"Bolsvover Street, showing tehcnical college, Rockhampton circa 1920. Photo Courtesty the Rockhampton and District Historical Society.

100 YEARS: Shaking all over in Rocky's biggest earthquake

This is the latest instalment in our 1918 historical feature where we look back at the stories, people and events that shaped our region from the 1918 editions of The Morning Bulletin. Early on the morning of Friday, June 7, 1918, an earthquake was felt across a wide swath of Queensland.

EARTH TREMORS

The earthquake shock was the sole topic of conversation in Rockhampton yesterday. Even neighbours accustomed to long chats over the fence about everybody and everything were so obsessed with the occurrence that all other happenings in the neighbourhood and beyond were forgotten. The excitement subsided somewhat as the day wore on; but there was great anxiety by all to know the origin of the disturbance and the experience of other towns.

There were three distinct shocks. The first, at about a quarter-past four o'clock was light, but of sufficient force to rouse many people from their slumbers and to alarm others about at that early time of the morning. The shock had scarcely passed when there was a second of longer duration and greater intensity, with a rumbling noise like the howling of wind blowing with hurricane force, striking terror into the hearts of the great majority, not only of the womenfolk, but of no small number of the sterner sex. The third shock was felt at about five o'clock, but was only just perceptible.

The effect of the shocks was illustrated by a policeman on duty in East street. He was standing near Mr. W.G.J. Edgar's Jewellery establishment at the corner of East and Denham streets when the first shock occurred. He says that it passed through him like electricity, and he had only steadied himself on the footpath when the second shock occurred. It seemed to him as if the earth was about to open.

Rockhampton Post Office with the public water fountain on the corner.   It has since been moved into the centre of Denham Street.   Photo Courtesy State Library of Queensland.
Rockhampton Post Office with the public water fountain on the corner. It has since been moved into the centre of Denham Street. Photo Courtesy State Library of Queensland.

The shop windows rattled considerably, and he fully expected the windows of Messrs. James Stewart and Co., on the opposite side of the street, to crash to pieces.

Houses, the largest as well as the smallest, swayed to and fro as the result of the second shock, some, as it appeared to the occupiers, almost to toppling point, the noise of the rocking houses resembling very much a crackling fire. Beds and furniture were bumped about, crockery rattled on the shelves or was smashed to pieces on the floor, pictures banged about on the walls or were wrenched from the fasteners, while the noise made by locked doors sounded like musketry.

Hens were knocked off their roost, dogs scampered about and barked, goats bleated, and cows and horses showed unmistakable signs of fear.

Remarkable as it may seem, no serious damage, so far as can be ascertained, was done to either public private buildings, and, generally speaking, the damage to the contents was of little consequence. A few large tanks burst at Kalka, the water flooding the yards. A bottle tree, an old landmark on Park Avenue, in the vicinity of Mr. L. Roberts's garden, was uprooted. Not a few looked for fissures in the earth, and Mr. W. Evans, carrier, states that there were fissures in his yard yesterday which he had not seen since the drought of 1902.

St Joseph's Cathedral, 170 William Street.   Photo taken circa 1900 7 years after completion.   Photo: Rockhampton and District Historical Society.
St Joseph's Cathedral, 170 William Street. Photo taken circa 1900 7 years after completion. Photo: Rockhampton and District Historical Society.

While buildings generally escaped with a severe shaking, the second shock greatly discomfited aged people and others in delicate health. Few apparently were thrown out of bed. Mrs. Bland, of Kalka, and her daughter, had, however, that rather sensational experience. The young lady afterwards swooned and became ill. It is also reported that another resident, also of Kalka, likewise was obliged to seek medical aid.

Many and varied were the reasons assigned for the visitation. It soon dawned on most people that it was an earthquake shock; but others, awakened after the second shock, were not so easily convinced.

"Burglars! Police!” yelled one terrified man, who ran outside with his wife. But he was not alone. The thoughts of others ran in the same direction. A male, hearing a most unusual noise at his door, jumped out of bed, seized a club and was ready to crack the "unwelcome visitor” on the head the moment he put it inside the door.

The better halves in many instances refused to be pacified until reassured that there was no two-legged monster underneath the bed. Others were only too ready to blame the horse or the cow for rubbing up against the houses, or getting on the verandah. Some put the trouble on the dog, and others again on the cat.

