1867 Flood

Over the years I have been searching for the death of Mary Ann Russell nee Gransden and her husband William Russell. To date I have not been able to find them. The records that I do have for them seem to end in the mid to late 1860’s for both parents, although I still have some records to get which may shed some light on how long William Russell at least lived.

In the death records of their children, that I have, William is named as father but often Mary Ann is not named or known. This may indicate that the person who was giving information simply did not know it or it may indicate a bunch of other possibilities including desertion of her husband by Mary Ann, an early death etc.

One of the possibilities was an early death for whatever reason. In particular 1867 is a possibility. In this year there was a large flood across the majority of NSW, plus an extremely cold winter. A lot of people lost their lives and not all of those would have been recorded.

One eye witness account of the loss of life in those floods is included below as it was in the Bathurst Newspaper of the day. Mary and William were known to live around the Bathurst area. The family in this story were closer to Dubbo than Bathurst but deaths and problems with the rising river were happening all over NSW at this time with some quite significant flood events happening at Bathurst and the immediate surrounds.

Loss of Life
(The Bathurst Times)
Mr. W. H. Suttor has handed us the following letter,
written by his son Mr F.B. Suttor, from Burrandong,
dated 23rd June. The tale it tells adds another appalling
incident in the many gloomy disasters which have attended
the recent inundation and the appeal it makes to benevo-
lence, we are sure, it will not be addressed in vain. Mr
Suttor says: –
I am writing a few lines hoping that the river will be
low enough in the morning for the boats to work, so that
I may send this to the post. We had a most disastrous
flood, though we have not lost much-a hut and some fenc-
ing being all. The water was in some of the outbuild-
ings, but fortunately, did not reach the house. Three feet
more would have turned us out. We had everything ready
to move, and remained up all Friday night and a most
anxious night it was. The river, however began to fall
about daylight.
I have now to tell of a most heartrending calamity.
The hut of a shepherd of Mr Blunden, named Baker,
who lived near the junction of the Mudgee River got sur-
rounded before he and his family could move (the water
rising six feet in ten minutes, and out of eleven persons
all were drowned but three. Those saved are the oldest boy
and girl and father. Those drowned are the mother, five
boys, a baby (girl), and a married man named Smith, who
came to help them about dusk, just before the sudden rise
of water. At the first rush of the flood, they all got on to
the tables, then onto a loft, and then had to cut a hole in
the back and get on to the top of the roof . Here they re-
mained until the water reached their mouths, when the four
left alive swam to a tree. Smith not being able to swim,
sank as soon as he left the hut. The poor old father
(Baker) gives a most distressing account of the scene- how
he held his children in his arms, dropping them as they
died (of the cold he says) to take up others that were alive
until none were left. He says the dogs, cats, and fowls
kept swimming round them and jumping on them all the
time they were on the hut.
“The survivors were rescued about daylight by the brave
wife of the man Smith who pulled a boat about a mile to
the hut, and then took them to the shore. She heard
them cooeying for a long time, and started to try and save
them, which she had great trouble to effect, the current was
so strong”‘
The following particulars of the melancholy catastrophe
have been kindly furnished by Mr F. B. Suttor, who held
a magisterial inquiry into the matter –
Isaac Daniel Baker recognised the bodies as those of his
wife Mary Ann, aged about 43 years; of his seven children,
varying in age from 8 months to 13 years; and of Frede-
rick Smith. He deposed; “I am a shepherd in the employ
of Messrs Blunden, and live near the junction of the
Mudgee and Macquarie Rivers; on the 21st, when the
sheep came home, about 5 o’clock p.m., I went to the bank
of the Macquarie, to see how the river was, I saw it was
rising; there was some high ground at the back of the
sheepyard, where I had made a gateway to let the sheep
out in case of a flood, this was between my hut and the
river; we put in the sheep and I went in to supper with
all my family; I told my eldest son Moses we would have
to remain up all night to watch the flood, after we had
supper my two children who are now alive, went to see
the flood and returned and told me that the water was
coming very fast down the gully, and was within two or
three hundred yards from the hut; when I went out,
the deceased, Frederick Smith, was coming towards
the hut to render me assistance, he said the water
had risen six feet in the Mudgee River while he
was at supper, and asked me what I was going to do; I
said we shall get the children out; we went to the hut,
and I told my wife to get the] children ready, as the water
