Bushfire Weather 1898 Style – Red Tuesday

As I have no close connections with this week’s Sepia Saturday theme of people involved in the First World War, and know very little about them anyway, I hadn’t intended to do a post this week  But the  maximum temperature in Geelong today was 45 ° C,and the last three days were 41°, 42° and 45° (106, 107, 113F),  so  it seems like a good time to  continue with the story about Charles Fricke Snr. which I started  in Attached to a Moustache. and which  I ended by saying …..

But in 1898 the bushfires came through and destroyed everything.  It was time to start all over again. But that’s another story.

.I have told this story in other places but I doubt that other Sepians have seen it.

Just like this week nearly one hundred and sixteen years ago each issue of  the Geelong Advertiser was reporting on bushfires, whether they were in Tasmania, Gippsland , the Grampians or closer to home.  The dry weather had brought swarms of locusts through the area and by February 1, 1898, Beech Forest was described as being ablaze, just one of the many fires that had been devastating the Otway Ranges.  For two days Colac had been enveloped in smoke, turning day into night.

 The Otway Forest was fast coming into prominence as a tourist resort.  Distinguished visitors to the various small communities were reported, as were the Balls and Sports Days. On Tuesday, February 8, 1898, the Gosney and Cawood houses were full of visitors at Apollo Bay. It wasn’t a particularly hot morning, but the wind was gusty. When the wind swung to the north the burning off which had been  started by the Beech Forrest settlers got out of control and headed towards Apollo Bay.

 About 11.30 in the morning Charles Fricke Snr. was helping his next door neighbour, William Methven. They saw the fire making for their houses at the top of the ridge at Tuxion, in the hills above Apollo Bay so began to hurry back to their homes.  Charles Fricke reached Mr Methven’s house first and stopped briefly for a drink of milk, the older man having lagged behind, then hurried to his own home.

 There was little Charles Fricke could do to save his home.  The fire was so intense he crouched behind a table with a bucket of water for five hours, tearing the back out of his waistcoat to dip in the water and cover his mouth.  The table was too small to cover his feet and the heat drew the nails out of his boots.  His horse was the only one of his animals to survive the fire, even though he had his mane burnt off.

 Alone, blinded by the heat, he decided he would rather die on the road to the township where his body would be found more quickly, and so feeling his way with a stick he set off on the three miles to Apollo Bay.  Mrs Costin took him in and put him to bed and nursed him back to health.

 After a long search Mr Methven’s body was found and the subsequent inquest decided that on seeing his home destroyed Mr Methven had tried to make for a creek to find refuge, but had been overcome and suffocated by the hot fumes.

The Murrays were trapped on the top of a  ridge and spent the night there under a wet blanket, taking it in turns to throw water on one another.  They had lost everything except one cow.

 Indeed the Marriner, Methven, Murray, Fricke, Cross, Armstrong, Bulotte, Perkins, James, Kendall, Inkester and Evans homes, and four untenanted houses, were lost, as well as miles of fencing, pasture, livestock and orchards.

 This day was later called Red Tuesday.  As the telegraph line was burnt down the news of the fire had to be taken out by horseback.  The coaches could not get through as the track became blocked and the corduroy was burning. So it was Friday before the people of Geelong could read about the fire.

N.B. A corduroy road is made from logs placed across the road, particularly in swampy areas.

humpyAfter eight years of clearing scrub, splitting palings, fencing, building, and creating a farm, it was a case of start again.  First priority was shelter. Charles Fricke built a  temporary humpy using the roofing iron from his burnt home.  The property had to be re-fenced and re-sown with grass seed.  The Gippsland settlers had bought all the available Cocksfoot grass-seed so seed had to be imported from a neighbouring colony and unfortunately brought with it the seeds of the Ragwort weed.

 Charles then built a new home, married and had his first two children while on this farm before shifting to another farm closer to Apollo Bay.

This story  was told from  Charles Fricke’s reminiscences and newspaper reports.

Meanwhile there were similar fires in Gippsland in the eastern part of Victoria where 12 people were  killed and 2000 buildings destroyed.

