Fires near Macclesfield
Macclesfield and surrounds have been rocked by a number of fires since settlement. Following are copies of a number of reports from past members of the history group and from newspapers.
First, the 1859 Fire.
From "The South Australian Advertiser" (Adelaide SA 1858-1889), Wed 16 Feb 1859, Page 3
1859 The Weather and the Fires
Within the last month we have experienced the utmost vicissitudes of the South Australian climate. The weather at the commencement of the present month was intolerably hot, the extreme heat lasting for days together, causing much sickness and several deaths. The thermometer has risen as high as 112 degrees in the shade and 134 degrees in the sun. The present summer has been characterised by the most fearfully destructive bush fires ever experienced in the colony.
Terrific Bush Fire
The fire which has been noticed for the last two nights in the South-East has proved to be much more destructive than any one contemplated. We are informed by a gentleman who came into town early on Monday morning that on Sunday last the township of Macclesfield had a narrow escape from total destruction by means of it. Our informant tells us that between 9 and 10 o’clock on Sunday last the flames were seen coming up the Adelaide road towards Macclesfield in a broad compact mass extending to a wide distance on both sides of the road and carrying everything before it.
As soon as the flames were perceived many of the residents in the township mounted their horses and rode towards the scene of conflagration. Hardly had they left the township before the flames which were fed by a strong north wind just then springing up, came roaring along both sides of the road with awful fury. The adventurers retreated to the township in dismay and to their utter horror on looking round, perceived the flames actually leaping over the hills which the people thought would be their protection and dropping in masses on the country all around the township.
The scene that then ensured cannot be described. The inhabitants considered the township doomed; the whole line of country skirting on the right was instantaneously in flames. Fences and homesteads were consumed on all sides. After destroying everything to the brink of the main streets, the conflagration pursued its career towards the Bugle Ranges and the whole country between them and Macclesfield soon became one mass of fire. The destruction caused around Macclesfield is really almost too distressing to relate.
The flames came on with such rapidity that one settler with a family of three children, who had not been dressed for the day on account of the hot weather, was obliged to throw his children over a fence and the whole family had to run for their lives, the children not having on them a single thread more than their night dresses. A settler, known by the name of ‘German John’, besides a nice homestead, has had 10,000 bushels of wheat, the garnered product of last year’s harvest and this season’s crop, destroyed and is now not the owner of a single grain.
It is feared that some lives have been lost and we are well assured that a German woman who got her living by making artificial flowers is missing. Her cottage has been totally consumed and as no tidings have as yet been received of her, it is, conjectured that she must have perished in the ruins of her home, or been overtaken by the flames in her attempt to fly from them.
Our informant describes the scene presented in Macclesfield on Sunday last after the flames had subsided as truly heart-rending, several families being left entirely destitute. One instance will give an idea of the calamity which has fallen upon about a score of families. An unfortunate houseless settler was sitting down near the Schoolhouse cheering his little son, who was only clad in his night-gown, the father encouraging the little fellow to ‘cheer up and if he was a good boy he would soon earn him a hat and boots’.
Everything is being done by the more fortunate of the townspeople to relieve the necessities of those who have been left destitute by this distressing calamity. The Schoolhouse has been appropriated for their accommodation and is quite full, and those whom the school-house is too small to accommodate have been kindly supplied with temporary lodgings by the several storekeepers in the township.
The gentleman to whom we are indebted for the above information states that as he came into town yesterday morning the whole country from Macclesfield to a point just above Crafers is one mass of cinders and ashes, not a single building, shrub or tree having escaped the ravages of the fire. The wide spread calamity which has thus over taken a large a number of industrious settlers is being promptly met by the public. Committees are formed in all directions and every prospect appears of a general and munificent subscription being raised in mitigation of the distress occasioned.
From "The Adelaide Observer" (SA: 1843-1904), Sat 12 Feb 1859, Page 4
A fire of very considerable extent has been raging in the hills near Macclesfield and Battunga. We are informed by Mr Hurtle Fisher, who passed that part of the country on Sunday and Monday, that scarcely a fence between these two places is left standing and trees of large size were falling about in all directions.
No less than eight families on Mr Robert Davenport’s estate barely escaped in the clothes they had on, their houses being all levelled to the ground. A large quantity of wheat has also been consumed.
Mr Fisher also informed us that two women were killed, one being literally burnt to a cinder and the other suffocated. The fire continued to rage at the time he left the neighbourhood. It appears to have broken out in several places at about the same time.
We have received further particulars from a correspondent:- ‘ I have to report that this township and neighbourhood were visited on Sunday with a most fearful bush fire, equal if not surpassing that of Black Thursday in Victoria. The loss of property is really appalling; whole families thrown on public sympathy without a change of clothing or morsel of bread. These cases are not solitary but numerous. The destruction of houses, corn, furniture, fences etc, is very great. I shall forward you a full report of the losses sustained by next post’.
