Flash flood ended Henry’s gold fever

Anglican cemetery, Sofala. To the memory of Henry Robinson, drowned by the sudden rising of the waters of Oakey Creek on the 18th of December 1851. Image Sharyn Moodie

The words on this headstone in the overgrown abandoned Anglican cemetery at Sofala are almost unreadable, worn by time and overgrown with lichen.

The grave’s occupant, Henry Robinson, was lost to the waters of nearby Oaky Creek, just as the stone itself is now being lost to the elements.

How long before his story also dissolves into the past?

Earlier that year, 1851, the first payable gold in NSW had been found at nearby Ophir, and Robinson was part of the resulting rabid rush to get in on the action

The Turon goldfield where he died had only opened in June, with initial concerns about lack of water proved unfounded by the later flooding.

The reporter who told of the death of Henry Robinson by flash flood, saw himself the waters of the Turon River rise rapidly where it meets Oakey and Little Oakey Creek, not far out of present-day Sofala.

Thunder, rain and hail on the nearby mountains resulted in a deadly gush of water hitting the area, the water rising 12-15 feet in 15 minutes.

 “The miners were rushing up the banks of the river in all directions, and but few near this spot had the opportunity of saving their cradles and mining implements,” the observer said.

 “The waters were rushing down like an avalanche, and removing in their furious progress the trunks of large trees, enormous masses of rock, and almost everything which came within their reach.’’

 Shipping captain Henry Robinson (who formerly had command of one of the Sydney coasters), was working with two other men in a tunnel on Little Oakey Creek, about a quarter of a mile from its junction with the Turon River.

 The unfortunate Captain Robinson was swept to the junction and another 500 yards down the Turon River.

The reporter saw his bruised body being taken from the water.

“No part of his clothing remained excepting a leather belt.’’

His workmate Richards was thought to be still in the tunnel, and men were soon  busy digging to find his remains.

“It may seem strange to those who have never witnessed the effects of these mountain storms, but the great rush of waters seemed to pass this point so as to remind one of an immense train of railway carriages at full speed, and the waters of the Turon receded to nearly their usual height in about half an hour.’’

The gold rush then returned to normal.

Sofala, NSW

SOURCES: The Sydney Morning Herald,  Tuesday 23 December 1851 p 2

Turon River goldfields and Sofala (map) viewed at https://www.heatgg.org.au/turon-river-goldfields-and-sofala/ on 15/4/2021

Published by Sharyn Moodie

Travelling around Australia for work, I've found so many amazing headstones. But what is more amazing is the stories behind some of these deaths, and the way newspapers of the day reported them.

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