1897 Darwin cyclone

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Three men among the debris of a collapsed building after the 1897 cyclone

The 1897 cyclone was a tropical cyclone that destroyed the city of Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia. It is considered the worst cyclone prior to Cyclone Tracy in 1974. Prior to contemporary naming conventions, it became known as the "Great Hurricane".[1]


The Victoria Hotel after the 1897 cyclone

The cyclone hit Darwin in the evening of the 6 January 1897, peaking between 3.30am and 4.30am on 7 January. It dumped 292mm of rain on Darwin, then known as Palmerston.[2] It uplifted roofs, uprooted trees and telegraph poles destroying almost all of the buildings. Chinatown on Cavenagh Street was particularly hard hit.[3][4] The only remaining structures include the historic Victoria Hotel, doctors residence, BAT House, the Commercial and E. S. & A. Banks and the Court House. These remaining structures housed scores of homeless residents after the cyclone.[5]

There were 28 fatalities, mostly Chinese and Aboriginal people.[6][7] One family was reported to have run from three different houses as they were destroyed around them, surviving without injury. Illness spread throughout the predominately homeless population after the cyclone.[5] While little is known about the Aboriginal loss of life, the deaths of a couple of women who sought refuge in the Roman Catholic Church before its collapse were documented.[8]

The other major loss of life occurred on Darwin Harbour, with the deaths of many "coloured persons" working in the pearling industry. Of 29 vessels in the harbour at the time, 18 were wrecked, mostly pearling luggers such as the Flowerdale, Maggie, Roebuck, Cleopatara, Olive, Florence, Revenge, Jack, Black Jack, Brisbane and Galatea. The government steam launch and three sampans were also damaged. Many crews donated to the rebuilding efforts. The pearling fleet was quickly restored and expanded and by 1898, 55 vessels were operational.[8]

The damage is estimated to have cost over £150,000 in 1897 values.[2] The Federal Cabinet made an immediate grant of £2000 for the recovery effort.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Murphy, Kevin (1984). Big blow up north: A history of tropical cyclones in Australia's Northern Territory. NT University Planning Authority. ISBN 0724506608. 
  2. ^ a b "Cyclone - Darwin 1897". Australia Disaster Resilience: Knowledge Hub. Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience. Retrieved 5 January 2017. 
  3. ^ Price Collection (8 February 1897). "China Town". Territory Stories. Northern Territory Library. Retrieved 5 January 2017. 
  4. ^ a b "Devastating Cyclone At Darwin". Singleton Argus. New South Wales, Australia. 12 March 1937. p. 1. Retrieved 4 January 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  5. ^ a b "Terrible Hurricane at Fort Darwin". Northern Territory Times And Gazette. XXII, (1210). Northern Territory, Australia. 5 February 1897. p. 2. Retrieved 4 January 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  6. ^ "The Advertiser. SATURDAY, JANUARY 9, 1897". The Advertiser. XXXIX, (11928). South Australia. 9 January 1897. p. 4. Retrieved 4 January 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  7. ^ "Darwin's Cyclone of 40 Years Ago: Family Reunion". The News. XXVIII, (4,255). South Australia. 12 March 1937. p. 10. Retrieved 4 January 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  8. ^ a b Lamb, John (2015). Silent Pearl: old Japanese graves in Darwin and the history of pearling. Self-published. ISBN 9780994457301.