1863: Drought Followed by Devastating Flood

Image courtesy of National Library of Australia

Settlements along the Clarence River in NSW were inundated with record-breaking floodwaters that claimed the lives of 9 people and caused extensive damage to riverside towns and farms in February 1863.

The flood followed 2 months of wet weather that had brought an end to a severe drought. The relief felt after the drought broke was short lived in the Grafton region as concerns grew over the saturation of the countryside throughout January and early February.

Observers noticed a rapid rise in the Clarence River on February 14th and warned others that the flood risk was high. Later that night Grafton received the heaviest rainfall of the season and flood conditions worsened. At its peak, the floodwaters rose more than 7 metres above the high water mark.

Homes, crops and livestock were lost all along the river while the small town of Tabulum suffered severely as 4 men leading drays were washed away. The rise of water was so rapid that it left a number of people trapped on roofs and in trees.

The Clarence and Richmond Examiner described the rescue efforts of 3 local men. “They swam to several persons who had been twenty-four hours clinging to trees and by means of ropes brought them to places of safety. Several lives were saved in this manner,” reported the Examiner.

Several newspaper articles describing this historic weather event were recently uncovered in the National Library of Australia’s database by Gary Cook and Ellie Brasch while volunteering for the OzDocs program.

OzDocs is currently looking for more volunteers to help search historical records and discover more information about Australia’s climate history.