Ballarat flood September 1870

From Hotels of Ballarat

There was a major flood in Ballarat on 7 September 1870.

Details[edit | edit source]

The flood occurred during the night of 7 September 1870, and flooded Bridge Street:

About 8 o'clock yesterday morning, saysthe Courier, the heavens commenced to assume a dark and threatening aspect, and the rain fell in torrents, continuing without cessation up to the time we write (2 a.m). As before, the first portion of the town which commenced to suffer, was the neighborhood of the Cricket Ground. Shortly before 12 o'clock the channel was flowing within an inch or two of the topmost boards, and so rapidly did the water rise that in a very short time the houses situated on the eastern side of Havelock-street, and adjacent to the wooden bridge, began to get under water. The water flowed smoothly down the Yarrowee until it reached the arches under the railway embankment. There the obstruction caused by the stonework partitions between the two culverts produced the same effect as it did in October last. The water became more and more turbulent, and soon sought an outlet in the direction of Scott's parade, which was quickly flooded to quite as alarming an extent as the portion of Havelock-street referred to. Of course many of the people were to a certain extent prepared, and put forth their utmost endeavors to secure as much of their property as possible. A number of people, however, were compelled to entirely desert their homes and household gods, and seek refuge in a more elevated and consequently safer portion of the town. Shortly before 1 o'clock the fears which many of the residents in Bridge-street had entertained for an hour or two before began to be realised. The water which escaped from the channel into Scott's parade made its way through the dry arches and the volunteer drill ground into Bridge-street. The first to feel the effects of this were Mr. Willmott, ironmonger ; Mr. Scott, butcher ; Messrs. Twentymen and Stamper, drapers; Mr. M'Connell, of the Bridge-street Tea Company; and Mr. Bennett, watchmaker, through whose premises, and down, every outlet, the water, found its way into Bridge street. Intense excitement then , began to be manifested, and from top to bottom of Bridge-street the inhabitants were placing what they could of their property beyond the reach of the water, and endeavoring also to block up the doors and windows of their shops, to prevent the water from flowing in. Those precautions proved to be just in time, for as the water drains were utterly inadequate to carry away the immense body of water flowing into the street, one by one the shops in Bridge street down as far as the North Grant Hotel were placed under water. In Mair street, opposite the dry arches, the houses on the south side nearly halfway to Peel-street, were submerged to the extent of nearly a foot. By this time nearly the whole of Bridge-street was under water, the deepest part being nearly opposite the market, where it was about three feet deep. The Gnarr Creek likewise rose very rapidly; and so great was the volume of water discharged by it into the Yarrowee, that many looked upon it as an absolute certainty that the waters would escape into Grenville-street and the market sheds, and thus, of course, add greatly to the body of water collected in Bridge street. At the White Flat bridge, where the Caledonian channel unites with the Yarrowee, a phenomenon of peculiarly striking, but nevertheless exceedingly injurious character, presented itself. The seething torrent of the larger creek was lashed up into a huge wall of water by the rapid discharge of the waters of the smaller, thus producing something similar to what occurs in the river Hooghly, and is called a bore. With such a commotion in the water nothing else could be looked for but an extensive overflow, and the consequence was that many of the low-lying houses in the vicinity were similarly conditioned to what they were during, the floods of October last.

