You may recall in the February edition we told you how Somerset Dam came about through the perseverance of Henry Plantegenet Somerset, here is a little bit more to the story.
Three cyclones hit South East Queensland in February 1893 saturating the Brisbane and Stanley river catchments. The first cyclone delivered 914mm of rain over 24 hours in the upper Stanley River near Peachester. Because of this rainfall Henry witnessed the rapidly rising river reach a level of 22.5m from his Caboonbah homestead. Realising the potential threat to the surrounding regions, Henry sent a bullocky, Harry Winwood from Cressbrook on horseback to Esk to telegraph Brisbane of the danger. The message was sent and posted outside Brisbane’s General Post Office, but was not taken seriously due to Brisbane’s fine weather at the time. The telegraph read, “Please warn inhabitants Brisbane, Goodna, Ipswich, Lowood, other centres of tremendous flood, eighteen ninety level already exceeded several feet, Stanley River only, Brisbane to follow”. This was one of Brisbane’s worst three floods of all time, with many lives lost and infrastructure destroyed.
Two weeks after the first flood, Henry Somerset heard roaring water coming down the gorge again. With the telegram lines from Esk to Ipswich down from the first flood it was impossible to wire a warning. Luckily Billy Mateer a good game stockman from Dalgangal station near Eidsvold happened to be at Caboonbah so Henry Somerset sent him off with a second warning. Henry Somerset rowed Billy Mateer and two horses Oracle and Lunatic across the Brisbane River only to have Oracle break loose and swim back. Leaving Billy to ride Lunatic on a long and treacherous ride through flooded creeks and over the D’Aguilar Range to North Pine (currently known as Petrie) to warn the people of Brisbane. Billy rode through cyclonic conditions and both horse and rider were reported to safely make it to North Pine to wire the message, which was again said to have been ignored.
After these floods Henry Somerset came to the conclusions that flood warning was necessary and that Caboonbah was perfectly suited to this task because of its location. Later that year Caboonbah was made a warning station and a telegraph line was built from Cressbrook E.T. Office to Caboonbah and the Somerset family learnt morse code and how to operate the equipment. Henry Somerset and his family continued this operation for 12 years with no remuneration.
It is reported that on the same day in 1933 Billy Mateer’s death appeared in the newspapers that the state government approved the construction of Somerset Dam.
Seqwater, Factsheet – The man who raced the flood, Billy Mateer via seqwater.com.au
DeLacy, E. 2016 Legends of the Brisbane River Valley – Volume 1
1893 Brisbane Flood