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Copyright and Back cover





© 1985 by Leslie Margaret McLeay

Printed by Kitchener Press, 49 Wodonga Street, Beverley SA 5009
Typesetting by Douglas Middlebrook
Design and layout by Simon Fisher
Distributed by Wakefield Press, Adelaide.

Cover illustration: The landing of explorer Captain Charles Sturt near Goolwa after his historic journey down the Murray was re-enacted for the fiftieth anniversary of
Federation in 1951.


The Narrinyerri ‘blackfellers’. . .
whalers and sealers …
Charles Sturt the explorer…

Sir Henry Fox Young and his lovely Lady Augusta .. .
Yorkshire boatbuilder Sam Shetliff …

Scottish skippers Francis Cadell and George Johnston . . .
and their shallow-draught paddle wheelers ‘Albury’, ‘Gundegai’ and ‘Queen of the South


. . .just a few of the characters brought to life by Leslie McLeay in her dramatic and fascinating history of Goolwa and the River Murray trade.


A resident of Goolwa herself since the 1950’s, Dr. McLeay was surprised by the large number of original buildings still standing then, and captivated by first-hand accounts from the descendants of the old river skippers and other pioneer families in the area.  Delving into historical records and archives, she traces out the forgotten stories of the dreams and hopes, enterprise and imagination of the early settlers their plans and controversies, adventures and catastrophes – as they brave the floods and snags of the river. the tides and bars of the Murray mouth, to forge rail and sea links between the world and Australia’s mightiest river.

With the help of authoress Nancy Cato and delightful pencil sketches by Harry Rolland, Leslie weaves her sensitive and warm-hearted tale through the changing fortunes of the busy little town of the ‘elbow’. ..


Chapter Fifteen: CROSSING THE BAR

“A moderate north-easterly had been blowing for a whole day and a night*    The breakers had not lost all their violence, but their roar was muffled.  A moderate swell was coming in, which grew stronger as I cleared the Mouth and approached the barrier of surf.

“I had just decided to hoist sail when the raft was gently picked up by a huge wave which had suddenly materialised, it was lifted up about 15 feet, and I could see a whole cavalcade of breakers coming in just in front…

“This was not what I had bargained for and I decided to turn back.   But the first breaker approached rapidly. Once again I felt myself lifted, not so gently this time.  The bow drums left the water to point skywards, then dived down again into the trough.  Another and another roller – then a fourth one on the verge of breaking.

“Suddenly, as though struck by a giant’s fist, the raft was tossed backwards about 20 feet, landing with a shuddering crash.   The motor raced ferociously as the propeller came clear of the water.  “Up and down, up and down.., then we were picked up by an enormous wave, so long and smooth that on top it was like being back in the Coorong.   At last I was in deep water, the sea heaving in a long, steady swell;   but there was a big lump knotted in my stomach.”

This vivid description is by a young German migrant, Max Weaver, ..ho is supposed to be the only man to have gone through the Mouth in a raft.   This was in 1962. His engine-powered raft was made of six 44-gallon drums and was almost unsinkable.  “Afterwards”, he wrote, “I was suddenly aware of the loudness of the surf.   Looking back, I found it hard to believe I had just passed through it. “Two miles from shore, it was easy to understand how Flinders had missed the opening. It had  disappeared from view, as if the sandhills had joined up, closing the gap.”  No wonder Sturt found the surf alarming, A few months ago a fishing boat broke down in the entrance. Someone on
shore managed to get a line to it and pull it in to the bank of the channel. An anchor was thrown out to hold it. But while the fisherman and the lad who was assisting him were fussing over rescuing their gear, the anchor pulled out of the sand and the boat was whirled away and overturned. Both were drowned.

The Bar has not lost its fearsome reputation with the years. Even George Johnston realised that the Mouth needed to be made safer.    He joined a deputation to Parliament back in ’74 to ask for a canal to be cut through the sandhills, and various plans have cropped up ever since. By now the pattern of interstate haulage by motor trucks, which can go right to the wharf at Port Adelaide, is established  Goolwa has only followed the same path as Echuca and Morgan and all the other once-busy ports.    The railways now operate at a loss just as the paddle-steamers did at the end; but at a loss just as the paddle-steamers did at the end, but the railways are Government subsidised and the steamers were not.  Yet the argument for and against still goes on. Letters and articles appear in the Riverlander outlining schemes for “unlocking the River”.   And the surf still thunders on the
bar. The Goolwa Barrage works brought life back to the old town in the late thirties’, and after they were completed a tourist road was built round past the bird sanctuary to the first barrage.

The others are more inaccessible:   Tauwitchere, Ewe Island, Boundary Creek, and Mundoo.    Permission has to be obtained from the Engineering and Water Supply Department to drive over them, to see the clear salt water lapping side, and the milky river waters on the other.    The water is calm, for the barrages are well upriver from the sea.  The River Murray Development League took up the question of a canal recently in 1959*   Questions were asked in Parliament on the possibility of a canal being constructed.   Mr Playford the Premier, replied!

“A satisfactory Port would cost, I am told, about fifteen million pounds… Therefore I cannot give the Hon. Member any hope that the project would be proceeded with.

“The Port… would not he used to any extent and the expense would not be justified…”

In 1874 the Government made much the same reply to a deputation of river skippers and Goolwa business men, when the estimate of the Chief Engineer (Mr Mais) was only £355,000.   Even so this seemed a monstrous sum to Thomas Goode and his supporters, who had spoken lightly of cutting a new entrance through the sandhills for an outlay of something near £4,000.  Feelings ran high at the time, but once again the vexed question of the Mouth was allowed to subside like the surf in a northerly wind.  In the Government Report on the Murray Mouth of 1901, it is thus described:

“The entrance of the Murray is at the head of Encounter Bay, open to the perennial swells of the Southern Ocean, undiminished by any island or headland shelter,

“Many observations of the height of the waves have been taken.    On the finest day when there is no break on the Bar the height is 3 or 4 feet.    Ordinarily the waves break on the 4-fathom line, and are from 6 to 8 feet high.  “Although the sea is very confused it never breaks in the deep channel inside the Bar.  “In the heaviest storms, which occur five or six times a year, the seas break in 30 feet of water in waves 18 to 20 feet high.

“The Bar is composed of sand, shells, and small stones. The first Government survey team to chart the shifting sands of the Murray Mouth was led by Captain B. Douglas,
Harbourmaster at Port Adelaide, with Mr Nation of Port Elliot and several seamen, in 1857.  They went in through the mouth in the paddle steamer “Blanche” quite safely.   Mr Nation then went with the whaleboat and four oarsmen to sound the channel out towards the Bar.  They were coming back when a roller suddenly filled the boat.
Mr Nation and three of the men swam to shore, but the fourth man, David Brown, was never seen again.   Shipwreck, groundings on the Bar, drownings… The melancholy toll still rises, while Goolwa drowses in the sun, safe on its calm estuary,  “the world forgetting, by the world forgot.”

The brave little railway with its seven horses, battling away to keep the river busy and the paddlewheels turning, is remembered today by a single passenger truck preserved in a glass case in Goolwa’s main street. The old “Cadell” steamer, built by George Johnston and named after his boyhood hero, the laird’s son, was a landmark for many years as she lay listing on the edge of the channel. Then one day she slipped into deep water and was gone. One by one the old river skippers too, have slipped away alone and crossed the Bar.  The last Goolwa skipper, Captain Dave Ritchie, son of the Jamie Ritchie who came out in Cadell’s “Lioness” from Cockenzie, is dead.   He lived to be 88.   The four Ritchie brothers were all river men, all over six feet tall, and all lived to be 79: Dave Ritchie, and Adam Johnstone’s youngest daughter, and Sam Shetliff’s granddaughter – Andrew and Amelia Willcock’s only child – all gathered at the Institute to remember the past at the recent Back to Goolwa celebrations. There was a display of books and photographs and river charts and models of steamers, and even the silver water-bottle carried by Captain Sturt, the first white man to voyage down the river.

Dave Ritchie, tall and handsome with his white hair and pointed silver beard, said the last requiem over the once-busy port of Goolwa. “Perhaps to some of you,” he said, “Goolwa is just a ghost-town, a has-been, a place of the past and no future… We can’t put the boats back on the river, or cargoes back on the wharf, and all of you are the losers.   The loss of the River trade is Australia’s loss, and she should never have let it go.

“This town is very dear to us who live here, even as a failure,” he said, and paused to steady his voice. “Perhaps if she’d been a success, the bustling New Orleans they promised us, we wouldn’t love the place so much: it’s easier to love a failure than a success. °Thankyou all for coming here today, to recapture with us before they are lost forever, the rich memories of the River’s past.”

go to back cover and copyright

go to the introduction by Dr Leslie McLeay

Chapter Fourteen: THE DOOMED PORT

If old soldiers never die, the same might be said of the River Murray breed of freshwater skippers, many of whom seemed to live to a tremendous age:   William Randell with

his great white beard, Captain Dave Ritchie with his pointed silver Van Dyck, who died at 88, and who was still living in Goolwa when the Town’s hundredth anniversary was celebrated.           Many other captains were associated with Goolwa, of course, the Shetliffs, the Barbers and the Barclays, Dave Ritchie’s father James, and his three brothers;   Ned Cremer, and in later days Bob Reed, who lost the Renmark so tragically at the Goolwa wharf.

Then there v/as Tom Johnstone, Geordie’s younger cousin who had gone with him as mate on the Albury’s first voyage, and who was among the mourners when he was buried.  George Johnston died comparatively young, in 1882, when he was only 52 years old;    but his son “Gumtree George” Johnston carried on in the second generation, as did the Johnston carried on in the second generation, as did the second Sam Shetliff.    It was said that George Johnston never recovered from the grounding of the Queen of the South on March 18, 1879 – He and his crew swore a formal Complaint and Protest against “the aforesaid grounding” before the Notary Public on Goolwa.

They charged that the Signal Station at the mouth had signaled 8 ½  feet of water over the bar at half-ebb. This was at 1.30 p.m. as the vessel arrived from Port Adelaide, by way of Port Victor, laden with cargo and general merchandise (including a grand piano as deck cargo), “said Vessel being then tight, staunch, & strong, well-manned and found, & in every respect fit to perform said voyage.”   The document goes on:

“At 2.15 we got aground in 6 feet of water, when for the safety of the vessel, the crew, and the rest of the cargo, we at once commenced to discharge the deck load overboard… ”  At 5 p.m. the “Curmberoona” came down from Goolwa & got a towline on board, and the ship’s lifeboat and the Government lifeboat kept towing till midnight, but failed to move her… “At 9 a.m. the “Wentworth” arrived from Goolwa to the rescue.   Finally got off at 4:30 p.m. and arrived at Goolwa without damage.

“On 3rd day we swore a Complaint before Thomas Goode the Younger, J.P. and Mayor of Goolwa.”

The protest is signed by the whole crew: Robert Donaldson, Charles Smith, George Baillie, and George Johnston, Master.  It is evident that Captain Johnston felt very strongly that the Signalman had given a wrong reading of the water-level. He wanted to absolve both his beloved “Queen of the South” and his beloved river from any responsibility in the mishap.  Unfortunately the consignors whose expensive goods were dumped in the sea, did not look at it in this light; and once again the Mouth with its shifting sand-bar and unpredictable channel fell into disfavour.  At last the South Australian Government decided to implement the “Report on the River Murray Entrance” that they had called for in 1877 *   the report which announced that “steamers will be able to get through the Mouth with cargo only one day out of five”, that a breakwater should be built at Victor Harbour and the railway between that harbour and Goolwa should be put in working condition with steam rolling- stock and two sets of rails.   At the very same time the Morgan (Northwest Bend) railway was completed, cutting the river two hundred miles upstream.   Altogether a sum of £200,000 was spent on wharf works at Goolwa, remarking the channel through the Mouth with buoys and beacons, and replacing the Goolwa-Victor tramway with a railway.

“This belated effort” as Sir Archibald Grenfell Price* remarks, “was foredoomed to failure.

(*In “Founders and Pioneers of S.A.” (F.W. Preece, 1931).)

Edward Cremer was the first Signalman to occupy the lonely post at the Murray Mouth.    His job was to watch the beacons and the channel, to move them when necessary, and to signal from the flagstaff what depth of water was over the bar.    His salary was £150 a year.   He was appointed in 1857.  The Signalman’s cottage was on Younghusband Peninsula, on the far side of the Murray mouth, and the flagstaff was on Barker’s Knoll near where Captain Barker was speared.  It was a wooden cottage with piles driven well into the sand, and a brick chimney.   Although it was sturdily built, within a few years of the first Signal Station being abandoned in 1864, the place was a complete wreck.   The howling southerlies, driving sand, and salt spray had stripped the paint from the wood and rusted the nails away. It had been there less than ten years.  A red flag at the masthead did not mean danger to a vessel approaching the Mouth from sea or river.   The blue flag meant low water over the bar;   the red flag over a ball meant high water.  A second Signal Station was established in 1877, when the Mouth was once more suitable for navigation.   The flagstaff and signalman’s house were now on the western or Goolwa side of the channel.   Two more steamers, the “Enterprise” and the “Queen of the South” went aground in this time, and others were held up as long as five days waiting for suitable weather for the crossing.  Then the bar shifted again.   The steamer trade was failing, and 1881 only two vessels, the schooner “Elisa” and the paddle-steamer “Decoy” (now a houseboat, Still afloat, near Renmark) were recorded in the station’s log. Before the end of the year the Signal Station was closed down for the last time.   No trace of cottage, house, or flagstaff remains..

No wonder George Johnston died of disappointment. He saw the river trade he had helped to pioneer, the town he had helped to establish, dying before his eyes.  Perhaps, too, he had strained his heart in those terrible hours of anxiety when the “Queen” was helpless on the bar for a day and a night, with all their frantic efforts failing to get her off, and the chance of a southerly springing up at any moment to destroy her.  A few years later he was travelling in New Zealand in an effort to regain his health, when he died there, far from Goolwa and the river.   He was brought home to lie in state in his home on Admiralty Terrace.   Ironically, his dead body was not entrusted to the river entrance he had braved so often in life.  It was unloaded at Port Adelaide and conveyed overland to the Goolwa wharf.   From there the crew of the “Cadell” bore the coffin to “Cockenzie”, where people filed past to pay their last respects – including a party of wailing natives from the nearby camp.

A hundred and fifty children sang hymns on the verandah while the flag-draped coffin was borne out again for the burial at Currency Creek cemetery and six hundred mourners were at the graveside.    It was agreed by all his Scottish relatives that “Geordie’s was a grrand funeral!” With the passing of George Johnston, that great, black-bearded, ruddy-cheeked, big-voiced giant of a man, who was “strong as an ox and could swim like a dolphin”, Goolwa’s slow decline began. Johnston was only fifty-two; Goolwa was ten years younger; but both had outlived their usefulness.  There was something unlucky about the Goolwa wharf.  Indeed the whole South Coast seemed to have a share in the hoodoo or whatever it was that hung over it.   Victor Harbour never became a harbour of any importance, though it is thriving as a tourist resort – and even there tragedies still happen, like the loss of several members of the Rumbelow family – pioneers from Devonshire – in a fishing boat in fairly recent times;    and the last drowning on Goolwa Beach occurred only this year. (i.e. 1964)

In the 1940s the paddle-steamer Invincible was the last to make the long trip of a thousand miles from the top-end to Goolwa.   When she arrived her boilers were taken out and put into the steamer Renmark by Captain Reed, who was running pleasure cruises across the Lakes.  He invested all he had in the Renmark.    He was a river man through and through,  skipper of a long list of barges and steamers, including the River Murray Company’s famous Marion, one of the last of the active passenger-boats.  The Renmark was a part of Goolwa’s history, built by Goolwa men on the local slip in the days when Goolwa was still a busy port with a thriving boat-building industry.   Her engines were built by Percy Richards at the workshop on the river bank established by his father.   In 1951, the year when the fiftieth anniversary of Federation was celebrated throughout Australia, Goolwa was in the limelight again.   It had been decided to re-enact Sturt’s great journey down the Murray, with men in costume manning a whaleboat, and Sturt’s Landing at Goolwa would mark the end of the journey.  Just a week before, the “Renmark” came in from a trip on the Lakes, with a party of tourists on board.   At 6 p.m. she tied up at the Goolwa wharf, now sadly dilapidated.    By 6.30 she was a total wreck.  No-one knew how the fire started, but the whole vessel was  blazing from stem to stern, her wood-stack and even the wharf were burning.   The smouldering hull was at last towed away from the wharf and sunk between it and one of the dolphins where the “Renmark” had often been moored in her trading days, while waiting for her turn to unload.  Only her smoke-stack showed, just above the water, It is still visible today, with the warning notice “Wreck” on it. Bob Reed, who had just spent thousands having the boilers replaced, did not have her insured;   he lost everything Between those two misfortunes, the grounding of the “Queen of the South” and the loss of the “Renmark” there were seventy years,   but by 1890, less than ten years after the death of George Johnston, the Goolwa trade was virtually finished.   The Mouth was used only by fishermen, though as late as 1908 the “Tarella” (now on the bank above Murray Bridge) and the Murrumbidgee”, towing barges laden with wool, were still arriving from the Darling to tranship their cargo by rail to ships lying at Port Victor.

