Elevated view of Toorak Road, H12669

It’s been a cold July in Victoria but at least we’re not rowing in the streets- like they were in Melbourne in 1891. Non stop rain over a weekend saw the Yarra break its bank and flood surrounding suburbs- leaving thousands homeless.

 Gippsland TimesWednesday 15 July 1891

‘The great flood of July 1891 in the river Yarra will be noted…a very sad event in the history of the district. Rain commenced to fall at midnight on Friday, and continued without a break until Sunday night…’ (The Prahran Telegraph)

Punt Road, looking from raised ground towards flooded street, H12670

‘The fine weather enabled crowds of people to watch the progress of the flood. South Yarra was the chief centre of interest and thousands of persons journeyed there by train and tram and looked out upon the curious scene which the locality presented…The water extended past the Punt Road railway bridge near the Richmond station and was many feet deep in the ground floor of many houses…’ (The Bendigo Independent).

Looking across flooded ground, roofs visible above water, H12668

Particularly affected were the low-lying suburbs of Collingwood, Richmond, South Yarra and South Melbourne. In South Yarra, more than a thousand people were homeless and three people died. (Yarra: a diverting history, p. 77)

Fundraising events were held including the Bendigo City Brass Band playing a concert, a fancy costume football match, and the play ‘The silver bells!’. The relief fund raised over £15,000.

The play of the year, 1891, “The silver bells!” : Albert Hall, Clifton Hill

The great flood, July 1891, Clara St., South Yarra , H2001.60/42

The Library holds other images of the 1891 flood, as well as floods in Echuca,  the Murray River and the Goulburn River. In 1872 an enquiry was conducted into the cause of the periodical floods in the river Yarra.


This article has 9 comments

  1. Amazing sites, I’ve seen lydiard street in Ballarat flooded in early 1990’s, I returned from Melbourne arriving at the railway station in Lydiard St to the site of a waterfall coming out the back of a building next to the station, it was a 1870’s triple story bluestone building as many are in the historic street. Many had basements and first floor offices flooded and traffic at a standstill. And yes everyone out to gawk:) my mum who is 90 also recalls in Rosedale in 1934 floods the Latrobe river rising up to flood the main st and boats rowing down it, that was a raging torrent.

  2. The images of the floods in Melbourne in 1891 are not too discimilar to those being experienced in certain parts of the UK at the present time ( Dec 2015).

  3. interesting, given our challenge with encouraging people to prepare in urban areas, the history of severe flooding in all of the major urban centres. The fundraising efforts seem not to change over time, although a fancy dress football match is an interesting concept…..

  4. My great grandparents, Rogers, were living in Tivoli Road at the time. William Rogers had built a single fronted home on lower ground where the family were living circa 1885 – the risk of floods could be why he then built another double-fronted further up the hill into which they moved. His brother, Joseph & family, was around in River Street and probably would have been flooded out. But Joseph was a master painter & decorator, so his services would have been called upon and he undoubtedly gained financially from the flood.

    • Philippe Batters

      I’m a very keen recorder of South Yarra history and I would love to talk with you about their history in Tivoli Rd
      If you would do this please call me on 0418992103
      Philippe Batters

  5. Merrill O'Donnell

    That has given further perspective to the amazing task of the suffragists who gathered signatures door to door for the monster petition in 1891.
    We have a lot to thank those brave women for.

  6. a land of fire , droughts and flooding rain ….Dorothea Mackellar ..

  7. I understand the image “Elevated view of Toorak Road”, H12669, is taken by Ludovico Hart.

    My stepfather, Alan Elliott wrote a biography of Hart, and this is one of the images in a collection he left me.


  8. Thank you, Great Grandfather ran a newsagency in Richmond and supposedly delivered papers etc by row boat. Still checking on that.

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