The Gundagai Catastrophe

The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser

10 July 1852

For the melancholy disaster which has befallen Gundagai, and consigned so many of its inhabitants to an untimely grave, the Colonial Government are in no slight degree accountable.

As the township is a public one, some blame attaches to the Government for having selected an unsafe and therefore unsuitable site.

Possibly at the time the selection was made experience might not have furnished proof that any serious danger from floods was to be apprehended, though a knowledge of the country in the locality sufficient to justify the laying out of a township would, we should imagine, have suggested the probability of such a danger to a competent surveyor.

But a much higher degree of blame attaches to the Government - and to the late Sir George Gipps especially - for having permitted the continuance of the township on a site which the floods of 1844 proved to be most unsafe for the purpose.

The miserable policy under which, in 1844, the Government refused to sanction the exchange of allotments on the then recently flooded land at Gundagai, for allotments on the higher land on the opposite bank of the Murrumbidgee, has mainly led to the disastrous and melancholy loss of life which has just taken place at that town.

If the land on the low bank of the river had been then resumed by the Government, and the township removed to the higher bank - purchasers being allowed to exchange their allotments, as suggested by Mr. Commissioner Bingham - much of the loss of life which has now taken place would have been averted, and the Government would have been relieved from the painful responsibility which now attaches to them.

After the terrible catastrophe which has just occurred, the Government will surely not require any further pressing to prohibit, as far as they can do so, the re-erection of the township of Gundagai on the low bank of the Murrumbidgee.

Holders of town lands should not only be allowed to select free of cost allotments in a new township, in lieu of their present ones, but some further inducement should, if necessary, be held out to them to abandon their present holdings as dwelling places.

Equity, indeed, suggests that they are entitled to some compensation at the hands of the Government for the pecuniary loss they have sustained from the carrying away of their houses and property by the floods.

The inhabitants of Sydney have with a prompt benevolence set on foot a subscription for the relief of the survivors.

Those who have escaped with life at Gundagai and neighbourhood are represented as being left in a state of painful destitution; and, from the melancholy bereavements with which their pecuniary ruin is accompanied, they have peculiar and strong claims on the active and cordial sympathy and assistance of their fellow colonists.

 In our own neighbourhood we are glad to see that the example of Sydney is about to be followed at once; and we hope that throughout the colony a simultaneous feeling of generous emulation will be kindled to do to the sufferers as under similar circumstances we would they should do unto us.