Gundagai, Dreadful Flood

The Sydney Morning Herald

5 July 1852

June 28. - Sixty-Four Lives Lost.

I beg leave to forward you a brief account of a dreadful flood we have just been visited with, at Gundagai. Though the river had been rising for some days previous, it was not till late on the night of Thursday, the 24th, that any apprehensions were entertained of having a high flood. Several families on the lowest part of the town on the north bank of the river, moved during Thursday to a place of safety.

That part of the town that is on the north bank, has suffered most; it extends principally over a flat, separated from the high ground by a creek which rises very quickly, and long before there are any apprehensions, can only be crossed by boats or by swimming.

Late on Thursday evening, the flat was covered, and preparations were made to withstand a flood.

On Friday morning, about 9 o'clock, the water attained the height to which it rose last year. A boat came from the other side of the river about 9 A.M., to relieve Mr. Thatcher, whose family had taken to the loft.

In recrossing the river the boat was swamped, and five children and one of the boatmen were drowned. From the fearful current, and the enormous logs that it was carrying down, it was impossible to attempt to take off any more that day. As night drew in the unavailing cries for assistance all around became fearfully harassing.

Crash after crash announced the fall of some house and the screams that followed the engulphing of those who clung till the water attained its greatest height, about 11 o'clock at night, and began to fall at 3 A.M. on Saturday.

Up to this time, about 34 houses had been washed away, and 60 lives lost. Numbers, who were carried away by the stream, saved themselves by clinging to trees. I myself was on a tree from 11 on Friday night, until about 3 o'clock on Saturday afternoon.

Many were so placed for two nights; some of these were saved, though no doubt several perished from exhaustion. One melancholy instance is the fate of Miss Hemphill, who on Saturday night was alive in the tree, in which on Sunday she was found dead.

Those on the high ground exerted themselves to the utmost. Two strangers manned a boat, and took several from the trees, myself amongst the number.

The black fellow "Jackey," belonging to Mr. Andrews, afforded in this respect the most valuable assistance, saving a great many lives.

The scenes on the high part, where the remains of the inhabitants are congregated, is truly distressing. At every step you see someone lamenting the dead. Here and there the sorrowing remains, of what three days before was a large and thriving family.

Mr. Thatcher saved himself, but lost eight of his family. Mr. Lindley returned to-day from a journey to Yass, and found the whole of his family swept away. There are few that lived on the flat that have not to lament the loss of some relation; nearly all are penniless.

The distress that existed has been relieved, as much as possible, by the sympathy and kindness of those whose houses and property are uninjured.

The generous hospitality of Mr. Norton, Chief Constable, will ever be remembered by those to whom his house became a home, when they were without shelter and many almost penniless. Messrs. Caddington, Bourke, Boland, and others, with whose names I am unacquainted, excited feelings of the most lively gratitude by their sympathy and kind exertions to relieve all who came on shore. Mr. Morley distributed provisions and blankets, and exerted himself to the utmost in getting those saved who were placed in danger.

The following is the list of those who were drowned, amounting to sixty-four. The number of houses swept away about thirty-six.

Mr. and Mrs. M'Kenna, of the National School, and five children.

Mr. Hunt, saddler, formerly of Parramatta, wife, and four children.

Mrs. Lindley, of the "Rose Inn," and four children, old man, servant man, and woman, little girl, woman, and child.

Mr. Luff, of the Murrumbidgee, staying at the "Rose Inn."

Mrs. Thatcher, sen., Miss Thatcher, Mrs. Thatcher, jun., and five children.

Mr. Gormly, Mrs. Gormly, daughter, and two sons, and two girls (lodgers).

Mr. Scott, butcher, wife, and son, and boy (Castleton).

Mr. Gerard Hemphill, innkeeper, wife, and four children. Mr. Egerton, tailor, and wife.

Mr. Morris and two children.

Four strangers, staying at Spencer's Inn, from the "Lachlan"; Williams, servant to Mr. Spencer.

Dr. Waugh's servant.

*******

The following letter has been received by the board of National Education:

Gundagai, 28th June, 1852.

In the absence of the Local Patrons I do myself the honor to report to you, for the information of the Board of National Education, the death of Mr. and Mrs. M'Kenna, master and mistress of the National School here.

On Friday night, the 25th instant, the Murrumbidgee overflowed its banks, laying the whole of the town under water, when Mr. and Mrs. M'Kenna and five children, along with about 67 other inhabitants, were drowned.

I have the honour to be,

Sir, Your most obedient servant,

D. Smith, Hon. Secretary. W. C. Wells, Esq., Secretary.