Thursday, November 29, 2012

Special Collections Fossickings 14: Blown away – Leonta demolishes Townsville Grammar School

How do you react when those whoop whoop cyclone warnings hit the airwaves? Have you ever thought what it must have been like in the days when there was little or no warning?

Cyclone Leonta, which struck Townsville on 9th March 1903, was considered the worst the city had seen. With a central pressure of approximately 965 millibars, today it would be classed as Category 3, with winds between 170-225 kph or greater.

Both cathedrals were unroofed, the School of Arts was destroyed and eight people died as the hospital disintegrated. Townsville Grammar School’s impressive two storey brick building, which had withstood Cyclone Sigma seven years earlier, was completely destroyed. By mid-morning the roof had already been ripped off the upper storey but it was not until “the first gong had sounded for dinner” that catastrophe struck and the solid brick walls collapsed.

The Grammar School before Cyclone Leonta, NQ Photographic Collection ID 343, Willmett & Wyeth Album
A terrifying scramble followed as teachers struggled to find safe-haven for the 60-odd students. When the headmaster’s house seemed in peril, the girls who were sheltering there joined the boys in a flight across Queen’s Park towards the nearby orphanage. But as roofing iron and other debris hurtled towards them across the open ground, they took refuge in a water-filled gully, from where they witnessed the complete destruction of the orphanage, their intended sanctuary.
The Grammar School after Cyclone Leonta, NQ Photographic Collection ID 392, Willmett & Wyeth Album
Incredibly, injuries were minor but the school itself suffered severely. Although students were soon back at work in alternative premises, the financial burden was massive. Appeals were ignored by Government and locals, many of whom considered the school elitist and who were struggling with their own losses. Within 2 years the headmaster, F.T Miller, and existing staff had left and it was fifty years before the school recovered financially.

The story of Leonta’s assault on the school is told by Kim Allen in his “History of the  Townsville Grammar School 1888-1988”, held in the North Queensland Collection.

Kim Allen's research papers are also currently held in the Library Archives.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

These Special Collections Fossickings are magic!