# 38857

The Yarra. December 17th, 1863.

$2,000.00 AUD

Albumen print photograph, in large format 190 x 240 mm; laid down on its original mount of thin card, with a fully contemporary caption in pencil to the lower margin: ‘The Yarra. December 17th, 1863’; no photographer’s imprintthe print has some minor scattered foxing and what appears to be a crude attempt at retouching in the bottom right corner.; the mount has been removed from a frame at some point.

An apparently unrecorded image of the great Melbourne flood of December, 1863. The view looks east along the swollen Yarra, most likely from a vantage point on the sloping ground overlooking the river in the vicinity of Richmond.

Only a small number of other photographs documenting this catastrophic weather event have survived. They were taken by one of the Melbourne’s leading professional photographers of the day, George William Perry. Perry’s views of his inundated city include, for example, Corner of Flinders and Spencer Sts; under flood, held in the State Library of Victoria (PCLTA 359), and Princes Bridge and the Yarra in flood, December 1863, held in the University of Melbourne Art Collection. 

The fact that the present photograph was clearly taken in a location on the banks of the Yarra a considerable distance east of Princes Bridge – one of the central locations from where Perry documented the event – would suggest that it was not taken by Perry. This is corroborated by the very large format of the print – it is almost twice the size of Perry’s prints, which measure only 10.0 x 15.0 cm.

Melbourne was established on a flood plain in the 1830s. During its early years the growing metropolis was affected by flooding on numerous occasions – in 1839, 1842, 1844, and 1849 – and a major flood occurred in December, 1863.

A lengthy news article was published in The Age (Melbourne), on 17 December 1863 – the same day that the present photograph was taken. The opening section of the report described the general situation around the city that very morning:

‘THE FLOOD, THE CITY AND THE YARRA. Yesterday morning the storm, which had raged for more than two days, had considerably abated and for a while the appearance of the sky gave promise of finer weather. To some extent the promise was fulfilled, for, though we had occasional squalls, we had no longer cause to complain of the perpetual pouring which we had endured for many gloomy hours before. The fall of rain began perceptibly to decrease about sunset on Tuesday evening and, though it did not cease entirely through the night, it assumed the form of intermittent showers after daybreak on the following morning. Melbourne is now suffering a recovery, but it will be long before the traces of wind and flood have disappeared. Except in the vicinity of the river our citizens generally were yesterday resuming their wonted occupations and freshening up after the visitation of heavy wet that had overwhelmed the city. The street torrents had dwindled to the size of gentle rivulets and the most frequented thoroughfares were once more passable. The deposits of mud, sand and road metal left as debris by the currents are fast yielding to the shovels of the scavengers, and the roadways and pavements look all the cleaner for the thorough scouring they have undergone. Extensive repairs will of course be required, as the streets are every where furrowed and scarred with holes that will require tons of new metal to fill up. But these and other damages to buildings, fences, banks, &c., will furnish employment to many hands for weeks to come, so that, after all, the laboring section of the community will reap advantages from the disasters which have fallen upon others. Those who witnessed the floods of 1849 speak of this flood as surpassing what was then experienced ; but it must be borne in mind that the circumstances of the city have materially altered in the interval. The amount of property coming within the range of the swollen river has increased a hundred fold, and the mischief which has now ensued is proportionately enhanced. No certain estimate can be formed of the losses sustained, but it may fairly be figured in tens of thousands; and, as it is widely distributed, multitudes of families will have cause to look back upon these last three days of December, 1863, as days memorable for calamity and sorrow. Mr Ellery’s report of the weather, yesterday, is as follows ‘ The weather, last evening before sunset, showed signs of clearing, the wind abated, the dense nimbus broke up into drifting masses, showing light clouds in the upper strata of atmosphere almost at rest ; clearly indicating the force of the storm to be over, at least for the time. At night, however, heavy rain, with sharp squalls, set in, and was almost continuous throughout the night. In the morning the clouds were more broken, the rain coming only in showers till towards noon the sun shone out, and large patches of clear sky became visible. The barometer has continued to rise gradually, but slowly, since yesterday morning, and now reads 29.559. The gradual fall and subsequent rise of the barometer clearly shows the atmospheric wave to have been of very large extent ; and it is very probable this storm has swept over a very large extent, and that little of the southern portion of Australia has escaped from its violence. Now, at five p m. there is every appearance of the storm having passed over Melbourne ; yet it. is likely we shall hear of its having gone eastwards. The total amount of rain fallen at the Observatory since the storm commenced is 5.2 inches….’