Brewarrina Scene 1915 - nla collection - click on photo for details


By Diana Ballinger.

January 1896 was notable in North-Western New South Wales for a period of oppressive heat. The papers of that time had daily bulletins that told the story.

A book by A.W. Baker entitled “What Happened When: a chronology of Australia, 1788-1994” depicts noteworthy events of the times, and under 1896, 12th January, is found the quote “Heat wave in Bourke, NSW (To 25th), during which 47 people die; daily top temperatures average 116.6 degrees F. (47 degrees C.)

At this time our ancestor John Willis, aged 71 years, was residing with his son-in-law and daughter, Henry and Rose English at Tarrion Station near Brewarrina.

To quote from the newspapers of the day…

21st January:

Further Deaths: Exodus Of Residents By Excursion Trains.

BOURKE, Tuesday. The heat today was very trying, the thermometer registering 118 in the shade. Two deaths were reported today Mr. R. Rheuban, a resident of Bourke, a wool classer, died suddenly from heat apoplexy on Saturday, at Boorara, near Hungerford. Kenneth Stewart, a local identity, dropped in the street last night. He never regained consciousness, dying at the hospital shortly after. This brings the record of 35 deaths directly ascribable to the heat………large numbers left by train this morning, and the cheap excursion trains which leave tomorrow will be largely availed of.

22nd January:

Ten More Deaths At Bourke, Business Practically Suspended, The Hospital Overcrowded, Residents Leaving Town.

BOURKE Wednesday: …..the thermometer registered 120 today, and in many of the shops and houses the temperature reached 125. Almost all business, except in the hotels, was practically suspended……two deaths occurred here today. Many persons are ill, and the hospital is so crowded that five extra beds have been ordered…..

23rd January

The Fearful Heat At Bourke, More Deaths Reported, Pathetic Incidents.

BOURKE, Thursday. There is no diminution in the great heat, the thermometer registering over 119 degrees in the shade. The heavy clouds which banked up last night disappeared shortly afterwards, after a short storm, and rain is as far off as ever.

…….John Smith, a homestead lessee…was found in an unconscious condition. He was promptly place in a buggy, and driven to the Bourke Hospital, but he expired on the journey. An enquiry was held to-day, and a verdict of death from heat apoplexy was returned.

BREWARRINA, Thursday. There were five fatalities from the heat yesterday. Two points of rain fell last night.”

It was during this time that John Willis died (on 22nd January). A note in a Willis Family Bible has the comment “he died of the heat at Brewarrina.”

His Death Certificate gives the cause of death as “supposed to be heat apoplexy. Order for burial given by H.L. Cathre, Coroner, an inquest being considered unnecessary”