Please note: Mr Fisher’s report of ‘two women being killed in the fire’ was not mentioned at the Inquest into the disastrous fire held on Feb 9th at the Davenport Arms.
[From our Special Reporter] Macclesfield, Wednesday Evening February 9
Having left Echunga after sunset, I had at least one advantage of travelling in the dark. The innumerable burning logs and trees which mark the extent of the devastation caused by the recent fire presented a scene of solemn grandeur not easily to be described. For many miles in every direction these brilliant glaring objects shone with an intense ruddy light, which, in the deep silence and solitude of the forests was most imposing to behold.
On reaching this place I found that the sad accounts which have already been published of the distressing calamity which has visited the district are but too true. I enclose you reports of a public meeting held here yesterday, for the purpose of taking such steps as might be deemed expedient for the relief of the sufferers and of the inquest, both of which have been kindly supplied to me by Mr Henry Linn.
Those with whom I have conversed respecting the fire unite in describing it as having been of a very appalling character. It is represented as having come down upon the neighbourhood with the force and rapidity of a whirlwind. Its direction appears to have been from north-east to south-west and it is known to have laid waste the country for a distance of eight miles in the incredibly short time of three-quarters of an hour.
About 9 o’clock on the Monday morning the inhabitants of Macclesfield observed it marching onward towards Watergate. Their first impulse was to run in that direction, in order to render what assistance they could in checking the flames in their wild career. But on approaching the locality they found it utterly impossible to get near to the fire on account of the dense clouds of smoke, the heat and the dust.
Having been compelled to retreat, their next object was to preserve the township from the fangs of the ruthless foe. By great and unremitting exertions this was effected, with the exception of two dwelling- houses, which were entirely destroyed. These were the residences of Mr Schedlich and Mr B Albert.
One singular circumstance occurred during the morning. A stack of hay belonging to Mr Samuel Coleman, brewer, was discovered to be on fire, when a man who was carrying a quantity of beer in a can, ran to the spot and with it extinguished the flame. Had the fire gained the mastery over this haystack, its proximity to the Davenport Arms and other buildings would in all probability have reduced the township to a heap of ruins. The heat was so intense during the fire that copper and silver coins have since been found melted together.
Further particulars, with the names of those who have sustained heavy losses by the fire, will be found in the enclosed reports to which I have already referred.
[From our Macclesfield Correspondent]
A public meeting was held at Macclesfield on the 8th instant, for the purpose of taking immediate steps to relieve the distress occasioned by the late fire.
The Rev. JB Austin, who had taken an active part in getting up the meeting, was unanimously called to the chair. He said that while he consented to meet the wishes of the meeting, it would have given him much more pleasure to have met them and presided on a more joyous occasion. As this was a public calamity and they were met to combine for the relief of the most extreme suffering, he hoped everyone would give what assistance and information they could.
Many families had lost all they possessed and had not even a change of linen or a bit of bread to eat. These cases required immediate attention on their part. They must bear in mind that while many had sustained great loss that others who had lost less were in far more destitute circumstances. As this was a meeting more for action than speechmaking, he had, with the assistance of a few gentlemen, prepared some resolutions for their consideration. He would ask Mr Linn, who had yesterday gone over that part of the district destroyed by the fire, to read the result of his investigation.
Mr Henry Linn said that he had witnessed the fearful razing of the fire on Sunday morning and had considered it his duty to visit the several sections and homesteads to ascertain as near as possible the extent of the loss sustained. He had compared his own investigation with papers in possession of the Collector of Statistics and found that his (Mr Linn’s) was, indeed, a very low estimate.
The sufferers names were Henry Hill, W Shapcott, James Clarke (houseless), W Anderson, C Chandler (houseless), David Mott (houseless), George Leedham Sen. (houseless), Charles Fry, John Powel, E Bollymer (houseless), James Harry, John Davis, John Kane (houseless), - Lahiff (houseless), John Reiken (houseless), Mrs O’Connor, John Ryan (houseless), - Crick (houseless), George Gordon (houseless), - Kruger, husband and wife, both narrowly escaped from death and upwards of 60 years of age (houseless), - Williamson (houseless), Carl G Shedlich (houseless), R Albert (houseless), John Horner (houseless), James Mott (houseless), M Ryan (houseless), Joel Fry, W Downs, Eli Davis, Charles Passfield (houseless).
There were numerous others who had suffered in a lesser degree. The lowest possible aggregate loss in corn, clothes, furniture and farming implements is above £2,000, and in fences and houses a lot more. This loss was confined to the District of Macclefield and did not include fruit-trees, gardens and grass paddocks. He hoped that by making an appeal to their fellow colonists they would be able to assist the sufferers.