Title: Buildings in East Street, Rockhampton, ca. 1917   Author/Creator:    Unidentified  Subjects:    views;    buildings, structures & establishments;    town & city views;    street scenes;   Rockhampton - Streets - East Street, ca. 1917;   Rockhampton, (Qld.) Conditions of use:  You are free to use this image without permission. Please attribute State Library of Queensland.  Coverage:  Rockhampton, Queensland; Lat/long: -23.374241,150.503662  Publisher:  John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland  Date:  ca. 1917  Description:  Digital format: image/jpeg ; Original format: copy print : b&w  Identifier:  Negative number: 31136  Rights:  Out of copyright.
Title: Buildings in East Street, Rockhampton, ca. 1917 Author/Creator: Unidentified Subjects: views; buildings, structures & establishments; town & city views; street scenes; Rockhampton - Streets - East Street, ca. 1917; Rockhampton, (Qld.) Conditions of use: You are free to use this image without permission. Please attribute State Library of Queensland. Coverage: Rockhampton, Queensland; Lat/long: -23.374241,150.503662 Publisher: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Date: ca. 1917 Description: Digital format: image/jpeg ; Original format: copy print : b&w Identifier: Negative number: 31136 Rights: Out of copyright.

A resident of Park Avenue, whose house, situated close to the railway, was blown off the blocks in the cyclone in January last and has not yet been lifted, imagined that the train was crashing through it and that it was the end of the chapter. A Chinaman was seen with a gun in his hand looking for a man who had dared to shake his house. A countryman, who, it appears, has been receiving an occasional rally from lads in the vicinity, rushed out of his shop and exclaimed "Wha' for! Wha for! You Lallikin. Wha' for you stone my shop?”

Two men were crossing the Fitzroy Bridge when the shocks occurred. Naturally, they did not stop to argue the point, but crossed at the double.

The churches escaped almost entirely. The floor of the vestry of St. Paul's Cathedral was covered with plaster which had fallen from the roof, but no other damage was discernible.

St. Joseph's Cathedral suffered no damage whatsoever.

Title: Theatre Royal and other businesses along East Street, Rockhampton, ca. 1905  Author/Creator:    Unidentified  Subjects:    town & city streets;    shops;    theatres & cinemas;    unsealed roads;   Rockhampton - Streets - East Street, ca. 1905;    East Street (Rockhampton, Qld.) Conditions of use:  You are free to use this image without permission. Please attribute State Library of Queensland.  Coverage:  East Street, Rockhampton, Queensland; Lat/long: -23.375219,150.511154  Publisher:  John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland  Date:  ca. 1905  Summary:  Pedestrians and cyclists crossing East Street, Rockhampton, around 1912. Businesses depicted include the Theatre Royal, S. Sale (jeweller), J. A. Lucas, E. S. Lucas, and Lynn (photographer).  Description:  Digital format: image/jpeg ; Original format: copy print : b&w  Identifier:  Negative number: 4359  Rights:  Out of copyright.
Title: Theatre Royal and other businesses along East Street, Rockhampton, ca. 1905 Author/Creator: Unidentified Subjects: town & city streets; shops; theatres & cinemas; unsealed roads; Rockhampton - Streets - East Street, ca. 1905; East Street (Rockhampton, Qld.) Conditions of use: You are free to use this image without permission. Please attribute State Library of Queensland. Coverage: East Street, Rockhampton, Queensland; Lat/long: -23.375219,150.511154 Publisher: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Date: ca. 1905 Summary: Pedestrians and cyclists crossing East Street, Rockhampton, around 1912. Businesses depicted include the Theatre Royal, S. Sale (jeweller), J. A. Lucas, E. S. Lucas, and Lynn (photographer). Description: Digital format: image/jpeg ; Original format: copy print : b&w Identifier: Negative number: 4359 Rights: Out of copyright.

Neither did the Bishop's residence of ferro-concrete opposite. The cracks had previously appeared in the back wall of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, one perpendicularly from the apex of the arch to the top of the roof. These apertures were slightly widened, while some plaster was strewn on the floor.

The Congregational Church evidently had a severe shaking. The cement foundation blocks were slightly shifted, causing an opening on four sides large enough to drop in a coin. The front doors of the church were tightly jammed and pushed out, requiring all the exertions of the minister to force them open. The church, however, did not appear to be materially affected. The other churches were not damaged in any way.

The inmates of the local hospitals suffered from the effects of the shocks but no damage was done to the buildings.

The damage done to other public buildings appears to have been very small, consisting mostly of the dislodging of plaster. The only places which suffered materially were the Post Office and the premises of the Rockhampton Club.

At the Post Office there are unmistakable signs of the effect of the tremor. In the passage of the upper storey the Postmaster, Mr. P. Z. Whiting, showed our representative a crack in the wall extending from floor to roof. The plaster on the floor was evidence that the damage done to the wall was fresh. Outside the door where a beam junctions some cement, there is an aperture a couple of inches deep, the cement from the hole being visible on the floor. Mr. Whiting stated that plaster fell in other parts of the building sufficient in quantity to fill a bucket.

