After the '50-'51 Drought

30 April 1915 The Gundagai Times and Tumut, Adelong and Murrumbidgee District Advertiser

 (Per favor of tbe Hon. James Gormley.)

No. 3. Three Wet Years.

After the drought of -'51 broke up, we had in N.S.W. and Victoria three of the wettest years that I have seen.

Rush To The Diggings.

Gold was discovered in Lewis Ponds Creek in the Bathurst district in Feb., 1851, and the rush to the gold diggings commenced in May, June and July, just as the wet weather was severest.

Doctors, lawyers and merchants joined the rush, many of them scantily equipped, and thoroughly unfit to undergo the hard work, and to stand the hardships and privations to be met with on a now gold field.

Many who started from Sydney turned back before they reached the top or the Blue. Mountains. 

The Lachlan Flooded.

My two brothers and myself (I being the youngest) started early in the rush from Gundagai for the Ophir, as the gold fields were then called.

We had a horse each, but no pack horse.

Our equipment was a simple one , an opossum rug each, a quart pot and a pint pot, a little tea and sugar, and a few pounds of flour. Soon after we started it rained for days in succession.

When we reached the Lachlan the river was in flood. There was no house punt or boat near the place.

We camped on the bank until our scant supply of food was all pone, and then we had to swim our horses over the river, which was bank high.

We reached Carcoar a day or two after we got over tho Lachlan, where we were able to buy a small quantity of flour and meat.

From tho effects of the rain and swimming the river, our possum rugs were like pieces of wet tripe.

We had travelled and slept in our wet clothes for about ten days.

When we reached the gold flelds we sold our horses, saddles and bridles to some disappointed diggers, who were eager to get away home again, for the usual fate of the early diggers was disappointment in not easily finding gold.

We found it was easy to buy a tent, a cradle (to wash the dirt in), and the usual tools - picks and shovels. Hundreds were flocking to the diggings each week, and hundreds were leaving disappointed.

The Turon River Rush.

 After a few weeks of bad luck and hard work, we bought horses and started for the Turon River, where a new rush had started.

When we reached the town of Bathurst we found the Macquarie River in flood.

There was only one small boat at Bathurst and it took us two days to get our horses over the flooded stream.

When travel-ling from Bathurst to the Turon River we met dozens com-ing back disappointed.

The chief part of the gold procured was got in the bed of the river, so a high flood, which had rushed down in the night and washed many of the diggers' tools away, and filled up the holes with stones and earth.

When we got to the river we bought fresh equipment and tackled work in the bed of the stream.

 Miners Flooded Out.

There were floods and floods, and more floods for the remainder of the winter, and there were many floods in the summer of 1852.

We made and erected what was known as Californian pumps, to endeavour to keep the water down in our claim, but the river rose one night, and we lost all our plant.

So we abandoned our claim in the river bed, and started to work in the little Oakey Creek, a tributary of the Turon where we got a little gold.

Our tent, where we resided was still on the river bank. I had some spare clothes, so that when we knocked off work at night I could change my wet clothes for dry ones.

One Saturday night I gathered up all my garments, except those I was wearing, and put them in the water in the river, and put some stones on them to keep them from floating away.

A storm came on in the night, which wrecked our tent, flooded the river, and washed away all the clothes I had placed in the river.

Two Miners Drowned.

While we were digging in the little Oakey Creek, a very disastrous incident occurred.

On a fine sunny day with a few clouds in the distance towards the head of the creek, a torrent of water rushed down the narrow channel, which had steep hills on each side.

Our party - my two brothers, myself and a mate - were working on the high ground close to the bank.

We heard the roar or rushing water before it came in sight, looking up the creek we saw diggers rushing from their shallow holes, with barely time to save their lives.

There was one man with whom I was well acquainted; and with whom on Sundays I used to wander about the hills, searching for indications of gold.

This man was known on the field as the Captain, as he seemed to be a very superior sort of person, and was reputed to have been a captain in the British navy.

The Captain worked by himself, which was rather unusual on the diggings.

Most of the claims being, in wet ground, the mining parties were usually from three to five.

Although I was a favourite with the Captain (I was about 16 years of age at the time), he never told me his name or anything about his former career.

I was very partial to the man, and he taught me many things that were of service to me afterwards.

When the rush of water rolled down the creek eight or ten feet high. I recollected that the Captain was tunnelling into a basalt bank further down the creek, and that he was likely to be caught by the rush of water.

I was very active at this time, and rushing down the bank I crossed the dry bed of the creek only a few rods ahead of the flood.

I roared out as I ran to endeavour to give the man in the tunnel warning, but I was too late.

The water rose feet above the mouth of the tunnel.

About six hours after the flood the bed of the creek was almost dry.

A few hundred yards up the creek from where the Oakey Creek joins the river, the hills recede back from the channel, and the level space is known as Erskine's Flat.

When the rush of water came down this level ground was inundated to a depth of about three feet, and when the water flowed off the body of the Captain and that of another man were found in a heap of debris.

The Captain's body was naked.

When working in the tunnel, in consequence of the heat through want of ventilation, he used to discard most of his clothes.

Through the body being found outside the mouth of the tunnel, which at the time was about 12ft. deep, it is evident that the Captain, who was an excellent swimmer, fought hard for his life.

Many years after I became acquainted with a person who, from the description I gave of the man who was drowned, came firmly to the conclusion that he was Captain Robinson, whom he had known in Scotland, and that his people had made inquiries for years, but could not get any trace of him.

My story came too late, as my acquaintance believed most of Captain Robinson's relatives in the Old Country, were then dead and scattered. 

After my brothers and myself worked hard, and endured privations for about eight months, we found ourselves in the same financial position as when we left home, so we left the Turon and went to Tambaroora, where we again dug for gold for a couple of months.

Then we decided to return home.

On the journey to Gundagai we had wet weather, and found the Lachlan in flood.

We had bought a few pounds of food it Carcoar.

We camped a few days at Cowra Rooks and when our food was again exhausted we swam our horses back across the river.

At the stations we passed we could not purchase flour, so we had to go two days without bread.

We got home to Gundagai about two months before the flood of 25th June 1852, came down, which swept away the town and drowned about 100 persons.

I intend to write articles in reference to the floods of '52 and '53, and some of my experiences on the gold fields of Victoria, Mount Alexandria, Bendigo, Ballarat and The Ovens.