Peter & Elaine Pleasance...

The victims who perished in the flames were:

Leslie Speed 40 years of Stonyford.

Colin Douglas Speed 3 years.

Thomas Archibald Speed 2 years.

Although an earlier outbreak occurred in the Swan Marsh district in the morning, the big blaze which caused all the damage commenced with an outbreak between Stonyford and Pomborneit early in the afternoon after the goods train had passed.


The fire front extended over some miles and the wall of flame travelled with almost incredible speed over the thick matting of tender dry grass which covered the countryside.

The outbreak at Swan Marsh was well under control when the fresh outbreak at Stonyford was noticed, but unfortunately before the fire-fighters could reach this new danger point, the flames were well on their devastating career.

Nothing definite seems to be known as to how Mr. Speed and his two children met their tragic end. One version is that he was fighting the outbreak at one point when he noticed that the wind had veered and the flames were threatening the house wherein were his two little sons.

Rushing to the house he seized the children and, while

endeavouring to get to safety was cut off by the fire and all three succumbed to the choking cloud of smoke and intense heat.

Another report states that after Mr. Speed had taken his two children onto the main road for safety, he returned in an endeavour to save the house. Apparently the children followed him and all three were overtaken by the fire.

Another son, Leslie, was taken out of the danger zone by Mr. Speed's stepbrother, Mr. R. Walters, who saw the fire sweeping down the Cobden road about l P.M. At the time Mr. Walters saw his stepbrother and the other two children emerging from the house towards which the fire was rapidly approaching. When Mr Walters returned the house had been razed to the ground.

The bodies of the two children, locked in a last embrace, were found near the body of their father and were taken to Camperdown by Senior Constable Perry.


Only the prompt and courageous action by Miss Florence Newcombe who was employed by Mr. Speed prevented further toll being taken of the unfortunate family.

Miss Newcombe, on seeing the house threatened by the fire, rushed through the fringe of the hungry flames and blinding smoke and taking up the 11 months old child ran with it into safety.

She was on the verge of collapse . When she reached the rescuers and was taken to the Camperdown Hospital for treatment.

A fund has been opened at Camperdown to recompense her for the loss of her personal effects in the fire and to suitably reward her courageous action.

Mr. Speed had been working on sharers on the Stonyford dairy farm belonging to M. J. Everett of Colac. He was a native of Warrnambool and had been in the Stonyford district for about three years.

A pathetic feature of this tragedy was that Mrs. Speed was an inmate of Dr. Lysters private hospital in Colac at the time of her husbands death.

Although heartbroken at the terrible news of the tragedy, Mr Speed displayed great fortitude and has bore up bravely under the crushing blow.

According to the statements of Messrs Clingin and

P. Hervon the fire was first seen by them on a bank near the south side of the railway line shortly after the goods train to Camperdown had passed through.

A goods train stopped at Stonyford a few minutes soon after 1 P.M. to carry out some van work, but did not shunt. Another goods train stopped at Stonyford about, 3.3O P.M. The fire had then been going for about 20 minutes.

The crew of latter train consisting of Driver J. McClelland, fireman Baddock and guard W. Smith at once joined the fire-fighters around the Stonyford station and Public Hall.

So far as can be ascertained the fire started over 200 yards from the railway line and within 60 to 70 yards of the track running alongside the paddock.

As a fire break of one chain and a half had been burnt by the railways men some weeks ago and there is a 5 feet stone wall along the railway line there, it seems almost impossible that the fire could been have been caused by the train.


Immediately it was seen how serious the outbreak had become and that the Swan Marsh settlement was being threatened, a call for help was sent to Colac. The Shire secretary (Mr. D. M. Dunoon)  and Senior Constable E. J. Taylor, in charge of the local Police station, immediately set about securing men to fight the fire.

Realising, the seriousness of the situation the "Colac Herald" immediately rushed through a large number of printed slips calling for volunteers.

These were distributed throughout the town and within an hour about 300 fire-fighters from Colac, including members of the local fire brigade, were at the scene of the fires.

By direction of Mr. Dunoon, two of the shire's motor trucks were used to convey the fire-fighters to the danger zone and the volunteers included council employees and employees from various firms in the town. Mr. Dunoon, Senior Constable Taylor and Constable McInerney accompanied the volunteers.

