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BLACK THURSDAY.

By EDWARD C. O. HOWARD.

Doubtless there are many colonists still living who recollect Thursday, February 6, 1851, since known by the designation of "Black Thursday." My father occupied     a brick house he had just built in Jeffcott street, on the western slope of the Flag- staff Hill, about the first erected in that locality. I have a vivid recollection of   the day, for as a youth of 12 years I,   boy-like, sneaked out of the new building   to have a look at a structure raging in flames in the neighbourhood and on re- turning was severely reprimanded for ven- turing out in such awful heat. It is on record that for 26 years previously at no   period did the heat of the atmosphere ap- proach to anything like what was experi-  

enced on that eventful day. A scorching wind from N.N.W., sufficiently strong to raise clouds of dust before it, set in from an early hour. Although the rays of the sun were in some degree obscured by the dust the denseness of the atmosphere was most intolerable, even the lawyers in court being induced to forego their fees by requesting the presiding judge to post- pone the proceedings. The thermometer, of Fahrenheit, was about 110 in the shade and 129 in the sun. Accounts soon came pouring into town from all quarters of the appalling ravages made by fires. Mr. Powlett's police station was completely   destroyed, house furniture, every stitch of clothing except what was in actual use, library, tent, fences and crops all being

burnt.

All along the River Plenty for 12 miles was one blackened scene of desolation,   and every family was either utterly ruined or seriously injured, a mother and five children being suffocated by the effects   of the flames. The surrounding country became a flame of fire, which demolished     the trees, scrub, undergrowth, and every- thing before it. Everyone in the district   was a loser, nothing being thought of but fire and its horrors. A pile of sheep and bullocks, nearly all dead, was discovered in one of the creeks. For miles around Ballarat and Geelong an immense amount of property was destroyed, especially on the Barrabool Hills, where many farmers   were ruined. In this district something like 3,000 tons of hay and 50,000 bushels of   wheat were lost. Bacchus Marsh and Ballan also suffered, while the Buninyong forest was for days a burning blaze. At the Werribee about 4,000 sheep perished,     and at Mount Macedon three men were lost. The neighbouring ranges of Kilmore,   which town escaped, were on fire, caused   it was said, by some men who were burn- ing stubble. The creeks were full of car- cases of bullocks. No quarter of the dis- trict escaped, so general was the conflagra- tion, which extended from Gippsland north- ward as far as the Goulburn, where the sheep on several stations were consider- ably thinned, one squatter alone losing

7,000.

We are told that darkness overspread the whole of Gippsland, caused by smoke, which, carried by the north wind from the burning forests on the ranges, totally obscured the sun's light. This darkness     began to be perceived about 1 o'clock in

the afternoon, and gradually increased until it became dense enough to hide from sight even the nearest objects. In Mel- bourne people flocked to the Flagstaff     Hill, where a good view of the fires in the surrounding country could be ob-

tained.

At Portland the same excessive heat   and bush fires were experienced, so much so that the races for the last day were

postponed. A bush fire in the vicinity of the town began to rage with the utmost     fury. It sprung up near the racecourse,   and through the violence of the hot wind threatened to consume the booths and to       envelop the persons who had assembled       there in the flames before time could be  

afforded them to escape. The newly erected cottage of the collector of Customs was swept away, leaving time only for the owner and family to escape before   their residence became a perfect cinder.        

So sudden and rapid was the progress of       the flames thal the fowls and goats about the premises were all consumed. The

fences and all that stood in its way for nearly five miles were carried away by the   fire. The utmost concern was felt in     town at the same time at the approach of fire from another quarter. Burnt particles     were whirling down the streets and flying over the tops of the houses in profusion. Those of the inhabitants in their houses   made the best preparations which they     could for themselves respectively, water   carts and all concentrated effort being at           a sad discount. While the fire was raging     in the immediate vicinity of the town,   Mount Clay and the farmers in that locality were enveloped in one vast blaze   -many farmers lost the whole of their crops. The work of years was swept away   from those industrious families and severe sufferers, their fences and homes being   annihilated at one stroke. Throughout the       country generally traffic was temporarily         suspended, and the carriers of several of       the inland mails were intercepted by bush           fires. A remarkable occurrence was the   finding in several places of hundreds of   dead opossums and snakes, some of the   latter several feet long. At sea the     weather was even more fearful than on     shore. Twenty miles out the heat was   so intense that every soul on board was   struck almost powerless, as reported by Captain Reynolds. A sort of whirlwind       in the afternoon struck his vessel, and     carried the topsail clean out of the bolt rope. Flakes of fire were at the time   flying thick alll round the ship from the shore, while the air was filled with cinders       and dust, which fell in layers on the     vessel's deck. Fortunately the wind           moderated about 2 o'clock, and further    

apprehension passed away. On Friday       rain fell lightly in several parts of the    

interior, and on Sunday the 9th, prayers       for rain were offered in several of the     Melbourne churches. The foregoing is         merely an outline of the loss and damage       done in the towns and country. Much   more could be said on the subject, but   it would take up too much valuable space       to give further details respecting the   catastrophe that visited the colony on          

February 6, 1851.    

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