Clunes flood 1863

From Hotels of Ballarat

The Clunes flood of 1863 was the largest seen in the town to that date. It caused extensive flooding through the main street.

History[edit | edit source]

Following days of constant rain, a heavy downpour on 6 June 1863 caused rivers and creeks to break their banks and flood low lying areas. Many of these areas were now in the gold mining areas of Ballarat, Clunes and Smythesdale. The Geelong Advertiser reported on the floods in Clunes:

Our local correspondent writes as follows:—The late heavy rain on Saturday last, caused the greatest flood ever known in Clunes. At half-past two

o'clock on Saturday morning, Mr Blake, who has charge of the water supply for the Port Phillip Company, finding that the water was rising in the dams, became apprehensive of a flood, and gave the alarm to the people residing on the flat, many of whom carried away their property to the high ground, and prepared for abandoning their houses The water kept gradually rising and occasionally going down a little, till half past ten o'clock, when the water rose about two feet over the top of the Port Phillip Company's big dam, and in a short time caused a breach on the south west side. Through this an immense body of water rushed down on to the flat, swamping all the houses from Mr Blake's residence, above Fell's old bridge to the port Phillip Company's works.

In Fraser street, from the Wesleyan Chapel on the higher, and the Mechanics' Institute on the lower sides of the street, a flood of water about three feet high swept along, carrying with it quantities heavy and cumbrous articles. In the Washington Hotel the water rose to nearly the top of the billiard table, and the proprietor, Mr George, who is at present very ill, had to be removed from there to the second story of the Bull and Mouth Hotel, the first floor being filled with water. In Mr Mark's new store the water rose to the level of the floor, although it is considerably higher than the ground on which it was built. The amount of loss to the proprietors of the various stores and other buildings must be considerable, large quantities of fencing, timber, and live stock having been carried away. A considerable amount of labor will be required to clear the cellars and houses of the slime left behind by the flood. All the foot bridges including the one with the main that supplies North Clunes with gas, and the new one finished a short time since by the Municipal Council have been destroyed. The damage to municipality by their destruction, and the injuries to the various streets, crossings, and other public property, is estimated at about L200.

During the height of the flood an instance of generous daring occurred, which will be long remembered on Clunes. Just below Fell's old bridge the creek separates into two channels, thus forming an island, on which several houses are built. On this part three women and four children (one a baby in arms) were observed completely surrounded by water, which still appeared to be rising. Many schemes were devised for their rescue, but none seemed feasible, until at the suggestion of Mr Sutherland, the Chairman of the Council, a raft of pine boards was made. This, with a rope fastened at each end was launched below the Government bridge, with the view of being floated down to the sufferers, but owing to the violence of the current, one of the ropes broke. As the water had then risen nearly to the women's waists, they would inevitably have been drowned but for the bravery of a young German, Heinrich Zornig, who, with a rope, the one end of which was fastened to the raft and the other to his waist, swam across to them. He then placed the woman and children on the raft, and guided it along till nearly out of his depth, when he got into it, and with great dexterity steadied and steered it with a pole, while the men on the other side drew it ashore. The poor creatures were then taken out nearly dead with cold and fright. In order to show the appreciation of this conduct of Heinrich Zornig, (who is only a poor labouring man) by the inhabitants of Clunes, a subscription was initiated on the spot, and well responded to. A grant will also be made by the municipal council in his favour and at a public

meeting to be held for that purpose, he will be presented with a purse. During the flood the view from the hill close to the Clunes Company's works was very grand, as the flat from Ligar-street to Fraser street was covered with what appeared a mighty river, and the houses visible amidst the raging waters looked like beacons placed there to warn men of the folly of building in such a place. Had the Criterion and Clunes United Companies not provided, as they fortunately did, against the danger of the Coghill's Creek dam giving way, the water would have penetrated to the workings, from thence to the other claims, and the injury would have been irreparable. The water began to lower about one o'clock, when the rain ceased, and was still falling at sunset. All the companies suspended operations during the flood, it being considered unsafe to go below. The Coghill's Creek dam has stood bravely as yet, and the water in it is lower now than before the rain began, the bywash having gradually worn away the side of the bank and created a sufficiently large outlet for the water.[1]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1863 'INUNDATIONS IN BALLARAT AND ITS VICINITY.', Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 - 1929), 9 June, p. 3. , viewed 02 Mar 2017,