At the Rockhampton Club cracks showed over several of the small arches inside the building. Quay street seemed to have received the full force of the shock as the plaster was also disturbed in several of the neighbouring buildings to the Rockhampton Club. All the accounts from that part of the town emphasise the shaking the buildings received. To use the words of a member of the household of the Criterion Hotel, the building "rocked like a cradle.” The banging of doors and the rocking of furniture had everybody awake at the Criterion Hotel. In Mrs. Birch's private room several pictures fell off the wall.

The inmates of the Leichhardt Hotel had a similar experience. Both Mr. and Mrs. Morrison were awake when the tremor occurred, and they were startled at hearing bottles rattling, tubs moving, and furniture rocking, and the iron on the roof shaking.

An excited employee was heard to call out "I told you that the Germans were coming.” A lodger who was making precautions to go out on a shooting expedition related to Mr. Morrison how he saw his dressing table swaying and the articles thereon moving about, finally being left on one end of the table. Mr. Morrison inspected his parlour clock and found that it had stopped at fourteen minutes past four o'clock.

A window pane was knocked completely out of the frame at the back premises of Foster's Dental Rooms, William Street. Another window was cracked on Mr. H. Hansen's adjoining premises.

Several chimney stacks were damaged. The top portion of the chimney of Mr. W.H. Stenlake's biscuit factory tumbled down and a big split was made in the large baker's oven. The chimney of a Chinaman's place in Denham street was split.

Businesses in Rockhampton with the company signs prominently displayed. Further down East Street on the corner of Denham Street, is the distinctive Post Office with the clock tower and belfry.   Photo by J H Lundager.   Courtesy State Library of Queensland.
Businesses in Rockhampton with the company signs prominently displayed. Further down East Street on the corner of Denham Street, is the distinctive Post Office with the clock tower and belfry. Photo by J H Lundager.

Three chimneys of houses belonging to Mr. E.C. Tomkins, in East Street, between South and Francis streets, were partly damaged, while the top was shaken off the chimney at the residence of the Verger of St. Paul's Cathedral, Mr. C.N. Field, who resides alongside the Rectory in Denison Street.

One of the very few people who were out of doors when the tremor occurred was Mr. B. Goodson. He was waiting outside the Leichhardt Hotel in his motorcar for a companion to join him in a shooting expedition. "The first intimation I received of the disturbance.” said Mr. Goodson in course of conversation with a representative of the "Bulletin,” "was the swaying of my motor car. From side to side it swayed as if beating time to the trees ahead, which my headlights showed to be bending backwards and forwards as though they were caught in a violent wind. All the while the roof of the hotel rumbled like the beating of a hundred kettledrums. The whole shock lasted about six or eight seconds. It was a weird experience and one that I shall never forget.”

Mr. Goodson went on to say that lights began to appear in the houses in the vicinity and excited people rushed about trying to ascertain the cause of the trouble. The Leichhardt Hotel seemed to get a good shaking. Mr. Goodson and his companion proceeded on their journey to the Nine-mile. In several places Mr. Goodson had to travel slowly to avoid the many dead branches of trees lying about, which he attributed to having been knocked off the trees by the tremors. On arrival at Mr. Pacey's place he found the household awake.

In the ensuing conversation Mr. Pacey told an amusing story of how he remonstrated with his boys for leaving the gates open and allowing the horses to get in and rub themselves against the sides of the house. However, on going outside, he found the gates shut and no animals about.

He then came to the conclusion that the house must have been shaken by earth tremors. Mr Pacey also testified to having felt a shock at about five o'clock just as Mr. Goodson's car was nearing his gate. In Mr. Pacey's opinion this disturbance came from the south-west.

A gentleman who lives at the foot of The Range, and who suffers a deal from sleeplessness, was sitting reading at his table when his lamp suddenly disappeared. Simultaneously the verandah blinds began flapping with a noise which suggested that someone was trying to batter his way into the house with a stick.

The theory that a clumsy burglar was on the premises seems to have been a common one with the womenfolk. Stepping out on the verandah, our informant heard a lady close by calling lustily for her husband and his revolver. All about him people were turning out like the inmates of a disturbed ant-heap. Roused bewildered from their slumbers, people tried at first to associate the disturbance with some everyday occurrence.

Thus a well-known business man attributed the rocking of his bed to the dog being underneath, and endeavoured to restore quiet by vigorous "shooing.” Another well known citizen has a dusky henchman, who occupies a small house at the back of his own residence.

Sam, to give him a name, was awakened by what he took to be the horses rubbing against the posts of the house, and shouted to them to "Go 'way!”

As they took no notice he jumped out of bed and hastened outside, to find that there were no horses about.

Then the house in front became brilliantly lighted, and he jumped at conclusions. "Boss he been sick plenty; big debble-debble take him.”

He gasped, and fled back to the shelter of his blankets lest he might be "bagged” in error.

To be continued in tomorrow's Bully.