was coming round us fast but there was still dry ground;
in about ten minutes from that time when I went out again
I found that the water had entirely surrounded us, and
there was no possibility of escape; we then all went into
the hut, I fastened the door and about twenty minutes
afterwards the water began to come in; I then put my wife
and children on the loft over the bedroom, and
stood on the table; I was not afraid, as I had
hopes that the water would not rise much higher;
at this time Frederick Smith was sitting on one of the
beams of the loft; when the water reached the
table I got off and sat on another beam, in about three
quarters of an hour the water rose to the top of the wall
plate, I then got a tomahawk and cut a hole in the bark
of the roof, the deceased Frederick Smith got out first,
I handed the children out to him, and the rest followed,
when I got out the moon had just risen, and there was no
land to be seen; I then cooeyd for the first time, it being
then about 9p.m.; we were all cooeying, and in about
three quarters of an hour heard a voice in the distance and
thought it was from Mrs Smith, wife of the deceased F.
Smith, they lived on the Mudgee River, about a third of a
mile from my hut; the water at this time about ten feet
above the floor of the hut, a short time after this, I heard
Mrs Smith call out and ask if Fred (her husband) was
all right; I called loudly for help, and told her to go to Mr
Blunden’s for the boat; we thought she understood us, and
her husband told us not to shout any more as it might
bother her; some time after, as the water still rose fast, I
cooeyed again, and she anwered. I then felt sure she had
not gone to Blunden’s; when the water reached the
ridge pole on which we were sitting, seeing
no possibility of escape I told the children
to pray; we all joined in prayer; we were all
composed but one ltttle boy, who was crying; the water
continued to rise, and we had to stand on the ridge-pole,
about half-past 3 in the morning the first of the children
died-Fredenck, seven years old the water then being up
to my middle, he was not drowned but died of cold, just
after this my boy Daniel, aged 13 years, said “God
Almighty bless you all, I cannot stand it any
longer”‘ I held him till he was dead, the next to die
were John Isaac, aged 5, and Thomas Edwin, aged 3
years, they were in the arms of my son Moses, who said
“Father, these two children are dead-what shall I do
now?” I said, “Go to the tree while you have strength
so that someone may live to tell the tale”, he said,
“Father, I believe I shall be the only one saved”, he
then kissed me, and swam safely to the tree, which was
about twenty yards from the hut; I called to him that
his mother was still alive, and that I would hold her as long
as there was life in her; Some time after this my
wife died, and I let her go; I then went to take the baby
from my daughter Cecilia, but she said, ” No, father, you
cannot hold her better than me, and I cannot hold her
much longer;” I then kissed her telling her to hold the
baby as long as she could, and then to swim to where her
brother was; I swam to the tree and with the assistance
of my son Moses, got on the limbs; a very short time after
I heard a splash, and Cecilia calling for help, I heartened
her to strike out, and she came within arm’s length of us;
my son Moses leaned over, caught her, and pulled her up
the tree; the water was up to her chin when she was
washed off the hut, and she dropped the baby; Andrew
William, aged 9 years, died just before I left the hut, about
that time, also, the deceased F. Smith, who was holding
Henry Shadrach, aged 11 years, told me the boy was dead;
I said, “You have done all you can, you must try
to shift for yourself – can you swim?” he said,
“No, give me what directions you can-I may
have a chance;” I did so, and he started for the
tree, but sank at a short distance; about sunrise, Mrs.
Smith, wife of the deceased F. Smith, came in a boat by
herself, and released my son Moses (17 years), mydaughter
Cecilia (15), and myself-the only survivors of our family-.
and brought us to dry land.
Mary Anne Smith deposed to the difficulties she met in
bringing the station boat to the rescue, without assistance,
as soon as daylight permitted, and the exhausted state of the
unfortunate survivors.
It is to be hoped that charitable persons will forward
subscriptions to the aid of Mrs. Smith, now left a widow
with five young children. This brave woman has great
claims on her fellow-creatures, not only on account of her
destitution, but for the noble way in which she put off in
her log canoe into the roaring flood in the hopes of saving
the lives of others at the risk of her own, the water at the
time being fully fifty foot above its usual level.
The bodies of Mrs. Baker and her seven childron were all
found near the hut when the water subsided, and presented
a heartrending spectacle. They will be taken to Welling-
ton for interment.
1867 ”E FLOODS.’, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 2 July, p. 2. , viewed 08 Mar 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13149675

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