AN EARLY ELIZABTH STREET FLOOD

Having observed and measured the rainfall resulting from short sharp storms this year I was reminded of stories of earlier floods in Elizabeth Street. These effectively followed a watercourse running into the Yarra.

Those best known were in 1862, 1882 and in 1972. I well remember being caught in the 1972 flood after visiting the Dental Hospital with my then young children.

My great-grandmother, Elizabeth Sarah Pennefather (nee Curr) in 1910 wrote a memoir "In the Early Days.." In it she related a story about a flood in Elizabeth Street during her childhood at St. Heliers. She did not indicate the precise date of that flood but the lithograph below by the pharmacist and artist Henry Gilbert Jones (1804-1888) indicates that it may have been in the 1840s.

[Elizabeth Street, Melbourne]

Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, Port Phillip District (c1841-1845)
(Source: State Library of Victoria website)

If it happened in 1845 Elizabeth would then have been about ten years old. It may be that the story below was told to her by one of her older siblings or another member of the Curr household.

Reflecting on changes to Melbourne since her childhood days Elizabeth wrote:

"The formation of Streets went on very slowly at first, whether from scarcity of labour, or of money, I do not know. A heavy thunderstorm would render traffic dangerous for hours, & several people were drowned in the rushing waters of Elizabeth & Queen Street which formed their own channels. On one occasion a well-known Clergyman, being urgently needed by a sick parishioner, hurried along Elizabeth Street, towards the Yarra, & at the intersection of Bourke Street was caught in the eddying waters & drawn under the foot-bridge that crossed the stream at this point, his feet being the only visible part of the little man. An Irish shoemaker who rescued him from his perilous plight declared that the boots attracted his attention & that he recognised them as his handiwork & drawing the body of the drowning man from the water he found one of his own best customers in the Revd. Father Geoghan* who insisted on hurrying to the bedside of the sick man."

On 4 October 1841 Patrick Geoghegan laid the foundation stone of St. Francis's Church on land on the corner of Elizabeth and Lonsdale Streets. Four years later he opened the completed church; now one of Melbourne's few remaining pre gold-rush buildings.

[Elizabeth Street in Flood 1862]

Elizabeth Street, Melbourne in Flood 1862
(Source: State Library of Victoria website)

* Osmund Thorpe, 'Geoghegan, Patrick Bonaventure (1805-1864),' Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. (http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/geoghegan-patrick-bonaventure-3602/text5589, accessed 13 December 2013.)

( Contributed by Jocelyn O'Neil. PPPG Member No. 1376 )


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