Great Flood of 1867 still unsurpassed but not unrepeatable

Tragedy: (from left) Former Mayor Kim Ford, Hawkesbury MP Dominic Perrottet, Father Arthur Cook and John Miller.
Tragedy: (from left) Former Mayor Kim Ford, Hawkesbury MP Dominic Perrottet, Father Arthur Cook and John Miller.

This month its 150 years since the Hawkesburys biggest flood claimed 20 lives and had such a catastrophic effect on our district. Its still remembered and referenced.

The flood waters which reached almost 20m at Windsor drowned 12 members of the Eather family: two women and 10 of their children.

Raging waters struck the families farmhouses at Cornwallis on June 21.

Those lost were sisters-in-law Catharine and Emma Eather, all of Catharines children: Catharine, Charles, Clara, Mary Ann and William, and five of Emmas six children: Emma, James, Elizabeth, Angelina and Annie.

Only the womens husbands brothers Thomas and William Eather and one of Thomas children, Charles Frederick, aged 16, survived.

An inquest was held at the Commercial Hotel in Windsor on June 26. William Eather was recorded as saying he last saw his family alive on June 21 on the roof of his brother Georges house.

I was with them; we were about 200 yards from my brother Thomass; I was taking my eldest boy into my arms, when I was washed away by the waves; I saw a tree close by me after I came to the surface, I managed to make for it. I heard the screams of my wife and children but could not see them; I fastened myself to the tree, and in a short time was rescued by a boat.

Only six bodies were recovered at first. Several days later, the body of James Eather was found and an inquest into his death was held on June 29.

Two months later the body of eight-year-old Elizabeth was found on a sandbank near Freemans Reach about a mile from where the tragedy took place. All deaths were recorded as accidental drowning.

The recovered bodies were buried in Windsor Catholic Cemetery. The only headstone is that of Catherine Eather and her five children, erected by her father, Michael McMahon. Four bodies were never found.

The flood was the regions largest on record, rising 63ft from contemporary records. It created an inland sea up to 30 kilometres across, from Pitt Town to Kurrajong and Riverstone to the Blue Mountains. Windsor, Richmond and Pitt Town became small islands.

Besides the Eathers, the waters also claimed another eight lives.

It began to rain on Monday, June 17, with heavy rain starting the next day and continuing through the week.

The river broke its banks on Thursday, covering most of the Hawkesbury lowlands with water.