Thursday, 15 September 2011

The Mighty Mary in Flood

Kent and Lennox Streets, Maryborough during
the 1893 floods. Maryborough QLD

Maryborough has endured many great floods through time, starting with the 1857 and 1863 floods. In February 1863, the town experienced two weeks of bad weather resulting in the Mary River rising to submerge the wharf. On 26 February 1863, the river was still flowing rapidly; and a young boy of around fifteen years old, named James Greer, drowned while swimming alongside the paddle steamer “Queensland”. Greer was an apprentice to the steamer and had come to Maryborough from England aboard the vessel which was built in Glasgow in 1861.

The next flood was certainly one of the worst to hit Maryborough and was described as the worst since white man settlement. Torrential rain fell daily for several weeks resulting in water rising above the banks of the river causing minor damage. A few days of fine weather followed with water levels receding. On Wednesday 16 March of the same year a storm broke with water levels rapidly rising to its peak. Evacuation procedures began to take place where small boats were requestioned and people moved to higher ground. Saturday 19 March, several houses had floated away, some were saved by attaching ropes, but many more were lost along with their contents.

Another flood occurred in March 1870, where water levels rose to three feet above the level of the 1864 flood resulting in widespread damage.

In 1875, yet again Maryborough saw water levels reach as high as twenty-eight feet and still rising. Local residents became increasingly alarmed over the possible consequences of destruction and devastation.

Two more devastating floods caused widespread damage in 1890 and 1893., However the 1893 flood was documented as the worst flood in Queensland’s history. This left the town a great deal of suffering and heartache where businesses and housing were ruined, people killed and stock destroyed. The event began with a cyclone sweeping down the eastern coast of Australia causing some concern, but would not greatly affect the port of Maryborough.  The Brisbane Weather Bureau under the control of chief meteorologist, Clement L. Wragge issued a warning on 27 January 1893, noting that there were some suspicious conditions north from Bowen.

Maryborough residents remembering previous floods watched anxiously. On 29 January 1893, it began to rain heavily; the river began to rise on the night of Tuesday 31 January. The decking of the municipal wharf was under water by 3am and by 7am water had entered the lower floors of the Grand hotel. Heavy rain continued to pound down on Maryborough, streets were flooded with storm water and many resembled canals. The river peaked on 5 February; the town had been extensively inundated. The Maryborough Bridge (where the Lamington Bridge now stands) had been washed away. The destruction of this splendid wooden structure, nearly half a mile long was first constructed in 1875, was documented as one of the great disasters caused by the flood.

On 8 February 1893, the waters had receded far enough for the preliminary clean-up to begin. Shops in
Kent Street
, the Town Hall, School of Arts, the police station and prisoner’s cells were layered with mud. The cost of the flood was incalculable, business were destroyed, houses carried away. Sugar mills, barns, stables, cottages, factories, fields of crop and live stock were all destroyed; more than a hundred families were homeless and completely destitute. Flood water had only just receded when a second flood hit the town on 12 February 1893, and covering the wharves the following day.
The two floods of 1893 was not the last flood for that year. In June another flood broke the banks of the Mary causing a large amount of damage. Financial relief was granted to 2043 people requiring assistance.

The successive floods contributed to the sudden collapse of the Saltwater Creek Bridge in December that year resulting in tragedy. Mr Hanson of Adelaide Street was crossing the bridge with his wife and three children in his buggy. He was proceeding to cross the bridge at a quite trot when suddenly his horse gave a violent start and bolted frantically over the bridge. The wheels of the buggy had only just left the decking of the bridge when the entire central span collapsed into the bed of the creek. The bridge, the second one erected was twenty years old and had been repeatedly patched and repaired. It was known to be dangerous and had been reported to council of its unstable condition prior to the collapse. The council could not be entirely blamed for the bridge as funds were unavailable for the erection of a new bridge. This in turn forced Queensland Government into allowing a grant for the erection of a new structure.

Workers from Walkers Limited, surveying the damage  to the workshop after the 1893 flood.

This image is kindly provided for research purposes by the Maryborough Wide Bay & Burnett Historical Society.

This image is kindly provided for research purposes by the Maryborough Wide Bay & Burnett Historical Society.


Matthews, Tony. (1995). River of Dreams: a history of Maryborough and District. Maryborough (QLD): Maryborough City Council.

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