In 1881 the new 700-foot Goolwa wharf was put under Marine Board control.   The channel from the Elbow to the Mouth was dotted with beacons, and the vicinity of the wharf with mooring-dolphins.   The railway was modernised, new storage-sheds were built and everything was properly organised at last – about twenty years too late.

In May, 1865, 206 local residents and river captains had signed a petition for the extension of the Goolwa wharf:

“That there are now engaged in the River trade about thirty steamers and Barges;

“That the exports from Goolwa to New South Wales and Victoria during the year 1864 amounted to £56,642 sterling, and the imports, in wool alone, were 1,809 bales;

“That the wharfage accommodation is utterly inadequate for the large and important trade, there being only a full berth for one steamer:

“That the rolling stock and animal power on the tramway is also far short of the requirements or the traffic… “And your petitioners will ever pray…”
They went on praying to a deaf Government, while the wool cargoes grew to 7,000 bales, and in the peak year of 1883 to 20,000 bales,   By then they had their new facilities; but the rot had set in long before, and Goolwa Port was doomed.

go to chapter 15


A delightful love story has been handed down from those romantic days, the story of Amelia Shetliff, Goolwa’s first white baby girl, and Andrew Willcock who came to Goolwa at the age of nine.   Every detail of the romance has been lovingly preserved by Amelia’s daughter down to the last lace frill on her wedding dress and the flowers on her wedding cake.  Amelia, if you remember, was born in 1854 in a little wooden shanty on the river bank.   Her father worked night and day to bring in enough money to support his little family and at the same time to build a comfortable home for them and furniture to put in it.   They moved into their house in 1855 by which time Sam Shetliffs work on the railway had come to an end, and he v/as turning his hand to carpentry and boat-building.   Gradually he acquired his own slip and his ambitions turned towards building his own steamers and taking

them upriver.  The Willcocks came to Goolwa in 1858.   They built the two hotels at the top of the main street, the “Australasian” and the “Corio”.   Andrew grew up with Amelia’s brothers. He was the same age as Joe and the two boys were inseparable.  They went to school together and spent every available hour in and around the steamers and the barges and the slips. All the Goolwa Boys thought of nothing but boats.   They either hung around the slips, helping or hindering the builders, and dreamed of building their own steamers and taking them upriver, or else they got in the way of the men down at the foundry.

The men, who spent their days shaping the mighty red gums brought down from Echuca, into hulls for the steamers and barges, were a happy breed who always had time for the lads and would give them an end of timber or a job to do;   but the men at the foundry under the hard eye of Abraham Graham had no time for boys.  It was the foundry, the manufacture of engines and boilers and other heavy machinery, that fascinated Andrew and Joe.   They were always down at Graham’s.   It didn’t matter how often they were sent about their business, back they went, till at last Graham’s foreman George Curzon realised that both boys were born engineers.   If Graham objected to the boys, Curzon would say, “Let them be, they get in no-one’s way, and they’re worth another hand to me, those two boys.”

Eventually Joe Shetliff became apprenticed to Graham at the foundry, and finished up by marrying Curzon’s daughter.  Andrew’s father articled him to an engineering firm in Adelaide, and he served a four years’ apprenticeship with them and then went up to the Northern Territory to operate machinery for a gold mining company.   But like every other Goolwa boy his heart and thoughts never left the River. In 1875 he submitted mechanical drawings of a River Murray paddle steamer for the first South Australian Chamber of Manufacturers’ Exhibition and gained Second Prize, and in the same year he also gained his Engineer’s Certificate from the Marine Board and back he came to Goolwa to the River. Old Sam and young Sam Shetliff in the meantime in partnership with Joe, had been building their own steamers.  The ‘Vesta’ came off the slip in 1868 followed by the ‘Tyro’ in 1872, and the ‘Ellen’, one of the largest and fastest steamers on the river, in 1877.    Both Sams had their Masters’ Certificates,    Sometimes Joe went with them as engineer, though he preferred to work ashore.  Young Amelia had grown into a lovely girl.  Everyone spoilt her.   She was the darling of the family, and the two Sams were never happier than when she went upriver with them.

Amelia could steer the boat as well as either of the Sams.  She was handy with a gun and a fishing rod.  She often got duck for the larder and sometimes an outsize Murray Cod, and although they usually carried a cook, often Chinese, Amelia liked to cook too, especially what she had caught herself.  In later years she used to tell the story of a cockatoo the men had shot – they often brought back galahs and cockies for the pot, which were reasonable eating as long as they got plenty of stewing.    On this particular occasion, the cockatoo squawked while Amelia was dressing it, and she got cockatoo squawked while Amelia was dressing it, and she got such a shock that she rebelled and told them to dress their own talking birds in future!

When Andrew Willcock came back to Goolwa, he spent as much time round at the Shetliffs’ as he had done in the past, but now it wasn’t to talk about engines with Joe. He’d always been fond of Amelia, spoiling her half the time, and tormenting the life out of her the rest, just like her brothers.  But now he found her a sweet girl of twenty-one, and when he came round it was generally to see if  ‘Melie could stroll down to the river with him.  Andrew and his father were planning to build their own steamer, but the meantime he was working on the steamers as engineer.

“I’m going upriver on the ‘Maranoa’ in a few days, ‘Melie. The engineer’s sick, Captn Johnston’s asked me to go up with her.    The Darling’s rising, we want to get up to Bourke if we can.”

“Is Captain Johnston taking her?”

“No, worse luck.    I love a trip with him.    Cap’n Barclay’s going,”

“Hope you don’t get stuck.    There’s only three skippers can really keep out of trouble on the Darling, I always think; Captain Randell, Captain George Johnston and my dad. They seem to have a sort of second sense that tells them the river’s seem to have a sort of second sense that tells them the river’s going to drop in the night.   I’ve seen it drop ten feet in a couple of hours, it’s hard to believe.   I’ll never forget the last trip I did with young Sara in the ‘Tyro’.   They had to winch her over the sandbars nineteen times in a week.   I was glad I was a girl!   They were glad of me, too, I did all the cooking, while the cook gave them a hand!  They were strolling along the river bank towards the wharf, and they walked up onto the headland above the railway cutting.    It was a windy November afternoon and as they stood together looking across the river- towards the Island, the breeze had whipped up the colour in ‘Melief’s cheeks and tossed her curls across her face.   Andrew thought she was the loveliest sight he had ever seen.

“Will you miss me, Melie?” he asked shyly.  She smiled and blushed and there was a mischievous

twinkle in her eye.  “You may see me sooner than you expect, Andrew Willcock.” she answered.

“Dad and Sam are going up the Darling with the “Tyro” as soon as she comes off the slip.

We’ll race you for the first load of wool!   No one’s been up there for months.  Dad wants to get a cargo up to Bourke.”   “I wish v/e could get stuck,” said Andrew.

“Andrew!  What a dreadful thing to say!  You deserve to get stranded like the “Jane Eliza”.    Don’t tempt Providence by saying such things.”

They stood looking down at the wharf.   It was a busy time, and there seemed to be a dreadful muddle everywhere. The wharf was so narrow, and the old hand cranes were creaking and groaning as they tried to deal with the glut of cargo lying everywhere.   The shearing season was at its peak. The ‘Albury’, the ‘Jupiter”, the ‘Wentworth’ and the ‘Cadell’ were all tied up to the dolphins, their barges alongside them all laden with wool, waiting to unload.   The ‘Avoca” and the ‘Lady Daly’ were at the wharf unloading their bales, and the ‘Vesta’ between them loading mixed cargo.   Another four steamers were in midstream waiting to tie up.   Men were running up and down the wharf, in and out of the sheds like a lot of ants, and all sorts shapes and sizes of crates, kegs, bales, hardware, galvanized iron, timber, wheat, skins, every imaginable cargo under the sun, were spilling out of the sheds, all over the wharf, onto the railway line, in one glorious mess.

“I wish to goodness someone would come and straighten all this out,” said Andrew.    “It’ll finish by ruining Goolwa. I’d like to bring the Governor, and the Premier, and every member of the Legislative Council here and make them do a day’s work on the wharf.    They need to have their noses rubbed in it.    They care about nothing but their precious Port Adelaide.”

This was a thorny subject with all the River men.  The punt was coming across from Hindmarsh Island.  They watched the punt-man pulling it along with sticks which fitted into slots in the punt rope.   Two obliging passengers were giving him a hand with a couple of extra sticks.   The punt was heavily laden with Mr Price’s Herefords being taken down to the Adelaide market.   He had a large holding on the Island, and had been the first to import Herefords into Australia. He had fought Dr Hankin, the first settler to run cattle on the Island, to gain his holding.   Dr Hankin had leased the whole Island from the early Government in 1840 for £10, and when Charles Price, a friend of Tom Goode’s, gained a footing on the Island, the Doctor was very angry and went to great lengths to push him off it again.  They watched the cattle being driven off the punt; the finest cattle in the whole state at that time. Suddenly there was a sound of trotting horses and jingling harness and up came the afternoon goods truck from Victor Harbour.   “I’ve got some apples in my pocket for them.    Come on, Andrew, let’s go and talk to the horses.    They do look tired, poor things, what a load to pull on a day like this!” They strolled down to the end of the wharf, where the railway line ended.

“Hello, Mr Ballard” said ‘Melie, “I see you’ve got Fidget and Baldy on together, today.   Where’s Bob?   He usually pairs with Baldy, doesn’t he?”   “He’s gone lame, Amelia.   Fidget doesn’t pull nearly so well, and we’ve got such a load of stuff to get away. Did you ever see such a muddle?   And it’s worse at Victor. There’s wool and cargoes piled high and mixed up everywhere, and I’m told there’s another eight steamers due in tomorrow and the next day.   We need twice the rolling stock and half a dozen good steam cranes.   And much as I love my horses, goodness knows we need steam trains to handle all this cargo.    I don’t know what’s wrong with the folks in Adelaide.   They can’t see farther than their own stupid noses.   We’ve shifted over 15,000 bales of wool this year, in spite of everything.” Melie was nuzzling the two horses and feeding them with apples.    She had known and loved them for years. Every child in Goolwa had sat beside Ballard driving the Railway horses.  She could no more imagine Goolwa without the Truck and the horses, than without the steamers on the River.

Four weeks later Andrew and ‘Melie were talking to each other once again, but the scene was a very different one.   They were in the wheelhouse of the ‘Tyro’ with old Sam and young Sam.   The ‘Tyro’ was tied to a stumpy tree at the river’s edge, and high above them the Darling’s high banks shut out the view of all but their own black mud.   A hundred yards upstream the ‘Marano’ was tied to  another muddy stump. The ‘Tyro’ had her barge tied alongside, but the ‘Maranoa’ had left hers downstream at Mount Murchison.    Both steamers were making for Louth on a rising river, but unaccountably, a fall in the night had stranded them, and they were glad of each other’s company.   They had a nasty feeling that perhaps the river might drop still further, and they could at least help each other over the worst of the bars.   The ‘Tyro’ had a very shallow draught, and ‘Melie had no desire to see Andrew left for months up the Darling.  The two Sams were looking disconsolately at their chart, but Andrew and ‘Melie were trying to hide their smiles as ‘Melie slipped her hand into his.  The river charts were unlike any other chart ever made.  They were drawn on calico with Indian ink, about twelve inches wide, and any length from thirty to two hundred and thirty feet long.   They were rolled up on two wooden rollers rather after the fashion of ancient scrolls and were kept in a box in the wheelhouse, where they were gradually unrolled as the paddle boat made its way along the rivers.  Amelia could follow the charts as easily as her men folk, but today as they unrolled the Darling chart and looked at what lay between Curranyalpa, where they were tied up, and Louth, where their cargo was awaiting them, she had eyes only for Andrew.

For the moon was full and the nights were soft, up there 1300 miles from Goolwa, and Andrew had asked ‘Melie to marry him.  The fresh came a week later.   In a night the river had risen eight feet, as some unpredictable tropical downpour filled the Namoi and the Barwon up at the head of the river.  Three days later the Darling was running a banker, the ‘Tyro’ and the ‘Maranoa’ were thrashing their way along a great river at a steady six knots up to Louth and beyond to pick up the wool from Bourke and Brewarrina, 1600 miles from Goolwa, one of the longest runs the steamers could make.   So Andrew Willcock and Amelia Shetliff became engaged.  They were engaged seven long years, for Andrew’s father died and he had to look after his widowed mother and sister.   He and his father had built the ‘Tolarno’ and launched her in 1879.   Andrew went up and down the river as her engineer.  However, he disliked not being master on his own steamer, and before long he gained his Master’s certificate. From then on he skippered his own boat, so that he was builder, owner, engineer and master of the ‘Tolarno”, which is probably unique in shipping annals, and could have happened
nowhere else but in Goolwa.  At last Andrew and Amelia were married.    From their daughter comes this description of Amelia’s wedding dress:

“It was not white, as became fashionable in later years.  It was a very beautiful patterned shot silk of a brownish colour, with an under-foundation of plain fawn, and the dressmaker’s account was:-

Dress silk                                             £4.          1.            11.

Making dress                                     1.            5.            0.

8 yards lace                                                         16.          0.

4 yards ribbon @ 9 ½ d                                   3.            2.

Buttons                                                                   1.            0.

3 yards Maltese lace @ 2/9                         8.            3.
Linings                                                                    5.            0.
Preservers                                                                          6.
Furnishing                                                           1.            0.

                                                                £7.          1.           10.

Andrew and Amelia began their married life by travelling in the Truck to Port Elliot.   Amelia’s parents had both died . Sometimes she and Andrew lived in the Shetliff’s home, but most of their early married life was spent on the “Tolarno”. The blackfellas living in and around Goolwa always spoke of Amelia as “Me’ia, elbow gyurl”.   The white baby girl with her fair skin, blue eyes, and lovely clothes entranced the lubras, and as long as there were full-blood aborigines in Goolwa to remember, even when she was quite old and her little daughter was almost grown up, she kept her name, till the last of the full-blood aborigines vanished into the past.

go to chapter 14


The ‘Albury” remained in the possession of the River Murray Navigating Company till about 1860.    During that time George Johnston took her through the Mouth many times. He often had one barge in tow, and on at least one occasion, he went through with the ‘Wakool’  and the ‘Mitta Mitta’ tied abreast, and the ‘Eureka”  in tow,  carrying over 200 tons of cargo.   What did Captain Sturt think when he read that piece of shipping information in the ‘Register’?

She was a pioneer on all the rivers.    In 1858 Cadell took her up the Murrumbidgee to Gundagai.    He was five weeks on the way with three loaded barges, but by the time he reached Gundagai, the barges had all been left on route, and he had no cargo but a few tons of flour, sugar and tea which were bought up by the general store.    It must have been a great disappointment to the settlers, but they still gave Cadell a royal welcome, and he took two hundred of them upstream for a pleasure cruise to make up for the lack of cargo.

