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#1024667 - 27/10/2011 19:05 Burketown Cyclone 1887
boxsey Offline
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Registered: 13/02/2011
Posts: 371
Loc: Aitkenvale, Townsville
On the 5th of March 1887, a cyclone hit the remote town of Burketown, killing 7. The BOM website records it as such....

"From all reports, the storm surge from the disastrous 1887 cyclone, flooded almost all of Burketown. Only the highest part of town, near where the Council Office is currently located, escaped the waters from the Gulf of Carpentaria. A copy of a 1918 report to the Queensland Parliament from the Department of Harbours and Rivers Engineers refers to the sea rising to 5.5 metres above the highest spring tide level at the Albert River Heads. This level is about 8 metres above Australian Height Datum. 7 people out of a population of 138 died in the cyclone. Storm winds commenced at 11 am from the SE and backed to the E and the NE increasing in violence until 10 pm when virtually the whole of Burketown was devastated. The storm surge arrived at 7 pm."(http://www.bom.gov.au/cyclone/about/cyclones-gulf-impacts.shtml)

Little else is recorded, but while researching my family tree, I stumbled upon so much more than the dry description above.

It turns out, my great-great-uncle (John Charles Frederick Higman) had been living in Burketown for the previous 3+ years.
In mid 1885, he applied for leave. I have a copy of his police file, obtained through the Qld State Archives. (AF 799 A/38838 c18960 The following letter is among it's contents.

"Police Department
Burketown
24/4/85

Const. JF Higman No 339 applies to the Commissioner of Police for three months leave of absence from about the 30th of July next until the 30th of October, without pay.
The Const. has most important private business that should be attended to. The reason the Const. requires such a long time is because Burketown is a difficult place to get away from.
JF Higman
Police Constable
Burketown"

The letter is marked "Granted Without Pay" and dated 17/6/85.

In the next issue...I'll put forward a hypothesis on what sort of important private business he had to attend to! Won't be long, and we'll get to the cyclone....


Edited by boxsey (27/10/2011 19:23)

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#1024668 - 27/10/2011 19:11 Re: Burketown Cyclone 1887 [Re: boxsey]
SBT Offline
Meteorological Motor Mouth

Registered: 07/02/2007
Posts: 14222
Loc: Townsville Dry Tropics
Excellent work Boxey.

I have also editted the original entry in Trove http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/13629530 to correct the scanning errors. Looking forward to the next installment. It is going to make a damn fine historical novel.

I have also Tagged the article as Burketown Cyclone so people can now find it with a Google search.
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#1024680 - 27/10/2011 19:38 Re: Burketown Cyclone 1887 [Re: boomer]
boxsey Offline
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Registered: 13/02/2011
Posts: 371
Loc: Aitkenvale, Townsville
I think the date of march 12 is when news finally got to the east coast, it definately hit on march 5th. (I'll back that up later!!!)

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#1024682 - 27/10/2011 19:44 Re: Burketown Cyclone 1887 [Re: boxsey]
boomer Offline
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Registered: 21/11/2010
Posts: 3558
Loc: Cairns
Sorry,
I'm pulling back on posts so I can watch Boxsey's story unfold


Edited by boomer (27/10/2011 19:45)
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#1024684 - 27/10/2011 19:46 Re: Burketown Cyclone 1887 [Re: boxsey]
SBT Offline
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Registered: 07/02/2007
Posts: 14222
Loc: Townsville Dry Tropics
Yes I think your right Boxey because in the online newspaper scan they talk about riding as far as they can following the telegraph line but it was completely destroyed and they where blocked from going any further by flood waters so until that was either repaired or somebody got out of the area (by sea or by horseback) there would have been no news about what had happened. I don't know, yet, how the news got out but that alone would be worth a chapter I would have thought. Hint, hint. wink
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#1024691 - 27/10/2011 20:21 Re: Burketown Cyclone 1887 [Re: boxsey]
boxsey Offline
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Registered: 13/02/2011
Posts: 371
Loc: Aitkenvale, Townsville
So, where were we. Constable John Charles Frederick Higman has urgent business down south and needs 3 months off to get away from Burketown. But why? Well...here's a clue. He went to Burketown as a single man, and yet in 1887, lost his wife and 2 kids in the cyclone.
Here is what I know.
JCF Higman initally served in the NSW Police Force. In November 1883, he is "desirous of entering the Service in Queensland" (letter, from Police File). He's admitted to the service, and immediately transferred to Burketown.

