Early Floods in the District 

 Drawing and information of “Toby” Ryan courtesy of  Parliament of NSW website.

By Lyn Forde – President/Research Officer of St Marys & District Historical Society Inc.

The floods in the district in the early 1860’s was catastrophic back then. The papers reported that in Penrith in February 1860 the flood washed away three of the telegraph polls on the Nepean bridge and a good deal of the wire. In the May flood it was said to have been higher than known and by June 1864 it was noted that St Marys was the place with the heaviest flood ever known by the oldest inhabitants with so many residents suffering, but the residents of the Page and Hackett families had lost most by the overflow of the South Creek banks. The lowlands at Dunheved and Llandilo that had been cultivated, lost its topsoil completely and washed away and destroyed the promising crops. Fences and cottages in many places were also washed away. The South Creek railway bridge stood the test well with great credit given to Messrs Peto and Co.  (Sir Samuel Morton Peto along with Thomas Brassey and Edward Ladd Betts executed several railway lines in Australia, including the western line.)  By July a meeting was held in the Penrith Courthouse to assist in relieving those sufferers compacted by the floods and about fifty people were present. Reverend Brennan moved that James “Toby” Ryan, Esquire (M.P) take the chair that was seconded and carried. “Toby” then explained the object of the meeting and  expressed the opinion that fortunately there was not so much distress in the immediate locality as there was among their neighbours higher up and lower down the river, but in the event of there being no distress among them it was still the duty of all those who had but little to come forward and share that little with the many who were in great distress in other districts. Letters were then read from various persons in the district, including one from the Secretary of the St Marys Agricultural Distress Committee that was addressed to Reverend Brenan and containing a cheque for £45. Reverend Brennan was then called upon to move the first resolution and said that distress from the recent floods exists in this district of the Nepean and that this meeting sympathises with the sufferers. The Reverend gentleman talked at some length of the opinion of some residents that no distress prevailed in the district, and he also warmly iterated on the wretched disunion that prevailed throughout the district, that prevented them from cooperating for the attainment of any object in common. John King Lethbridge seconded the resolution that was carried by those present. It was moved by the Reverend Elijah Smith and seconded by George Neale that a Committee of gentlemen with power be formed to add to their numbers for the purpose of investigating individual cases of suffering and to collect subscriptions for their relief. These men of the district were- James Tobias Ryan, Messrs:- William D Matthews, Dr Willmott, Duxbury & Kerr, Donald Beatson, George and James Landers, Thomas Smith, T Pike, J Wallis, John Guild, George Neale, W Wood, William Dowling and W Roberts, all was “Carried”.  Dr G T Clarke said that he had a resolution to propose to the meeting, that the trust would be “carried” and he was aware that the resolution had not emanated from the convener of the meeting, and in submitting it he did not do so with the view of creating anything like dissension, but from his firm belief that some resolution of this kind was necessary. The resolution he put forward was “that no assistance be rendered in money but that the Committee be authorised to supply food, clothing and agricultural implements to every necessary applicant as far as the funds will permit.” The Reverend T W Unwin seconded the resolution and cordially agreed with the remarks of Dr Clarke. Mr G Sanders said that he did not agree with the resolution and he thought that they should not tie the hands of the Committee but should leave the Committee free to act and he could conceive of cases where a little money would be very acceptable to the distressed families and the very best possible way of relieving their distress. He said that for instance, a distressed family might be overtaken by sickness and as doctors did not work for nothing, a little money would enable them to obtain proper medical aid, and he therefore begged to move his resolution as an amendment that the expending of the funds be left entirely to the discretion of the Committee. Mr Young seconded the amendment and Reverend Brennan, E Smith, Dr Willmott, Mr Lethbridge and the chairman supported the amendment. After Dr Clarke had replied to the amendment and resolution it was put to the meeting when the former was declared to be “carried”, but only three hands were held up. Next it was proposed by Dr Willmott and seconded by Mr Lethbridge that Mr Brooks act as Secretary to the Relief Committee that was “Carried”. It was also proposed by Mr J K Lethbridge and seconded by Mr G Neale that Mr W Roberts Esq be requested to sit as Treasurer of the Penrith Flood Relief Fund and that an account be opened in the Bank of NSW for the receipt of all subscriptions on behalf of the fund which was “Carried. The subscription lists were handed around the Courthouse meeting where the sum of £95 was collected along with the £45 received from the St Marys Agricultural Distress Fund, and as a working Committee having been appointed, a vote of thanks was given to the Chairman (“Toby”) and the meeting adjourned. One or two applications for relief had been made and it was the opinion of many at the meeting that more money will be collected in the district that will be required and that the surplus was to be forwarded to the central Committee.  (PS- Toby Ryan was elected to Parliament in March 1870 and continued to stand as a member of the NSW Legislative Assembly up to February 1872). 

Source: Sydney Morning Herald