Family Names

Saturday, 22 April 2017

A to Z Challenge - S is for the storm of 1909

Snippets from the life of Martha Sarah Ellis.

In November 1909 a tremendous storm hit Melbourne that also encompassed the suburb where Martha and her family lived in South Yarra.

The reports that appeared in the newspapers were quite vivid:
“A storm of unusual violence raged all day yesterday, and did a great deal of damage to house properly and to growing trees in roads and gardens; while in the Bay many small craft were badly injured, and some were completely wrecked. No such gale has been experienced for years.
The wind began to blow strongly from a northerly direction at about daylight, and as it increased in force it rose dense clouds of dust, which swept through the city in thick masses. Being Sunday, no water carts were out, and as the hurricane grew fiercer and fiercer it just hurled the dust along in tons like a desert simoom. The force with which the gritty particles were propelled southward effectually held up what little traffic there was moving northward, and when in the afternoon the trams began to run the gripmen facing it had a truly miserable experience. ... The dust which filtered in the houses, however carefully closed, did considerable damage to the interiors, which the gale howled and tore and made havoc without. Street trees were uprooted by the score. ... the streets were littered with broken boughs, and in some cases were obstructed, by whole trees laid prostrate. Hoardings were flattened in many places, and roofs and verandahs were torn away. in the city many windows were blown in. .... At Brunswick a large plate glass window in the newly constructed- shop of Tye and Co. burst inwards under the pressure of the wind, and two verandahs in Stewart-street were torn away and blown to pieces, while the brick wail of a shop was partly broken down by the violence of the storm ... The storm culminated about 5 o'clock in a final mighty burst. Then the wind veered round to the west, and died down as the rain fall gently.”[1]

The weather reports on Friday the day before had seemed innocuous enough "Unsettled, showery, and thundery weather passing, over the State from west to east, but improving in the north. Cool west to southerly winds."[2]  But by Sunday the weather had deteriorated quite badly.  

It must have been a very frightening experience; the children would have been terrified by the howling winds and violent rain. 

Around this time Walter moved at least part of, if not all of his workshop to 476, 478. 480 Chapel St a., Sth. Yarra according to Google Maps only a 4 minute walk from their home.[3]

Although there was no report of their residential home being harmed it appears that Walter’s workshop was damaged.

 “An expensive window was also broken at Mr W Todman's motor garage it the corner of Garden and Chapel streets.”[4]

When I discovered that Walter declared himself a bankruptcy in 1910, I wondered if the storm damage had been too severe for him to cover come.[5]

Martha must have been heartbroken, to have come so far and then to lose it all so quickly.

To Read more about Martha's life for articles previously posted for the A to Z Challenges click the Letters below:-

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 


[1] 1909 'YESTERDAY'S STORM.', The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), 22 November, p. 7. , viewed 21 Apr 2017,
[2] Anon 'THE WEATHER.', The Bendigo Independent, 19 November 1909, p. 6. , viewed 21 Apr 2017,
[3] Anon, 'Advertising', Advocate, 9 July 1910, p. 41. , viewed 21 Apr 2017,
[4] Anon, 'FIERCE NORTHERLY CALE. DAMAGE IN THE SUBURBS.', The Argus, 22 November 1909, p. 7. , viewed 21 Apr 2017,
[5] "Victoria Government Gazette – Online Archive – 1910, p5540". 2017. Gazette.Slv.Vic.Gov.Au. Accessed April 21 2017.


  1. How difficult it must be to lose everything in a day, or as a consequence of one day's storms.

    Emily | My Life In Ecuador

    1. Thanks for dropping by Emily - love your sunsets!

  2. I wish newspaper reports were still written as vividly as the description of that storm. They are mostly dull, now, aren't they. I am enjoying your ancestor stories. Thanks for sharing.

    1. This particular article was very well written but most I've come across aren't quite so eloquent, and a lot are repeats of articles from other newspaper. And I thought plagiarism was something relatively new!

  3. Was it an actual cyclone, or just a really bad low--do we know? Storms like that can completely devastate. I've heard stories of farmers completely bankrupt when their crops are totally destroyed in a storm.

    Her Grace, Heidi from Romance Spinners

    1. I don't think it was a cyclone or a hurricane just a really bad wind. I did find an article however that talked about the roof being blown right a building not too far away from where Martha was living.

  4. This sounds like the Dust Bowl storms of the 1930s in the US -- which destroyed so many already marginal farms. Sad and frightening when a storm like this takes away a lifetime's work in a matter of hours.

    1. It's very tragic, but you have to be philosophical about it as no one is immune.

  5. I can't even begin to imagine what that must have been like. I moan when it rains!

    Amble Bay's fabulous shops!

  6. I am amazed at the detail in those old newspaper reports. I suppose because there was no TV a picture had to be drawn in the mind of the reader.

    1. Thanks for dropping by Linda, the old newspaper reports are certainly wonderful I must agree!

  7. I loved the week I spent in Melbourne. Such a beautiful city.


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