Ballarat flood November 1870

From Hotels of Ballarat

The Ballarat flood of November 1870 caused a significant amount of damage to central Ballarat, as well as loss of life. There had been an earlier major flood two months earlier on 7 September 1870.

Background[edit | edit source]

On the night of 4 November 1870, heavy rain over Ballarat caused widespread flooding. Several people were drowned, and buildings were destroyed. Ballarat's hotels became places of refuge during the crisis.

Details[edit | edit source]

BALLARAT [ABRIDGED FROM THE STAR OF SATURDAY.] The sky of Friday afternoon was very threatening in its appearance. When midnight came the rain, which had been falling with great density from a few minutes before eleven o'clock, increased in force and the Yarrowee rose with great rapidity up to a dangerous level, and the streets were flooded by a mass of waters which swept away footbridges. At a few minutes past twelve news came to Bridge-street that the waters were running through the dry arch under the railway embankment. This was startling intelligence, for it was the signal that we were certain to have another flood. The rising of the waters was very rapid, for almost before the people were aware of the fact the whole of Grenville-street was flooded, and in some places even up to the doors of the houses. At one o'clock the water was rushing through all the shops in Bridge street from Peel-street to Grenville-street. At about this time a number of women took refuge in Whitehouse's British Queen Hotel, and in the Inkerman and Durham Hotel. Nearly all the shop doors were thrown open on the north side of Bridge-street in order to let out the water that had entered by the back.

