The 1900 Bushfire at Arthurs Creek

Chapter 32

Published Sep, 2010

Taking place on Monday 26 February 1900, the disastrous bushfire was described as ‘the most destructive bush fire that has ever taken place in the Yan Yean and Arthurs Creek districts’. Painting: Gippsland, Sunday night, February 20th, 1898 by John Longstaff (1861 – 1941), National Gallery of Victoria

…‘the country between Arthurs Creek and Scrubby Creek was clean swept, all the grass and fences being destroyed. The rapidity which the fire at times assumed can only be likened to ‘greased lightning’…

On Monday 26 February 1900, a disastrous bushfire swept across the Arthurs Creek district. The following account, based on contemporary reports in the Evelyn Observer, reflects the indomitable spirit of the people of the district both yesterday and today. At the time, the conflagration was described as ‘the most destructive bush fire that has ever taken place in the Yan Yean and Arthurs Creek districts’.

‘The fire was noticed burning in the mountains on Sunday. On Monday, fanned by a very strong north wind, it covered some 15 miles of country in an incredibly short space of time, reaching Councillor L.C. Brock’s place (at Doreen), when the wind shifted round to the west and drove the fire eastwards.’

‘The country between Arthurs Creek and Scrubby Creek was clean swept, all the grass and fences being destroyed. The rapidity which the fire at times assumed can only be likened to ‘greased lightning,’ and it is a miracle that lives were not lost and more houses destroyed.’

‘It is to the credit of the people of the district that they turned out in force – fully 100 persons we are informed – to do their best to beat off the fire from residences and their labours in many instances were successful.’

‘Following, we give the names of some of the people who suffered by the fire:

Messrs Howitt (Howat), Lobb, Mason, N. McPhee, C. Draper, Lodge and others, had many thousands of acres of grass consumed and miles of fencing destroyed.

Mr. Sam Smith lost everything – house, outbuildings, 50 tons of hay, and 20 pounds in money.

Mr. J.E. Steer had his fruit shed and wagon burnt, also a buggy and a number of fruit trees.

Messrs P. and M. Brennan and David and Wm. Murphy lost a quantity of grass and fruit trees.

Mrs. James Murphy (a widow with 6 children) lost everything – house (rented), furniture, outbuildings, &c., being all consumed.

Mr. Wm. Reid lost all his grass and fencing. This gentleman was driving along the road and noticing the fire, unharnessed his horse and mounted it and went to the assistance of the beaters. Before his return the fire had reached his buggy and destroyed it.

The fire passed through the Linton (Hazel Glen) cemetery, doing a lot of damage.

Mr. R Bassett suffered to the extent of 125 acres of grass being burnt and a deal of fencing.

Mr. Wm Laidlay lost between 300 and 400 acres of grass, a shed, chaff cutter, haystack, indeed everything but his house.

Mr. L. C. Brock lost a quantity of grass and fencing, and had the wind not changed the probability is that his house would have been burnt.

The change of the wind carried the fire across the creek, and Messrs Amos Harrison and D. Christian suffered to some extent, the latter’s house only being saved by strenuous exertions on the part of the beaters.’

‘In addition to the damages above enumerated, orchards at many of the places were greatly injured, the outside rows in some instances being literally roasted. Several horses and cows were unable to get away and were burnt to death, while a number of others were badly scorched.’

A visitor to ‘Charnwood’ at Arthurs Creek, after the fire, reported that the ‘house and outbuildings were nearly surrounded by fire and the adjacent creek, which was nearly dry, was looked upon as a haven of refuge if the worst came. The long row of handsome Pinus insignis and English oaks leading to the house was on fire in many places; several of these handsome specimens are quite destroyed and many others have had all their beauty and symmetry marred.’

‘In three cases the losses were particularly severe, so severe that a meeting of the neighbours was held shortly afterwards to take steps to render some assistance to the sufferers. It was decided to issue lists and collect subscriptions…In addition a concert and ball were held in the Arthurs Creek Mechanics’ Institute to supplement the subscriptions.’

Collectors for the Arthurs Creek Bush Fire Relief Fund were Mr. Wm. Murphy, Mr. David Murphy, Mr. R. Bassett and Mr. J.H. Cornfoot. 127 persons and organizations contributed to the fund.

A committee comprised of Messrs C. Draper, Chairman, L.C. Brock and C.J. Verso was appointed to distribute the fund. At a meeting held on 1 May 1900, the Hon. Secretary reported that the collections amounted to 57 pounds 4 shillings and 6 pence, proceeds of concert and ball to 6 pounds 14 shillings and 8 pence, total 63 pounds 19 shillings and 2 pence. Of this, 3 pounds 3 shillings had been given specially for Mrs. Murphy. This was deducted for her. Of the remainder, two-eighths was given to Mr. Smith and three-eighths each to Mrs. Murphy and Mr. Steer.

Richard and Bridget McLelland's hut near the headwaters of the north branch of the Diamond Creek (Arthurs Creek), was burnt in the disastrous bush fires of Black Thursday, February 6, 1851, with the tragic loss of Bridget and the couple's five children. Image engraved by F. A. Sleap. Credit State Library of Victoria
Arthurs Creek Mechanics Institute Hall and Free Library. Photo by Bruce G. Draper, 2012

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