The Flood at Wagga Wagga
Bellís Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer
17 July 1852
Rumours of a deplorable loss of life in this locality have been current for the past week in the city; and in the absence of any direct intelligence from that quarter, much painful suspense has been experienced by many, the fate of whose friends and relatives was clouded with such dread uncertainty.
In Thursday's "Herald," however, appeared a communication from a correspondent resident at Wagga Wagga, which told of a fearful destruction of property, but happily without loss of life. As we have been disappointed in the receipt of expected dispatches from the same quarter, we extract a portion of the melancholy narrative, of the accuracy of which we entertain no doubt.
South Wagga Wagga. About the 18th of June, it was reported that a heavy fall of snow had taken place at the Tumut and towards Maneroo, and that from our high land the mountains in that direction could be viewed, covered to their summits.
On Monday, the 20th a steady, soft rain set in, which continued unintermittingly until Friday, the 25th June, when the river commenced rising rather rapidly.
As we have always seen that the thawing of the snows produced a heavy rush of water in the river, we expected a flood, but wore wholly unprepared for the mighty torrent which ultimately swept over us, and has left Wagga Wagga a total wreck.
On Saturday morning, the 27th June, the river had risen to the height of our medium floods, and continued to advance steadily. At noon, a man entered the township, who stated he "had ridden to outstrip the torrent, and begged of us to look to our property, for a volume of water was approaching which would soon render it difficult for us perhaps to save ourselves!"
We, who know what those visitations were, took the alarm, whilst others were incredulous, or unnerved. Nearly all the male population has left Wagga Wagga for the diggings, and in consequence the majority of the people consists of "unprotected females", with families.
This made matters ten times worse.
All the men rushed instinctively to assist those who could not help themselves, and the stirring but anxious work of preparing for our giant enemy went on earnestly and unceasingly for about an hour and a half, when the roaring of the swollen torrent announced the, coming crisis.
Onward rolled the mighty stream and with thundering and terrific fury burst over the plain.
In a moment we were struggling in every direction against its fury. S
o frightfully, rapid was, its advance that but a few persons succeeded in getting to a sand hill in the centre of the town reserve.
About, fifty people took refuge in the two storied residence of Mr James Walsh, which was most hospitably thrown open to all, and such accommodation as circumstances admitted, generously afforded.
So little notice was given, that an immense deal of property was left unremoved, when the waters drove the people from their dwellings, and consequently all this was instantly washed away.
The flood continued to advance, and the sun went down, over us and a scene as one could look upon.
To attempt a description would be futile; it exceeds our powers, and no words could describe our feelings.
As the darkness set in, another mighty rush of the river took place, and before this increased volume of water, everything not strong enough to resist it was driven.
The darkness prevented us seeing, the affect, but the shrieks of those people in Mr Walsh's up-stairs rooms, (who had a bird's-eye view of the devastating seen), and the crash which occasionally started us, as we sat with our family on the top of a table, with the torrent roaring and foaming through our duelling, told a fearful story.
The cries of the distressed in North Wagga Wagga also smote upon our ears most dismally throughout that long and cheerless night.
At half past twelve, the waters reached their maximum height and at two o'clock on Sunday morning, we had the intense gratification to observe they were receding.
Day dawned at last, and the sight which met our eyes will never be effaced from our memory.
No less than eight dwellings had been swept entirely away, and the torrent rushed unopposed, above the spot where late they stood.
Besides these, two detached kitchens had been carried away, (with other outbuildings.) and both gables of a long brick stable or store, belonging to Mr Walsh, had been swept down, and the contents of the loft above, comprising wheat, &c, had fallen in the seething surge, and been carried off.
All around was one wide sheet of boiling flood: men stood on Mr Walsh's chimney-tops, and from the dormer windows of the roof, white flags, signals of distress, were being waved violently, whilst the cries for help were repeated with distressing vehemence.
The unhappy people, alarmed at the wreck of so many places, and the fall of the store, together with the shock of the powerful current against the houses, feared it would fall and bury them in its ruins.
As we carried our family out of our water-logged dwelling, to a neighbouring sand hill, the cries for help were redoubled, and the parties who had boon fortunate enough to reach the hill of refuge, (before the waters rose so high the previous evening,) having secured one boat, she was with difficulty got into working trim, (the oars having been lost.) and Mrs. Walsh and her family, together with all the refugees (about fifty) rescued from their perilous position.
In attempting to work our second boatt, she was carried against Mr. Walsh's house by the current, and dashed to pieces, the shock dislodging a number of bricks from the front of the building. This will convey some idea of the force of the current.
Too much praise cannot be awarded to Mr. Edward Henry Seppings, and Mr Loveday, our newly appointed National Schoolmaster, for their fearless and meritorious conduct in removing the numerous persons from Mr Walsh's house, the water being about six feet up the outer walls at the time.
Neither can we speak in too high terms of the hospitality and kindness of Mrs. Walsh, (Mr. Walsh being absent) in affording accommodation to the houseless on that dreadful night, and afterwards distributing food and blankets for their support and comfort.
This is Thursday, and this evening only have the people left the hill, to enter their wrecked homes. Men whose homes have sunk beneath the waters are lodged with the fortunate unfortunates.
In North Wagga Wagga every point of land was covered: twenty-one persons were driven into trees, and the remainder look to the house tops: their sufferings for four days defy description.
The only house which was wrecked there, was Mr. William Brown's new stone house (known as the New Ferry Hotel), a large and spacious building.
The whole of the north end of this structure is gone, and the other end in part - the house must fall, as the upper floor is sinking and forcing out the main walls.
Every house in both townships is seriously injured, and one or two tottering to their fall.
The National School is seriously injured, the water having been half way up the windows.
In this fearful visitation no lives have been lost here, but we fear as intercourse in opened up with the neighbouring localities, we shall hear of many fatal casualties.
The persons in North Wagga Wagga saw a powerful grey horse, saddled and bridled, driven past them in the flood; he struggled hard and effected a landing, and went off into the bush.
The men on an adjacent station also saw a bay horse, with a white snip on the nose, bridled and saddled, swim out near them, and gallop off.
These two circumstances lead to sad conclusions. We give the descriptions of the horses as given to us by the parties who saw them, that persons interested may have a clue to the fate of missing friends.
We dread to hear from the township of Gundagai, and fear the intelligence will be of the most disastrous character.
Every person here has suffered immensely, and very many have lost everything they possessed in the world. Mr Robert Holt Best, a most industrious and respectable settler near this, has been a great sufferer: himself and all his family managed to got into a small punt, which they moored to a tree, and wherein they remained for two days.
Wagga Wagga as a township is ruined; none but a madman or a fool would ever buy another allotment of land in it, or erect a building.
Bad as is the position of Gundagai, this monster flood has shown that our locale is infinitely I worse: situate on a plain, across which a full mile of water pours its fury, none but the most substantial buildings could withstand its force a moment, and had the waters risen one foot higher, we do not hesitate to say, that every house in the town would have gone.