In 1884, a child is born in Sydney, NSW to Julia Huckins. No father is listed on the birth certificate. But...the kids name? Charles F. Huckins. (NSW 3040/1884) Charles F....see the connection?

Now, I'm guessing, having left the state, he took a bit of tracking down...but in mid 1885, John CF Higman applies for leave from Burketown...and marries....yes, you guessed it....Julia Huckins in Sydney. (NSW 1430/1885)

He then makes his way back to Burketown, with Julia and baby in tow, presumably. Stopping off in Brisbane, he writes the following letter requesting transfer away from Burketown...presumably he knows it's not an easy place for a young 22 year old woman with a baby to live.

"
Brisbane, September 7th, 85

The Commissioner of Police,
Brisbane.

Sir,
Constable JF Higman No.339 respectfully applies to the Commissioner of Police to be transferred from the Gulf Country.

The Const. during his last six months Police duty has suffered a great deal from the fever and ague and has been advised by Medical Men to try a change of climate. The Const. has now done 18 months police duty in Burketown.

Should the Commissioner think proper to transfer the const to any other station, the Const. would like to resume duty at once as he can ill afford to be idle.

Trusting the Commissioner will kindly consider this application.

JF Higman
Police Const.
Burketown Station"



No mention of the new wife and child, just fever and ague. Burketown had a reputation for "the ague". First settled in 1864, the place was abandoned by 1871, after an outbreak of "Gulf Fever" or "Yellow Fever". Many died, and the remainder mostly fled to Sweers Island to live. It wasn't until 1883 that the town started up again.

Anyway, I digress. The Commissioner certainly did consider the application, and responded by scrawling across the letter "To return to his station". And so it was set...Constable Higman, returned to Burketown with his wife and baby.

Another child soon followed. Francis Albert Higman was born in 1886 (Qld 1886/C755). It's hard to imagine how remote and hard life must have been for Julia and her kids. Her husband was a mounted policeman, and would have been out on patrol for days at a time. In addition, he would escort prisoners to Normanton, by boat, leaving her home with the kids in one of the most isolated settlements in Australia at the time. Indeed, he was in Normanton on escort when on March 5th 1887, the cyclone hit Burketown.


Edited by boxsey (27/10/2011 20:22)

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#1024693 - 27/10/2011 20:49 Re: Burketown Cyclone 1887 [Re: boxsey]
boxsey Offline
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Registered: 13/02/2011
Posts: 371
Loc: Aitkenvale, Townsville
As you can imagine, communication was tough and it took a bit for news to get out. Burketown was completely isolated, as SBT said, as the telegraph was out of action. The area is impassable in the wet season...trust me, I've tried it in a 4WD, and it ain't pretty. The only way in and out was by boat. Back in those days Burketown was "quiet badly served" as far as transport went. There was only one small steamer, the "Water Lily" owned by Burns, Philp and Co, and one lighter, the "Samson" owned by Robinson.

The first newspaper article or telegram seems to have reached the east coast on the 8th of March. Reported in "The Queenslander" on 12th of March is the following...
"The Assistant Engineer-in-Chief for Harbours and Rivers received the following telegram, dated Normanton, 8th March, from Mr. E. A. Cullen, nautical surveyor, who is carrying out surveys in the Gulf of Carpentaria:"A fresh gale from the northward oc- curred on Saturday with heavy rain squalls: the barometer indicated 29*84 in. at its lowest. There was a very heavy sea running, and a remarkably high tide. This tide was 2ft. 6in. higher than the highest tide of last year. The beacon in the channel has gone, and the pilot boats were washed away. I shall have to again examine the channel through the banks to determine if outer banks have shifted. The weather is still bad, but the sea is not so heavy, and the winds are moderate."
The same paper also outlines flooding in Emerald and Clermont...I'm assuming it's all the aftermath of the cyclone.


Edited by boxsey (27/10/2011 20:52)

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#1024699 - 27/10/2011 21:10 Re: Burketown Cyclone 1887 [Re: boxsey]
boxsey Offline
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Registered: 13/02/2011
Posts: 371
Loc: Aitkenvale, Townsville
So, at this point, I'm guessing even those in Normanton had no clue what had gone on elsewhere. (The story will become clearer to you all as more news gets out....I'm sticking with a chronological timeline, so as to try and not miss anything!)

