The Drought of 1850-1851

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

(Per favor of the Hon James Gormley.)

I was residing, during the great drought of '50-'51, at Nangus, on the right bank of the river, about 36 miles above Wagga, and as my father's residence was on the principal track on the Murrumbidgee to Wagga and Balranald, as well as the country about Brookong and Urana, I had an opportunity of hearing of the effects of the drought on a considerable part of the country now called Riverina.

Besides, my sister's husband, Thomas Fox, was, during the four months '50, erecting an hotel at the corner of Fitzmurice and Kincaid-streets, Wagga, and during that time my sister resided with us at Nangus, and Fox came to our home each week-end, and brought the news from' the country about Wagga.

Fox opened the hotel on the 1st January, '51, and I visited Wagga several times during the summer of that year.

The river was fordable every few miles during the whole of the year '50, and through the summer of 51 there was only about one foot deep of water between the big holes.

When travelling, from Nangus to Wagga Wagga, I usually went down on one side of the stream, and back home on the other.

I had thus an opportunity of seeing the effects of the drought.

There were only two light falls of rain during the whole of the year '50, and during the summer of '51 there was no rain until April and May, when scattered thunder showers fell.

The first of these was at the head of Jones' Creek, at Gundagai.

The rush of water from this fall, when it reached the river at the foot of Kimo hill, inundated the Gundagai flats, and caused the river to rise 20 feet in half-an-hour.

The sudden rush caused the muddy water to backup the river for about four miles, and the fish in the stream died in thousands.

My wife, then a young girl, resided with her parents at Living-stone Gully Station, but in the summer of '51 the water in Livingstone Gully Creek gave out, and her father, .Joseph Cox, took his family to O'Brien's Creek, about 4 miles distant, where they camped during the summer until rain came.

There were two or three other families camped on O'Brien's Creek, as the water had dried up at many of the homesteads in the neighbourhood.

My wife relates a singular incident that occurred while she was camped at O'Brien's Creek.

One day, when the drought was being felt the severest, she saw a man walking down the creek, which seemed unusual to her, as strangers usually travelled on horseback.

When the man sighted water in the creek he ran back, so my wife thought the man must be demented; but his excitement was soon explained, when he again appeared, assisting to drive a flock of sheep to the water.

When the sheep had a drink, the man left his shepherds in charge of the flocks, and went to the camp, when it was discovered that he was John Pring, the owner of Mangoplah Station.

He explained that his sheep had been five days without water, and that they would have perished had they not got the water that day. John Pring occupied Mangoplah Station for many years, and while residing there usually came to Wagga each week for his mail. He was the father of Judge Pring.

After John Pring left Mangoplah he bought Crowder Station, in the Young district.

I bought sheep from him in '73, and I while stopping with him one night we had a long talk about the great droughtof '50-'51.

In the old days on the Murrumbidgee, each station sent one or more bullock drays to Sydney for supplies.

In the year '50-'51, half, and in some instances two-thirds, of the bullocks died on the road; in numerous instances fresh bullocks had to be sent from the stations to get the drays home.

From Yass to Gundagai, and still further to Wagga and on a Balranald, the frontages were bare of grass for miles back from the river.

Half the cattle on the river died, and many mares which were suck-ling foals, perished.

Although many sheep died, in some instances a fair percentage was saved.

Henry Osborne, an enterprising pioneer settler, who resided in the Illawarra district, owned Wagra Station, on the Tumut.

One of his managers, Archie Irvine, took up Brookong Station about the year '44, and stocked it with sheep.

He travelled them every second day to the Old Man Creek for water, and had nine men on the tracks cutting down boree trees for the sheep to eat the leaves.

The mail coach from Sydney to Port Phillip (Melbourne) went from Gundagai to Albury on the south side of the river. Joseph Jones, of Bargo, had the contract, and sent maize 400 miles on the road to feed the horses, which were in wretched condition.