Two months later he arrived in Wagga, but this time the ‘Albury’ far from being welcomed and feted, was seized and  impounded by the police for carrying illicit cargo. The police were nearly lynched by the townsfolk, for this time Cadell was carrying all sorts of goods of almost priceless value to people in need of everything for their homes. It was all eventually sorted out. Younghusband gave up his interest in the Company in 1857, when he became chief secretary.    Cadell had no head for business; he was far too busy to attend to the Company’s affairs.    The Victorian press, as Victorian steamers began to make their appearance on the river, did everything in their power to defame and incriminate the Company, accusing it of carrying fraudulent cargoes.  Terrible tragedies happened at Port Elliot, where one ship after another was wrecked.   One ship, the ‘Josephine l’Oiseau’ was a complete loss and was carrying much cargo for the Company.   The loss of the ‘Melbourne’ at the Mouth was the final straw, and the Company became bankrupt. George Johnston, who had already bought one small steamer with an unpronounceable name, the ‘Moolgewanke”, bought the ‘Albury’, in partnership with his engineer friend, Charles Murphy, and with her laid the foundation of one of the most successful shipping ventures on the river.   The strange, unpredictable Francis Cadell vanished from the river scene.  There was however one other service of immeasurable value that Cadell undertook for the safe navigation of the rivers, in the name of the Company, during its existence; and that was the building of the ‘Grappler’;    a snag steamer, specially designed to eradicate fallen timber by steam power.  With it, during his short remaining time on the river, he was responsible for lifting 1053 snags, and when he moved on, he left the weirdly-designed ‘Grappler” a real ugly duckling, for others to use.    She was “Upwards of sixty feet long and thirty feet wide” and her draft on an even keel was given as 19& a 1/2  inches.   For twenty years she hauled the huge dead trees which were such a menace to the paddle steamers up onto the banks out of the way.   One monster she moved was 135 foot long with a twenty foot girth.

The story of the ‘Grappler’ is a romance in itself, one of hundreds – indeed every vessel on the river could tell her own dramatic story;   but the ‘Grappler’ was essentially the child of Cadell’s inventive brain.   He himself was the saddest and most romantic figure of all – another tragic failure who wandered on, without wife or family; without roots, without fortune, with enemies who hated him, but friends who served him with love and loyalty, and mourned him sorely when at last he was murdered by a crew of South Sea Islanders while he was pearling near Torres Strait,   The ‘Grappler’, Cadell’s last bequest to the river, was launched at Echuca in 1858,   She worked up and down the Murray and its tributaries lifting snags, cutting and burning timber, clearing a navigable channel in the worst reaches during the short dry season, at the expense of the South Australian Government.   From 1857 to 1863 the sum of £9,965 was spent on snagging with the ‘Grappler”, without any contribution from Victoria, although New South Wales spent £3,000 on clearing snags up the Darling with a land party.  South Australia felt that Victoria should undertake the snagging of the Upper Murray and the  “Grappler” was laid up at Blanchetown for three years because the Government refused to vote any further funds.  From then on ‘Grappler” worked in short sharp bursts of intense activity alternating with years of idleness.  Sometimes even she, with her shallow draft, grounded and could not be moved.    In February 1869 she grounded near Bookpurnong, and she was there so long that two chains were run from the vessel to the bank to make a suspension bridge’, a cookhouse and a pigsty were built alongside, and a shed for the engineer!  Whenever she was unemployed for any length of time she was brought to Goolwa, and at last she returned in 1875: her career at an end as a snag boat.   Her engines and her gear were showing signs of exhaustion, and from then on the huge trunks of the river gums, drowned in some mighty flood, were left to straddle the channel once again, a menace to shipping on the lower river.   Meanwhile Victoria began to clear snags from the upper river with her own Government snag-boat, a new “Melbourne”  In 1878 “Grappler” was put on the slip and overhauled, then sent up the river to Morgan where she became a haven for drunks.  She served as a lock-up for the new town – suddenly brought into the limelight by the new railway to Adelaide, the railway which was to administer the ‘coup de grace’  to Goolwa and the South Coast.

1878 :   A momentous year in the history of Goolwa. The year the South Australian Government extended the railway from Adelaide to Morgan at the North West Bend and began the slow process of draining away Goolwa’s life blood, her river trade.   The year when the Government signed the contract and voted over £100,000 for port extensions at Victor Harbour to link up with the increased trade at Goolwa, the trade they were taking away from her.   The year when 28,000 bales of wool were handled on the Goolwa wharf and over 9,000 tons of mixed cargo sent upstream – the peak of her prosperity*   The year when despairing letters and articles had appeared one after another in the South Australian press imploring the Government to improve the wharf facilities at Goolwa and Victor Harbour.  Twenty five years since the launching of the ‘Lady Augusta’   What had happened during those twenty-five years, in the town as well as on the river?  The most important event affecting the river had been the collapse of Port Elliot.    One wreck after another had spelt the ruin of the port within four years of its creation, just as so many had prophesied.   By the end of 1856 after five good ships had been lost, masters began to refuse to call there, and it was being recognised that Port Elliot was far too dangerous to be used as a harbour for overseas vessels. The increasing river cargoes were dealt with in a haphazard way which was the despair of Cadell and the other skippers. Some cargoes were taken overland to and from Port Adelaide to townships such as Mannum and Milang, and to Goolwa itself.   Or goods  were taken by rail to Port Elliot and the rest of the way to Victor Harbour by bullock and horse then by boat out to the ships anchored in the open harbour.   The most satisfactory answer was the Mouth, and many a cargo was handled by George Johnston and the others, with the ‘Melbourne’, the ‘Albury’, and other steamers, towing a barge.    Geordie was the only one prepared to go through with three barges at a time.  The jetty work at Port Elliot were a complete waste of money.     They were   scarcely used at  all  after   1856, and abandoned by the early sixties.   The linking of the river and the sea was dilatory, unsatisfactory, and often very dangerous.    There is a vivid account of the last wreck at Port Elliot, by Mr Tripp, the postmaster, in a letter to the ‘Register’ on March 21st, 1864 which describes both the dangers and delays.

“It is my painful duty,” writes Mr Tripp, “to inform you of the wreck of the schooner ‘Blair Athol’ of Newcastle, Brown master, loaded with wheat, etc., for Sydney.   She drove from her anchors at the outer moorings onto Point Commodore about 10 a.m. yesterday morning.   The whole fetch of the Southern Ocean has been rolling in since Friday last, and although every precaution was taken by the harbourmaster and the captains of the vessels in port, it was not sufficient to save the ‘Athol’ from going aground.   After every attempt to save the vessel proved useless the captain ordered the foremast to be cut away to lighten the labouring of the ship, then grinding on the granite rocks.   The foremast proved to be a spar worthy of a better fate, and for hours, unsupported by shrouds and stays, hacked almost asunder, bending and straining with every surge and roll of the ship, it remained erect. Perseverance at last caused it to topple over to starboard and the hull appeared relieved by the loss of the top weight. “Communication by ropes had previously been made with the vessel, and sails, boxes etc hauled ashore. The harbourmaster’s and ‘Eliza Corry’s boats also rendered every assistance in saving the hands and property during the day, but unfortunately during the afternoon the harbourmaster’s boat in going alongside was capsized and Mr Tait, Captain Slater of the ‘Eliza Corry’ and Captain Brown of the ‘Alexandra’ and the men in the boat were nearly dashed to pieces on the rocks.   Spectators rendered assistance and with difficulty all were rescued.    The rest of ‘Athol’s crew were hauled ashore by means of the rope communication, and the captain was the last to leave the ship.  “The ‘Athol’ had been about three weeks in the waters of Victor Harbour and Port Elliot waiting to load only 500 bags of wheat, which could have been done in one or two days, but as several vessels were loading at Port Elliot she was detained at Victor Harbour waiting her turn for nearly a fortnight.   Had the tramway (to Victor Harbour) been completed according to contract she would have loaded at Victor Harbour instead of grinding her timbers on the rocks at Port Elliot.” So ends a vivid piece of writing.   So ended Port Elliot, never used again after this final disaster.   Port Elliot, which could well have been named “Young’s Folly”…So ended in failure the first attempt to link the river with the sea.  A supine,  shillyshallying government at last in 1864 completed the extension of the railway to Victor Harbour and laid down reasonable port facilities at a cost of nearly £100,000, but by then the shadow of Henry Hopwood with his punts and his bridges was lengthening across the Upper River Victoria was stretching out an eager hand to grasp the plum of the river trade.  Up to the early sixties South Australian steamers still had it all their own way, and from Goolwa the steamers of Cadell’s Company were opening each of the rivers in turn, calling at the various landings and new little townships with picking up the wool with reasonable regularity during the wet season.   Randell was operating two vessels, the ‘Gemini’ and the ‘Bunyip’, and about a dozen barges had come off the Goolwa slip, several of which became steamers later.  But upriver in those early days, after a first rapturous greeting, people were finding the paddle boats a mixed blessing.   Their movements were still so erratic, and the stores they carried were sometimes  completely disposed of before they arrived at their destination.   This led to a great deal of speculation, and fluctuation in prices, and the storekeepers and station owners began to prefer the more stable overland routes once again, to the uncertainty of the River.    This was another cause of the failure of Cadell’s Company in those early days.    It was only during the sixties that the steamers were on the river in sufficient numbers to ply with regularity, and by then everyone was beginning to understand the behavior of the river levels, and just what could be expected of the paddle steamers.   The river captains were becoming more adept every day at negotiating the bad patches, and the ‘Grappler’ and various land parties were making a great improvement in the navigable channel.   But by then the railway from Echuca to Melbourne was built, Echuca was turning out paddle steamers and barges of her own from the magnificent red river gums which grew to such a size on her banks, and the Victorian Government was pouring money into her own river port, providing the very best in the way of wharfage and loading facilities.   The river was dividing into two enemy camps;   the war of the “top-enders” and the “bottom-enders” was on.    It was to be waged throughout the rest of the river’s life, in Parliament, in the press, in the customs sheds, in every pub and on every wharf where the rival steamers met;    so great and so bitter was the rivalry between Victoria and South Australia that a Victorian minister could get up in Parliament and when questioned about excessive expenditure at Echuca, could say “I care not how great the expense, if it so be that none of the trade of the Darling go to South Australia.”  Every possible inducement was offered to settlers even from far inside the South Australian border to send their wool to Echuca and Melbourne.   The cost of freight was cut to the bone, leading facilities were speeded up, and of course the Port of Melbourne was by far the busiest and most attractive port in Australia.

And all this time the South Australian Government left Goolwa with one small wharf, three inefficient hand cranes and an animal-powered railway linking it with a harbour so dangerous that no ship would anchor in it;   watching with jealous eyes the diversion of a single ton of cargo from Port Adelaide to the South Coast.   Yet Goolwa itself was scarcely conscious of all this.   It was a rapidly expanding port and township, full of pride in the present and confidence in the future.   Splendid industries were established on the banks of the Elbow bend during the sixties. A foundry was set up near Sturt’s Landing by Messrs Hooker and Curzon, and the first iron steamer to be built in Australia, the ‘Jolly Miller’, was built on their slip for William Basham, the miller at Port Elliot, in 1864. This foundry was taken over shortly afterwards by Abraham Graham, who started the manufacture of engines and boilers and all types of heavy machinery, and it thus came about that by the early seventies Goolwa was building her own paddle steamers from stem to stern. Till the late sixties steamers had to go through the Mouth to Port Adelaide for repairs, but George Johnston and his partner Murphy gradually established their own repair yards and Goolwa became entirely self-supporting, making her own wooden and iron hulls, her own engines and boilers, and carrying out her own repairs.   Graham built at least twelve vessels, and supplied the engines for nine of them.    In 1877 the famous ‘Shannon’ was built,   The newspapers reported that she was launched in nine weeks from the laying of her keel, and was the third vessel to come off Graham’s slip in seven months!   She was launched by the 8-year-old Rosina Graham.  (Some were built with iron hulls, but as Cadell had predicted, it was soon found that iron below the waterline was not satisfactory on the river, and the hulls were sheathed in river gum.)  This was the Abraham Graham who built Graham’s Castle (also known as “Tucker’s Folly” after one of its later tenants, who went to gaol for a massive Customs fraud at Port Adelaide)  on the high land looking over Encounter Bay, behind Goolwa township.   From its flat roof there is a magnificent view of the whole South Coast. The house was built about 1864, when Graham established the Goolwa Ironworks and Patent Slip.   From 1867, when he built the paddle-steamer “Ariel”, to  1883 when the “Cato” was completed, this slip was steadily turning out new vessels The engine and boiler of Sam Shetliff”s “Ellen” were made here too.

The “Shannon” was later bought by Tommy Freeman, who took her engine out, rigged a jury roast, and sailed her out over the bar and round to Port Adelaide to get a new engine. He converted her into a three-decker passenger boat, and she later left the river and went to Tasmania.   She was wrecked eventually on King Island in Bass Strait.  The foundry employed more than forty men, and the three slips ninety more.   Tom Goode’s store was by now the largest in the Colony, and in this year, 1878, the imposing Institute was opened to provide ‘culture’ for the local inhabitants.  These included a goodly proportion of Cockenzie boys, and Scottish people of all walks of life are great ones for books and learning.   George Johnston had been home three times and each time he had brought back a steamer with a crew from Cockenzie.

He had cottages built for them near his own house, on the high land above the wharf, almost replicas of the ones they had left behind, so that to this day this area is known as “Little Scotland.  Apart from the steamer trade, there were men employed in the breweries, the mill, on the railways, in the sawmill and the smithy.   Most of them were building homes and raising families. The Cockenzie men mostly brought out their own lassies, but many Goolwa men lost their hearts to the soft-voiced Irish colleens who had been brought out as assisted migrants. One shipload of these girls was brought to Victor Harbour, and there was anxiety for a time over the problem of housing them and finding them suitable work.    However their youth and beauty solved the problem, and many of them married river men.

There is a little room off the kitchen in Younghusband’s house – up a few stairs, it has casement windows and a broad stone sill.   The view is not what it was when the house was built.   The railway sheds block much of the river, but still beyond the roofs it can be seen winding up past Currency Creek, past the mouth of the Finniss towards Lake Alexandrina and the upper river.  Here eighty years ago a little colleen, kitchen maid to the Younghusband family, must have sat on the wide sill watching and waiting for a sight of smoke and a cloud of birds, heralding the return of one of Goolwa’s steamers with her own true love on board.


Mary Kineef up at Laffin’s Point, nursemaid to the Moore boys, watched in the same way for her George.   They married in 1865, and George Henderson became skipper of the Prince Alfred.   She v/as the first steamer on the rivers to be fitted out as a floating store.  One can picture little Mary Henderson with her dark ringlets and her Irish eyes, going up the Murray with her fine big husband in the steamer.    He was another Scot, one who also held the Mouth in contempt, for then the river was low and  trade was slack he used to go fishing out to sea in a small boat, regardless of tide and weather. An entry from the Goolwa Shipping Register runs:

Nov. 25th, 1880.   Prince Alfred.   Tonnage 34.   Master, Henderson, from Morgan with 376 bales of greasy wool and £3,330 of miscellaneous cargo.   Barge Warrego in tow.  The Port Adelaide register reports that Warrego was a paddle steamer built at Wentworth in ’65.   The Prince Alfred was built at Goolwa in 1867, and the Warrego’s engines put into her, while the old steamer was converted to a barge.  Of all the steamers that plied up and down the rivers bringing comfort and civilisation to the people living along the banks, the most welcome must have been these floating shops, at least to the women.  Everyone got to know their special whistles as they came tooting round the bends.   They would tie up at a lonely homestead as well as a busy settlement.   Mary Henderson helped in selling ribbons and laces to the settlers’ wives, or tobacco to lonely men who dreamed of finding a colleen of their own with dark blue eyes and a soft Killarney brogue.

go to chapter 13


Moama, on the New South Wales bank, was the only township between Goolwa and Albury on that first trip of the Albury under Captain Johnston.   Several river towns were surveyed shortly afterwards, and the first land sales were taking place in Echuca, opposite Moama on the Victorian side.   It was a vital spot on the Murray, near the junctions of the Campaspe and the Goulburn, and the shortest distance on the river from Melbourne.   All round was good grazing land where squatters had settled, with permanent water assured from the river. About 1847 James Maiden, a local settler, built an inn and stockyards on the bank and set up a punt for crossing stock.   Quite a considerable settlement had grown up around Maiden’s Punt by the time young William Randell reached it with the Mary Ann in 1853.   Judging from Randell’s glowing account of his reception, this Maiden must have been a very kindly man.

