The 1867 Floods in New South Wales
Much has been written about our terrible family loss in the drowning of 12 EATHER's during the June 1867 flood at Cornwallis, but little about the other poor souls who drowned or the terrible losses and hardship to the people of New South Wales in the middle of a very cold winter.
It is to be noted, the flood was not just in the Cornwallis/Windsor district, but encompassed most of the state. In all, it is probable, that thirty lives were lost in New South Wales between the 21 June and the 26th June 1867.
Firstly, I'd like to tell you about the appalling tragedy of Daniel Isaac BAKER (1814-1886) and his wife Mary Ann, nee MYERS (1824-1867). On the night of the 21 June 1867, Mary Ann and seven of her nine children died in the freezing water. Daniel and Mary lived in a hut at the junction of the Mudgee river, working as shepherds for the Blundun's at Burrandong. This isolated family was surrounded by water that rose six feet in ten minutes. At the first rush of water, they all climbed onto the table, then up to the loft and then, Daniel cut a hole in the bark and hoisted them onto the roof. Daniel held the children in his arms, dropping them as they died from the freezing cold. They remained on the roof until the water reached their mouths then they tried to swim for a tree. Only Daniel and two children, Moses 17 and Cecilia 15 survived. The children who died with Mary Ann were;
Daniel Baker 1854-1867, Henry Shadrach Baker 1856-1867, Andrew William Baker 1858-1867, Charles Frederick 1860-1867, John Isaac Baker 1862-1867, Thomas Edwin Baker 1864-1867, Mary Ann Elizabeth Baker 1866-1867.
Also in the same house was a neighbour, Frederick SMITH the son of Edward and Elizabeth Smith. He arrived at dusk to help, whilst his wife Mary Ann Smith went to find a boat. Mrs. Smith survived the flood and came about daylight the next morning. The brave Mrs. Smith could hear them cooeying for a long time but had great difficulty navigating the boat for a mile through the strong currents. She rescued Daniel , Moses, and Cecilia from the tree by the swamped shepherd's hut and took them to shore.
In Wagga Wagga on the Friday night of the 21 June 1867 the Murrumbidgee broke it's banks flooding the town, two lives were lost. One was Samuel CHATTO 1839-1867 from Sydney, working as a labourer at Henry PAUL's station. The free selectors suffered severely on the flats, many losing their homes. 100 head of cattle and 450 sheep were washed away.
On Saturday night the Denison Bridge at Bathurst was washed away and at Murchison, the railway station was completely under water. Between the Pitt Town Punt and Wisemans Ferry the water was sixteen feet deep, you could not see the telegraph poles or wires. All communication was lost.
At Penrith, the families living on the banks of the Nepean had to quickly abandon their homes and seek shelter at the police barracks, the public hospital or railway station. On Friday morning several houses were submerged, some carried away bodily. 200 houses from High Street to Proctors Lane were filled with water to the ceilings of their ground floors. The once neat and comfortable homesteads surrounded by orchards and gardens had disappeared. Hundreds of bushels of corn, hundreds of pigs and poultry, many horses and cattle were all swept away. Fowls drenched almost to death were to be seen roosting on the saddleboards of the deserted and innundated houses.
On the night of the 21st, to the north, on the Wollombi, people took shelter in the Church of England and at the Court House as the freezing waters rose to their highest level in history, indeed, at midnight on the 21st the water was six inches into the church of England. But, for the promptness of the Police Magistrate Mr. Doppling and his dingy, the Rev. Mr. SHAW would have drowned whilst trying to save his stock. Few people escaped some loss at Wollombi, the Wesleyan Chapel and the homes of Mr. WHITEMAN and Mr. BOURNE were completely washed away and the Catholic Church had fifteen feet of water in it.
As the town flooded at Fordwich, Joseph CLARK 1817-1889 watched in horror as his store and the post office was carried down the street in a river of water.
Whilst over in Lochinvar on the night of the 22nd Mr. P GREEN at Kaludah, saw a seven knot an hour river race through and destroy his grapevines. Mr J.F.DOYLE, vineyard owner, with his own boat, tirelessly, rescued a dozen families even though he needed the boat at his own place to save his belongings.
Of Course, Windsor and surrounds suffered greatly. From Thursday at 11:00am when the water was over the banks at South Creek and in Windsor it was up to the bank and as it rained all Thursday night with gale forced winds the people were in imminent danger. With the few private boats available people were being taken from the roofs of their houses in Wilberforce and Cornwallis. By the afternoon of Friday the 21st the river had risen by forty eight feet, three feet higher than during the flood of 1864. The only parts of the town habitable were the upper portion of George Street, the water on the lower portion was three feet high. The Catholic church and McQuades Corner were above water. The Reverend C F GARNSEY's residence "Fairfield", was not overly large, but still managed to squeeze in two hundred people. The residence of Mr. William WALKER 1828-1908 local solicitor and MLA was also above water and crowded with the refugees. Everything else was out of sight in the town, but for the chimneys on the higher houses. Two thousand homeless sufferers crowded around the School of Arts, The Catholic Church and above the floodline in the Wesleyan, and The Courthouse. The Rev.Henry Carleton Stiles at St.Matthew's Anglican lay dying when the great flood was at its highest, and from his deathbed he gave orders to throw the church doors open and admit the crowds of homeless sufferers.
