52 Ancestors: Fire

I was initially slightly nonplussed by this week’s 52 Ancestors prompt: I have no firefighters in my tree, nor anybody who has lost their life or livelihood to fire (to my knowledge).

I do know that my Grampy Eddie was involved in a fire that cost him and 2 other families their cottages in Collingbourne Kingston in February 1934 (caused, allegedly, by a petrol engine backfiring and setting an oily rag alight). That plus a 300-year old barn full of sacks of wheat and cottages roofed with thatch spelled disaster.

But I thought that instead I would share something else; something more relevant to the devastating bushfires that ripped through Australia recently.

I found a wonderful story whilst searching Trove (the National Library of Australia site) for Holborow-related details. It was featured in an issue of The Queenslander on 16 January 1930. Not strictly a newspaper, The Queenslander was the weekly summary and literary edition of the Brisbane Courier between 1866 and 1939.

Illustrated front cover from The Queenslander, January 16, 1930
via State Library of Queensland

The story is entitled Holborow’s Farm and was written by Norman S. Morrell.

Here is a snippet, just a couple of paragraphs, but you can read the rest over at Trove via this link here. If you excuse the slight whiff of everyday sexism, the story tells of an unhappy farmer’s wife, Ruth, stuck in rural Queensland and the temptation thrown her way by the appearance of an old flame (no pun intended). All is then thrown by the wayside when a devastating fire rips through the farm…

‘She became conscious suddenly of a shattering sound smashing across the tumbled texture of her thoughts. Someone shouting out of doors, the rush of heavy feet across the yard towards the back door—then the clatter of some one inside the house, crying for her. She caught one word in Carpan’s voice, and instantly she was up and out of the room, the things she had held on her lap falling in an unheeded heap on the dusty floor. “Fire!” Carpan was standing in the kitchen, his rotund face excited, but not afraid. He spoke again as he saw her. “There’s a fire working up from behind the mountain, Ruth. We’d better see what we can do.”

‘The woman took in the situation at a glance. Dense masses of greyish black smoke hung about the peak. The fire had not yet reached their side of the hills, but it was obvious that it had taken a firm hold, and, fanned forward by the westerly wind, it would be very hard to stop. Still, if they could reach the break in time it might be possible to do something to prevent it leaping that barrier into the standing crop.

‘She ran into the house for the articles necessary for the defence – matches, bags, and beaters – wondering the while if Jimmy was anywhere near home. Surely he would be by now. If so, he would see the fire and hurry along. It appeared to be somewhere near the road he would have to travel to reach the farm. She prayed wordlessly that he would be able to get through.

‘It was a long way from the house to the end of the valley, fully half a mile, and both she and Carpan were about exhausted when they reached the break. Already the fire was creeping over the crest, and the valley was filling with the acrid, choking smoke. The fire had a wide spread, nearly a quarter of a mile, enough to make stopping it a formidable task for a much larger gang than two, one of them a woman.’

(Cover image AAP Image/Supplied by Aleksandar Romanov taken from this The Courier Mail article of 9 September 2019.)

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