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History of Paddle Steamers in the Nangiloc District

European settlement of the area dates back to 1847 when both Kulkyne Station, and Carwarp Station were taken up. Early settlers in this district were isolated by distance from the sea ports and capital cities and the slow and inefficient transport available to them. A bullock wagon would take at least three months to make the round trip to Melbourne, taking wool and other produce down to the market, and returning with stores and supplies for the Station.

Edmond Morey of Euston Station and one of his nearby neighbours approached the South Australian Governor with ideas of putting paddle steamers on the Murray River to bring in the stores and supplies and to take away their produce. Previous to this, Captain Charles Sturt in 1830 and Major Thomas Mitchell in 1836, both wrote in their diaries about the probability of the Murray becoming a great highway.

It wasn't until Governor Henry Fox Young came to power in S.A. that anything positive was done. Governor Young came to Wentworth on horseback, and in a whaleboat with aboriginal rowers, set off downstream to look at the probabilities of the river becoming a highway. He convinced his government that it was indeed the case and in 1851, two prizes of 2000 pounds each became available to the first two iron steamers, built on the riverbank, being not more than 2' in draught and having at least 40 horse power steam engines, to travel to the junction of the Darling and the Murray Rivers (Wentworth). 

It wasn't until 1853 that the first two paddle steamers ventured up the river. The first, the Mary Ann was built at Noa No and had its trial run in February 1853. In March 1853 the "Mary Ann" set off downriver to Goolwa for custom's clearance on the goods she was carrying for sale. At Goolwa she was met by the Governor and about 300 local people who had gathered to see the first paddle steamer on the Murray river. A 16 gun salute was fired and Governor Young promised William Randell, the proud owner and builder of the vessel, a prize of 300 pounds for being the pioneer navigator of the river. William's vessel did not qualify for the Government prize of 2000 pounds.

The "Mary Ann" measured 55' X 9'. She had no deckhousing and the crew was obliged to sleep ashore each night.. She had an oblong boiler which swelled when steam pressure rose inside. She had a mast at each end and in favourable reaches of the river could raise sail to assist with her passage. She had rounded paddle boxes and side paddle wheels.

 The "Mary Ann" set off up the river on March 25th, but at Penn's Reach, about 100 miles from Noa No, a sandbar impeded progress and she had to return to await a favourable river height. She set out again on August 15th 1853, on a much higher river, reaching as far upstream as Maiden's Punt (Moama), 1067 miles from the Murray mouth.


Meanwhile, an enterprising and entrepenurial Scottish sea captain was also looking at the Murray. Captain Francis Cadell disembarked his ship at Melbourne, hired two horses and purchased a variety of materials which he loaded onto one of the horses. He rode to Swan Hill, hiring some out-of-luck gold miners at Bendigo to accompany him. At Tyntyndyer homestead, just north of Swan Hill, Cadell fashioned a crude craft. 21' X 3', and named it the "Forerunner". The craft was virtually a canoe. Its frame was of barrel staves and mallee limbs and the covering was of canvas which he had brought from Melbourne. In this somewhat ungainly and flimsy craft, Cadell set off down the Murray, to assess its navigability and to chat with any landowners he might meet along the way. The voyage was successful, the vessel only holing once on a snag, the rent being repaired with stitching and plastered over with mutton fat.

 Cadell then did two things .....................

1. He ordered a paddle steamer to be built at Sydney.

2. He approached the S.A. Government and eventually had them agree to a completely different set of criteria for rewarding his enterprise. 500 pounds to bring his vessel in through the Murray Mouth, a tricky and treacherous stretch of water plus 1000 pounds upon reaching the Darling and Murray junction and a further 250 pounds per quarter that he successfully carried out trading voyages on the river.

Upon its launch, Cadell's new vessel was christened Lady Augusta, after the S.A. Governor's wife. The vessel was suitably rigged and brought around by sea to Port Elliot and then in through the Murray mouth and up to Goolwa arriving on August 16th, just one day after the "Mary Ann" set off from Noa No on her second attempt to navigate the river.