Gippsland,_Sunday_night,_February_20th,_1898Thje famous painter John Longstaff visited Gippsland later in February 1898 to view the fires at first hand and collect material for a major picture. Gippsland, Sunday night, February 20th, 1898 was exhibited in a dramatic installation in his Melbourne studio in August 1898. A row of kerosene-lamp ‘footlights’ provided the illumination, and the effect was said to be ‘lurid and startlingly realistic’. — http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/bushfire/lon.shtml

And this is how the sun looked this afternoon in Geelong thanks to “John” of Belmont on Facebook. . The bushfires are a long, long way away but the wind carries the smoke over long distances.

Sun on bushfire dayThis heat wave is now over – the cool change has arrived.  So next week I’ll be back to the regular theme and a cold weather post,   And that reminds me that  we still measured temperature on the Farenheit scale when I got married and on that  January day it was 108° in the shade. It didn;t seem that hot.

You can see more of this week; posts on World War ! soldiers  on Sepia Saturday



18 thoughts on “Bushfire Weather 1898 Style – Red Tuesday

  1. La Nightingail

    Bob may not be able to relate, but I can and you have my sympathies! Often enough in the summer here in the Sierra foothill mountains we have temperatures climbing over 100F degrees. A few summers ago we were right up there with you at the 113 -114 degree mark. And of course just this past summer we had a huge fire – almost 300,000 acres – that burned close enough to our town that we were advised to evacuate. We didn’t & all turned out well. But the worry was there, of course. And the smoke!


  2. anneyoungau

    Greetings from Ballarat.
    The temperatures have been high but at least we have better ways to keep cool now. Today is much better 🙂
    I am really surprised that you have no close connections involved in WWI – I have so many! Perhaps it is a matter of what age the generations were. I am also aware that there were significant numbers of people who did not support the war and kept their head down.


    1. boundforoz Post author

      Thanks Ballarat. I must do some proper research some time on family members who spent time in the armed forces. What information I have is sparse and not very interesting. It wasn’t a case of not supporting the war but often just not in the right age group.


  3. linda l

    I’ve been thinking of all you Aussies in the heat. Some of my friends were close to having to evacuate their homes last year. We’ve seen temperatures reaching 40 degrees plus in summer for the last two years, causing us to rethink our decision about not installing air conditioning!


  4. ScotSue

    A fascinating story. It is hard to comprehend what a frightening experience it must be to see all you had worked for wiped away by such a ferocious fire. Here in Scotland it is mild for January – 6c. The hottest I have experienced was 32c. in Austria one July. I have been following the Australia Grand Slam tennis and do not know how they can possibly play at that level in temperatures over 40c.


    1. boundforoz Post author

      I can’t understand why they allow them to play at those temperatures. I’ll be thinking of you tonight when I’m watching Casey Dellacqua playing and wondering if you are watching a live telecast early on a Sunday morning.


  5. Little Nell

    A fascinating tale of human endurance. It must have been frightening and devastating to see your home burnt and your life and livestock at risk. Told in all its detail, as it is here, it brings the experience home.


  6. Jo Featherston

    Great that you have those personal reminiscences to add to the newspaper reports and tell the story so movingly. We were up on the NSW mid-north coast last week so thankfully missed Melbourne’s heatwave. Back home now, and it’s a relief to find that although our garden has suffered, it could be worse. We drove down the Hume Highway today and could see a lot of billowing smoke in the hills from the fires in Southern NSW.


  7. Wendy

    Every time I read about massive fires, I feel helpless even though it’s not happening to me. I have to lift up a prayer of thanksgiving for that! I always fear I wouldn’t be strong enough to pick up and start over. Could I live in that “humpy”? I would have to, I suppose. Wonderful story!


  8. Mike Brubaker

    A great family story of perseverance and survival. I’m glad you did a followup as I remembered your tagline for a sequel story. I’ve read several books on great fires in the US, and at least one was attributed to the planting of eucalyptus trees as a way of reforesting California hills. Tragically no one did any research on Australian fires.



    We have heat like that in the city but fortunately no bush fires.
    But we have a lot of forest burning up in the north
    and one year, it was so huge, the sky here looked much like in your picture,
    all smog and the scent of burning hung in the air,
    even though it was very far away.
    A frightening story you told,
    but courageous people by all means,
    not to leave but to rebuild instead.
    Thanks for sharing.



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