The next piece of evidence I have is a telegram, sent by Const. JCF Higman to the Commisioner of Police. It seems from the text, that he had managed to get back to Burketown, as he wrote the telegram on the 11th of March, but it was sent from Kimberley (which is now known as Kurumba) on the 12th of March (one imagines his note went from Burketown to Kimberley Telegraph station on the returning boat). It's gut wrenching, and reads as follows....

"[i]From Kimberley Dated 12/3/1887
Message for Comm Police

My wife and two children washed away from here and drowned during my absence on escort duty to Normanton. Would you kindly remove me south earliest convenience.
JCF Higman
Const.
Burketown 1
1th[/i]."

The Commissioner appears to have read the telegram on the 15th of March as it's sprawled with the following...
"(?)Insp. Donghaue(?) to remove the Constable to Normanton at once and transfer him to Brisbane first opportunity."
You have to wonder if anyone on the east coast had yet realised what a terrible calamity had struck in Burketown. I'm guessing Const. Higman was on the first boat back into Burketown after the storm, so his note to the Commissioner may have been just one of many sent out requesting help.

Sadly, my camera has run out of batteries and I can't take a photo tonight of the telegram. I'll stop then for tonight, and resume tomorrow night!


Edited by boxsey (27/10/2011 21:11)

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#1024751 - 28/10/2011 07:53 Re: Burketown Cyclone 1887 [Re: boxsey]
boxsey Offline
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Registered: 13/02/2011
Posts: 371
Loc: Aitkenvale, Townsville

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#1024752 - 28/10/2011 08:08 Re: Burketown Cyclone 1887 [Re: boxsey]
boxsey Offline
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Registered: 13/02/2011
Posts: 371
Loc: Aitkenvale, Townsville
Indeed, the Brisbane Courier (14/3/1885) reports receiving a telegram on the 12th of March, the message of which would most likely found it's way from Burketown to Kimberley with the one above before being transmitted, and seems it's the first word to the outside world of the cyclone.

"The following telegram, dated 12th instant, has been received by the Meteorological Observer, Brisbane, from Mr P P Agnew, telegraph manager, Burketown" On the 5th instant heavy rain fell. The rainfall from 9 am till 11 am was 1.84in. The gale gradually increased in violence until 2 pm, when a terrific cyclone was raging-, the wind shifting to north-east and then east north-east, with torrents of rain. It reached its greatest height between 7 and 8 pm , completely wrecking the township. The river rose rapidly like a tidal wave to a height of 14ft, and receded rapidly about 10 pm. Deadfish, etc , were strewn for a considerable distance over the plain. The rain gauge was carried away, and I cannot therefore give the rainfall. Heavy thunderstorms have prevailed since the cyclone "

I get the feeling, if Mr P P Agnew were alive today, he might be a member of this forum.....

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#1024773 - 28/10/2011 09:59 Re: Burketown Cyclone 1887 [Re: boxsey]
SBT Offline
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Registered: 07/02/2007
Posts: 14222
Loc: Townsville Dry Tropics
I think you doing a great job Boxey and yes I agree that he would more than likely be a member. The really difficult part of this cyclone story, apart from the obvious gut wrenching human interest angle is that we will probably never know the actual track of the cyclone nor of the true numbers of people killed. Remember that aboriginal deaths from natural disasters where rarely counted in those days indeed up to and including STC Tracey. That a chinaman wasn't named but just reported as a chinaman is also indicative of the prevailing contempt held by the entire community of anyone who wasn't white.
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#1024795 - 28/10/2011 11:31 Re: Burketown Cyclone 1887 [Re: SBT]
Dawgggg Offline
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Registered: 25/03/2007
Posts: 23688
Loc: Townsville
Wow boxesy, myself having lived in Normanton for a few years and making lots of trips to burketown over the years, I really am interested in this thread. It's almost like a personal thing to be reading about what had happened to those towns.
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#1024846 - 28/10/2011 13:18 Re: Burketown Cyclone 1887 [Re: Dawgggg]
marakai Offline
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Registered: 05/01/2006
Posts: 1870
Loc: Maryfarms NQ
Thanks for sharing.

