July 1898: Storm in Perth strands hundreds

On Tuesday 12 July, 1898, train lines in the Perth region of Western Australia were severely damaged due to severe flooding from heavy rainfall. This caused hundreds of people to be cut off from food, water and proper shelter, with the tracks not able to be repaired for a number of days.

The “washaway near Yarloop” was a contentious issue in the newspapers at the time. Mainly because the rescuers and the passengers were not at all prepared for such a disaster, having no provisions such as food and drinking water. “It was raining in torrents at the time and the country in the vicinity is described as having been one sea of water.” 

The West Australian newspaper reported that a train was washed off the tracks about 120km south of Perth, as a result of flooding and torrential rain on 12 July 1898. The disaster caused significant damage and impacted on many people living in the area at the time. Source: Trove.
The West Australian newspaper reported that a train was washed off the tracks about 120km south of Perth, as a result of flooding and torrential rain on 12 July 1898. The disaster caused significant damage and impacted on many people living in the area at the time. Source: Trove.

We recently completed a citizen science project to transcribe daily weather journals from Perth from 1880 to 1900. And, we found this storm in the recently recovered observations. 

The Perth Gardens record for 11-13 July 1898 shows the following observations:

  • Low pressure readings;
  • Remarks ‘Threatening, Squally’ for all three consecutive days, and;
  • Heavy rainfall over the three days.
Perth Gardens original journal records from July 1-13, 1898. These were transcribed by Zooniverse volunteers earlier this year. Source: National Archives of Australia
Perth Gardens original journal records from July 1-13, 1898. These were transcribed by Zooniverse volunteers earlier this year. Source: National Archives of Australia.

In addition, a document ‘Results of Rainfall Observations made in Western Australia (1830-1827)’ highlights that there was indeed a significant rain event on 12 July 1898, sharing the washaway of the line at Yarloop and that the nearby town of Collie experienced a nine foot rise in the river within 24 hours, preventing traffic from passing.


Heavy rainfall caused difficulty for transport in Yarloop and Collie, south of Perth on 12 July, 1898. Source: Results of Rainfall Observations made in Western Australia (1830-1827), National Library of Australia.

What’s interesting from a meteorological perspective, is that the Government Astronomer of Perth sent a telegram to Adelaide to “warn ships coming westward” to Perth of “continued heavy weather on the coast and rough seas”.

The West Australian (Perth, WA) newspaper dated 12 July 1898. Source: Trove.

And looking at later newspapers, ships in the area did indeed report ‘heavy weather’ and ‘heavy seas’, including ‘strong headwinds’ and the ‘wind blowing with hurricane force’.

It’s also impressive to see an extensive report of the heavy rainfall by the Government Astronomer who was responsible for all the meteorological reports, Mr Cooke, at the Perth Observatory. 

And what’s more, this storm event can be seen in reconstructed weather charts generated using the 20th Century Reanalysis dataset.

Pressure anomalies (20th Century Reanalysis) 9-12 July, 1898

The 20th Century Reanalysis field indicates that there was a significant storm across the southern half of Australia in July 1898. The yellow shows low pressure, the orange shows very low pressure, and the dark grey shows high pressure of an anticyclone - all noted by the Government Astronomer in Perth at the time. We can see there was a persistent low pressure system (shown as yellow and orange with isobars very close together) which moved across Australia from West to East.
The 20th Century Reanalysis field indicates that there was a significant storm across the southern half of Australia in July 1898. The yellow shows low pressure, the orange shows very low pressure, and the dark grey shows high pressure of an anticyclone – all noted by the Government Astronomer in Perth at the time. We can see there was a persistent low pressure system (shown as yellow and orange with isobars very close together) which moved across Australia from West to East.

The 20th Century Reanalysis matches with historical synoptic maps written at the time by one of the pioneers of Australian meteorology, Sir Charles Todd. 

A historical synoptic map dated 13 July 1898, where the shading shows heavy rainfall. Low and high pressure systems are also comparable to the 20th Century Reanalysis as well. Source: Sir Charles Todd’s Meteorological journals on MERIT.
A historical synoptic map dated 13 July 1898, where the shading shows heavy rainfall. Low and high pressure systems are also comparable to the 20th Century Reanalysis as well. Source: Sir Charles Todd’s Meteorological journals on MERIT.

Our recently completed citizen science project to transcribe weather journals from Perth means that we now have new daily pressure data that was previously unknown. This will help us better understand the conditions that lead to damaging storms similar to this one across the Perth region.

You can view the plotted preliminary barometer daily data graph from the Perth Gardens Zooniverse project on Zooniverse here

Building a stormwater drain to help with localised flooding in Spring St, Perth in 1906. Source: State Library of Western Australia BA1200/32

The full analysis and results for the newly transcribed Perth Zooniverse data will take time, which we will publish in the scientific literature in due course and share on this website and in our e-newsletter. Don’t forget to sign up to our e-newsletter to stay informed.


If you are still interested in volunteering, we occasionally have tasks we need help with. For more information visit the ‘Citizen Science’ tab of this website.