By the time the Albury was on her way upstream, a go-getter from Lancashire, Henry Hopwood, had established himself two miles downstream from Moama, with “a new punt of superior construction”, had built an inn and a general store, and called the place “Echuca” from the aboriginal word for “the meeting of the waters”.

He was completely ruthless, and set out by all means, fair and foul, to outdo his New South Wales rival across the river. The recognised signal for the punt rope to be slackened when a steamer came up-river was a blast on her whistle. The Albury gave the signal and passed the Echuca punt without mishap;    but on reaching Maiden’s Punt she came up against the taut rawhide rope with terrific force.  The impact threw George Johnston, who was standing on deck, down into the stoke-hold with great violence, breaking a leg and two ribs.   Poor Maiden, who had not heard the whistle, felt himself entirely to blame.    Captain Johnston had broken the same leg twice before;   he was less upset than the punt-owner.  He was carried ashore to Maiden’s Inn, his ribs were tightly bandaged and his leg was firmly splinted.    Maiden, a good bush surgeon, supervised the work himself.    After a lavish dinner – and even with a couple of broken ribs George Johnston had a great appetite – the Captain was taken back to his steamer and went on his way undaunted.   Tom and one of the deckhands set to work to make a handy pair of crutches for him.    He stayed in the wheelhouse for the rest of the voyage, his only regret that he could no longer dive overboard for his daily swim.

Maiden never got over Johnston’s accident, which the disagreeable Hopwood advertised as much as possible, delighted to show up the inefficiency of his rival.  Disheartened, Maiden sold out to two other men who were more or less forced into selling to Hopwood a few years later.   By 1862 Hopwood had become the dictator of the upper Murray, with a pontoon bridge as well as the only punt between Wahgunyahm up near Albury, and Goolwa.  He held the most strategic position on the river, and he had behind him the energetic and determined support of the whole Victorian Government.

Thus came into existence Echuca, Goolwa’s greatest rival on the river, both as a port and as a shipbuilding centre.   Echuca was 150 miles from Melbourne and Goolwa only 60 from Adelaide, but Port Melbourne was already established as the leading shipping centre, and the South Australian Government had lost its lead through hesitant and dilatory wharf works at Goolwa.

Echuca, half-way house on the Murray:  the town that set the “top-enders” and the “bottom-enders” at each others’ throats; the town that first tapped the rich river trade with a railway, and sucked and sucked like a vast geographical funnel, gathering up all the produce of the rivers, and pouring it straight down to Melbourne;  the town that drained the life-blood from Goolwa, and ended up by killing itself as a river port.

But George and Tom Johnston knew nothing of this melancholy future.   As they wound their way up to Albury on that first trip they talked of the rivers, the boats they would own and the fortunes they would make.    On the sharp bends young Tom had to stand by to heave down on the wheel to get her round; though going upstream was easier than coming down, when the current would take her stern and try to swing her out of control.  All the same it was a great feat of endurance and fortitude, for the skipper would scarcely leave the wheelhouse for a moment while they were running.   In spite of the high river, there were rapids and hairpin bends to contend with, and huge unyielding arms of dead trees sticking up in the middle of the narrowing channel.  Tunnels of overhanging trees caught the overhamper of the Albury, and dead boughs smashed through paddle-boxes. Cadell had written to Captain Johnston:

“Should your wooden stanchions still be up, it is my desire that they be unscrewed and stored at once – carefully preserving the screws.”

Through it all George Johnston on his crutches, and his cousin Tom on the other side of the great wheel, stood in the wheelhouse noting every change of direction, every sandspit and shoal, and any other features which might help later voyagers on this winding enigma of a river.  At last, on the second of October at four in the afternoon they reached Albury.   Four hundred people lined the banks of the river to welcome them, cheering madly as their two fine Glasgow engines came to a stop against the bank, the laden barge coming slowly up behind.  There was a picnic feast for all the townspeople and a banquet in the town for Johnston and his men.   When the healths had been drunk he was presented with 100 gold sovereigns by the townspeople of Albury in recognition of his achievement. Like most Scots, he was a sentimental man, and there were tears in his eyes when he stood up to thank them, leaning heavily on his crutches.  The last few hundred miles of tortuously-winding river had been a tremendous strain,   He had been in constant pain, forced to take his full weight off his broken leg onto his arms, with two broken ribs;   yet he had never left the wheelhouse while the steamer was in motion.

He spoke from his heart when he said, “Ah canna find worrds tae thank a’ you guid folk. It’s no’ me, but Cap’n Cadell ye should be thanking, for we’d no’ be here if it werena for him.”  “Ah hope one day to return tae your imporrtant town, bringing with me Cap’n Cadell himself, the grreat navigator of the River Murray.”

Soon afterwards he collapsed onto his seat and went fast asleep, over come with emotion, fatigue, and a wonderful dinner.   They had great trouble getting him to bed. The ‘Albury’s’ men enjoyed the town of Albury’s hospitality for two or three days, then started downriver again, calling at all the station landings to pick up wool, and making more detailed charts of the river as they went.   They reached Goolwa in the first week of December, having navigated 3,000 miles and opened up the Murray as far as Albury, as Cadell had promised he would.

William Randell continued to be regarded by Cadell as a rival long after their first race.   Some papers found recently by Mr Frank Richards of Renmark among his father’s effects, and presented by the National Trust of S.A. to the S.A. Archives, include many letters from Cadell to his leading skipper, George Johnston.  They are full of advice, admonishments, and requests for information.

“Do all you can to clean the wool off and leave Randell nothing,” he writes to the Melbourne in 1855.. “I hope that Randell has had no chance of copying your charts.   Let the self-opinionated fellow go to the Devil his own way.”  In milder mood a bit later he says, “Should Mr Randell require a little wood when he speaks you, supply him” and directs Johnston to use aboriginal labour where he can get it, “paying what you think fit.”   Perhaps it is significant that this friendly note is endorsed, “Forwarded by the hands of Mr Randell, of the Mary Ann.”

On the first voyage of the Albury he wrote:
To Captain G.B.Johnston.
My dear Sir,

“Lose no opportunity of reporting your progress to me; the safety of your ship is of more importance than the celerity with which you complete your voyage.    You will take good care of the new steamer.

Wishing you a Prosperous Voyage,
I remain, Sir,

Yr. Obedient Servant,
Fr. Cadell.”

On another voyage, when the river was rather low, he sent stern instructions!    “Wahgunyah must be your highest port – go no further!”

Apparently Johnston disregarded this and went on blithely to Albury, as the next letter states in dignified fashion.  “I cannot say I approve of your decision” (to go on past Wahgunyah).

A memorandum to the Melbourne in 1856 complains that woodcutters are not keeping the woodpiles to the standard height of four feet, and the edict goes forth:    “Please measure all woodpiles”.

Already complaints were coning in about non-delivery of cargoes, deficient cargoes, and spoilt goods, due largely to the interference of Victorian Customs officials who undid packages and left them open to the weather.   Apparently crews were not above doing a little trading on their own account, but not if Cadell knew about it.

“Having observed some guernsey frocks go on board at Goolwa, and being told they were “for the Engineer” I interrogated him.   He said they were ‘for hie own use’!  If any private trading is undertaken by the servants of the Company, they are to be immediately dismissed.”  Some of the shareholders in the navigation company of Cadell and Younghusband were annoyed by what they regarded as the dilatoriness of Cadell’s stern Nonconformist skippers.  George Johnston and his sons would never work a boat on Sunday; and even if there was no settlement or landing in sight, the Sabbath would find them tied to a tree from Saturday midnight to early Monday morning.   Competition from the “top-enders” was non beginning, and besides the season on the Darling was short.  “If Captain — was at sea,” one critic wrote, “it would puzzle him to tie up on the Sabbath.    He should say his prayers under steam or at a woodpile, or save them up till he returns to Port.”

An invoice of a typical cargo for upriver in those days reads:

1 June 1856.
154 bags oats                                                     £300
250 bags best Ad. potatoes                         £270
100 bags fine flour,Goolwa Hills                                 £945
To be shipped by the River Murray
Navigating Co. aboard the “Gundagai”.
There were eager buyers waiting all along the Murray and the Murrumbidgee;  and next the Darling was opened up to trade.  The Company should have succeeded, in spite of the competition of Randell’s fleet, now expanded to the Gemini (twin-hulled steamer incorporating the little Mary Ann) and the Bunyip.   In 1856 Cadell was writing in self-congratulatory terms to Johnston:

“I am glad to learn that the settlers are now beginning to see which Boats are the best.  The Gemini has been raised, I hear.”(She had been snagged and sunk).  “I hope that Randell has had no chance of copying your charts… “I think that with a full river you can come down in fourteen steaming days” (this of course would not include Sundays)  Perhaps big George Johnston was not tactful enough with the customers, for Cadell adds the admonition!

“Be careful when speaking of the settlers to the men, always do so with a handle to their name.”

However Johnston soon had his own steamer and went into partnership with Charles Murphy, his engineer. He continued to dodge in and out of the Mouth, roaring with laughter as the surf broke over his game little steamers, until a few years before his death.  Though he always remained loyal to the name of Francis Cadell, and continued to speak well of him in after years, it may not have been the easiest thing to be employed by him.  One of Cadell’s letters suggests that Johnston’s wife, back in Scotland, had approached Cadell’s father, the laird, for moneys owing to Geordie by the River Murray Navigating Company.

One of the Cadell’s letters suggests that Johnston’s wife, back in Scotland, had approached Cadell’s father, the laird for moneys owing to Geordie by the River Murray Navigation Company.  This may have been one of the reasons he branched out into business for himself.   A quaint letter has been preserved from the Johnston papers from 1857, when apparently Lizzie Johnston left to come out and join her husband.  It is from one Peter Cram or Crum, in reply to a letter from Captain Johnston, and is dated

“Mildura Dec 6’.

I received yours by the Lady Augusta by which I learned you was Outside, and I hop to hear of you making many sucksesful trips out and in at the Mouth…

I hav been trying to get some Parrots for you but I am unsucksessful up to this present time…

I had a letter from home dated Sept 6 by which I learned Cockenzie people is well…

Mention of Mrs. Johnston’s leaving by Great Briton on 15 October.  I understand her 2 brothers comed with hir and I suppose the other woman is comen at the same time … Lizer is taking it more seareously than the others, though in good sperets.. “

Whether “Lizer” belongs to Peter Crum or is Liza Johnston, is not clear; but from Cadell’s letters it seems that she was rather reluctant to leave her native village.  Perhaps it was she was persuaded her brothers to come, so adding the name of Barclay to the many Scottish skippers among the “bottom end” men on the River.

go to chapter 12


The winter of Goolwa was thriving.   Two slips working hard building barges for Captain Cadell – the
‘Murrumbidgee’ and the ‘Wakool’ had been completed by the end of 1854, and the ‘Darling’ was on the slip.   The ‘Albury’ and the ‘Gundagai’ were rapidly nearing completion. Trucks coming and going between Port Elliot and Goolwa, carrying goods and passengers, and Her Majesty’s Mails.

Houses springing up one after another, built of local limestone and bricks from Port Elliot,   The ‘Lady Augusta’ coming from up-river to unload wool and pick up mixed cargoes The ‘Melbourne’ coming through the Mouth with stores and passengers from Port Adelaide.    Ketches and other small craft carrying wheat and milled flour all around the Lakeshore and river bank. Tom Goode building a fine store between the Hotel and his little hut, and filling it with stores from overseas in ever-increasing quantity and variety.   Sam Shetliff completing the pretty house for his little family with its low stone wall and a stable and harness room for his horses. The Sumners building on the main street opposite Goodes store, a bakery and a two-storeyed house.   The post office in the process of erection, with its ramp and verandah for the use of the railway passengers waiting for the truck – the post office window was for many years the railway ticket office.

Mr. Jones’s house a picture with its charming summer- house and garden.  Plenty of work in the town.  Work on the wharf, on the slips, on the railway track, daily loading and unloading.    Houses to be built, roads to be made, flour to be milled, plans to be planned in the confident belief that they would be realised.. The people who had come down to the River port were buoyant and full of optimism.   The Murray trade was there, ripe for plucking – they had only to stretch out their hands, and this rich plum would be theirs.

Early in August the news spread round the town (such rumors always began in one of three places, according to the sex and the time of day – down on the wharf, in Tom Goode’s store, or against the bar of the Goolwa Hotel) that the ‘Albury’ was ready at last to go up-river.    She was to have her trial run up as far as the Finniss next morning through the Mouth more than 200 times.   He took over the “Albury”, with his young cousin Tom Johnstone as mate, and Charles Murphy, later to be his partner for many years, as engineer.

Both Cadell and Younghusband were on board for the short trial run.   The party returned full of satisfaction with the ‘Albury’s’ performance, and full of hope for her twin the ‘Gundagai’s.  That night there was a farewell feast with goodwill toasts and speeches.    Next morning she waited, with steam rising, funnel smoke holds loaded, Customs-cleared, barge Murrumbidgee” securely lashed alongside and the passengers aboard.    The ‘Albury’ was ready.

On the wharf stood Sam Shetliff, his baby girl in his arms and Ellen beside him, hanging firmly onto young Joe who was doing his best to fall between the wharf and the steamer.  Sam heaved a huge sigh.

“Ah wouln’t mind changing places with George Johnston – or even young Tom.   Ah!d like to git the feel of a deck oonder me feet agen, an’ that’s a fact..”

Ellen looked at him with sharp, loving eyes.

“Y’d like a boat of y’r oawn, wouldn’t y’, Sam?”

“Aye, Ah would that, an’ all.”

“Why doan’t you goa oop on one o’ th’ boats, joost as a deckhand?   Y’d git y’r master’s ticket pretty quick?”   Sam shook his head.

“Nay, lass.   Ah’ll settle thee and the children first, an’ make a coomf’table house for us.    Then Ah’ll start thinkin’ abaht the river.   Ah reckon there’s fortunes to be made oop the river.    It’s not the same as th’ sea, boot Ah reckon it’ll need plenty o’ goomp to git oop to th’ top o’ them rivers.  George Johnston’s all reet, handles a boat a fair treat,” he said,  looking up at the wheelhouse, where they could see Johnston and Cadell talking to Younghusband.   “Ah doant knoaw so mooch abaht that Cadell, he’s too impatient.   It’s going to need patience getting oop thoase shallow places – “

Sam often remembered that remark in after years when he and his son, Sam junior, were winching the ‘Tyro’, their first steamer, up over the bad spots on the Darling on a low river.   Nineteen times in one week they ran a wire hawser from the paddle-shaft, round a tree to the stem-head in the bows of the boat, sometimes adding three sets of block and tackle, before they could haul her along over sand bars and reefs.

The Sumners had joined the crowd watching the departure of the ‘Albury’.   In those early days, the whole town turned out for every new event on the wharf, with huge enthusiasm.  The Sumners and the Shetliffs were very friendly. Amelia’s dainty white frock, a mass of tucks and frills and lace insertions, was the handwork of Mrs Sumner.

“Amelia does look lovely,” said the baker’s wife. “I’m glad the little frock still fits her mo well, although she’s been shortened quite a time now, hasn’t she?” “Aye, she’s only a little thing, not half the size her broothers were.   The dress looks reet luvely.   Ah’11 have to set to, to make one for your Fanny, ready for when you shorten her.” Fanny Sumner, Goolwa’s second baby girl, was only a few weeks old and still in the long masses of frilly frocks and petticoats beloved of the Victorians.

“Where’s young Sam?” asked Mrs Sumner, watching the wriggling Joe.