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#1024861 - 28/10/2011 14:42 Re: Burketown Cyclone 1887 [Re: marakai]
boxsey Offline
Weather Freak

Registered: 13/02/2011
Posts: 371
Loc: Aitkenvale, Townsville
Absolutely SBT. I hope that the local indigenous people would have known the place's history of flooding...and got the hell out of there. We'll never know I guess.
Lots more to come, glad someone other than me is getting something out of the story!

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#1024865 - 28/10/2011 14:49 Re: Burketown Cyclone 1887 [Re: boxsey]
boxsey Offline
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Registered: 13/02/2011
Posts: 371
Loc: Aitkenvale, Townsville
So then, on the 15/3/1885, the Sydney Morning Herald reported similar, but with a bit extra detail. Thanks for fixing the digitisation errors SBT!
Now we start to get the picture about the loss of life, and sadly, that included Julia Higman, wife of Constable Higman, and both their infant sons.

"THE CYCLONE- AT BURKETOWN,

LOSS OF SEVERAL LIVES.

| By Telegraph

(From our own correspondent.)

BURKETOWN (via Normanton), Monday

On Saturday morning, at IO o'clock, a terrific cyclone commenced blowing, accompanied hy heavy rain from S.E. It gradually increased in violenco up to about 2 o'clock, when fearful destruction commenced. The river rose 2 feet in half an hour, and ultimately reached the height of 8 feet above summer level. The storm continued for 12 hours, every building in the town being more or loss destroyed, except the Custom and Court Houses. Some were completely wrecked. The men turned out and endeavoured to save lives, but in spite of all their efforts two women, two children, and a Chinaman perished. Tho loss of horses and stock is very great. The telegraph-posts were snapped like glass, and the whole of the line was totally destroyed as far as it is possible to travel along it. The post and telegraph offices were wrecked, and the instruments and mails were only saved by the postmaster at great per- sonal risk. Many destitute families have been suc- coured by the police magistrate, and the sergeant of police, ably assisted by his wife. Great hospitality was shown to many of the sufferers by the manager of tho Queensland National Bank , assisted by the postmaster. Many business people are hopelessly ruined. The loss to Messrs. Aplin and Brown is variously estimated at fiom 12,000 to 20,000. Two men on the road with a team perished in the

storm.

BRISBANE, Monday.

Later news from Burketown, via Normanton, states that the gale lasted for 12 hours. Nearly all the buildings in the town were either unroofed or blown down, excepting the Custom House and Courthouse, which were not very much damaged. The destitute families were provided with accommodation in these buildings. The water is one foot above the floor of the Courthouse. Mrs. Catherino Williams, Mrs. Higman and two children, a carrier named James M'Ginn, and his mate, and a Chinaman were drowned, although mostly all the men in the township turned out and exerted themselves bravely to save their lives. The boats of the post and telegraph oflices were totally destroyed, and the instruments were greatly damaged. The Customs boat was carried away. Many business people have been hopelessly ruined.

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#1024867 - 28/10/2011 15:03 Re: Burketown Cyclone 1887 [Re: boxsey]
boxsey Offline
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Registered: 13/02/2011
Posts: 371
Loc: Aitkenvale, Townsville
So it's now been ten days since the cyclone, and only now does the extent of the tragedy start filtering through to the east coast settlements. Can you imagine the conditions those who survived had to live in. They'd have had to rely on themselves for pretty much everything, as help was a long way away.
Most newspapers repeated the story, but snippets of extra info are found.
For example, the (Rockhampton) Morning Bulletin (15/3/1885) states that
"Fuller reports concerning; the cyclone at Burketown on the 5th instant state the storm lasted for about twelve hours, and every building in the town was more or less wrecked except the Customs and Court Houses. The Post and Telegraph Office was wrecked, but the instruments and mails were saved at great personal risk by the Postmaster. The tele- graph poles were snapped like glass, and the line totally destroyed for a distance of many miles. The river overflowed its banks, and submerged portion of the town."
And...
"Many are destitute, and they are being succoured by local officials. Many of the business people hare been hopelessly rained. The losses sus- tained by Messrs. Aplin, Brown, anlCo. are estimated at from 12,000 to 20,000, The damage to horses and stock is very great."