A number of residents quickly answered to the appeal for motor cars to convey the fire-fighters to the outbreak.

The fire divided at Stonyford, one section travelling towards Swan Marsh and the other swinging back through South Purrumbete and Carpendeit. Its course was checked as it entered the forest area at the Carpendeit  end.

Although about 700 volunteers were marshalled to save the Swan Marsh settlement, had the firebreak not being burned as the wind turned, the township would have been in serious danger as the devouring flames were sweeping on irresistibly faster than sharp walking-pace, it's front extended over some miles.

The advance was checked by the drain through Tirrengower which saved Mr. Daffy's property. From this point a break was burned back diverting the course of the fire from Swan Marsh to Carpendeit.

Investigations showed that only one home was destroyed that being Mr. J. Everett's, where the Speeds came to a tragic end.

The heat in this section was so great that milk cans were reduced to molten mass.

Several other properties had narrow escapes, and outbuildings were destroyed in several instances. Among those properties sustained more or less damage to buildings, fencing or grass were Messrs Tompkinson, J. Sexton, T. Daffy, Lucas, J. Burns, E. Boyd, Pike, Burrt, Stokey, P. Daffy and Hall and others whose land lay in the direction of Swan Marsh, Stonyford and back to Carpendeit.

The Stonyford tennis courts were wiped out and the Post Office sustained slight damage. The factory, railway station and public hall had a narrow escape and the flames actually scorched the walls of the hall, the door of which was burst open and drinking water used to fight the fire.

A shed adjoining the school and which contained the children's pony harness etc., also other outbuildings were destroyed. It is estimated that between 600 and 7000 acres of fencing were burnt.


Farriers in the vicinity could not speak too highly of the efforts of the volunteer fire-fighters and stated that they were amongst the best workers they had seen.

"I was surprised to see how pluckily and wholeheartedly they went into the fire", said one veteran farmer in the person of Mr. P. Sexton. "Coming from the town the great majority of the Colac Volunteers had never fought a big fire before, nevertheless they did splendid work. They were divided into parties, each party under an experienced man and went into the thick of it without hesitation. I saw three homesteads saved through their efforts and it seemed to be a miracle how they got the fierce blaze under control in each case. On several sections the fire advanced over six miles in less than an hour."




Latest reports indicate that while the possibility of further danger from the fires at Stonyford and Crowes is decidedly more remote, a strict watch is being maintained in order that instant action may be taken to cope with a recurrence of the outbreaks.

A survey of the damage at Stonyford showed that no stock had been burned. The fire  had swept through Mr. Mallinsons  property burning 100 acres of grass and fencing destroyed, Mr. Peter Sexton had 200 acres of grass and fencing destroyed, Mr. Percy Tompkinson 100 acres of grass, sheds, buggy, milk wagon and fencing, Mr. John Everett, 200 acres grass, homestead, 8 roomed house, outbuildings and fencing, Mr. Angus McKenzie, 200 acres of grass and fencing, Mr. F. Hall 300 acres grass and fencing, Mr. Tom Daffy 50 acres grass and fencing, J. and M. Sexton 450 acres of grass, five miles of fencing, Mr. E. Stokie 150 acres grass and fencing.

The funeral of the late Charles Speed and his two little sons who perished in the blaze which wiped out the homestead at Stonyford on Friday took place at the Camperdown cemetery on Saturday. The cortege moved off from the Camperdown Hospital and the bodies were interred in the one grave in the Church of England portion of the cemetery.

The coffin bearers were Messrs K. A.. Small, F. Baxter, F. Tunney, J. Walters, A. Speed, A Small Snr., E. Baxter, P. Clingin and Pyke. The Rev. Yeo conducted the burial service and arrangements were made by M.W.C. Purchase. A shocking tragedy resulting  in the loss of 3 lives was one of the consequences of the devastating fire which swept over the countryside from Stonyford and Swan Marsh to Carpendeit on Friday, wiping out homes, dairies and everything standing in its destructive path.

Find out more about the Speed family by clicking on the following links:

Leslie Victor Speed       |        Les & Lydia Speed

Camperdown Chronicle 1927...