‘Black Wednesday’ – 9th February 1898

On 9th February 1898, the skies of Canterbury were darkened by the smoke from bushfires raging along the coastline of Victoria, Australia. This day became known as ‘Black Wednesday’.

Known as ‘Red Tuesday’ in Australia – a dry, locust damaged South Gippsland began to burn on 1st February and gusty winds soon spread the terror to neighbouring districts. The fires burned well over a fortnight.

While some took their chances in gravel pits or fleeing on foot, others managed to catch specially commissioned trains to flee the fires. Over 900 rockets were used to signal approaching ships and steamers to where the coastline was as visibly were at zero due to the smoke. Soldiers were eventually brought in to help with the fire fighting efforts.

260,000 hectares of land were gutted, 2000 buildings destroyed, 2500 left homeless and there were 12 deaths.

Painter John Longstaff headed into Gibbsland on 20th February to see the damage himself. The attached painting was the result of this visit.

*Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Victoria – http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au

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