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#1024873 - 28/10/2011 15:14 Re: Burketown Cyclone 1887 [Re: boxsey]
boxsey Offline
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Registered: 13/02/2011
Posts: 371
Loc: Aitkenvale, Townsville
From the Cairns Post, March 17th 1885. A little repetition, but some additional detail.

"LATEST BY WIRE.

(FROM OUR OWN cORRESPONDENT)

QUEENSLAND.

- NORMANTON, March 13.

A terrible cyclone and flood like a tidal wave visited Burketown on Saturday, the 5th instant, lasting from 1 p.m. till nearly 5 p.m.

on Sunday. The town was almost completely, wrecked. Messrs. Aplin, Brown's store was terribly damaged, aud most of the stock destroyed ; -?Robt. Graham and Co's store was partly unroofed ; Kelly's, William's, and Haly's hotels were overthrown ; the Customs and Police buildings escaped; the Telegraph office was unroofed, and the line was torn away from the poles, and twisted into every shape, the mails and instruments were saved by a punt and carried away to the racecourse. The Uncle Tom sank in the river, and is now stuck on the bank, and the Alice Gray was blown high and dry on the bank. Mrs. Williams, Mrs. Higman, two children, and two carriers, while on their way to Towns- ville, and one chinaman were drowned. Every house in the town is blown down or unroofed, except the Customs House, the Police Bar- racks, and a billiard room at the Commercial Hotel. The Punjaub station buildings were totally wrecked. Great praise is due to Mr. aud Mrs. Synott, Sergeant and Mrs. Fer- guson, and Mr. Tracy for sheltering the homeless. Mr. Lawson, the police magis-

trate has distributed some 100 blankets to

people who lost everything. There has been great loss in stock, and the damage is estimated at over 20.000. The water in the streets was from five to six feet high."

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#1024874 - 28/10/2011 15:28 Re: Burketown Cyclone 1887 [Re: boxsey]
boxsey Offline
Weather Freak

Registered: 13/02/2011
Posts: 371
Loc: Aitkenvale, Townsville
Then, on the 8th of April, pretty much a full month after the tragedy, a full description of the event was published in the (Brisbane) Courier Mail. It's a long article...go have a pee, or make yourself a coffee before you tackle it. I promise you though, it's a article worth reading. Note that the paper dates the report as 10th of March....I'm guessing it was way too much to send via morse code, and would have been sent by mail on a boat. Gives you some indication of how long it took to get from Burketown all the way around to the south east corner of Queensland. I've taken the liberty of breaking the text into paragraphs, to help the reading. Hope you find it as riveting as I do!


TERRIFIC GALE AT BURKETOWN.

(From the Carpentaria, Times' Correspondent.)

Burketown, March IO.

On Saturday morning, the 5th instant, it was noticed that the weather had suddenly changed from heat and oppressiveness to unusual cold, with a south-cast wind blowing. About 11 o'clock a.m. the wind became very much stronger and rain fell heavily. This continued without cessation until about 2 o'clock, when the wind and rain had increased in violence to an alarming extent, and the first sign of the terrible destruction that was to follow was made manifest by the veranda of Haly's Carpentaria Hotel being blown over on to the roof. Some there were who at- tempted to secure their roofs by placing tires of waggon wheels upon them, and tying the iron down with ropes ; but all to no purpose ; the ropes were broken like twine, and the tires sent whirling into the air to a height of 20ft.

The next erections to go were the outbuildings at Kelly's Albert Hotel, and the stables of the late W. H. Young. Then came the utter collapse of the telegraph line, some of the posts of which were bent double, while others were snapped short off by nothing but the force of the wind. The angle-posts, which are of wood, and great weight, were blown completely out of the ground, and when these went the wire was carried over the roof of the Commercial Hotel. About this time Mr. Raff's cottage began to show signs of giving away-first the veranda posts were smashed, letting the roof of the veranda fall in, which was immediately taken possession of by the wind and carried away, taking with it a portion of the main roof. Looking along the street one saw the Post and Telegraph Office gradually disappearing as the sheets of iron were wrenched off and went flying over the plain, while in the other direction were to be seen thoe complete roof of six now bedrooms lately erected at the Commercial blown over tho top of the houses and deposited in the yard. Where but a few moments before had stood Kelly's Albert Hotel, was now, with the ex- ception of the billiard-room, nothing but a total wreck. The bedrooms as they stood had been turned completely over, followed by the kitchen. At 4 o'clock in the afternoon the rain was driven along with such merciless velocity as to make it impossible for anyone to look to windward for a single instant.

