Tragic tale of councillor

By Benalla Ensign

Benalla is prone to flooding. The worst month is October.

The year 1894 was no different.

In October that year, Hollands Creek branch of the Broken River flooded over Emu Bridge.

On the 19th, William Gordon, a Benalla councillor, and David Maughan, manager of Benalla’s branch of the Bank of NSW, arrived at the bridge in Gordon’s buggy.

Floodwaters covered almost to the top of the bridge guardrails.

Gordon was supervising the construction of a new factory over the creek.

As the bank was financing the construction by a mortgage, Gordon was anxious to reassure Maughan as to its progress.

The floodwaters were running swiftly, so Gordon went upstream looking for a safer place to cross.

They followed the creek upstream for 3km before coming to a private bridge built by James Melville.

This bridge was also covered by floodwaters. It had no guardrails.

The two men resolved to visit the factory on another day when the waters had subsided.

They had just turned their buggy around to head back to Benalla when Melgard rode up.

Melgard was mustering sheep in the area.

He explained that the water over Melville’s bridge was only 30cm deep.

He had just crossed the bridge. Melgard offered to guide them across.

The two men agreed to Melgard’s offer.

Gordon swung the buggy around and followed Melgard onto the bridge.

When they had almost reached the centre of the bridge, Melgard yelled to Gordon to steer the buggy more upstream.

The floodwaters were pushing the horse and buggy downstream.

Seconds later, a wheel of the buggy slipped over the downstream edge of the bridge.

The wheel pulled the buggy and its horse down into deep water.

The horse and buggy disappeared.

After a second or two Maughan surfaced and struck out for the bank.

Pushed 20 metres downstream, he at last snagged a bush and held on.

There Maughan lay, totally exhausted, until Melgard was able to rescue him and drag him to shore.

Gordon surfaced, too, but he could not swim.

Melgard saw him struggling for 30 metres, but then the councillor disappeared under the water.

Gordon’s body was recovered by police searchers as floodwaters subsided.

His body had been trapped against the river bank hundreds of metres downstream.

Battling the weight and encumbrance of Gordon’s buggy, his horse also drowned.

In May the previous year, William Gordon and his family had lost their ten-roomed home in Arundel St to a fire.

Although the house and its furniture was insured for $3000, Gordon was underinsured. He believed that he had lost far more.

When he drowned, Gordon was just 40 years old with a young family. He is buried in Benalla cemetery.

Gordon’s furniture business, next door to Victor Say’s pharmacy in Nunn St, was sold to a Baltic German, Ernest Selk.

Annie, Gordon’s widow, never remarried. She is buried with her husband. She lived to be 93.

— John Barry, Coo-ee