The Gundagai Floods - Further Particulars
The Sydney Morning Herald
21 July 1852
On Thursday, the 24th of June, the river rose rapidly, and towards evening it was getting bank-high, but those who have lived long on the river thought but little of the circumstance, as I it was usual for the river to rise to that height several times during the winter months, but a flood over the banks of the river had never been known before the spring months; and our great flood had always been supposed to arise from the dissolving of the snow, combined with the warm rains of spring.
The tragedy commenced on the morning of Friday, the 25th of June, by the taking of the punt boat men who were perfectly incapable of managing it; and one of the owners of the boat remarked at the time to a person near him, that from the unskilful way in which the men used their oars, they would swamp the boat and lose their lives.
They reached the opposite side of the river and took off the daughter of Mr. Thatcher, the carpenter, and 3 or 4 of his children; on their return to the south bank they had to stem the stream, the fences were all but submerged, and a boat could not at this time sail over them; the men tried hard to pull the boat into the still water by the side of the river, but after three or four unsuccessful efforts, they got into the current, when they became perfectly frightened at the sea of water, and the rapidity at which they were swept along ; they lost all courage, drifted against an oak tree - three or four piercing shrieks were heard - all were lost.
One of the men, named Dick, swam to Mr. Spencer's: he was the only one saved.
This destruction of life might have been avoided, as there was a boat of a smaller size, and one that could be more easily managed by two men, on the north bank of the river; but the truth is, that persons had been so much accustomed to stop in their houses during floods, that few would leave.
The punt boat required four good men to pull her, if it could be managed at all in such a flood; she had been nearly lost three times during the week, once, having the mail bags on board, she was stopped by a tree and detained all night.
The day previous, some inexperienced persons wanted to work her with the paling of a garden fence and as apology for an oar.
This I mention, as some reflections having been cast on the proprietor, because he would not allow the boat to be worked on Thursday until new oars were obtained, the others having been taken away during the morning of that day, by a ruffian calling himself a sailor, who was proceeding to the gold field, and who took the boat in the absence of the man in whose charge it was, lost the oars, and allowed the boat to drift down the stream.
By the evening the new oars were made, and the boat worked, but the only persons who came across were Mr. H. Bingham, late Commissioner of the district, and James Brenan.
The owner of the boat went over at the same time, and asked if anyone was desirous of going to the other side in it; but no one felt the least alarm, and he was told they had a boat of their own, if it should be required.
This was on Thursday night. It was not until Friday evening that the river rose some feet higher than at any previous flood, and persons then became alarmed, and as night approached, house after house was carried away by the stream.
The moon shone bright, and about 10 o'clock the river had risen ten feet higher than on any former occasion.
I will name to you a few of those who have suffered, and some of the names of those that are drowned, for I do not know the names of all, but it is computed about ninety human beings have met with a premature grave.
Mr. Richard Hunt, his wife, and family, together with his premises, were swept away.
He was by trade a saddler, and one of the oldest inhabitants. At previous floods he never left his house, but went up into his loft. Mr. and Mrs. Hemphill (of the Murrumbidgee Cottage Inn), three amiable daughters, and one son, all his stock-in-trade, furniture, stable, kitchen, &c, swept away.
One son was saved in a tree near the house, the roof having drifted that far. If they had been active and courageous the whole family might have been saved, Mr. Horsely saved himself in like manner.
He fastened his belt around the elder Miss Hemphill, as he got into the tree, but the belt broke and she fell.
They were betrothed. Mr. Sweney, the watchmaker, was seen to bend his head to let a tree pass him, instead of securing himself; a moment after the roof of the house broke up, and the while family were no more.
Old Mr. Luff, his wife, family, and others, including some servants of Mr. T. Lindley, of the Rose Inn, in number nineteen, took refuge in the kitchen loft, on account of its being a brick building, and likewise the highest, but the kitchen, stable, &c, were swept away, and all perished ; the house stood. Mr. Lindley was absent from home. John Scott, the butcher, his wife and two children, a little boy named Henry Castleton, house and all, swept away.
Charles Ross, carpenter, three children, with the hut in which they lived, carried off. Mrs. Ross saved herself by swimming. Mrs. Butler and child drowned. Mrs. Thatcher and all the children, the wife of Mr. H. Thatcher, jun., house and all, swept away.
Mr. T. succeeded in getting into a tree and was saved after remaining there three days. Mr. Riley, innkeeper, lost the verandah of his house, stable, &c, but the main building stood, and his family was saved.
Mr. and Mrs. M'Kenna, of the National School, and all their children, and a little girl named Mary Brennan, were drowned. The flood washed away the end of the school-house. The new Court- house and lock-up, and all the huts in the township were swept away.
The end of Mr, Simpson's new brick building, occupied as a store by Mr. Turnbull, gave way and the place was completely gutted; family saved and main building standing. Mr. Gormady, his wife and family, with the exception of his two sons, drowned; house, &c., swept away, John Morris, horse breaker, and two children drowned, and house swept away; his wife was taken off by the blacks.
The premises, stock in-trade, furniture, &c, of Mr. Charles Jones' Golden Pippin Inn, were entirely swept away; himself and family saved. Mr. Spencer's Family Hotel, stabling, 20 tons of hay, above 300 bushels of oats, corn, &c, with stock-in trade, furniture, and valuable library, all swept away, and five persons drowned.
This house stood until 10 o'clock, having been sheltered from the current by the brickwork of the kitchen chimney, but when that went the full force of the water came against fie house. Dick, who escaped in the morning from the boat, and Mr. Spencer saved themselves by swimming; the former got on shore that night, the latter, after swimming three quarters of a mile, got on a tree in Stuckey Island, where he remained naked until noon next day, when he was got off by a black named Yarra.
Those drowned were John Williams, the cook; Mr. Sachas, a German; Mr. John Pherson; James, the puntman; and an old man, name unknown, aged 70.
Mr. Bingham, the late Commissioner for the district, used his influence with the blacks to cut canoes, by which means many lives were saved.
It is to be hoped that the government will never again sell any land in these flats, for building purposes, but give the owners of allotments other land in exchange, on the hill above high water mark.
The post to which the punt was fastened was carried away, and the punt drifted half a mile on the bank, when it was stopped by two trees. With the exception of her flaps, she has sustained but little injury.
When the water subsided, a number of men on the road to the diggings, and others, commenced appropriating all the property that came within their way - in fact, they made themselves bark canoes, and searched about for plunder; they broke open cases, boxes, chests of drawers, broached casks, &c., and paid no attention to the claims of those who had lost their all.
On Saturday evening, a number of special constables were sworn in, headed by Dr. Waugh, J.P.
Some teams were searched, but nothing found.
On the morning of that day, several drays started, loaded with the plunder of the unfortunate sufferers. The constables came too late.
P.S.- Mr. Davison's store was much injured, also the property in it. All lives saved.