Cyclone Mahina 1899.

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Date: 15 Dec 1899 [unknown]
Location: [unknown]
Surnames/tags: Disaster Cyclone Australia
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Cyclone Mahina. 1899.

Cyclone Mahina, a category 5 cyclone, unleashed her fury on Bathurst Bay in the Torres Strait which is found in the far northern reaches of the Colony of Queensland, during the black of night, on Sunday the 5th of March 1899, killing more than 300 people, not counting Aboriginals killed, and almost totally destroying a Pearling Fleet. The exact number of deaths is not known. Qld BMD has 283 deaths registered.

'Mahina's internal pressure, originally registered at 914 hPa, may now be upgraded to 880 hPa, originally classified as the deadliest cyclone in recorded Australian history, this new classification, if accepted, will officially make this lady, the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere.'

One of Queensland's worst natural disasters, named Mahina by Clement Wragge, evolved during late afternoon on the 4th of March 1899. At about 7pm, as night was falling, the breeze was rising from the south-east and the barometer fell steadily. She hit Bathurst Bay at about 11pm and by 10am the following morning, Mahina was moving away from land, and the later major damage was caused by the storm tidal surge. At that time there were about 1000 people on board 8 schooners and over 100 luggers anchored in the bay, off loading pearl shell. Not happy with just that damage and loss of life, Mahina would not be outdone...several vessels, also in the area, were sunk almost without a trace, except for the odd body floating, these included a supply vessel "Dudley" and the "Sagitta, and also damaging the "Xarifa", the "Rosa", the "North Wales", the "Aladdin" and the "Two Brothers". Lightening from the Perfect Storm lit up the sky, porposes were found on clifftops. Officially recorded then at 914 hPa, Mahina is now believed to be at a much lower 880 hPa as originally stated by the only ship to make it through the cyclone, There is no other way to explain the storm surge of nine metres. Not only were the victims from Australia...many were from Japan, the Pacific Islands, South America, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, making this an international disaster. This system was made much worse, because it connected with another system known as ....Monsoonal Disturbance "Nachon"...

  • Queensland Government Meteorologist Clement Wragge's forecast, The Brisbane Courier, 7 March 1899

A new tropical disturbance, which we have named 'Mahina' is about 350 miles south-east from Sudest [Vanatinai Island, PNG], and, as it is not probable that it will make south-westing, shipping along our coast will do well to be on the alert.

The largest species of oyster pearl "pinctada maxima" was found in the Torres Strait up to the late mid 19th century. The shell from oysters became highly prized for buttons cutlery handles, etc. Northern Australia was a major supplier to the world. In 1869 Captain William Banner became the first european to discover commercial quantities in the Torres Strait. It's headquarters became Thursday Island and the industry grew to a 2000-strong multinational workforce by 1900.

Clement Wragge was a pioneer in the field of weather forecast and was a government meteorologist from 1887 - 1902 and he first began naming weather systems.


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