In 1893 the Great Flood of Brisbane left a path of destruction in its wake. The total rainfall in Brisbane over 8 days was about 20 inches (500 mm) and the Brisbane River rose 23 feet 9 inches (7.2 metres) above the mean spring tide and 10 feet over the previous highest flood mark (1890). Brisbane suffered approximately £2,000,000 worth of damages. The Victoria Bridge and the Indooroopilly Railway Bridge were swept away and in Queen Street, the businesses of Finney, Isles and Co, drapers, Perry Brothers, the goldsmiths, Hall Company, H. L. Davies, and Gordon and Gotch, all suffered major damage.
Brisbane wasn’t the only area hit. The countryside for miles on either side of the Mary River was devastated and the loss of settlers enormous. The Mayor of Brisbane composed the following cable for the Lord Mayor of London: “Brisbane, Maryborough, Gympie, Ipswich, Bundaberg and Rockhampton inundated by floods. Destruction of property and loss of life enormous. Relief urgently required. ” Against the wishes of the Queensland public, this message was never sent. (Western Mail, 18 February 1893 p.40)
In the Legislative Assembly, Sir Henry Parkes asked “if, in view of the disastrous floods in Brisbane, the Government had considered the desirableness of assisting by direct relief those suffering from the effects of the appalling disaster. Sir George Dibbs, in reply, said the citizens had initiated such a movement, and no doubt members of the Government and of the House would join in it, but he did not see that it was a matter where the Government could offer direct assistance.” (South Australian Register, 10 February 1893, p.5) However, citizens of Australia and abroad were touched by the disaster and rallied to raise funds for the flood affected.
In the Argus (Melbourne) a reader wrote, “The terrible disaster which has befallen Brisbane during the past few days has arroused universal sympathy amongst all classes”. The magnitude of the present calamity in Queensland calls for world-wide recognition and should touch the hearts and pockets of everyone whose last coin is not yet spent or pledged. I trust that Victoria, as a colony, will once more respond promptly and generously to the cry of suffering humanity beyond her borders.” (Argus, 11 February 1893 p.9)
“At the Municipal chambers, women, dirt besmeared and almost naked, trooped into the rooms set apart as supply stores, while their husbands carried on cleansing operations. The mayor, aldermen, town clerk, and other officers of the council have worked with a will to cope with the distress. Relief funds have been opened at various centres of population throughout Australia.” (Argus, 13 February 1893 p.3)
Messages of sympathy were received from all over the world including the Secretary of State for Canada, the Queen of England and the Premier of New Zealand. Relief funds were received from all over Australia and abroad. By October 1893 the total amount of funds raised was £83,015.
In a gathering to thank fund raisers after the flood the Lord Mayor of South Brisbane in praise of the Flood Relief Distribution Committee said “The ladies had all along stuck manfully to their posts from 9 in the morning till 5 in the afternoon every day, and been ably assisted in overtaking the Work devolving upon them by the gentleman on the committee. He pointed out that many people in South Brisbane who suffered severely through the flood seemed to forget their own losses in their solicitude for the sufferings of others. (Applause.) The calamity, dreadful though it was, was a means of good in one respect at all events-it brought people of all shades of opinion and of all nationalities together to work for the common good and in the cause of suffering humanity; and nothing but the greatest praise could be accorded to the Distribution Committee for the arduous duties they took upon themselves and so cheerfully and faithfully performed. (Cheers.)” (Brisbane Courier, 20 April 1983 p.6)
The State Library of Queensland holds an extensive collection of photographs covering the 1893 flood which can be viewed through our One Search catalogue.
Karen Hind, Librarian – State Library of Queensland