The Great Windsor Fire of 1874
With most of the Museum's team at the Sydney Royal Easter Show we haven't got a big blog for you this week but we thought we'd take a look back at the 1874 fire that ripped through Windsor and was the catalyst for the creation of a number of other local regional fire brigades.
Windsor Fire Brigade was established in 1863 but it wasn't until this fire ten years later that the brigade was truly tested.
On 23 December 1874 strong winds were experienced in the Windsor region and these soon developed into a near hurricane-like phenomenon by 1pm.
Bushfires had already been reported across the state from Parramatta & Newcastle to the Blue Mountains but history remembers what would occur at Windsor most.
On this day many Windsor residents were in attendance at a meeting being held in the town to hear the platforms of candidates for the upcoming Hawksbury election, when at 2pm the alarm was sounded & the meeting was brought to an abrupt close.
There was panic in the streets with people unsure what to do or how to save their possessions.
The fire was started at the blacksmiths shop on the western side of George Street, and due to the blustery conditions embers were blown into the tannery where timber caught alight. Sparks then flew into the general store & Hairdressing salon, after which much of the town was shortly ablaze.
Included in this were the offices of the Hawksbury Times newspaper which were destroyed and sadly the paper never resumed publication.
By 3pm the fire was reported as being out of control and having had spread through most of the town, a request for assistance from Sydney was made. The fire was prevented from spreading across Fitzgerald Street by the local volunteer Fire Brigade, that kept a constant stream of water going with the help of their appliance. Superintendent Coley supervised the work of the brigade but there was little they could do due to the wind.
By 3:30pm the wind had subsided and by 4:40pm Mr. Brown, the Superintendent of the Insurance Brigade in Sydney arrived on a special train with a steam fire engine, manual pumps and twelve men. Firefighters sprayed water onto those buildings most in danger, however at 11:30pm the crew from Sydney were re-directed to Parramatta where another fire was burning. By the time the crew reached Parramatta the fire was under control, however the local crew at Windsor had to work hard to contain the fire until 1am.
When it was extinguished the fire had covered an area of 30 acres and destroyed 53 buildings, including 36 houses. Estimated property losses caused by fire were reported to be between £13,000 and £15,000 (approximatley $2.2 million today) however a more realistic figure proposed was £100, 000 (approximatley $14.5 million today).
Very little was able to be done to salvage what was left of the destroyed part of Windsor. On Christmas Day a meeting was held in the Windsor School of Arts to assess the damage and to establish a committee to collect and disperse aid, £850 (approximatley $122,000 today) was raised.
On 31st December a similar meeting was held in Sydney and public subscriptions raised £1, 285 (approximatley $185,000 today). Only one death was reported as a direct result of the fire in the town, that of Miss Eliza Wilson, a servant, who was unable to escape the weatherboard house she was in when flames quickly engulfed it. Only one other death was reported as a result of the fire, that of Henrietta Johnson, who died as the result of the burns received when her clothes caught fire after the buggy she was riding on outside the town became alight.
Due to the devastation caused by this fire many other rural towns quickly established their own local fire brigade as without the brigade the losses could have been much higher.
Next week we will share a brief history of Windsor Fire Brigade so keep an eye out for that!
We hope you found this small history interesting.