Chapter Eight THE RIVAL LADIES

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