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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
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
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-
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.