“Oh, Ah suppose he’s making a nuisance of himself on board the ‘Albury’.   Joe’s sooch a terror for gitting into trooble, Ah woan’t let him goa.” George Johnston had gone across with Cadell and Younghusband to watch the last stowing of cargo on the ‘Murrumbidgee’”

They were carrying tea and sugar, flour, salt, candles, ale, wine, timbers, mattresses, bedsteads, chairs, piping, gutters, galvanised iron (this was making its first appearance in the colony), glass, books, pictures, stationery, carpets, everything that settlers could possibly want to transform their comfortless existence, into one of  comparative comfort and ease.   Most important of all, they were carrying life and love up the winding miles of the Murray.  For the contact of the river boats, and the comforts they carried meant women – wives and children who could live along the banks of the river, or within a few hours’ reach by coach or dray.  This was what Goolwa did for Australia.   Bit by bit the other river ports established themselves and flourished, but it was Goolwa that first made them possible.    Slowly the railways reached out greedy tentacles to grasp those river ports and strangle the river trade.   But before the railways came, the river brought life to the little townships and the solitary settlers, and the back country began to develop.  Men were opening up the land, and wherever the rivers touched, women were coming to live with them, making homes, bearing children, rearing them, making Australia a nation.


Cadell had plenty to occupy his mind.   He was desperately anxious for the success of the twin steamers.   He had so far been given only £2500 of the £4000 bonus promised, and somehow the affairs of the River Murray Navigating Company were not progressing as well as he had hoped.  Younghusband was spending less and less time and thought on business and more and more on politics and Parliament.  Cadell was secretly very perturbed about affairs at Port Elliot where the anchorage was getting a bad name.   The turnover of cargo was far too slow.   He had complained urgently to Sir Henry Young to improve matters, but he had now left the colony, and Cadell’s best friend was gone.    The ‘Albury’ and the ‘Gundagai’ had cost far more, to bring out and reassemble, than he had anticipated, and so had his barges.  Another difficulty which he had not anticipated but was now
becoming acute, was the bitter inter-colonial jealousy.   This was causing fierce Customs battles, and making trade and the passage of goods across the border extremely difficult.  The Victorian press was publishing adverse reports on the cargoes being carried to the goldfields.    Victoria was a formidable enemy to any enterprise which could benefit South Australia.

All these thoughts were passing through Cadell’s mind as he waited to speed the ‘Albury’ on her way.  At last she was ready.   The whistle “blew.   All the local boys were rounded up and chased off her deck.   The ropes were cast off.   Thick clouds of smoke belched up into the sky as more fuel was thrown into the furnace.   The paddle wheels slowly began to turn.   It was August the 23rd, 1855, and the third of the steamers belonging to the River Murray Navigating Company was on her way.

Already life on a river steamer was beginning to follow a pattern.   The ‘Albury’ carried a crew of ten, apart from the skipper, the engineer, the mate, the bargemaster, two firemen, four deckhands and the Chinese cook.   She also carried some. thirty passengers, to be dropped along the route.  These were accommodated in a large airy saloon (which became a dormitory for the men at night), and a number of staterooms aft for the women and children.   Sir Thomas Elder in an account of a trip in the Albury’s twin, has left us the following description:

“The saloon is raised above the deck with windows on both sides, a large, airy space, used as a dining
room and sitting room during the day, and as a sleeping apartment for gentlemen at night, curtains extending from the roof ensuring the requisite privacy.  Several state cabins at the stern were reserved for the ladies and children.   One of the first things passengers do on coming on board is to .elect the place where they propose to sit at table, which is kept during the voyage.  Considering the small sum charged for passage money from Goolwa to Albury, a distance of 2000 miles, namely £15 including provisions, we had good reason to be satisfied with our fare and stewards’ attendance.”

Presumably conditions were m-oh the same on the ‘Albury’, as on the ‘Gundegai’.  The bargemaster and two hands lived on the barge and slept in tiny bunks built forr’ard under the prow.    While the steamer was on a wide river, the barge was tied up alongside, and life for the bargemen was relatively easy except at re-fuelling time, when all hands went ashore to cut and load wood.    At meal-times the cook simply handed the deckshies over the side, and cleared up the empties afterwards. But once the river narrowed, the barge was relegated to 120 yards astern, and the bargemaster’s job became a difficult and responsible one.   He had to steer a heavily-laden barge through shallows, over reefs, across submerged rocks and dead trees, without power to help him.   Admittedly he had the steamer in front to indicate the course to follow, but it wasn’t as simple as that.  Throughout the history of the river boats, we find barges being snagged and stuck and upset and sunk.   There were occasions when barges capsized and the cargo of wool bales slid over and trapped the men down in the hold so that all were drowned like rats in a trap.   When the steamers were fighting for their lives against the railways, the safe handling and arrival of cargoes became absolutely vital.   A skilful barge-master was worth his weight in gold.   When the barge went astern, the progress of the steamer was slowed considerably.   She always had to come to a standstill at mealtimes to allow the barge to come up alongside.    If possible this was combined with re-fuelling,  when everyone went ashore with axes and cross-saws.  The ‘Albury’ burnt about twelve tons of wood a day.   The timber – peppermint gum, or boxwood, or redgum, depending on the country – was sawn up on the bank into five-foot billets, which were passed from hand to hand into the stoke hold.  There were usually about twenty billets to the ton and a day’s supply was loaded at a time.    Gradually, however, the settlers were learning the needs of the steamers, and already even on the ‘Albury’s’ first trip, there were wood piles along the bank, cut ready for loading.   This naturally meant a big saving of time for the steamers.  The crew worked six-hour shifts.   Going up on a full river, the ‘Albury’ ran through the night, tying up only on Sundays.   Captain Johnston and young Tom took shift about at the wheel, with the deckhands taking an occasional trick, although on his early trips up and down the rivers George Johnston scarcely left the  Wheelhouse.   He was charting the rivers as he went, and teaching himself the navigation of the Murray.

Those that followed the pioneers had to pass examinations to gain their skippers’ tickets;   a deep-sea-ticket was not enough.   They served their apprenticeship as deckhands and mates, before they were allowed to take a paddlewheeler of their own.   But a dozen or so of the earliest river captains had to teach themselves.   Charts that later were passed on, copied and re-copied, had to be made in the beginning, and they were not like any other chart ever made.  So Captain Johnston did not sleep for many of the hours of his off-shifts, and because cousin Tom was ambitious and eager for his own command, he spent most of his time off helping with the charts and making his own observations.  They took soundings and made notes all the way along the winding miles, first from the entrance to Lake Alexandrina.  After taking on more cargo at Milang on the Lake, they
headed out into the river again.

George said,  “We must marrk a better channel through Lake Alexandrina.  There is sooch an expanse of shallow water, and the weather can be so bad in the Lake.   Boats must keep to the deep channel.”   He pointed to an inlet by Point Pomona at the Lake’s entrance.   “Ah tied up there, last time Ah cam’ doon wi’ the ‘Lady Augusta’.   It’s best to wait a day for decent weather if it’s really rough.   Ah’m verra much afraid the Lake may prrove to be a deterrent to mony steamers, onless we mak’ it worrth their while.   We must mak’sure the carrgoee are handled quickly oot tae sea, or the skippers will be unloading at Mannum.”

The river soon began to meander in broad sweeping curves and the red banks carved out at each bend rose higher and higher till they became hundred-foot cliffs towering above the water.   The banks were honeycombed with small caves out of which flew clouds of galahs and peewits as the steamer puffed her way along.   Towards evening the wind always dropped, and on the river as they looked ahead, lay the still reflections of the river-gums standing knee-deep in water, and the scarlet and gold majesty of the cliffs in the sunset.  The paddles thumped their way along to Murroondie where Scott still lived, although he abandoned the station shortly afterwards, so that there was no-one left to police the river or protect the aborigines of the river tribes. Blaokfellas still came and went along the banks.   Pencils of grey smoke pierced the air in the morning mists as they moved on up or downstream, carrying their fires and all their worldly possessions on their tiny canoes, restless nomads of the water.   At night they still seemed very numerous, for their fires showed up on mile after mile of curving river bank far away into the clear Australian night;   but their numbers were rapidly dwindling.   The reedy swamps and billabongs swarmed with bird life.  As the ‘Albury’ went by, flocks of blue and white cranes would rise in flight, and then a thunderous surge and beating of swans -would blacken the sky above them.   All manner of duck – widgeon, teal, wood duck, – flew before them, and here and there they saw for the first time the strange Cape Barren geese with their fat puffy faces, come with the spring to mate in the swamps.    Pelicans, who kept their nests and their young on floating stick islands out in the lagoons, worked shoals of fish into the shallows, and swallowed them in their dozens and hundreds, usually in the early dawn.  Gradually they came through the mallee country, around the Great Bend, to the lignum swamps and the anabranch country and the juncture of the Darling, its milky waters running strongly after the winter rains;    the Darling with its flat grey plains, sage-coloured now with the rain, its stunted boxtrees, and the saltbush that glittered like a fairy tree in moonlight.

The river, which had been more than half a mile wide and thirty feet deep at the Great Bend, began to narrow.   As they sounded they could feel the rocky bars that were to make navigation so treacherous in low water.  George rarely left the wheel from now on, and the barge was towed astern.  “There are turrible reefs here, Tom.   Ye need to be awfu’ canny.   There’s rooks and sandspits as well as snags.   If ye’re coming doon on a rising river, watch oot!”  They were going very cautiously through a bad patch of river.   The water was confined between huge black boulders of hideous shape, and it moaned as it rushed between desolate overhanging banks that smelt of damp and rotting vegetation, a primeval smell as old as the ancient Carboniferous forests.

When they tied up to refuel – simple matter of going ashore and chopping wood – they found that the place was alive with snakes – black snakes, brown snakes, tiger snakes, snakes of all sizes.    Nobody knew why they liked being just there;  but steamer crews which followed the ‘Albury’ learned to avoid refuelling on that particular stretch of river.  Young Tom, fresh out from Scotland, shivered and asked if they were poisonous.

“I dinna ken and I’m no expeerimentin’,” said his cousin drily.   “But the rocks are going to be more dangerrous than ony snakes.”  At last they reached Moama, and here for the first time the ‘Albury’ struck trouble.


The return of Francis Cadell and his steamer from Swan Hill to Goolwa was in the nature of a triumphal  procession from station to station.

On Tuesday September 27th, four days after leaving Swan Hill, they approached Poon Boon Station, “and here”,  writes the chronicler, “awaiting our arrival, we found the wool consisting of 220 bales, averaging 200lb a bale.   This, the first fruit of the river, and the first oargo of the “Lady Augusta’, was received with all due ceremony, the first bale being hoisted with one of the crew to the masthead of the ‘Eureka’…”

It was a proud day for Sir Henry Young and for Francis Cadell.   The pleased station owner, after giving a dance in celebration for the visitors, watched the little steamer disappearing round the bend below his homestead, towing behind the barge with his wool for the distant market*   It was the beginning of a trade which would run into millions of pounds per year.

On went the ‘Lady Augusta’ downstream, past lagoons and anabranches and billabongs borne on the surface of the mighty river into which flowed every creek, tributary, and major stream in four thousand square miles of territory, the vast Murray-Darling basin.   She passed the painted red cliffs above what is now the irrigation settlement of Mildura.   At the South Australian border a group of settlers was waiting with illuminated addresses, and at Chapman’s station a flag fluttered bravely, bearing in Gaelic the greeting:   “A hundred thousand welcomes”.

On went the ‘Lady Augusta’, singing her song of triumph as the power of forty horses turned her shaft and her paddles thrashed and thumped through the water.   The natives of the lower Murray stood on the banks to stare, or fled in terror at the extraordinary sight and sound.

“You can take her on her next trip,” said Francis Cadell to George Johnston, “While I see about putting more steamers on the river.”

“Aye, and when the river falls, we’ll ha’e to do something aboot a’ these snags,” said Johnston.

“That could be done with some sort of a crane using power from the engine, no doubt.   It might be worth building a steamer to do nothing else but clear the channel. ‘Twould pay us in the long run.”

“Aye.   Yon’s a braw river, but dangerous.”

“Dangerous!   Man, you don’t know what danger is.”

For as they followed the river further inland, and frosty nights of stars were followed by warm, sunny days, George Johnston took a swim from the decks every morning whether the steamer was stationary or not.    He would dive off the deck forward of the paddle-box, let the great wheel thunder past above his head, and swim under water until clear of both vessels;    then he would swing himself up into the stern of the barge.   At first the others, watching him, gasped with fear as he took a header into the river just ahead of the thrashing paddle, to come up smiling in its churning wake, shaking himself, like a great shaggy bear.

The ‘Lady Augusta’ returned to Goolwa on October 15th, just fifty days after her dramatic departure upstream. At Wellington they had found horses waiting to take the Governor back to Adelaide, but he refused to leave the steamer. He wished to share in her triumphant return.    The Lake was kinder to the big steamer than it had been to her little rival.    The waters were placid enough to mirror the headlands, and as they came round the last bend in the late afternoon Goolwa lay bathed in glorious sunlight, and beyond the sandhills the mist thrown up by the crashing surf took on an almost heavenly radiance. Tom Goode was one of the first to greet the wanderer returned.

“What cargo?” he sang out to Cadell up in the wheelhouse. “Pour hundred and forrty one bales o’wull, a thousand bonny sheepskins, and a grreat quantity o’ tallowi” called the captain, his emotions getting the better of his rolling R’s.   A mighty roar of delight came from the ‘wharfies’ at they ran to tie up the ‘Eureka’.    No cargo was ever unloaded with more enthusiasm than that first cargo brought into Goolwa on Goolwa’s first barge.

Captain Cadell and his officers went down to Adelaide to an official dinner in his honour given by the  Legislative Council on October 26th.

Once again Cadell was overcome at the storm of applause which greeted his appearance- Many speeches were made.    Perhaps the most unconsciously ironic was the one made by Edward Stephens:

“Let us indulge the hope,’ he said, “that Captain Cadell in his little steamer, will not only be the pioneer of civilization to many portions of the tributaries of that noble river, that he will not only extend and consolidate commercial relations, and promote the mental and physical improvement of the people – but also be the bearer of the olive branch of peace to all the districts through which he may pass; that these important and rising Colonies, which may justly be called the brightest gems in the diadem of our beloved Queen, may on the great Murray fraternize with each other, forget all past jealousies and differences and form a happy, prosperous and united people…”

Today the empty river flows round the elbow, a silent reproach, a reminder of those bitter inter-colonial jealousies which helped to strangle her trade.  The Legislative Council had three gold medals struck to commemorate the auspicious opening up of the steam navigation and commerce of the Murray and the first arrival at the Goolwa of river-borne wool.   One was for Sir Henry Pox Young, one for Captain Francis Cadell, and the third was deposited with the records of the Legislature of South Australia.

There was none for William Randell.

In the Council’s proceedings for that year is recorded the complacent message of the Governor on the completion of the trip:

“The Lieut-Governor (Sir Henry Fox Young) is happy to state that Captain Cadells voyage to 150 miles beyond Swan Hill, 1450 miles from the sea” (this was rather a generous estimate) “is concluded safely; and announces the arrival at The Goolwa of the first river-borne wool, produce of the vast basin of the Murray.”

“On board the Lady Augusta. Goolwa,
Oct. 1953.”


The settlers up-river combined to present Cadell with a “memorial”;   it consisted of a golden candleabrum with an emu and kangaroo supporting a sheep in gold and silver filigree.  It was presented to Captain Cadell in l854»   “In remembrance of an adventurous and chequered career at Home and in the Antipodes.”

The ‘Lady Augusta’ had acquitted herself to the complete satisfaction of the whole colony.   Forgotten were the stormy days of Governor Hindmarsh.    The capital and its port were too firmly entrenched and established for anyone to fear the rival claims of the South Coast.   Adelaide’s business men at once appreciated the golden vista opening up before them.    The trade of the Murray River and her tributaries was a ripe plum waiting to fall into the lap of South Australia.   How right Sturt had been!   The richest asset of the colony was indeed this mighty river.   Everyone read and repeated the words of William Randall in the ‘Observer’, at the end of his official account of his trip – the saga of the ‘Mary Ann’:

“We were much astonished to find a stream so little known and hitherto almost unexplored,  presenting so few obstacles, and those comparatively so easy of removal.”