He also thought that by their representing the matter properly to the several landlords in the district they would forgive some part of the rents now due. He had spoken to Mr Bolleymer, a great loser, about this and his (Mr Bolleymer’s) impression was that he had received such great kindness from his landlord (Captain Hughes of Clare) that he could not expect anything more. He (Mr Linn) was certain from Capt. Hughes known liberality, that he would not now push matters to the extreme and others might follow his example.
The Chairman said that he should be glad to hear suggestions from any person. Mr Henry Watts proposed and Mr Hounslow seconded ‘That this meeting cordially sympathises with the sufferers from the awful and calamitous fire that raged through this district on Sunday last’. It was carried.
The full wing resolutions were also duly proposed, seconded and carried unanimously:
• ‘That it is eminently desirable that means be immediately advanced to relieve the sufferers.’
•‘That to effect this object subscription is to be opened; that an appeal to be made to the colony through the public papers and that the Banks in Adelaide be requested to allow subscription – lists to lie open for the collection of subscriptions’.
• ‘That the following gentlemen be appointed a Committee to give effect to the above resolutions, namely; Messrs. Austin, Billing, Coleman, Dancker, Gould, Hounslow, Linn, Marker, Robinson and Wright’.
• ‘That the following ladies be requested to act as a Committee to distribute immediate relief to families:- Mrs Dancker, Mr Gould, Mrs Marker, Mrs Millar, Mrs Neumann, Mrs Sutter and Miss Coleman’.
The Chairman said as the principal object of the meeting had been attained, the Committee would rely on their support. It was not expected that a man could give that he hath not. God loved a cheerful giver. Everyone should give according to his means.
Several other matters were considered and amongst them the necessity there was for the District Council to see that all dangerous trees now burning near to the unburned bush should be removed to prevent further destruction. Mr Linn was requested by the meeting to see to it, which he promised to do.
Mr Linn intimated to the meeting that Messrs. Austin, Watts and Yates had given him their names for £5 each.
A vote of thanks was passed unanimously to the Chairman which terminated the proceedings. At the close of the public meeting, the Committee met and passed rules for their guidance in giving relief. Orders for rations were also given to destitute families equal to twenty-seven adults for one week.
[From another Correspondent] Macclesfield February 9
An inquest was held this evening at the Davenport Arms, Macclesfield, before Mr S L Harris, JP, and a respectable Jury, on the last disastrous fire.
The Coroner briefly addressed the Jury and Mr C F Smith, farmer, Watergate, being sworn, deposed that he first saw smoke rise to the west of his section on Friday morning, the 4th instant, between 11 and 14 o’clock. He was home at the time. Made all haste to see where the smoke came from and before he was out of his own section saw the flames. The fire appeared to have been lit an hour. Saw no one about the place. It reached his place on the following day (Saturday), and destroyed all of his grass paddock. He saved his crop and houses.
R Wilkins, gardener, Watergate, deposed – First saw the fire at a quarter before 13 o’clock on Friday. It was close to Heyward’s section. When he first came to it, it was no more than 20 yards wide. It was one single body of fire and was not connected with any other fire in the neighbourhood. It was in Heyward’s section and was burning in the direction of Hill’s and Davenport’s. Hill was the first sufferer from the fire. Saw no strangers in the neighbourhood at the time he first saw the fire.
W Shapecott, farmer, Watergate – Deposition similar to the above.
Mr Leedham, snr, farmer, Watergate, deposed to the same effect – had lost all he had.
William Chandler, farmer, Watergate, gave evidence of similar character.
Emma Lloyd deposed – I and my sister first saw the fire on Thursday last. I am living at home with my father. I first saw smoke rise at about two minutes-walk from our brush fence as I was coming out of the door of the house. The fence is a division, one between my father’s land and Mr Heyward’s. Mr Heyward lives on an adjoining section to the one the fire was on.
My sister and I gave the alarm to Mr Corner’s family, four of whom went with us. When we got to the fire we found it burning in Mr Heyward’s section and going west towards Macclesfield. I sent off to Mr Heyward’s and William Heyward came immediately and Walter Heyward and Mr Corner came shortly after Heyward. Corner seemed greatly concerned about the fire. They did all they could to put it out.
There have been two similar bush-fires lit up in the same way within the last three weeks in the same section at the opposite end. Our family have always been on good terms with the neighbours, with the exception of Mr Hickmott and we have not been long unfriendly with him. The first person who came to put the fire out on the previous Monday was Mr Hickmott. On Tuesday evening the fire had got as far as the county boundary road.
H M Lloyd, sister to the last witness, J Corner, W Heyward and Walter Heyward were each examined at great length, but the evidence was a repetition of that of previous witnesses.
The Coroner having stated the nature of the evidence, the Jury returned the following verdict:- ‘That the late fire originated in a section belonging to Mr John Heyward, near Echunga but by what means it was started there was no evidence to show’.