Floods in the Hunter (1870)

Floods in the Hunter – View From The Hospital, West Maitland – See Page 384 (From the Front Page of The Illustrated Sydney News 13 April 1870) – Click image for a higher resolution version.


Floods in the Hunter (The Illustrated Sydney News 13 April 1870 page 384.) Click Image for a larger version



DURING the late extraordinary weather, Maitland and its vicinity has been the scene of numerous disastrous floods. The frequent lulls in the downpour of rain, however temporary, were sufficient to lead the inhabitants to hope that time would be given for the waters to abate before the damage would be so excessive as that occasioned by floods in former seasons. The flood-gauge at Belmore Bridge was watched with the utmost anxiety as its figures indicated the fluctuations of the river, but despite the occasional subsidence of the waters, the sad scenes which form part of the history of past years have been repeated; and if not to so great an extent as on previous occasions, still sufficiently so to cause much painful anxiety to the benevolent, and to call for the exercise of that sympathy and kindness which have never been withheld. Mr. Elijah Hart, of West Maitland, has furnished the series of photographs from which our illustrations of the Hunter River floods are taken. The panoramic view of Maitland and the surrounding districts, given on page 385, was taken after the partial abatement of the waters. At Maitland, on Sunday, the 20th ult, the waters reached the highest point – the 31 feet mark, after which the waters began to fall slowly. The back waters, by persons qualified to judge, are fixed at 2 feet 2 inches to 2 feet 6 inches below the great flood of 1867 : yet the destruction of property, the inconvenience, destitution, and loss both actual and prospective, is nearly as great. At Singleton, it was at its highest on Saturday morning, 37 feet 9 inches. The water was deep opposite the Northumberland Hotel, West Maitland, over the eaves of the roofs of the houses in the hollow. Parts of the lower end of Durham, Little Hunter, and Church streets were flooded, and in Elgin street the water was up past the railway mills, and up to the sills of the lower windows of that building. At the Elgin-street railway station, the water was over the platform, but would have to rise three feet, or thereabouts, to reach the level of 1867 : in the goods shed it had not covered the platform by Saturday morning, but subsequently appears to have washed just over it. Owing to the strength of the current across Newcastle-street, East Maitland, traffic was arrested on Saturday morning, and has not since been resumed. The view on page 373 is from the photograph of a pen-and-ink sketch by Mr. Strong, and represents the “backwater” extending in one unbroken sheet for ten miles. To give some idea of this accumulation in the low-lying lands, we extract the following from the Newcastle Pilot of March 19 :– At present the country, more especially about Louth Park, Ravensfield, and Dagworth, presents the appearance of a vast lake, and yesterday I proceeded in a boat over acres of land, which, a few days previously, displayed flourishing crops of produce of every description. I passed houses of which only the roofs are visible, and bales of hay, dead poultry, pigs, furniture, and all kinds of debris are floating with the current which is still flowing rapidly. The face of the country is quite changed in many places ; the river banks have been washed away in several parts where narrowness of outlet gave additional force to the current ; and all over the Louth Park estate the landmarks are destroyed. Nearly all the farmers have with their families been compelled to remove to the town, and leave their household goods to be demolished by the flood. In most cases they have only been able to save what they stood upright in, and their families are now being maintained by the benevolence of the inhabitants of West Maitland, who, I am glad to say, have generously contributed towards alleviating the sufferings which unfortunately no human forethought could have prevented. From Pitnacree-road to Narrowgut the land is still, with very little exception, under water. Where the waters have receded, however, there is a sad picture of desolation, giving a faint idea of what may be expected when the river reaches its ordinary level. Several of the wealthiest farms in the northern district are complete wrecks ; the splendid crops of maize, lucerne, &c., which gladdened the farmer, and gave promise of a prosperous season, lie crushed and rotting; and about the houses the appearance of things generally tells a story of comfortable homes abandoned in haste. The wharf at Morpeth is still under water, as are the lands on the opposite side of the river. Bolwarra appears to have suffered more severely than any other part of the district. Writing yesterday, the Mercury’s reporter says :- All lower Bolwarra was flooded to a greater or less extent, the lands immediately on the other side of Pitnacree Bridge. by a stream from the river, which breaking over above the bridge, swept with some violence across the road, through the farms, and rejoined the main channel after having beaten down the maize, and deposited sand upon the rich black soil. Further downwards towards Largs, the river appears to have broken over in several places upon the low lands, but the surface of the ground is very undulating, and some knolls and patches of maize and lucerne are untouched amid the surrounding destruction. Further on still we can see that the river has made an entry in one sheet, broken only by a ridge which intervenes between the bridge at the Wesleyan Chapel and the stretch of road leading to the culvert just below Largs ; and from the Largsroad up to Mr. Coles’ farm (fronting the West Maitland road through Bolwarra) there must have been, an expanse of water in some places nearly two miles in width, and of a depth varying from say four to seven feet. It was up to the cob of the green maize in some places, and higher in others. It is very disheartening to gain, as we do along this road, a clear idea of the immense destruction of property that has taken place. The ridge we spoke of stands up, green with young lucerne, in the midst of a plain of dull-colored sludgy vegetation, from which all vitality appears gone, and all the lower parts of the maize stalks are redly discolored, and with draggled leaves and the drooping crown above present a picture of perfect desolation. The small view on this page shows an extensive landslip of no less than five acres at the Horseshoe Bend. The embankment save way somewhere in the locality of Penfold’s pump, at about one o’clock in the day. The thing was so sudden that many people could not do more than leave their homes and property to the mercy of the waters, but all was done that could be done to save property. At four o’clock the water in the Horseshoe Bend reached the corner of Hunter street. In half-an-hour it was flowing along the gutter half-way to the Mercury office. Odd-street was full to within thirty yards of Hunter-street at half-past four. Boats were starting from the end of Odd street. The locality of the Horseshoe Bend is one which can be more clearly seen to be flooded than many others where the expanse of water is greater. In the farm districts, owing to the height of the maize and its extent, the water is hidden from view, and that aspect of an unbroken sheet of water, which speaks so strongly of wide-spread destruction is wanting. But unhappily, the loss of property, though not patent at a glance, is a too certain fact. In Louth Park, Lochend, and other places, much of the flood water cannot return to the river upon the subsidence of the flood, but must remain upon the land till cleared off gradually by evaporation and soakage. This ensures inconvenience and loss far beyond that which the mere incursion of the water causes.

Floods At Maitland – Landslip At Horseshoe Bend (The Illustrated Sydney News 13 April 1870 page 384.) – Click Image for a higher resolution version.


Flood in the Hunter – West Maitland and Neighbourhood, After Water Had Abated Four Feet – (From Photograph by Mr E. Hart) (The Illustrated Sydney News 13 April 1870 page 385) Click Image for a Higher Resolution Version

Digitised from the microfilm by Gionni Di Gravio in 2010.
Transcription from Trove 2019.

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