With iron and timber flying about in such quantities, it now became a matter of great danger to leave any shelter ; but in spite of the risk there were those to be found ready and willing to exert themselves in attempting to save others who were unable to take measures for their own security.

Among the latter was the wife and two children of Constable Higman, who were living in a cottage quite removed from town, and within thirty or forty yards of a lagoon, which soon after the storm commenced, assumed the proportion of an immense river. About half-past 4 o'clock it was suggested that some one should go over to the assistance of this family, and Messrs. Catt, Stiles, and Bradley left the bank with that intention. Getting out of the shelter of the house the three were simply lifted off their feet and blown with great violence into tho fence that surrounds Mr. Raff's cottage; and the only way that any advance could bo made was by going down on hands and knees. Two of the party at length reached O'Sullivan's cot- tage, which is a few hundred yards nearer town than Higman's, while Catt, who was some- what in advance,, had succeded in reaching the latter, and came back with the news that the house was empty.

Thinking Mrs. Higman had taken her children into town, the party attempted to make their way back to the shelter of the Q.N. Bank ; but, after somo six or seven attempts, this was found to be impossible, and they had to remain standing for nearly an hour in the scant shelter afforded by a portion of a stone wall and a water tank. With some anxiety they waited for a lull in the storm, which came at last, and aftor a severe struggle tho bank was reached. During this time others had been busy in assisting and rescuing many women and children from the lower portions of the town. To increase the terrible dangers and the misery the water was found to be rising, and many who had held on to what little shelter was left were compelled to abandon it as inch by inch and foot by foot the water rose. One family of seven, who were living on the bank of the town lagoon, had a very narrow escape. They were taken to Synnott's billiard-room, which, with the Cus tom-house and court-house, Kelly's billiard room, and the Q.N. Bank were the only places that afforded any shelter. To add to the horrors of this fearful storm the darkness of night came on, and the cyclone seemed to re- double its force as it went howling on its pas- sage of destruction. Strong men were carried by the wind, and for a time it seemed as though it were madness to attempt anything in the way of rescue, but in spite of the danger many were distinguishing themselves by their brave exertions in helping the helpless. Among the rescuers were Messrs. Agnew, Luya, Affleck, Bradloy, Tracey, Rendell, Egan, and others whose names I do not know. At the risk of being carried away by the flood or blown into the deep waters, these men weroeto bo seen carrying children, assisting women to tho several harbours of refuge.

The water was still rising, and it was found to be coming to the Custom-house, when the P. M. (Mr. Lawson), assisted by his officials, made the place as secure as circum- stances would permit, and then left to join in the work of rescue. All hope of saving pro- perty was by this time passed, and it had resolved itself into a matter of life and death. The scene in the different houses that had weathered the storm so far, and in which many of the women and children were congregated, was heartrending, and defies my powers of description. In spite of all, several brave women who appeared to be quite oblivious of their own sufferings, devoted themselves to providing comforts for the more dis- tressed ; chief among these truly sisters of mercy and charity were Mrs. Synnott and Mrs. Ferguson, who distributed clothing and blankets to the utter exclusion of their own comfort. The space between the piles under the store of Messrs. Aplin, Brown, and Co. proved a very safe and well-sheltered haven. Several mothers with their- children were con- veyed there, and remained in' comparative security during the storm. Tho tempest raged hour after hour, while the water gradually rose till it reached the end of Synnott's verandah. About 8 o'clock the wind veered round to north-east, and it is believed by many that the storm was then at its worst. Until 11 o'clock the cyclone continued with unabating violence, but it was then found that the water had ceased rising, and although the wind was still blowing very hard the worst of the danger was over, and at midnight the storm had virtually subsided.

