are in safety. 

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