“Just fancy!” they said.    “What have we been about? All these years, the colony has been founded, why has no-one done anything about it before?”

And in a tremendous burst of enthusiasm two companies were promptly formed and two private bills submitted to Parliament, to establish trade on the river.   One ordinance granted a charter to a number of prominent  Adelaide men, led by George Elder, to form a company of £50,000 in £25 shares to be called the River Murray Company.   The other authorised a charter to be granted to William Younghusband, George Young and Francis Cadell to form a Company of £60,000 in 6000 shares of £10 each to be called the River Murray Navigating Company. Both companies were fully paid up almost immediately.   On the first of November the Legislative Council recommended the payment of £4000 to Captain Cadell conditional to his placing two other vessels on the River Murray in no way inferior to the Lady Augusta.   At first he was given a period of three years in which to comply.   This was later shortened to eighteen months, then once again on January 9th he was allowed the three years.  The conditions read as follows:

“Within 18 months after December 1853, two additional steamers of at least 40 H.P. shall be placed on the rivers.   These steamers shall navigate the inland rivers from Goolwa to Albury on the Murray, to Gundagai on the Murrumbidgee, Port Bourke on the Darling, and Seymour on the Goulburn. There shall be at least two commercial trips each year by one or both of said vessels or any other equally efficient steamer.

This bond shall not be forfeited if due to dry weather or shoal water navigation is insurmountable.”

The following advertisement appeared in ‘Young’s Adelaide City and Port Almanac, 1856’.

It was Cadell’s answer to the conditions imposed by the Legislative Council.

“River Murray Navigating Company.
Lady Augusta Line of Steamers
Incorporated by Charter.
Capital £60,000 paid up.
The Company’s fleet, consisting of the following
vessels, ply regularly on the River Murray and

its tributaries during the seasons


Lady Augusta     Wooden Paddle Steamer             40 HP

Albury                   New Iron   “        “                              50 HP

Gundagai             “ “              ”          ”                              50 HP

Darling                  Wooden Barge                                  150 ft

Wakool                                 “  “                                          120 ft

Murrumbidgee                 “  “                                                          120 ft

Eureka                  “  “                                                          120 ft

Goulburn             New Iron Barge                                                150 ft

Goolwa                                ”       ”     Steamer               75 HP

Mitta Mitta         ”      ”      ”                                              75 HP


and connecting with the River boats the Company’s swift and powerful Iron paddle steamer ‘Melbourne’ runs between Port Elliot at the mouth of the Murray, and Port Adelaide, making occasional runs to other ports on the coast as the inducement offers.  Particulars of freight and passage may be learned on application to the Company’s offices at:

Goolwa on the Murray.

Prince’s Wharf at Port Adelaide.

Gilbert Place at Adelaide.


An advertisement in the ‘Register’ of Hay 21st, I856 reads :

River Murray Navigating Company.
Cadell’s  Lady Augusta Line.
As everything is now organised steamers will leave punctually from Goolwa on the first of every month carrying goods and passengers.


Freight and Passenger Rates:


From Port Adelaide to: Freight Passage
per ton Saloon Deck
Albury 10/- £15/15/- £6/6/-
Maiden’s 8/- 12/12/- 6/6/-
Swan Hill 10/- 8/8/- 4/4/-
Darling Junction 9/- 7/7/- 4/4/-
Bagot’s 8/- 6/10/- 3/5/-
Jackson’ s and Coomers 7/- 6/-/- 3/-/-
Chambers 6/10 6/-/- 3/-/-
Wigley’s 6/- 6/-/- 3/-/-
Harts 5/- 5/7- 3/-/-
Wellington 4/- 3/-/- 2/-/-


Return rates are the same.   Freight is charged by weight.

The first steamer of this season will leave Goolwa on l/6/l856.
For freight or passage apply to the Officers of the Company or their agents:  W. Younghusband and Co., Princes Wharf, Pt Adel.     Dated 10/4/1856
In the ‘Advertiser’ of July 12th 1858 appeared the following advertisement:

“For Goolwa and Milang, The steamer MELBOURNE will be despatched at 4 o’clock weather permitting on WEDNESDAY 14th inst.
For freight or passage apply to FRANCIS CADELL, Exchange Buildings, Gilbert-place:

or to WM YOUNGHUSBAND, JUNR and Co Port Adelaide

Once again Francis Cadell had appealed to his father for help and once again Laird Cadell had busied himself on his son’s behalf. He arranged for two iron paddle steamers to be built on the Clyde by Napier and Sons, to his son’s specifications.   Prophetically, Cadell called the two steamers the ‘Albury’ and the ‘Gundagai’.

He designed them so that they could indeed go the 1468^ miles up the Murray from Goolwa to Albury, and the 690 miles up the Murrumbidgee to Gundagai.  Judging from the details in the official Shipping Register at Port Adelaide the vessels appear to have been twins, identical in construction, although an eye witness claims that the ‘Gundagai’ was longer than the ‘Albury’.    They were fitted with 50 H.P. engines, their length was 120’ and they had a draft of only 18”.   They were so built that they could almost turn in their own length while steaming.   They were most excellently constructed for their purpose, and were able to fulfil their function of navigating the shallow, snag-ridden reaches with their sharp hairpin bends up at the top of the rivers, just as Cadell planned that they should.   He had a brilliant mind.   He fully understood the problems of the river,
he knew exactly the type of vessel needed, he had an indefatigable and demoted father, who was prepared to go to any lengths to carry out his son’s ideas, and he had a faithful band of Cockenzie boys to take his steamers up the rivers. The River Murray Navigating Company came into existence with every prospect of a golden future.

The ‘Albury’ and the ‘Gundagai’ were brought out in pieces in the Cadell brig ‘Lady Emma’.   The mechanics who had helped to build them came out on the same ship to Port Elliot and brought them overland to Goolwa and reassembled them there. The ‘Albury’ was launched on the 7th of August 1855 and the ‘Gundagai’ on the 1st of September.

Meanwhile in 1854 the Company invested in the Melbourne, an iron paddle steamer of 50 H.P. which had been running between Melbourne and Geelong.    As the advertisements indicate, this steamer was for the purpose of linking Goolwa with Port Adelaide.    The earlier advertisement in the Register shows that it was intended at first to run the Melbourne to Port Elliot, but it is obvious from the notice in the Advertiser of July 12th 1858 that by then the Melbourne was plying regularly through the Mouth, between Milang on the Lake, Goolwa and Port Adelaide.

Captain Cadell, with George Johnston beside him, brought the Melbourne through the Mouth into Goolwa the first time, on August 19th, 1854.  He was intensely nervous and wildly excited.   Possibly because he himself had narrowly escaped drowning there, perhaps for the simple reason that everyone dreaded the formidable barrier, Cadell always feared the Mouth.   He took the channel at full speed, as if anxious to get the ordeal over.

“Staidy the noo,” said Geordie.   “Tak’ it easy, mon.  Feel your way.   Half speed and gang saftly, the whiles young Tam ca’s the daipths.”   Although he was so much the younger, he always had a steadying effect on Cadell, who was quick to realise that here was a man of outstanding ability, a born navigator who handled the wheel of his ship as a good horseman handles the reins, with sensitive, gentle hands. A shudder ran through the steamer.

“My God,” said Cadell, “I’ve done it, she’s aground! If I lose her now, we’re ruined.”

“Nay, gi’e her fu’ steam, she’ll pu’ her way thru the noo!”

The Melbourne came through at the price of a slightly damaged rudder and rudder-pin.

She was scheduled to go out again on August 28th with a party from Adelaide, consisting of Captain Lipson and Captain Hart (both enthusiastic advocates of the new Port Elliot) William Younghusband and the Honorable Samuel Tomkinson, both members of the Legislative Council, and their wives, and several other ladies and gentlemen.   The party were to be taken from Goolwa to Port Elliot through the Mouth by sea, and brought back to Goolwa on the new railway.  The morning of August 28th dawned and the Melbourne’s rudder and rudder-pin were still in John Dance’s smithy.   Captain Cadell was nearly beside himself with impatience and exasperation.   He tore the rudder out of the unwilling hands of the blacksmith.

“But I tell ee, it’s not ready!”  shouted John Dance.

“I don’t care,” roared Cadell,   hoarse with annoyance and the effort of making himself heard.

“Give me the rudder.  The Melbourne’s due to sail in an hour, you dunderhead!”

He had a native there in the smithy with him. “Come on, Jackie, help me carry.”

Together they got hold of the rudder and the pin.

“I tell ee, half’s missing,” yelled the furious blacksmith.  “You can’t put it in like that.”

“I can and I will.    I’m not holding up my steamer for anyone or anything.   This’ll get us through the Mouth.”

Dance followed the two men out onto the River Road, and stood there with his arms folded watching them hurrying off towards the wharf.

“Crazy b—,” he muttered.   “He’ll drown the lot of them going through the Mouth.    Then there’ll be trouble.    It’ll be the end of Goolwa.” He spat disgustedly, and brushed his hands.

“Not my fault,” he remarked to two lads waiting outside the smithy with a horse to be shod.   “I told him he couldn’t have it till this afternoon.”   He threw the rest of the Melbourne’s rudder into a corner.   “Come on, let’s get on with a job I like doing,” and he beckoned to the lads to bring the horse over to him.

Off went the Melbourne, on time with George Johnston at the wheel.   He had spent a lot of time down at the Mouth, sitting up on Barker’s knoll watching the current, going through over and over again in a small boat, sounding as he went, at high and low tides, and in different winds.    He was a patient man.    Also he was completely without fear, and that probably had a lot to do with his mastery of the Mouth. One of the first things he did was to swim across the passage just as Barker had done.    He was a great admirer of Barker.

“Yon was a terrible trragedy, an’a grreat loss tae the colony.    He wud never ha’e condemned the Mouth, like yon Cap’n Sturrt!”

Geordie never forgave Sturt for his wholesale condemnation of the Mouth, and would growl, “Inpracticable indeed!”   Having learned all he could about the Mouth with a small boat, now he was to take his first steamer through.    As she approached the dreaded Scylla, some ten miles from the Goolwa wharf, there was great excitement among the passengers. They all rushed up forr’ard to see the famous Bar of which they had heard so much;    but Johnston would have none of it. “They must go below,” he said to Cadell.

Cadell was most unwilling.   He was trying to impress everyone as the suave, perfect host, the debonair captain, the confident navigator showing off the docility of his river.

Yet he was wild with anxiety over the rudder which, as he knew only too well, was loose and liable to let them down at the crucial moment.

“Ah canna pay prroper attention tae the lad soonding wi’ a’ that crood chitterin’ an’chatterin’.   Send them doon, Sir,”   Johnston begged, and at last he managed to prevail on Cadell to usher the main party down into the saloon.  The Honorable Samuel Tomkinson, recounting the adventure in after years described the silence and a feeling of acute unease which came over them all.   They had been going along at full speed, then suddenly the boat turned and began to pass out through the dreaded passage at half speed.   The paddles appeared to be barely turning.  The hiss of steam was drowned by the thunder of the surf.   A cold mist hung over the river and the sandhills and seeped through down into the saloon.  The day was a pleasant one, the sun was shining, but there was quite a stiff southerly blowing,   Down in the saloon they began to shiver.  A man stood at the right hand side (no starboard on the river) with a long pole, calling out the depths every few seconds.


“Twelve feet she is,” said Geordie,  looking steadily out across the bar to the open sea.   Whether Cadell had told him about the rudder, history doesn’t reveal.

“Eleven… ten… ten and a half… ten… nine…eight and a half…”

In the saloon, the Honorable Samuel asked in a low voice, “What does she draw, Captain Cadell?”

“Barely six,” was the answer.    Actually the Melbourne drew six foot eight loaded.    Cadell managed to speak in a casual voice, but the sound of his heart was ringing in his ears, and his tongue was dry with fear, a physical fear of capsizing, and a mental dread of failure…    And yet, in spite of his own personal dread of the Mouth, in spite of the faulty rudder, he suddenly felt confident, and he spoke again:

“Captain Johnston understands the Mouth well.   He has studied it at all times, in all moods and weathers;    we are in most capable hands, gentlemen.”   And his quiet confidence in the man at the wheel completely reassured the whole gathering.

“Eight!” called the man with the pole.

“Eight… eight and a half… nine… ten… ten and a half”

Geordie, who had been holding the wheel in an agony of concentration, began to relax.

“Ten… eleven… twelve… fourteen… fifteen…”

” We’re over,” said Captain George Johnston, master of the ‘Melbourne’, taking her through Mouth for the first time.

The Honorable Samuel, gazing back at the dark channel of water that they had just passed through, saw to his astonishment what was quite obviously the rudder disappearing into the distance behind them.    The Melbourne completed her run to port Elliot minus her rudder, but without other mishap.   At Port Elliot the party disembarked with mutual expressions of felicitation and congratulation to all concerned. Leaving the officers and crew of the Melbourne behind they then installed themselves with some trepidation and excited interest, in what was already affectionately known as ‘the Truck’.    Actually there were two trucks, with about twenty passengers in all, drawn by a pair of horses.   All the trucks were fitted with powerful brakes, known as screw skids. These brakes are worked with a handle, which screws the skids down on the wheels.  There was a steep gradient in the railway track at the Port Elliot cutting, and there were other sudden dips and rises.   As they came over one of these, Mr. Tomkinson (to whom we owe the account of this exciting day) was sitting beside the driver, and he saw a truck piled high with wood at the bottom of the slope, near a railways hut.    “Put your brakes on man!” shouted the Honorable Samuel.   The man turned the handle furiously, but the horses broke into a fast canter. Mr. Tomkinson realised their danger.   He stood up and turned to the people behind.

“Do as I tell you,” he called.   “Stand up and shout.”   Without panic, both men and women did as he said; they all stood up and shouted at the top of their voices.

The horses cantered madly on; by now they were almost in full gallop. Still the driver tried to apply the brakes at the same time as he tried to pull the horses up.

“Hold up your hands, and yell,” shouted Mr. Tomkinson.  This time the women began to scream in terror, and the men yelled harder than ever.    Suddenly some men ran out of the hut, and at great peril to themselves, they dashed over to the truck standing on the line with its load of wood, and pushed it over off the track, just as the horses shot past with trucks and passengers.   As they began to go uphill again, the driver was able to pull the horses to a standstill, and none was hurt.  It was some years later that Mr. Tomkinson enquired about the two incidents, the disappearing rudder, and the faulty brakes.    He learned that the impatient Cadell had set off with the Melbourne minus half her rudder, and as for the brakes, “Oh, you see,” said Mr. Jones, the Railway Superintendent, “I put a new hand on that morning specially for the party, and he didn’t know how to work the brake, for he turned the handle the wrong way!”


The Melbourne plied faithfully between Port Adelaide and Goolwa for over five years.    George Johnston was her master till he took over the Albury in 1855.   He often towed loaded barges, and on one occasion a barge was grounded and capsized in the channel.   Her master was Robert Ross, another Cockenzie lad, who had come out as mate on the Lioness.    He was thrown into the water, and Johnston promptly went over the side and rescued him, the first of many lives saved by the man who was to receive a medal for saving fourteen people from drowning in his lifetime.

In August, 1856, Captain Johnston took the Governor, Sir Richard Macdonnell and his wife, and several other members of the Legislative Council, in the Melbourne, with the barge Eureka in tow, to inspect the Beechworth and Ovens Goldfields, carrying about 160 tons of stores for settlers and diggers.  He kept her plying up and down the Murray after that for two years, as far as Albury and Wahgunyah, with barges, and then she went back to the Port Adelaide – Goolwa run.  On November 16th, 1859, with Captain Barber (another Cockenzie skipper) in command, she broke a bottom plate while crossing the Bar.
She struck the eastern bank and was wrecked.    There was no loss of life, but the Mouth had claimed another victim.   This is an extract from the log of the Melbourne’s last voyage:

“At 1.50 eased steam at the Signal Station to ascertain whether there was sufficient water on the bar for me to cross.   The signalman replied, there was… at 2 p.m. the vessel struck on the bar.

