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’.
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.