How a 24-DAY heatwave on Australia’s east coast in January 1896 saw temperatures climb to 49 degrees and killed 437 people

by Freya Noble, February 14; 2017 in DailyMail

There were temperatures above 119F (48C)

It was a hot start to 1896 and by January 14, newspapers were reporting people were dying from a range of complications brought on by the extreme temperatures.

By the third week of the year, 12 infants had died from heat-related illnesses in Goulburn, NSW, alone, a report on JoNova about the heatwave revealed.

People were fleeing the cities on trains to seek refuge in the mountainous regions of the country, and one child escaping the heat ‘died at the moment the train arrived’.

Hospitals were at breaking point, and the death toll was rising.


How a 24 DAY heatwave in January 1896 saw temperatures hit 49 degrees and killed 437 people t is as if history is being erased. For all that we hear about recent record-breaking climate extremes, records that are equally extreme, and sometimes even more so, are ignored.
In January 1896 a savage blast “like a furnace” stretched across Australia from east to west and lasted for weeks. The death toll reached 437 people in the eastern states. Newspaper reports showed that in Bourke the heat approached 120°F (48.9°C) on three days (1)(2)(3). The maximumun at or above 102 degrees F (38.9°C) for 24 days straight.
By Tuesday Jan 14, people were reported falling dead in the streets. Unable to sleep, people in Brewarrina walked the streets at night for hours, the thermometer recording 109F at midnight. Overnight, the temperature did not fall below 103°F. On Jan 18 in Wilcannia, five deaths were recorded in one day, the hospitals were overcrowded and reports said that “more deaths are hourly expected”. By January 24, in Bourke, many businesses had shut down (almost everything bar the hotels). Panic stricken Australians were fleeing to the hills in climate refugee trains. As reported at the time, the government felt the situation was so serious that to save lives and ease the suffering of its citizens they added cheaper train services: