The Black February Flood

In 1893, Queensland was hit with three cyclones producing some of the most devastating flooding ever recorded for the state. After the Brisbane River burst its banks three times in one month, it became known as the Black February flood.

Queensland Electric Telegraph Lines (1866-01-01/1866-12-31) by Surveyor General's DepartmentQueensland State Archives

Cyclone 'Bundinyong'

In early February, a tropical cyclone was detected off Australia's Queensland coast, hitting Yeppoon first. A ship, taking refuge in the islands of Northumberland during the cyclone, recorded the change of atmospheric pressure. 

The cyclone then came to be known informally as Cyclone Bundinyong as it made its way down Queensland’s south. 

Diagram of rainfall at Brisbane between 1860–1898 (1898-01-01/1898-12-31) by Water Supply DepartmentQueensland State Archives

In three days, the influx of rain broke the banks of the Stanley River for the first time that month, with over 900 mm of rain. Around 13 February, a second cyclone caused minor flooding with another, larger cyclone on 19 February repeating the devastation of the first.

The gunboats Paluma and Gayundah stranded in the Botanic Gardens during the 1893 flood (1893-01-01/1893-12-31) by Chief Secretary's DepartmentQueensland State Archives

During the first flood event, the gun boat HMQS Paluma was swept from its moorings in the Brisbane River into the Botanic Garden. It was stranded there until it could be re-floated during the next flood, later that month. 

Albert Bridge, Brisbane River, between Indooroopilly and Chelmer which was washed away during floods (1893-01-01/1893-02-28) by Department of Agriculture and FisheriesQueensland State Archives

The damage was extensive, especially in Brisbane where both Victoria Bridge and the Indooroopilly railway bridge were swept downstream.    

Panorama of the view from Kangaroo Point of the flooded Brisbane River (1893-02-01/1893-02-28) by Colonial Secretary's OfficeQueensland State Archives

One third of Brisbane residents were left homeless after the third flood event, with substantial damage done to the southern suburbs of the city.    

The destruction was felt all the way across Queensland. Maryborough, Gympie, Rockhampton and Ipswich all suffered.

In north Ipswich, the coal mine John Wright’s Eclipse Colliery was flooded, collapsing the roof of a mine shaft, trapping and killing seven men.    

Charlotte Street, Brisbane (1893-01-02/1893-12-31) by Agriculture and Stock Department, Publicity BranchQueensland State Archives

Pioneer Henry Somerset tried several times to warn Brisbane during the cyclone events. His property in Caboonbah in Somerset overlooked the fork where the Brisbane and Stanley rivers came together.    

A wall of water caused enough concern that Somerset sent one of his workers to Esk with a message to telegraph Brisbane.    

A map of the flood affected areas of the Brisbane River during the black February floods (1970-01-01/1970-12-31) by Survey OfficeQueensland State Archives

The warning went largely unheeded. When the third flood event raised similar concerns for Somerset, he sent his best horseman directly to Petrie to send a telegram to Brisbane.

Again, his message was largely ignored. After the Black February floods, Caboonbah station was installed with a telegraph line directly to Esk.    

Floating the new loan, Brisbane,Queen Street, during the 1893 floods (1893-01-01/1893-12-31) by Premier and Chief Secretary's DepartmentQueensland State Archives

With an estimated 35 lives lost and 150 buildings washed down the Brisbane River, the Black February floods changed the lives and landscape of Queensland forever.

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