Cadell had also ordered another vessel to be built. A 105' barge, built at Goolwa by the Winsby Brothers. It was launched on August 17th, stuck in the mud and had to be towed off by the "Lady Augusta". It wasn't until the 25th of August that the "Lady Augusta" set off up the Murray, the "Eureka" barge lashed alongside and with an entourage of 45 persons, including the Governor of S.A., and his wife and daughter. There were also a couple of journalists and some very fine accounts of the voyage have survived for us to peruse. By all accounts, the passengers and officers on board Cadell's vessels had a very social and enjoyable outing as they "pioneered" navigation on the Murray River. Each night there was singing and dancing and a bonfire lit upon the bank. Swimming, canoeing, bushwalking, fine fare ..... all in all a very good time was had by all.

14th September 1853 - Cadell probably had advice that the "Mary Ann was not far ahead as he steamed on well into the night, passing the other vessel at about 10pm as she lay against the bank and her crew were bedding down for the night. The crew of the "Mary Ann" were much surprised to hear another vessel coming up the river and to see her lights as she came up and steamed past. As soon as it was light, the "Mary Ann" was on her way, chasing to catch up with the "Lady Augusta". All through this day the two vessels engaged in a race, each alternatively taking the lead. When the junction of the Wakool and Murray River was reached, the "Lady Augusta" was ahead and steamed up the Wakool, probably by mistake. The "Mary Ann" followed her in, but on coming up to the next bend, found that the "Lady Augusta" was steaming back down at them. In endeavouring to turn quickly, the "Mary Ann" was carried into trees and sustained some damage. The "Lady Augusta" on re-entering the Murray and swinging her stem upstream, also encountered difficulties and was pushed into trees as well, also causing some minor damage. Towards sunset, the captains agreed to a truce and the race was called off.

Cadell left the "Eureka" barge at Tooley Landing to be loaded with wool from Poon Boon Station, and steamed on to Swan Hill, arriving on Saturday 17th September 1853, 4 hours ahead of the "Mary Ann". The arrival of the two vessels at the small inland township created much interest and excitement and on Sunday so many people turned up from the surrounding district, that the church service which was to have been held on board the "Lady Augusta" had to take place under the verandah of the Lower Murray Inn. The population of Swan Hill township at this time was 12. 10 men and two ladies. 15 aborigines camped down at the river, were not included in the population count.

Both vessels continued upstream on Monday, the "Lady Augusta" for a further 60 miles or so and the "Mary Ann" to Maiden's Punt (now Moama), about 1067 miles from the Murray Mouth, arriving on Saturday 24th September. The crew were received like royalty and given the hospitality of Maiden's Inn at no charge. He offered to pilot them further upstream, but William felt that this would not be to his advantage at that time, and the return journey was made from Maiden's Punt.

Meanwhile, after receiving much hospitality from the owners of Gooramadda Station, Cadell turned the stem of the "Lady Augusta" downstream and steamed back to Tooley Landing to collect the barge "Eureka". When he arrived he found that the wool had not arrived from the shearing shed due to the fact that the station bullocks had strayed. Not to be undone, Cadell took the barge in tow and steamed down to the Wakool River and then up that river about 60 miles to where the station shearing shed was situated on the bank. The first inland wool to be borne by river transport was then loaded onto the "Eureka" barge, a momentous occasion which was toasted by the entourage.

During the return journey and whilst the "Lady Augusta" and "Eureka" were tied at Euston, two things happened. 1. The "Mary Ann" caught up and passed. 2. The "Eureka" barge tipped some of its wool bales into the river.

It is not really known why, but from this point in time onwards, Cadell and Randell became enemies and there was fierce competition between the two river captains.

Both Cadell and Randell went on to further enterprises on the river(s) and soon a thriving river trade was happening. This was the start of an era of growth and prosperity and the development of the river trade was also quick. By the end of 1864 there were over 40 paddle steamers which had graced the waters of the Murray. Steamers and barges were being built along the river and elsewhere, to take advantage of the trade. Within two years Cadell had brought 2 Scottish-built steamers to the river and built barges near the junction of the Wakool and Murray. He brought out Scottish captains to command his vessels. Randell also built other vessels and established stores along the rivers at Wentworth and Bourke. Cadell obtained Government contracts and grants for snagging the rivers. He built the first snagging vessel, the "Grappler" at Echuca in 1865.



There are many side stories and this story could go on, but the above will have to suffice as an introduction to the development of the river trade on the Murray/Darling river system.


(With thanks to Frank Tucker for collating this information)