Floods have been one of Australia’s most devastating recurring natural disasters and these 200 year-old watercolours provide a rare window on an event in the Windsor district in 1816. This 360 degree panorama consists of four separate sketches which portray the effects of the Hawkesbury River breaking its banks on 2 June 1816, and lists the key features on the affected landscape. The flood, which started a few days earlier, was vividly recorded by the Government Gazette of June 8, 1816.
On Thursday, the 30th May, a violent rain set in at the Hawkesbury, and continued without intermission the whole of that and the following day and night. On Saturday the rise in the river became everywhere alarming, the lower banks were inundated on Saturday morning, and at noon the water in the river appeared for some time very nearly stagnant, owing to the branching out of the efflux into innumerable channels contiguous to its sources. On Sunday morning the scene was extremely dreary; the settlers, with their families, had from necessity abandoned such of their houses and farms as were likely to be inundated, and a watery waste presented itself on every side. On Sunday night the water was at its greatest height, which, being only two feet less than the August flood of 1809 (which was 86 feet beyond the level of the river). About 6 on Sunday evening the ebb became evident at Richmond, and by 10 the water had declined several inches.
The sketches, by an unknown artist, were done on this ‘dreary’ Sunday morning and show the flood at it’s height. In Section A.B. of the sketch we can see the capital letters A A in the lower left hand. This refers to the high land known as the Government Domain. The letter [a] is Mr Palmer's property and the hill joining Government House, [b] shows the location of Court House Hill [c] and Howard's Mill. At [d] we can see the High Land around Pitt Town, [e], [f], [g] and [h] refer to the location of local farms. The double dotted line following [f] [g] and [c] is the course of the Hawkesbury while the single line refers to the course of South Creek.
In the second sketch we can begin to see the scale of the devastation with many of the the listed sites represented by just a rooftop visible above the water. The 'Red House' of Andrew Thompson, the Chief Constable at Green Hills (Windsor) can just be seen at [a] while at [b] is the brown line of the road to Parramatta as it ascends the slope of Magrath’s Hill. The roof of the toll house can be seen below at [c] and next to this the top of an unspecified house at [d]. The old burial ground [e]’, is on the slope behind the old Carrington Hotel in Bridge Street and appears to have been completely inundated. While at [f] we can see how the flood has affected Mrs Allcorn's Farm. Mr Aspinall's Farm is at [g] and Mr Marsden's Farms at [h]. To the right of the sketch along the line of South Creek are the farms of Mr Fitzgerald [i] and [j], Mr Tibitt's Farm [k] and Rochester's Farm [l].
In the third section we can see a line of houses above the flood waters which includes Mr Rickaby's Premises [a] and to the right of this Mr Dowling's Schooner [b]. Above this and hidden behind the tree next to [c] we can just make out the line of the road to Mr Cox's house [c]. Next to this on the banks of the river are Rev. Mr Cartwright's houses and Mill [d]. In the middle of the bay formed by the flood there are the almost entirely submerged rooftops of a group of houses [e] including the farm owned by Thomas Rickaby and another owned by Robert Forrester. The road westward is marked [f] and Westberry's houses [g] are well above the high water mark and below the country to the west [h].
The fourth and last section D A. of the sketch presents the following features: Beasley's Wharf [a], late Heydon's , boats landing stock [b] and the wall of the Government House garden [c]. Scattered across the middle foreground are boats [e] going out and returning with stock and towards the upper left-hand side of the flood is Beasley's Farm [f] followed to the right by Forester's Farm [g]. Next to this is Norris' Farm [h], from which a stack of wheat drifted to Mr Fitzgerald's Farm at South Creek, then Upton's Farm [i], Freebody's Farm [k], and E. Robinson's Farm [l]. Finally we have G. Loudar's Farm [m] almost completely submerged center right.
You can also find a high resolution copy of this panorama in the Google Arts & Culture Project which features content from over 1000 leading libraries, museums and archives.
- Sketches of the Inundation in the Neighborhood of Windsor taken on Sunday the 2nd of June 1816, PX*D 264, State Library of New South Wales
- The Windsor Flood of June 2nd, 1916, Windsor and Richmond Gazette, 14 September 1912, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/85848559
- The State Library also holds an interesting collection of notes and cuttings compiled by local astronomer, John Tebbutt. This collection consists of newspaper extracts from the Sydney Morning Herald relating to Hawkesbury floods from 1857 to 1867. In addition there is correspondence from 1869 relating the flood levels from 1857 to 1869 and some descriptive text on floods from the 29 July 1857, 12 February 1860, 29 April 1860, 26 July 1860, 5 April 1861, 1 March 1864, 1 May 1864, 4 June 1864, 13 June 1864, 16 July 1864, 15 April 1967, 30 April 1867, 23 June 1867, 9 September 1867, 18 February 1868, 21 July 1868, 5 April 1869, 9 May 1869, John Tebbutt notes and cuttings, 1860-1875, https://collection.sl.nsw.gov.au/record/1DrmXB39