The Recent Floods

Empire, Sydney

31 August 1852

Sir,

The weather appeared somewhat settled about, this day week, and we fondly hoped, that after so much rain we were going to have a treat of dry genial weather.

From that time until Friday last, we had hard frosts at night, and fine days - but on Friday the clouds began to gather around us, with a strong cold wind, and boded everything like the brewing of a snow storm.

Towards night it began to rain, and has continued, with few intervals ever since; our creeks are now all full to overflowing; at present they are three times the height that they were on the 24th and 25th of June, when the great floods in the river look place.

Should the present rain continue much longer, another flood in the river may be expected. No accounts have reached us from the lower part of the river since the great floods, so that we are as ignorant of what losses may have been sustained, below the junction of the Lachlan, as if we lived a thousand miles off.

I see by a correspondent of the Goulburn Herald, that application is about to be made to the Government for Ten Thousand Pounds from the Territorial Revenue, as a compensation for the losses sustained by the inhabitants of Gundagai. Surely this most unreasonable request will be treated with the contempt which it merits.

That the poor people who lost house and home and everything that they possessed, are objects of charity, and stood much in need of prompt relief, cannot be doubted for one moment; but relief has already been provided for, through the kindness of the Government, and the public; and this has been extended to everyone who stood in need - besides, if report be true, supplying weekly rations to settlers, who have plenty of wheat on their stations, and plenty of money in the Sydney Banks, and who have lost comparatively nothing by the floods, except a few rods of fencing, and have suffered nothing more than a little annoyance for a few days.

Surely it was not the intention of the Government or of private individuals, to add to the superfluity of those who are independent and who have sustained little or no damage. If this report is true, it must come to light, as I have no doubt but that an account is kept of what is distributed, and that it will be published.

If I am rightly informed, the first inhabitants in Gundagai, petitioned the Government to lay out the ground as a township.

Mr. E. B. Green was the first who built on the present site. He erected slab buildings as an inn. Mr. Andrews sold for him on commission two years, and then bought the premises and business for something like 700.

Other parties seeing that the first adventurer had made a good thing of it, took a longing to have a share; requests were, no doubt, frequently made to the Government to lay out the ground in to a township, that they might purchase the ground before building on it, and with these requests the Government complied.

A Mr. Butler had surveyed the ground and made a plan of it, showing the way in which it was surrounded by the river in the year 1838; and when applications were being made for having it formed into a township, Captain Perry had only to lay his hand on Mr. Butler's plan, and draw out a township.

This done, he sent it to a surveyor, with the streets marked, and lots drawn out, with orders to mark out the township accordingly; so that this surveyor had no liberty to judge (if I am rightly informed) whether the ground was suitable or not.

I do not see that any blame can attach to the survey department or the Government in forming a township, or offering to sell land where it was earnestly sought for by the inhabitants; but whatever consideration the early inhabitants are entitled to in justice from the Government, no person who has purchased ground in Gundagai, or built, or made any improvements in it since the month of October, 1844, can have any claim to any consideration or compensation whatever, for the flood in 1844 was perfectly sufficient warning to all, that sooner or later Gundagai would be swept away and independently of this warning, they had the visible marks of former floods - higher than which has now occurred they had also the testimony of the old Aborigines that floods had occurred, that the tops of the large gum trees were covered by water.

There have been several floods since 1844, sufficiently alarming one would have thought to have made the people leave; but although there was scarcely a person in the township who would not most unhesitatingly assert in common conversation, that sooner or later the place would be demolished by some flood or other - still they were so infatuated that these very people continued adding to their purchases in the town, and to the size of their buildings, and consequently adding day by day to their ruin.

The Government put allotments for sale on the high ground, far above any flood that can ever occur; but few of these have found purchasers - the people still preferred the low ground, the bed of the river, to live on at the hazard of their lives, and who had any right to prevent them?

Much has been made of the reply made by Sir George Gipps; but I do not see that he could have acted otherwise upon principle than he did. If he had granted other grounds in lieu of what been then purchased - might not every purchaser of Crown land, who thought they had made a bad selection, have come forward and claimed the same boon?

I feel perfectly satisfied that few would have accepted the boon, even if he had complied with the request. I think that request was made by the late Mr. Bingham, principally of his own accord, although no doubt with the knowledge and consent of some of the inhabitants.

I am sorry to say that Mr. Bingham, our late Commissioner of Crown Lands, caught a severe cold while attending the burial of the dead after the late floods, and that he fell a victim to its virulence - he died last week at Tumut.

The Government certainly committed an unpardonable mistake in wasting the public revenue by building a National school-house, Court- house, and Police Establishment in the bed of the river at Gundagai.

They ought to have known better. To conclude;- If storekeepers, settlers, and publicans are considered entitled to full compensation from the Government - surely all others who have suffered from the flood along the course of the river are equally entitled to compensation for the loss of their buildings, fences, stores, &c, &c, as well as for the sheep, cattle, and horses which have been drowned. Many industrious settlers have been brought next to ruin from the great disaster - and all on the banks of the river have suffered more or less.

There is no appearance of anything like a supply of labour reaching this quarter - on the contrary, from 50 to 100 people are leaving us every week for the Victoria diggings. Large parties pass along every day, making for the land of promise.

I am, &c., An Old Hand. Murrumbidgee, August 9, 1852.

Postcript.- Mr. Jeffreys had his premises wholly swept away. Mr. Thorn lost two flocks of sheep. Mr. Peter Stuckey lost a flock of fine rams.

Messrs. W. Walker and Co., lost 3,300 sheep in the Yanco Creek. Messrs Collins lost 300 herd of cattle, some horses, and a large quantity of wheat and stores.

Mrs. Hillas of Yabtree lost two year's supplies. Messrs. Macarthur, Nangus, lost all their supplies, and had their promises nearly all swept away. Mr. Mitchell's public house, Mundarlo, is rendered useless, and all his fencing, stockyards, &c, &c, swept away.

The whole course of the river is lined with the dead carcases of horses and cattle, some of which have been carried fifty miles.

The old blacks assure me much higher floods have been seen in the Murrumbidgee.

John Doyle, who had three children drowned at Gundagai, was on his way from Mount Alexander, and had the misfortune to get run against a tree, and had his arm broken. His horse ran away, and 100 was lost out of his parcel.

It is supposed to have been picked up and kept by two strangers who were with him at the time.