Everybody, whose house was above the floodline threw open their doors to the victims. The Reverend C F GARNSEY said, at a meeting chaired by Mr. WALKER MLA on the 2 July to devise a means of relief for the sufferers, " No one, unless he had been an eyewitness to the scene could have believed what had happened. There were only two small necks of land left to bring the comfortless people and he knew, as the waters rose, there were many who looked with anxious eyes and thoughts of where they might next take themselves for safety". The houses of the settlers had been razed to the ground and in many instances, not a stick, not an article of clothing had been left to the sufferers. The government boats from Customs and the water police did not arrive from Sydney until Friday night, by then, too late for most. As the waters subsided it was noted that, from the Windsor Ferry to the township of Wilberforce and also along Freeman's reach to the Highlands, no more than eight houses were left standing and all were badly damaged.
Amongst the tragedies there were many, many hero's and several very lucky escapes. One, very lucky to be alive was Alfred NORRIS 1837-1875 and his family, Here is his story;
Alfred took his family to a large willow tree and lashed his wife and two of their children to the highest branches. The third child he held in his arms. There were few boats available, and in the dark the rescuers had a very difficult time finding the people who had sheltered in the trees. By 4:30 pm Friday 21st the rivers had risen by forty eight feet, three feet higher than the 1804 flood. The water, had almost swamped Alfred. He was exhausted from holding the child and on the point of collapse when a boat found him and took Alfred and his family to safety.
Written by Janilye 2010
Inquest on six bodies of the Eathers lost in the Flood
Wednesday 26 June 1867.
Commercial Hotel, Windsor, New South Wales
A coroners inquiry was held on Wednesday 26 June 1867, at the Commercial Hotel, Windsor before Mr. Laban White and a jury, on the bodies of Catherine Eather, Mary Ann Eather, Catherine Eather the younger, Charles Eather, Emma Eather and Annie Eather. The wives and children of William and Thomas Eather of Cornwallis, whose mournful fate will never be forgotton in this district.
Thomas Eather, having been duly sworn deposed: I am a farmer and resided in Cornwallis, my family consisted of my wife Emma, aged 36 years, and four girls and two boys of the several ages of sixteen, fourteen, twelve, ten, eight and three. The last time I saw six of them alive(the eldest son of Thomas Eather the deponent, was fortunately from home and not in the flood) was on Friday night. Yesterday my oldest daughter Annie was brought into Windsor, the body having been seen floating near the place where she was drowned; today the body of my wife Emma was found. On Friday afternoon the waters had risen and continued to rise, very rapidly; we were all obliged to fly to the ridge pole of the house hoping to be rescued by some boat; we remained some hours in awful suspense till the violence of the wind and the waves swept the building and the whole of us into the water. I came up from the water and found myself in the branches of a cedar tree; I looked round after my wife and children, but could see none of them; in about an hour after I was rescued by three men in a boat. I told them what had happened. They landed me at Mr. Arthur Dight's, Clarendon. There must have been twenty feet of water where my family was drowned.
William Eather, being duly sworn deposed: I am a farmer and resided at Cornwallis; my family consisted of my wife Catherine Eather aged 37 and my children, Mary Ann, Catherine, Charles, Clara and William, of the respective ages of 11, 9, 6, 3 and 1; on last Friday night I saw them alive; they were then on top of a house of my brother, George Eather, having gone there for safety; I was with them; we were about 200 yards from my brother Thomas's; we had been there from Thursday night; on Friday night, I was about taking my oldest boy into my arms, when I was washed away by the waves; I saw a tree close by, after I surfaced and managed to make for it. I heard the screams of my wife and children, but I could not see them; I fastened myself to a tree and in a short time was rescued by a boat specially sent by Mr Arthur Dight; I believe my wife and three of my children have been brought to Windsor dead.
Phillip Maguire, having been duly sworn deposed: I am a farmer and live at Nelson, and a brother in law of Mrs. William Eather; I went with Charles Eather, Thomas Eather and Charles Westall in search of bodies; yesterday (Tuesday) about 2 o'clock in the afternoon we found Thomas Eather's eldest daughter Annie, floating about 40 yards from where the family had been carried away; this morning we found four more bodies; the dead bodies of which the coroner and jury have had to view, I recognise as the remains of Catherine Eather, wife of William Eather, and Mary Ann, Catherine and Charles the children of William Eather, also Emma, the wife of Thomas Eather and Annie, his eldest daughter.
The jury returned a verdict of accidental drowning. Boats have been out all day searching for other bodies, but have returned unsuccessful.
transcribed by janilye from a report in the Sydney Morning Herald 1 July 1867.