Three a.m. — Crossing the valley of Ballarat by the railway embankment, we observed quite a sea between the rise of the hill from Peel-street to some distance beyond the main storm water culvert. The lower part of the Cricket Ground was completely submerged, as well as the surrounding streets, while through what are by courtesy termed the dry arches, two strong streams were rushing with great velocity, the whitish line on each side showing very plainly. Braithwaite's Pavilion Hotel was under water half-way to the top of the bar counter. Up to the time we write the wooden bridge at the foot of Nolan-street is still standing. In Bridge-street and at the Alfred Hall affairs are beginning to assume an exceedingly alarming aspect. The water is rising every minute, and within a few minutes of 3 o'clock water commenced to run over the upmost boards at the Alfred Hall. On either side of the channel the waters increased every minute, and ere we left the scene Mr. Jones' corner was overlapped, and a sea of water showing between the Alfred Hall and the back portion of Bridge-street. A little boy, whose name was said to be Paterson, was rescued from almost certain drowning by Senior-constable Kilfedder, who caught him just as he was sinking beneath a strong current in Bridge-street. For several hours the mounted police perambulated the town, giving intimation of danger, and assisting in rescuing water-pent inhabitants. As we write the police are heaving up the planks over the creek in Bridge-street, to freely allow of the larger body of water which they expect to come from Grenville-street to find its way again into the channel By the direction of Mr. Young, the borough engineer, the lamps were lighted over the greater portion of the town. Near Mr Rowe's store, in the Main-road, the depth is increasing. So great was the velocity of the current at that channel that a man, whose name we could not learn, was drawn into it, and was only rescued by Mr. Davey, the secretary of the B.F.B., who sprang in after him.

Four a.m. — The water has risen to an alarming extent, and it is universally, considered that, even if the rain at once ceases, which it shows but little sign of doing, the flood will cause greater devastation and be more disastrous than that of October last. At the lower portion of the Main-road the water has found its way as high as the Duchess of Kent hotel, and from the Alfred Hall an extensive volume of water is flowing into Bridge-street. The Buck's Head Hotel has been thrown open by the Council. The firemen are still at work, and the western bell is again ringing for fresh supplies of men. So far as is yet known no lives have been lost.[1]

A brave policeman[edit | edit source]

The publican of the Bute Hotel in Peel Street, William Ramke, wrote to the newspapers about the brave action of Constable Bruce. Coincidentally the letter was published on Thursday 3 November 1870, and the area was seriously flooded again the next day:

BRAVE CONDUCT OF A CONSTABLE. TO THE EDITOR OF THE STAR. SIR,— Will you allow me a small space in your columns to call the attention of the public and those in authority to the heroic manner in which Constable Bruce acquitted himself during the night of the late flood. I cannot do better than state a few facts which came under my own observation, and which can be testified to by others. Seeing the danger the residents of Scott’s parade and neighborhood were in, he went round and woke them up. Some he took out of their beds, and at the risk of his own life carried through the current to my hotel. Finding it at last impossible to get in at the front, he burst open the back gates and succeeded in getting most of them into comparatively safe quarters. It was then discovered that one little one had been left behind, and, as the flood had become exceedingly dangerous, Constable Bruce divested himself of coat and watch, which he left in my care, and in company with the father of the little one gallantly went to the rescue. They fortunately succeeded in reaching the child just in time to save its life, as it was then floating about. The flood then must have been about at its highest, as they found it impossible to return, and were compelled to take refuge on the top of the house. No sooner had they got there than they heard the screams of a Mrs Higgins and children, calling for help. Bruce leaving the child and father in comparative safety, at once made the attempt to swim across the current coming down from the Cricket Ground (the house being on the opposite side), but was swept clean down, and only saved himself by clutching the lower end of the fence, and managing to pull his way back to his starting point. He made a second attempt, and fortunately succeeded in reaching Mrs Higgins, who was standing breast deep, and furniture floating about, and the children clinging to the several articles for safety. Bruce lost no time in getting the table on the bed, and children on top of the table, their united weight serving as ballast to keep all steady, and the constable keeping watch until the water abated sufficiently to enable him to return with all safe. ’ Now, Sir, such bravery as this speaks for itself, and is beyond all praise. But for Constable Bruce lives would certainly have been lost. Surely in dealing out promotion or reward he will not be forgotten. —Yours, &c., Bute hotel, 2nd November. WILLIAM RAMKE.[2]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1870 'BALLARAT.', The Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 - 1954), 8 September, p. 3. , viewed 30 Jul 2018,
  2. 1870 'BRAVE CONDUCT OF A CONSTABLE.', The Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 - 1924), 3 November, p. 4. , viewed 27 Sep 2018,