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,
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|
|Jackson’ s and Coomers||7/-||6/-/-||3/-/-|
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