The year 1870 was wet across Australia. In January, summer storms brought flooding to Ballarat and Bendigo. Then for several months floods plagued NSW and Queensland. Winter came and the Western District received more than its share of rain.
The rain continued into spring and the Hamilton Spectator reported on 10 September 1870, “The present extraordinary season, according to many of the oldest inhabitants has not been equalled in the Western District of Victoria for the last eighteen years.” That came after 1½ inches fell across 4 and 5 September causing the Grange Burn at Hamilton to swell. Mail to the town was blocked for two days with creeks along the route on the rise.
The Hopkins River was up and water lapped the back door of the Hexham Hotel. Mail couldn’t get through to Warrnambool from Melbourne and at Allansford, not only the old bridge washed away but also new bridge under construction.
The Wannon River (below) was raging and there were reports of trees going over the Wannon Falls. Further downstream, the road from Sandford to Casterton was cut and a bridge at Sandford was washed away.
WANNON RIVER, OCTOBER 2020
Streatham saw the largest flood the inhabitants could remember with families evacuated and the telegraph office flooded. At Skipton, the rise of Mount Emu Creek soon saw the streets flooded.
The Hamilton Spectator‘s Coleraine correspondent summed up the town’s experience during the rains of September 1870, pointing to the rapid rise of the water and the plight of the McCaskill family. He offered a grim assessment…”if the stream had not suddenly fallen, that a coroner’s inquest in the locality would have taken place.”
WANNON FALLS, OCTOBER 2020
At Hilgay not far from Coleraine, John MOFFAT was drowned. A number of horses on the property were in hobbles and stranded in deep water. The owners of two of the horses offered £1 each to anyone who would go underwater and cut the hobbles. Shortly after, John Moffat asked one of the owners for a knife and a pipe of tobacco. He didn’t say he was going to free the horses but instead just “strolled away. Later it was noticed he was missing and a search was made. His clothes were found on the river bank by his friends but his body couldn’t be found.
At Roseneath on the Glenelg River north of Casterton, eleven-year-old Lewis Frank Russel RALSTON, a son of Robert Ralston and Jane Ross was drowned in the river.
There was an electrical storm at Casterton and subsequent floods were considered the “greatest floods ever” or at least since 1851. Stores and homes were flooded while at nearby Sandford, the bridge over the Wannon River washed away. At Balmoral, the “old” bridge was gone and around Harrow, the water offered “an almost uninterrupted swim”.
At Hamilton, communications were down and the Hamilton Spectator said it “rained in torrents for hours”.
One report suggested around 34 mm of rain fell in a short time. The bridge over the Grange Burn on the Dunkeld Road (now Ballarat Road) was partially washed away. Further downstream, the Grange Inn on the banks of the creek was in more than a metre of water resulting in the kitchen breaking away and washing down the creek. One of the abutments on the nearby Portland Road bridge had washed away and the roadway had fallen in.
LOOKING TOWARDS THE SITE OF THE FORMER GRANGE INN AND THE DIGBY ROAD BRIDGE OVER THE GRANGE BURN FROM THE PORTLAND ROAD BRIDGE.
To the east, sheep washes were swept away at Strathkellar and around 600 sheep were drowned at Warrayure. At Portland, the storm was spectacular and around 17mm of rain fell.
The people of Coleraine have been no strangers to flooding over the years. For example, there was 1893, 1906, 1983, and more recently 2016, the worst flooding since 1946 the year of ‘The Big Flood‘ across the Western District. Even earlier this month while writing this account, two days of almost constant rain saw the Bryan Creek once again rise resulting in some minor flooding.
The flood of October 1870 was disastrous and possibly the worst in the town’s history but as there weren’t official records kept for rainfall and the creek levels, it is difficult to compare. The only comparison can be made with the number of fatalities and fortunately, there has never been a repeat of the loss of life seen in 1870.
You can find more about the history of flooding at Coleraine from the following video prepared for the Southern Grampians Shire Council investigation into the 2016 Coleraine floods. You can read the full report on the link – Coleraine Flood Investigation
* Bryan Creek – While researching the 1870 floods, I came across several variations of the name of the creek which passes by Coleraine, Bryan Creek, Bryan’s Creek, Bryants Creek, Koroite Creek, and Koroite Rivulet. The use of Koroite comes from the Koroite run. The homestead stood on the northern bank of the creek just west of the township once known as Bryan’s Creek from the name of the run taken up by John Bryan in 1837 and later his brother Samuel. In 1937, the Portland Guardian claimed Samuel Pratt Winter said in the Hamilton Spectator in 1878, also the year of his death, that somewhere along the line someone had added a”t”.
Social distancing is nothing new. This photo shows my Nana, Linda Gamble (nee Hadden) as a nineteen-year-old isolating at Cherrypool in 1938 with friends and family. Cherrypool is a location on the Henty Highway between Hamilton and Horsham. All from Hamilton, the group camped out to protect themselves from a polio outbreak in early 1938. When Nana talked of the photo she always laughed because isolating themselves was basically useless because a number of Hamilton people made the eighty-five-kilometre trip to visit during their time there.
As we’ve seen over the past weeks social distancing has led to novel ways to fill in time. That was no different out at Cherrypool. The campers came up with the idea of a mock wedding with Nana as the bride. That’s when this photo was taken. A mock wedding in the bush is not an option for us at this time but we can learn about our past and Western District Families is a good place to start.
The main section of Western District Families has more than 430 posts. You can simply start at this post and start scrolling or you can view the posts by category such as Western District History and Cemeteries. In the right sidebar of this page, you will see the drop-down box for categories. You will also see the Pioneer Obiturary Category and from there you can read the seventy-nine Passing of the Pioneers posts from the most recent. Or if you are looking for the obituary of a specific person, go to the tabs at the top of the page you will find the Pioneer Obituary Index. There you can find a person within the alphabetical lists. Click on their name and you will go their Passing of the Pioneers entry.
Another tab at the top of the page is the Western District Links. There are some useful links for websites if you are interested in researching Western District family history or local history including Facebook groups and pages. You will also find links to all the Western District newspapers digitised at Trove.
There is also Hamilton’s WW1 with 160 biographies of men and women who served. Hamilton’s WW1 is divided into Enlistments, Women, and Memorials., Whichever you choose, just click on the underlined names to read a biography. There are nine new biographies available. They are:
A handy tip while reading the posts and pages at Western District Families is to click on any underlined text which will take you to further information on a subject. It may be a website like, Trove or the Australian Directory of Biography or it may be a related WesternDistrict Families post.
If you’ve made it through all that, you could check out the Western District Families or the Hamilton’s WW1 Facebook pages. You don’t even have to be a Facebook member to view them either. On the Western District Families page recently I’ve been posting links to books about Western District history you can read for free online. Plus there are 1000s of photos you can browse through. You will find links to both pages in the right-hand sidebar of this page.
If after all that you find yourself twiddling your thumbs again, try the Western District Families YouTube Channel. You can view nine videos I’ve made including the Western District Families 2018 Album made up of photos shared to the WDF Facebook page.
Or you can view the playlist I’ve put together including sixty-seven history-themed videos from across the Western District such as ‘Mrs Funk and the Dunkeld and District CWA Cookbook’. Aged 100 in 1910, Mrs Funk reads through the cookbook and is reminded of people, recipes, and stories from her past in Dunkeld. You will find that video and more on the link – WDF YouTube Playlist.