The water in the Yarrowee was at this time nearly up to the top of the brickwork, and a stream suddenly pouring down from Grenville-street flooded the footpaths as far as Wittkowski's. On the south side of Bridge-street bags, tarpaulins, and boards were used to block up the doorways to prevent the water entering. Women half dressed, with children in their arms, were leaving the houses ; men were running about with lanterns doing what they could to save their own property and help others. At half -past one o'clock the whole of Bridge-street was flooded.
At this time there was an exciting scene at the corner near Mr. Vale's shop. A man waded waist deep out of Lewis-street, and after a narrow escape of being washed away handed a baby to one of the crowd, who took it to Benson's Star of the West Hotel. Then the man called out for someone to save his wife, and a few volunteered to go across the rushing water. Three or four men arm in arm, tried to cross from Grenville-street to Lewis street, to get at the back of one of the Bridge-street shops where the woman was, but after being nearly washed away they had to return. The man who had brought out the child then made a rush before he could be stopped, and as if by a miracle he managed to cross the deep gutter and reach the road. Another man then tried to follow him but could not. A cabman, after a deal of persuasion, managed to get across and with the aid of some ropes the woman was rescued.
Mrs. O'Meara and her sister were removed in a cab from the Limerick Castle Hotel, where they had left Mr. James O'Meara and Mr. George Moore, of the district hospital. Mrs. O'Meara's sister was taken into Hughes' Union Hotel in a fainting condition, she thinking Mr. O'Meara and Mr. Moore had perished, but her fears and Mrs. O'Meara's were soon set at rest by the news that Messrs. O'Meara and Moore were all right and safe.
At about two o'clock, cries were heard from. Bridge street, somewhere below Mr. Steinfeld's shop, and Lieut. Cranston and Mr. Wood, of the Western Fire Brigade, with some members of the Eastern Brigade, hired a cab and drove through the flood. When near Mr. Steinfeld's shop the rush of water caused the cab horse to fall, and the animal was unable to rise again. The cab then began to move, and as it was about going with the stream, Cranston threw the end of a stout rope he had with him to a man who was standing on a verandah close by. The man caught the rope and made it fast, and just as the cab was beginning to move with the current, the driver and those in it climbed to the verandah by means of the rope and by crawling along the roofs of the houses managed to get to Grenville street again.
At about half -past two o'clock a boat was brought from Lake Wendouree in a waggon and launched between the Buck's Head and the Fawn Hotels. A rope belonging to the fire brigades was attached to the boat, and it was decided that an effort should be made to get to a wooden cottage next to Grimbley's baths where some women and children were in imminent danger. The rope attached to the boat, was a long one, and about thirty plucky fellows, including members of both fire brigades held on, and let the boat go down with the stream while they pulled against it. The boat was allowed to drift with the stream until near Grimbley's baths, and as the woman was seen on the verandah the order was given to pull. All pulled, and the way of the boat was stopped, but still it could not be got close enough to the cottage to allow the woman to get in. Another rope was then procured to throw from the boat to the cottage. While waiting for this second rope, the thirty men holding the boat could hardly stand against the force of the stream. The second rope was tied to the boat and thrown across to the people on the verandah but as soon as the boat was near the fence the water almost rushed over it, and this plan of rescue had to be abandoned. The boat was then taken back, and the men went down altogether holding the rope. They, after repeated trials got down to the cottage. Lieut. Cranston got an elderly woman out on his back. The daughter and child were rescued also. By this time (three o'clock) it was up to Bignell's Hotel on one side of Sturt-street, and past Hammond's on the other.
While the flood continued to do great damage in Bridge-street, the condition of things was appalling in other parts of the the town on which the waters rose. The rain had evidently been tremendous in its character to the westward, and as a consequence the Gnarr Creek rose to its brim, and washed great piles of woodwork and debris collected by it in its course down into the Yarrowee. At the confluence of the Yarrowee and the Gnarr Creek the water rose to a height nearly as high as the upper boarding of the Greriville-street bridge. At this time (half -past one) the street to a considerable distance on both sides of that leading from Wills-street into the market was flooded to a much higher level than it had ever been previously, and the water was actually around two dozen houses which remained still and perfectly dark, the inhabitants being quietly asleep in their beds without a thought of water or danger. A few of those who had arrived at the scene knocked at the doors, and the sleepers were aroused in most instances either by that means or by the dangerous rising of the flood within the houses. One poor woman made her way out of the waves with four children in her arms, or clinging to her dripping clothes, and she stated that she had slept, as had all the other members of her household, till the water had actually risen so high as to enter the beds.
At this time tremendous cries were heard at the northern side of the railway, where the flood was running much higher than it had been previously. The waters had here risen so rapidly as to cover the surface up to the railway embankment before they had alarmed the inhabitants of houses situated all along Scott's parade between the embankment and the Eastern cricket ground. And even when the floors of the houses had been covered, the people were not all aroused. In the case of the households that were aroused the inhabitants opened their doors and screamed for assistance, saying that the children would all be drowned if assistance was not at once rendered. Information was conveyed to the police-station, and Mr. Sub-inspector Ryall at once despatched a body of constables to the rescue. He ordered cabs to proceed to the spot with all haste. Boats were soon brought, and an entrance with one was made in Rowe-street, while one was put out some where further down Ballarat East. Screams of women and children still continued, and here and there was to be seen on some high spot an occasional light held in a very precarious position by a half dressed personage at some open door.
At about three o'clock Mr. Upjohn, living in the Gnarr Creek reserve, near Doveton street, was with his wife in great danger. Before this time his children had been removed, but he and his wife stayed in the house until the water over the floor was up to their waists. Mr. Upjohn got on the roof and gave the alarm, and trooper Laverton was soon on the spot with a lantern and ropes. Soon after Laverton's arrival, Messrs. S. Deeble and Richard Baker came up, and just at this moment the roof of another small house drifted against Mr. Upjohn's. A young man who came up just at this time volunteered to wade to the house roof,which had stuck fast. A rope was tied round his body, and he reached with difficulty the house, and got open the door. Mr. and. Mrs. Upjohn were inside, and the rope was tied to Mrs. Upjohn and she was pulled out. Mr. Upjohn was rescued in a like manner and then the young man who had taken the rope over was pulled out.
(FROM THE COURIER.) The narrow escapes arising out of the flood are almost legion in number. Three are especially worth mentioning here, on account of the circumstances by which they were surrounded. Mrs. Nesbitt, the wife of the bandmaster of the drum and fife band, had only two days previously been confined with twins. Mr. Nesbitt's house stands close to the creek, and before he could take any steps to save his wife the waters had flowed into the bed on which she was lying. Mr. Nesbitt and the nurse succeeded in removing her and her little ones on to a high bench. Fortunately the water only rose within six inches of where she was placed. The other narrow escape occurred in another part of Ballarat East, where Mr. George Moore with great pluck waded through some four feet of water to a house where a female was in the throes of childbirth, and carried her to dry land and a comfortable house before the interesting event came off. Mr. Croaker was some what similarly useful in Wills-street. The water was here breast high, and being informed that a woman had just been confined in one of the houses, Mr. Croaker plunged through the flood, entered the house, and brought out the woman and child, depositing them safely.

While the flood 'was at its height, says the Mail of Saturday evening, Sergeant Larner, with constables Sheridan and Woods, heard the screams of a man near the Gum Tree Flat. A man named Morris had, with his family, cut through the roof of their dwelling, and secured safety, and the unfortunate man, by name Falks, who is known as "Bill the Fisherman". was endeavoring in some way to reach this when he was caught by the current and swept away. The constables did their best to save him, but the current was too strong and bore him away. This morning constable Darling reported "that a body of a man had been found in the creek at Grano's paddock, Sebastopol, all covered with timber and debris." There can be no doubt that the corpse is that of the man Bill. A second life was lost — a Chinaman — whose mate (Ah Pon) told the police this morning that he saw himself, his house, and his belongings swept away from the White Flat, behind the gaol, and that he had since seen no trace of him. A man of the same locality, says the Post, informed the sergeant that he was endeavoring to save a young child in the same place, when the sudden rush of water prevented his escaping. He remained in the turbulent stream for upwards of an hour, calling for assistance, but without success. The waters rapidly rose, until they reached the man's breast, when he again endeavoured to save himself and the child, but without avail. At length the water rose up to his chin, and he made a desperate effort to save himself, and in doing so lost hold of his youthful companion, who was quickly carried out of sight. The body has not yet been recovered.[1]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1870 'BALLARAT.', Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 - 1918), 5 November, p. 14. , viewed 23 Feb 2017,