After she struck I ordered the engines reversed, and on doing so the vessel floated;  I ordered the engines a-head and proceeded over the bar. The engineer came and reported that the vessel was making a great deal of water in the engine-room and it was gaining on the pumps…All hands bailing with buckets… I consulted with the Chief Officer and we came to the conclusion to turn back at once, which I did. I then re-crossed the bar, and whilst doing so, the water gained so fast that the fires were put out; as soon as the vessel stopped, I let go the anchor…

Ordered the Chief Officer to launch the boat and take two with him;   in doing so the boat overturned in the surf, they swam on shore;   the cable parted and the vessel drove on shore, stern foremost;    one of the men volunteered to swim on shore with a line, which he did, and made fast;   he then brought back the ship’s boat; I then landed the female passengers and children… Landed the rest of passengers..this was about 6 p.m.   At 8 p.m. all hands left the steamer, except myself… the steamer Albury arrived, with Captain Johnston..

Captain Johnston came on board with lifeboat; finding, from the state of the sea, that it was not safe to stop on board the Melbourne, I went on shore with him.    Left the vessel at 10.30 p.m.

”At daybreak next morning, I found that the vessel had broken up and cargo washing ashore; we at once commenced saving all we could..”
This happened in fine weather, with a very light south- easterly breeze.    If a southerly had sprung up, and she had bumped up and down on the hard sand, she might have broken up before any of the passengers could be saved.  In evidence at the board of inquiry afterwards, Captain Barber said he considered the loss of the vessel to be due to ‘the shoalness of the channel, and to striking on an uneven bottom of hard sand.’

Only a few months before the wreck of the Melbourne, the latest report of the Port Adelaide Harbourmaster Captain Douglas, had been very dubious about the Mouth:

“The change in the depth of water on the bar, is the most serious feature in the alterations which have taken place since my surveying it in 1857; and can only be attributable to the shifting of the banks inside, and the washing away of Barker’s Knoll… Taking the average height of the Knoll at 75 feet, the width 150 yards… it may be estimated that 1,012,500 tons of sand have been removed, and it is probably… deposited in the vicinity of the bar… There does not appear to be more than five feet at low water over this impediment to the safe navigation of the river…” Immediately after the wreck, Mr. P. A. Nation, Harbourmaster of Port Elliot, was despatched to the Mouth to take soundings on the bar.   He waited from January 7 to 27 without the seas moderating enough for him to do so;   but from the top of the Signal Station flagstaff he came to the conclusion that “in the present apparent absence of a deep channel, it would not be safe for a vessel to navigate the  entrance.”  Yet Captain King had taken the “Corio” in and out some two hundred times, though she too was wrecked in the end; and Captain Johnston was later to make the route through the Mouth a regular highway.   He even traded for a while direct from Goolwa to Melbourne.   “Impracticable” or “perfectly safe for shallow draught vessels”?   The truth seems to lie somewhere between, for the channel itself is never the same.

It has changed beyond recognition in a hundred years, Barker’s Knoll has disappeared and the Mouth has moved steadily to the east.  Even in the few weeks between one surveyor’s visit and another’s, the ever-shifting sands could be scoured out and re-deposited elsewhere, deepening or shoaling the channel.   There were “good years” and “bad years” for navigation.  Cadell had the misfortune to be caught at the end of a good period, when the entrance was changing for the worse, with his best ship and a cargo of wool.   With the loss of the windjammer “Josephine l’Oiseau” at Port Elliot as well, having the Company’s cargo on board, his River Murray Navigating Company had received a mortal blow.

go to chapter 11


A new wave of excitement swept down the river and across the broad Lake to Goolwa.   Everyone in the town began to talk of William Randall’s “Mary Ann”.   After all, Cadell’s was not to be the first steamboat on the Murray;   a young farmer a hundred miles upstream had been quietly working at his own independent plans.   The steamer Mary Ann cost William Randell about £1800 to build.   Fifty-five feet long, with a draught of only three foot one inch, she was built at Gumeracha with the aid of local carpenters, in the hills north-east of Adelaide.   Her eight-horsepower engine had a square boiler of iron plates riveted together, with chains wrapped round it as a safety precaution to prevent it from bursting.  William Bandell had never navigated a river in his life.  He knew nothing of boats, but he understood steam engines, for his father used steam for milling flour;    and his dream was to navigate the Murray River which flowed past his father’s property at Mannum.  After his first voyage in the Mary Ann, Randall senior recorded his doubts and his pride in his son’s achievement in his diary:

March 18th 1853.

Elliott Samuel, Jamieson, Allan, Mrs Randall, Hannah Swaine, the Misses Rowlands, Bessie, William
and self with man and boy, took a pleasure trip in the Mary Ann steamer down the Murray, about twelve miles to Mr Barker’s station, which she accomplished in something less than one-and-a-half hours, with all on board much gratified.  We… returned home to tea, all parties much pleased and thankful for the day excursion.

At night we united in prayer on board the Mary Ann, and earnestly prayed the Father of mercies  to bless the young man in this undertaking at large, which he so courageously engaged in, namely to be the first steam navigator of that beautiful river the Murray , though I see myself very little chance of remuneration  and requite  to the immense outlay of time, money, etc., the great anxiety he has been exposed to in this undertaking – notwithstanding he has accomplished his purpose.   He has won to himself (under God’s blessing) laurels that no man can deprive him of – inasmuch as he must stand to all posterity The First Navigator of the Great River Hurray.   May God in His mercy in His Own way succour his undertaking.”
“March 25th, 1853-  William started on his trip up the Murray about twelve noon today.”

“April 14th. 1853.

William has returned this morning from his Murray trip, having discovered that there is not sufficient
depth of water at this season of the year.   He has been absent about three weeks.”

After his trial excursion up the river on March 18th, William loaded the Mary Ann’s cargo for up-river;   her first cargo, the first ever carried on the River Murray, consisted of:   112 bags of flour, 25 bags of bran, 65 bags of sugar, 5 bags of biscuits, 400 lbs of tobacco, and 4 cases of sundries.

The shadow of troubles to come fell across the little steamer as William tried to clear his cargo.   The customs official at Mannum refused to clear it, and he was forced to take her 100 miles down stream to Goolwa, across the treacherous waters of Lake Alexandrina.   Nothing daunted he set off, and was given a tremendous reception on his safe arrival at Goolwa.   The Governor, by now a very familiar figure on the Goolwa wharf, made a special trip with his wife and a party from Adelaide to greet the little steamer, when it was known that she would have to come to Goolwa for her customs clearance.  Swans, shags, ducks, gulls, pelicans, every bird on the river rose in clamorous protest as the quaint little vessel came chugging and thumping, rattling and hissing through the headlands, Point Sturt and Point McLeay, round the bend of the river to Goolwa.    Every soul on the South Coast was crowded along the river bank to see the strange sight. For the first time a thick cloud of smoke rose into the sky from the tall funnel dwarfing the steamer.   For the first time the outline of paddle boxes moved over the river’s surface, rather like a clockwork broody hen squatting on the water.
“There she blows!” sang out an old whaler, as she appeared in view.

“Some whale!” came from a wag in the crowd.

“Thank God she’s through the Lake!” came from many of the hundreds lined along the bank, for the wind was strong, and they knew only too well how treacherous Lake Alexandria could be.   Already the sense of river kinship was quickening the pulse of the Goolwa folk as they welcomed the first steamer on their river, although she was stealing the laurels from their own hero. They cheered and cheered:    how they cheered!   They fired a nineteen gun salute.    The “Mary Ann” blew her whistle in acknowledgement.   The Winsbys flew a special flag made for the occasion, half Union Jack and half Stripes and Five Stars representing the five colonies, after the style of the American flag.   The crowd broke into ‘Rule Brittania’, and then into ‘God Save the Queen’, and after the Governor’s speech of greeting they sang ‘Eternal Father’.    It was a day of great emotion.   It seemed such a wonderful thing that this strapping, bronzed young farmer, who had never done anything else but mind cattle and grow wheat, should have planned, designed and made this brave little ship.

Cadell was in Sydney when the “Mary Ann” came to Goolwa.  He was very angry and bitterly disappointed at the march stolen by the “Mary Ann”, and much afraid of having his prize snatched from him.   But although the honour of being the first steamer on the river could never be taken from her, the “Mary Ann” could not compete for the bonus, she was altogether too small, and Cadell was reassured by Younghusband, who watched so carefully over his interests.

“You need not fear, my dear Frank,” he wrote, “provided you are able to get your steamer to the junction of the Darling and back with cargoes, the bonus will be yours.”

However, the bonus was the last thing to worry poor William as he went through all the unpleasant formalities with the Customs officer over the clearing of his cargo. The Goolwa people were very hostile towards this Customs man, a stranger in their midst, for his rude behaviour to Randell. It was bad enough that he should have been forced to bring his cargo all the way down the river and especially through Lake Alexandrina before being able to set off on his journey to the goldfields, but to have to submit to being treated as if he were a thief and the worst type of criminal adventurer, this was too much.   There were many men hanging around the wharf after dark only too anxious to help the officious interloper into the river by mistake!

At last the cargo was cleared, the red tape dealt with, and the “Mary Ann” set off back up the river again. Once again she blew her whistle.   Once again steam began to hiss from the safety valve, and the square boiler began to expand and contract, and the chains that kept the plates from bursting apart, rattled and shook.   Smoke poured from the funnel and once again every bird in the vicinity rose into the sky in screaming protest as the “Mary Ann” set off once more on her travels.  Anxious eyes watched her disappearing round the bend, and many a deep-water man shook his head as he looked up at the sky.

“Ah doan’t like t’look of t’weather, an’ that’s a fact,” said Sam Shetliff.   He had skippered his ship through many a storm in the North Sea and he knew the feel of dirty weather only too well,    “It gets rough, all reet, in that lake. Ah hoape he gets through safely, with yon boat.   Ah reckon he doan’t knoaw mooch about handlin’ that there wheel.    He knoaws nowt about boats. Ah wish Ah could ha’ gone wi’ him,” said the kindly Yorkshireman.  There were others who felt like Sam.   And they were right.  The little vessel all but capsized as the southerly drove wave after wave across the lake.  Many a man with a deep sea ticket following in Randell’s footsteps later found the lake tricky for those shallow steamers.

“It’s one thing to ride big waves at sea,” one of them said, “but in the Lake they come at you short and sharp, and with these shallow-bottomed boats if they catch you broadside they’ll turn you over.”

News came back of William’s safe return to Mannum. A few weeks later Goolwa shared his disappointment at having to return on account of the low river.   Cadell by this time was back in Goolwa.   He did not conceal his satisfaction at the news, and there were several fierce rows in the bar of the Goolwa Hotel.   Although most longed to see Cadell succeed and they awaited the arrival of his steamer with an impatience almost as keen as his own, they all had a soft spot for the “Mary Ann”.   “He’s game, that Randell,” they said, “and he’s no fool, making that boat, engine and all, himself.   Even if she has got a square boiler.”   “Young fool,” growled Cadell.   “Probably blow himself up.   Hope I’m nowhere near when he does!”   Their admiration riled him.    He was becoming increasingly bad-tempered as the weeks went by and one delay after another kept holding up his steamer.    He had hoped to get her on the river by the end of 1852, and the half of ’53 had gone by and still there were delays.

At long last, on the sixteenth of August, 1853, the ‘Lady Augusta’ was rushed through the Murray Mouth by Captain Davidson, who had brought her from Sydney to Port Elliot.   She was tied up beside the new Goolwa wharf, and half the colony came to have a look at her.   She was a fine paddle steamer, with side paddles, built of New Zealand pine and honeysuckle timbers, 105 feet in length, with a 21 foot beam and two twenty horse-power engines.   She had accommodation for eight first class and sixteen second class passengers and she carried a crew of eight.   Cadell had her fitted up with the very latest in comfort and attractive furnishings in view of the illustrious passengers she was to carry on her maiden journey – the Governor and two Members of the Legislative Council, several ladies, friends of Lady Augusta’s, a representative of the press and the two chroniclers of the voyage, Mr Kinlooh, clerk of the Legislative Council, and James Allen, his junior clerk.   All the fittings were made of cedar.

Today, in the Goolwa Church of England, stands an elegant cedar table, long and even narrower than a refectory table, one of a pair which graced the saloon of the ‘Lady Augusta’.   A delightful sketch of Goolwa in 1853 shows the ‘Lady Augusta’, with her two tall funnels, lying at anchor near the Goolwa wharf.   It gives a good idea of how the people lived in those earliest days.   There are huts and tents scattered along the bank.   The only stone buildings are the Goolwa hotel in the distance, the goods shed beside the wharf with its circular roof, and the Railway Superintendant’s house with its strangely tall chimneys and scaffolding, waiting for the roof to be added.   The barge, “Eureka”, is tied up alongside the “Lady Augusta”, and smoke is pouring from the steamer’s two funnels.   In the foreground in a two-masted whaleboat there is a lady dressed in her very best crinoline and poke bonnet, and in another boat with one sail, sits a grand gentleman in a topper, accompanied by another poke-bonneted lady, and manipulating the sweep is a man who appears to be in the livery of a footman!   So presumably these were some of Adelaide’s grand gentry there to bid the Lady Augusta and her namesake Godspeed.  The ‘Eureka’ was a splendid barge, a credit to her builders.   Her overall length was a hundred and six feet, her beam twenty one feet and she had a capacious hold with a depth of eight feet.   In the words of the chronicler:   “On August 23rd, 1853, Miss Eliza Younghusband, amid a profusion of bunting and the expenditure of some pretty tri-coloured silk, broke a bottle of champagne over the craft, and the Eureka was launched.”   No doubt the trimmings for the occasion were supplied by the Goode Emporium:  and Eliza wore a wreath of wildflowers round her head.  That night there was a public dinner for Captain Cadell.  This time his health was drunk in champagne.   He was feted and congratulated in speech after speech, and when at last
he rose to reply he was quite overcome.  For once his ready tongue failed him.   At last he managed to say, that in attempting to open up the Murray for trade he had not been inspired by mercenary motives;   his ambition was “to wake up this mighty but hitherto torpid stream”.

Two days after the launching of the ‘Eureka’ the great day dawned.   Everyone dressed in their Sunday best. Every South Coast settler came, in dray, on horseback, on foot, even on the backs of bullocks.   Many parties came from Adelaide, both by sea to Port Elliot and overland by horse and carriage, to bid farewell to the ‘Lady Augusta’, with wildflowers round her head.

That night there was a public dinner for Captain Cadell.  This time his health was drunk in  champagne.   He was feted and congratulated in speech after speech, and when at last he rose to reply he was quite overcome.  For once his ready tongue failed him.   At last he managed to say, that in attempting to open up the Murray for trade he had not been inspired by mercenary motives;   his ambition was “to wake up this mighty but hitherto torpid stream”.   Two days after the launching of the ‘Eureka’ the great day dawned.   Everyone dressed in their Sunday best. Every South Coast settler came, in dray, on horseback, on foot, even on the backs of bullocks.   Many parties came from Adelaide, both by sea to Port Elliot and overland by horse and carriage, to bid farewell to the ‘Lady Augusta’ with Captain Cadell in command, George Johnston at his side, and a mixed crew of Aborigines, Indians, South Sea Islanders and a Chinese cook.    They began getting up steam early in the afternoon.    At last, after a special luncheon, many speeches, the flying of flags and bunting and the firing of a salute, the Governor and his party went aboard, the ‘Lady Augusta’ blew her whistle and off she set up the Murray river at six o’clock on the evening of Thursday, August the twenty-fifth.  A Mr Kinloch in his diary of the ‘Lady  Augusta’s voyage notes: “Passed the boundary of the Colony at 10.0 a.m. on the 3rd…Passed Lake Victoria and anchored a little beyond the Rufus River entrance;   at 2 p.m. on the 6th arrived at Moorina, E. Bagot’s station lately sold to the New South Wales Government and used as a police station.   Anchored opposite Macleod’s Public House on the Darling.   On the 8th reached William’s cattle station, and Mildura station owned by Jamieson brothers…”

James Allen in his account of the trip at this point tells how they saw, as the steamer was approaching William’s cattle station:   “Mrs Williams, the wife of the owner of the station, valiantly struggling with an obsolete piece of ordnance, a valuable momento of Capt. Sturt’s exploratory voyage.   She had heard of Captain Cadell’s promise of a cargo steamer and had loaded her cannon against the time of his arrival.   The day came round, the ‘Lady Augusta’ and the ‘Eureka’ puffed proudly round the bend, but the fuse would not do its duty.   A black boy by her side was in similar difficulties with an old carbine, which with a cutlass – both relics of the great Sturt – he was strenuously flourishing in the fierceness of his exultation.    Finally, when the ‘Lady Augusta’ had passed the station about half a mile, her company heard a muffled boom, and saw Mrs Williams waving her handkerchief and making other signs of joy.   She had fired her cannon!”