As the morning broke, the scene of utter ruin and desolation was terrible to contem- plate. Messrs. Aplin and Brown's large store was partly unroofed, the interior fixtures on the windward side had been thrown down, and much of the stock was lying on the floor. Raff, Grahame, and Co.'s store was partially unroofed, and the stock more or less damaged. The build- ing itself is blown out of square, and will cost a good sum to put in repair. The Q.N. Bank has also suffered to a considerable extent, the veranda being partly blown away, and also some of the roofing, while the kitchen and outbuildings were thrown down and reduced to a heap of debris. Mr. Tracey's shop and the tele- graph office are both greatly damaged. Fortu- nately for us, in the early part of the storm, P. P. Agnew at great personal risk succeeded in removing the telegraph instruments to a place of safety. With one or two exceptions all the private houses in town have been demolished.

This terrible calamity will affect all, more or less, and nothing but utter ruin stares many in the face. The police-magistrate has issued blankets and rations to those applicants who are entirely destitute, while many other generous hearts have come forward to assist the sufferers. The losses in horses and stock are believed to be considerable, but at present it is impossible to arrive at anything like a correct estimate."

The storm is believed by many to have been accompanied by a tidal wave, and certainly there is much that would strengthen this theory.The water in the river rose with great rapidity, while that which submerged the plain and portion of the town was as salt as the sea. Large fish were carried inland, and since the tide has receded, numbers of cuttle and jelly fish are to be found everywhere. So far, five persons have lost their lives in town, while two perished between the town and Harris' Lake. The latter two were a carrier and his mate, en route from Burketown to Floraville with loading for Mr. Winn.

The police who discovered the bodies state there must have been 15ft. of water over the waggon. The loading, which consisted chiefly of grog, was all washed out of the wagon, and the bed of the wagon torn from the bolts and washed away.

A cutter from the Macarthur River, in charge of Captain Hepburn, was lying at the town landing at the time. She dragged her anchors, and now lies high and dry on a small hillock some distance in shore. The captain states that he had the greatest difficulty in hanging on to the boom and keeping her afloat by means of the pump. While on board he saw numbers of horses and dogs being swept past by the current. The Customs boat and a boat belonging to Messrs. Luya and Synnott both parted their painters and were taken up the river, the first being since found out on the plain in company with the ferry punt, while the latter was stove in and sunk near the town.

It is quite impossible to get anything like a correct estimate of the loss at the present time. Of the four hotels only one remains in anything like its original form, and that is Synnotts's Commercial. Although this was completely unroofed, the actual building is very little injured.

The list of persons lost is as follows;- Mrs. Higman, wife of Constable Higman, and two children; Mrs Williams, lessee of the Union Hotel; James H'Ginn, carrier, late of Thargomindah; mate of the above, name unknown; Chinese gardener, name unknown. At present six out of the seven bodies have been recovered, the only one missing being that of Mrs Higman's youngest child. Mrs Williams had been for some time lesee of the Union Hotel, and was liked and respected by all who know her. In company with her nephew, J. M'Clair, Mrs Williams remained in the house until there were only a few sheets of iron left, and the water had risen about 5ft when they attempted with the assistance of one of the boarders to reach a place of safety.

As soon as they stepped off the veranda they found the water breast high, with a very strong current running. Mrs Williams and her two supporters were carried off their feet and had some difficulty in regaining their footing. M'Clair states that his aunt at this moment lost her presence of mind, while he was seized with cramp and became helpless. His aunt then caught him by the throat when they were all again swept off their feet, and all he remembers after was seeing her carried away with a man with a black beard who appeared to be supporting her. Recovering himself a little he managed by struggling with the water to reach the Court house, when Mrs Ferguson had to lift him up the steps and out to the veranda.


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#1024876 - 28/10/2011 15:37 Re: Burketown Cyclone 1887 [Re: boxsey]
boxsey Offline
Weather Freak

Registered: 13/02/2011
Posts: 371
Loc: Aitkenvale, Townsville
Anyone still with me? Helluva read, don't you think? I wish that newspapers today wrote in the same manner. I can picture the whole thing so clearly. I think it's pretty clear the eye passed directly over Burketown, would you all agree?

Still to come....a letter detailing the discovery of Constable Higmans youngest babys body. I'll wait till later to tackle that one. Tissues ready?

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#1024883 - 28/10/2011 16:15 Re: Burketown Cyclone 1887 [Re: boxsey]
PDDave Offline
Cloud Gazer

Registered: 03/02/2007
Posts: 21
Loc: Redlynch
Fantastic read Boxsey, can't wait for more.

Makes you wonder how we would all cope not knowing what was coming until it was upon us

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