Flashback to Brisbane 1893: Disastrous Floods!

Flooded Queen Street in Brisbane 1893, Poul C Poulsen
ANMM Collection

During early February in 1893 the south-east of Queensland had seen a week of unusually heavy rainfall. The Brisbane Courier newspaper reported that ‘disastrous floods’ had caused an ‘unprecedented rise’ in the Brisbane River, and on the 6th of February residents awoke to read that the flooding had finally ‘reached the magnitude of widespread calamity’.

The Courier dramatically described the ‘appalling havoc’ and the ‘imposing and fearsome sight’:

Hundreds of wooden houses, once the happy homes of owner or occupier, careered upon the flood often remaining whole till they struck Victoria Bridge, when they crashed like matchboxes and broke away into shapeless masses of wood and iron…

The impact of the floods was devastating for commercial shipping in the river port. Steamers were ‘driven ashore or laid on the tops of wharves’ and although most of the larger vessels survived, many of the smaller craft were ‘carried off to almost certain wreck’.

Brisbane floods 1893, Poul C Poulsen
ANMM Collection

Hundreds of people were left homeless and there was severe damage to public property across a wide area of Brisbane, including Victoria Bridge and the Indooroopilly railway bridge. It has been estimated that 35 people drowned during the disaster.

In the museum’s collection, there are a series of photographic negatives taken by well-known photographer Poul C Poulsen. Originally from Denmark, Poulsen moved to Australia in 1876 and made his way to Queensland in 1882. He had his own studio in one of the affected areas, at no 7 Queen Street. Poulsen’s striking images show people wading in the water in Brisbane’s main streets. His images form a lasting pictorial record of what was for many years thought to be the most devastating flood Queensland had ever witnessed.

Nicole Cama
Curatorial assistant

Brisbane floods 1893, Poul C Poulsen
ANMM Collection

Brisbane floods 1893, Poul C Poulsen
ANMM Collection

Edward Street in Brisbane 1893, Poul C Poulsen
ANMM Collection

4 thoughts on “Flashback to Brisbane 1893: Disastrous Floods!

  1. It is indeed a lot of water. You can also tell with some of the images that they were taken at different times, that is, when the flood reached its peak and when the water started to recede. An amazing series of images. Have any images survived of the Ohio flood in 1927?

  2. Sorry I made a mistake. The Mississippi River flooded in 1927 and the Ohio in 1937.

    Yes there are photos still around. In fact there are a few books on the subject.

    This is one photo: http://www.historicevansville.com/image.php?id=commercial%2FNational+Refining+-+flood+%281937%29.jpg

    And here is a book. You’ll have to scroll a ways down before it gets to the ’37 flood: http://books.google.com/books?id=IbZ62zYky7gC&printsec=frontcover&dq=ohio+flood+1937&hl=en&sa=X&ei=cEvrT9LRKIL48wTAt9S6BQ&ved=0CDYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=ohio%20flood%201937&f=false

  3. Wow, thanks for the links J G Burdette! Early photographs like these are invaluable.

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