Meanwhile the little ‘Mary Ann’ was making her steady way upstream.   She didn’t know her spectacular rival was so close on her heels.   (Perhaps it was just as well, or she might have succeeded in blowing herself up.)   At last William wrote:

“When within two days’  journey of Swan Hill, and after having moored the boat to the bank of the river and  gone to rest we were awakened by an unusual noise upon the water, and when we turned out to ascertain the cause of the commotion, we beheld the ‘Lady Augusta’  steaming up-river at the rate of three or four knots an hour.   It was then eleven p.m. and although our sleep had been disturbed we followed in a few hours’ – One can just picture the young farmer, wild with excitement, tossing and turning, trying to sleep, and then getting up steam when piccaninny dawn was barely showing in the east.   He was a great one for a race.|

Later, with one of his bigger steamers, when he was after a cargo of wool, he burned everything he could lay his hands on to put up his steam pressure – even sides of bacon! To proceed with William’s own words, from which emerge the intense excitement and rivalry of that encounter, just as dramatic in its own way as the famous encounter of Flinders and Baudin which gave its name to the great bay at the mouth of the river.

“…we followed in a few hours, and passed her again in the morning.   During the day, however, as we were stopping at a station the ‘Lady Augusta’ came up, and for the rest of the day and night we were not far from one another, in fact we had a race which lasted long after sunset, and during which we passed and repassed each other four or five times. At length we resolved on a temporary suspension of the struggle, and putting off steam allowed the ‘Lady Augusta’ to pass and came-to for the night.   At sunrise we got under way, and arriving at Swan Hill about five in the afternoon, found that the ‘Lady Augusta’ had been there three hours.   This was Saturday.  We remained at Swan Hill till Monday, in the afternoon of which day we started again and steamed up the river till the forenoon of the next Saturday, when we arrived at Maiden’s Inn so called after the generous landlord who has a ferry-punt which also bears his name…Maiden’s Inn is situated a few miles above the junction of the Campaspe River…about 300 miles (by water) from Swan Hill and forms a considerable township.   The punt belonging to Mr Maiden is a large one – whole teams of six or eight bullocks, with their drays and loads are taken over at once with convenience and safety… between Saturday and Tuesday no fewer than 500 head of cattle crossed the river beside about 150 horses…”

“We left Maiden’s Inn on Tuesday a little before noon and arrived at Reedy Creek last Tuesday (11th), having accomplished the whole distance somewhere about 1,600 miles in 12 ½ days steaming (no more).  We left the ‘Lady Augusta’ on the 10th instant at Keams Orr, some distance above the Junction of the Darling, and brought on despatches from His Excellency the Governor and reports for the Adelaide Press.”
Kinloch in his account comments:

“McCullen’s station passed on 14th and the next morning the ‘Mary Ann’ passed us at 5 a.m.”
And Allen notes:

“The ‘Mary Ann’ arrived at Swan Hill at 5 o’clock (Saturday Sept 17th) four hours after the ‘Lady Augusta’.”
These appear to be the only two references made to the valiant little vessel by those who were travelling on her more important rival.    It leaves one with a feeling that Cadell must have been rather a bad sport and a poor loser.  Away down the river went the little ‘Mary Ann’ with her despatches.   William Randell had accomplished his purpose, fulfilled his heart’s desire, and found his vocation. From then on he built bigger and better steamers, and found his way further and further up the rivers, reaching Brewarrina on the Upper Darling and Hay on the Murrumbidgee.   His trading was a success, and there was still a Randell of the next generation left on the rivers long after Cadell had disappeared for good.

go to chapter 9


Young Thomas Goode, was one of the earliest settlers in the town.   He had come up from Adelaide in 1851 and started a chemist’s shop in a tent on the river bank. It wasn’t long before he found himself the local medical adviser as well.   There was no doctor anywhere along the South Coast;   people turned to Tom in all emergencies.
Accidents were common, and a troublesome type of dysentery was prevalent which he was able to treat successfully.  Soon his shop began to expand into a general emporium: dry goods, clothing, hardware, anything he could lay his hands on was sold in his little tent.

“We can’t go on like this!” said his wife in desperation as the tent began to overflow with customers, patients, and young Thomas junior, who was at the exploring stage and had to be rescued several times from trying to sample his father’s arsenic pills or carbolic solution.

“I’ll have to build some kind of a temporary house,” said Tom.   “I must go and look for some suitable timber, there’s nothing big enough hereabouts.”

He set off up the river, with Jim and Harry Winsby a Yorkshireman, Sam Shirtcliffe in two whaleboats.  The Winsbys, who had been drawn to settle at Goolwa by the prospect of future boats to be built were putting their hand to any job going as the new port began to take shape.

Sam Shirtcliffe – soon to be known to all as Shetliff – was a river pilot from Gool on the Humber.   He had his Master’s ticket, and had brought his wife and two little boys from a comfortable home where he had a steady job, to all the uncertainty and discomfort of South Australia, because he believed they would be “bettering themselves.”   A tent on the banks of the river during the winter months was not good enough for his little family.   He was only too glad to join the other men in their search for house-timber.

Everyone knew there was to be a new survey of the town, so they were all unwilling to build anything of a permanent nature.   Some distance beyond the lake, where the river gums grew straight and tall, the four men out the timber and brought it back to Goolwa to be sawn in the pit.   Soon three decent huts of planks and shingle roofs had been built, lined inside with lath and plaster walls.   The shingle made a roof that was cool in summer and watertight in winter, and each hut had a stone fireplace and chimney.  Ellen Shetliff made a pretty little home, spotlessly white and neat, with their possessions proudly displayed.   Sam, like all sailors, was a real ‘handy man’.    One of his first tasks was to make shelves for their books, which had been carefully brought out from home and were greatly prized. There is a list of those books extant, and as no family was more intimately bound up with the early fortunes of Goolwa, it is interesting to see what writings influenced their minds. There was of course the Family Bible.   Then there was Chambers’ Encyclopaedia (no record of the number of volumes), the Universal Self-Instructor, a Dictionary of Daily Wants, Familiar Lectures on Scientific Subjects, French, German, and Latin dictionaries, a Greek lexicon, Wesley’s New Testament, Lesley’s Sermons, Humboldt’s Travels and Researches, Huxley’s Physiography, and Lives of Eminent Anglo-Saxons.   A solid collection;   and in those days the books on people’s shelves were read with great thoroughness.  Amongst other treasures were Ellen’s Grannie’s old rocking chair and a large copper kettle, and the oak chest which had been Sam’s travelling companion on his voyages over the North Sea.  It was in this same little shingle hut by the river that Amelia Shetliff was born, the first white baby girl to be born in Goolwa.  Tom Goode built a sizable shop, keeping the tent for the overflow of all the merchandise he was accumulating. Before long he was made Goolwa’s first Postmaster.  He wanted to establish himself properly with a good stone building for a shop and a comfortable house, but like everyone else he was waiting for the new survey.

This survey was carried out early in 1853.   It was known as the Survey of the Town of Goolwa, (the first one in I840 had been the survey of the Town On the Goolwa). It was done by a party of sappers and miners under the direction of one Corporal Brooking.   The first quarter-acre allotments were sold at public auction on April 28th 1853.  Two buildings were already in the process of construction in the township before this new survey was completed. One was a charming residence for the Railway Superintendant, Mr Jonas.    It stands today, a graceful building of fine proportions in the local limestone with brick coigns and a semi-circular roof.   A photograph taken over a hundred years ago shows Mrs Jones standing at the front gate looking so demure with her ringlets and her crinoline and her handspan of a waist.  The other building was the Goolwa Hotel.    It was built and opened in 1852 by some people called Ray, but it soon passed into the hands of Jo Varco, who became a prominent identity both in Goolwa and Hindmarsh Island, and dabbled in all sorts of affairs besides running an inn.   He raised cattle, milled flour and became interested in the river trade.

He took over the hotel in 1854. That same year a brig, the “Mozambique” was wrecked, like so many other fine ships, on the treacherous sands of the Coorong.

The passengers and crew of the Mozambique were fortunate.  They were rescued and brought to Goolwa.   Mine host, Jo Varco, welcomed them all to his hotel, where he fed and clothed and comforted them till they were able to make their way to Adelaide.   In gratitude for his kindness, for which he would receive no payment, the  captain gave to the Goolwa Hotel from his wrecked ship:

her figurehead, a proud, high-bosomed lady with a fine head of curls; a number of cedar chairs and tables for the dining room; a staircase with cedar banister and rails; a sixty-foot mast and spars, the ship’s piano, and several water kegs.

In 1857 Varco rebuilt the Goolwa Hotel, adding an extra floor of bedrooms and balcony, reached by the ship’s staircase. and spars as floor joists, and on the roof above the stables he set the figurehead.   He filled his dining room with the cedar chairs and tables.   Most of the chairs carried the imprint of human teeth marks.   It was said that the sailors had run obstacle races along the deck with the chairs gripped between their teeth.

When the new land was put up for public auction, one of the first to buy a block was Tom Goode, who bought a quarter of an acre next to the Goolwa Hotel, between the hotel and the land taken up by the railway.   He put his hut on a jinker and had it dragged along the bank and through the new cutting by a team of bullocks and  deposited it in the centre of his block on what was to be Goolwa’s main street, called after her hero, Cadell.   Another section was taken up by William Younghusband at this public auction of land.   It was on the headland to the south of the new wharf, very near the spot where he and Cadell had stood discussing the future of the river and the possibility of a railway.  Right at the point of the elbow bend, the site commanded the best view in the town.   It overlooked the widest part of the river, with a view upstream towards Currency Creek and the entrance to Lake Alexandrina, and downstream towards the mouth.   Here the channel is forty feet deep and the waters are wide as a lake.

The rise where the house stands was later terraced for his benefit, for Younghusband was by then South  Australia’s Chief Secretary, a man of great importance in the Colony.   The long spit of land which separates the still waters of the Coorong from the foaming breakers of the ocean was named Younghusband Peninsula after him.  He built a spacious house with stone walls two feet thick, some of the rooms below ground level for coolness in the hot weather, and with cedar mantelpieces whose red grain has turned to gold with a hundred years of sunlight to bleach them.   He called his terrace Admiralty Terrace (now wrongly named Admiral Terrace).   It was not long before George Johnston bought the next block.    Later he was to build on it, after he’d gone back to Scotland to wed Lizzie Barclay, the fine house he had always hoped for – “Cockenzie”, after the village they both came from.  After the 1853 survey, buildings rose rapidly. Most were built of the local limestone with brick coigns, the bricks fired near Port Elliot.   The old Post Office, the Stables for the truck horses, a massive stone shed with a semi-circular roof on the wharf, for the receipt of cargoes; the Customs house, the Police Station and the Court House all belong to this period.  Apart from Adelaide, no place in South Australia can show a finer collection of early Victorian buildings. There
are also many weatherboard homes standing today, more than a hundred years later.

And the people who lived in them then?  They were all fairly new arrivals from the Old Country:
women with warm triangular shawls wrapped about their shoulders, with poke-bonnets shielding their complexions from the bright sun and wind of the Antipodes. There is Mrs. Goode in a long apron, sweeping out the store one morning early.   In come two women wrapped up against the cold southerly, for the weather has been bleak and wintry.  One of the women is thin and dark, the other rather short and plump with red hair and apple cheeks.

“‘Morning, Mrs Goode”, says the dark one.
“Good day, Mrs Shirtcliffe.   Cold, isn’t it? Looks like rain.   Just as well, with all the crops that’s been sown.   Only this wind dries the ground so quickly.   How are you, Mrs Johnston?   Are you settling down in your new house?”

“Och, it’s nae sae bad!” says Lizzie Johnston, shaking her red curls. “But I expected it to be hot here, an’ it cold!   It’s far wurrse than Cockenzie.”

“Aye, we all feel the winters here,” says Ellen Shirtcliffe
“We joost abaht froaze in a tent, the furst year.   We’re nice an’ warm now, it’s surprizing how coazy a wooden house can be.   My Sam’s building us a proper house oop on ridge there.  He’s afraid of river floodin;   and besides there’s plenty o’ stoane on the land, to build with.   Boot Ah doan’t knoaw when he’ll finish it, he’s that busy.”  “What parrt o’ Yorkshire d’ye come frae, Mistress Shirtcliffe?” asks Mrs Johnston.

“From Goole.   My Sam was a river pilot on the Humber.”
“Aye, is that so?   My husband was mate on the Cadell ships.   I suppose most o’ the men that come here will be frae the sea.   Have ye been here lang?”

“Mrs Goode an’ I were the first two women here, weren’t we, Mrs Goode?   Us an’ Mrs Sumner, the baker’s wife.” Mrs Goode smiles and nods.

“I hope you’ll be very happy here, Mrs Johnston. I suppose you intend to settle here, if your husband’s one of Captain Cadell’s men.” “Aye.   There’s James Ritchie’s wife cam’ oot with me in the ‘New Britain’.   I’m thinkin’ before long Goolwa will be like a parrt o’ Cockenzie.   Captain Cadell’s tellit the lads sae much aboot the river, they’re a’ wantin to come, ye ken.” As they talk a young woman walks into the store, a girl of nineteen or so.

“Good day to you, Mary Kineef,” Mrs Goode greets her with a smile.

“Good day, Mrs Goode.   Mrs Moore was wantin’ to know if ye’d be having the things she ordered.   Boots for the boys, and the printed calico?   Those boys are growing that fast!”

The girl is pretty as a painting:   her copper curls tied back with a blue bow, her colleen’s eyes smudged in with a smoky finger, dark blue under long lashes; and she talks with a soft west-country brogue.

“Mary’s been with the Moores since she arrived, Mrs Johnston;   travelled all the way from Adelaide in a bullock dray, with a cask of beer for a seat.   And her new parasol blew up into a gumtree with a whirly-wind and frightened the birds…   Two miles up the river she lives, at Laffin’s Point, and minds those two limbs of Satan, the Moore boys.”

“Ah, you mustn’t say that, Mrs Goode!    Shure it’s a bit woild they are, but now isn’t that natural in a boy?”

“Mrs Johnston’s husband is skipper of the Melbourne,” says Mrs Goode.

“He’s the one who made the first chart of the river, sounding and marking the channel all the way to

“Aye, so I heard.   My Sam says he’s got more sense than Cap’n Cadell, he rooshes at things too much,” says the Yorkshire woman in her blunt way.

“Ma Geordie says it’s a river that winds an’ winds, an’ there’s turrible snags an rrooks, he says.”

“I loike foine to see the steamers goin’ past the Point”, says Mary Kineef.

“The boys an’ me, we always watch them pass.”

So the women talk, as Goolwa women were to talk for many years to come, of river boats and river business.   The broad Yorkshire dialect, the harsh burr of the lowland Scot, the clear English accents of the home counties, and the soft music of County Heath, talking of the great river which is to bind them to it for the rest of their lives – little Mary Kineef, who is to marry Captain Henderson, another Scot with a deep-sea ticket;   Ellen Shirtcliffe or Shetliff, whose Sam is to put the biggest steamer on the river and call her after his loyal wife;    and Mrs Tom Goode, whose sons would marry Johnston girls, Geordie’s nieces.

Many a trip they would make up the Murray on board their husband’s boats, and always they would keep a daily check on the river levels as they waited for their men to come home.

go to chapter 8