Chapter Six: THE BRAVE “LIONESS” & THE FIRST WOOL-BARGE

Sir Henry Young became more enthusiastic and determined than ever after his expedition. Like his predecessor,  Governor Hindmarsh, he believed most fervently in the importance of linking the river and a deep-sea port on Encounter Bay.  The difference was that he was a tactful man who knew how to force an issue and still preserve his popularity, and above all, he had the power, the financial power, to carry his scheme to completion.  In the face of fierce opposition he linked the river and the sea – not with Strangways’ canal. (How different the history of Goolwa and the river would have been if he had allowed himself to be guided by the wisdom of those two early surveyors.)  Yet the contours of the land were begging for a canal to be cut.  An open waterway from Goolwa to

the sea – nothing could then have killed the river trade, or stopped boats from going up and down the Murray.

It‘s impossible not to hear Cadell’s persuasive tongue describing his father’s railway to the Governor, or at least to William Younghusband.

“The horses pull the waggons with such ease,” he says.  “Once the tracks are laid the expense is negligible. ,The horses wear special shoes which prevent them from breaking up the track…”  At any rate, a railway it was that came into being and linked Goolwa- with what? The safe harbour surveyed for Hindmarsh by Captain Crozier, and recommended by him, and by Strangways and  Hutchinson? The safe anchorage in the lee of Granite Island?  Alas, no! It seemed as if fate was determined to play tricks with the South Coast.  If Sir Henry had ridden just once along the foreshore from Goolwa to Horseshoe Bay when a south-easterly, or even a southerly was blowing up to gale force, and then climbed up to Freeman’s Nob to stand like the lookout watching the horizon for spouting whales, through a curtain of spray flung a hundred feet in the air by the savage rocks, – even he land-lubber that he was, would have realised that no ships could hold at anchor in such a small exposed bay in a storm.  If then he had battled through the howling gale just another three miles over the crest of the hill to look down on one of the loveliest views in the world, and seen the calm water protected from the gathering storm by Granite Island, his vivid, constructive mind could so easily have visualised the protective breakwater, the causeway to the mainland, the Wharves and port facilities that Crozier, Strangways, Hutchinson and all the South Coast settlers had foreseen and so ardently desired.

But no.  He and Captain Lipson chose their port, and he called it after his great friend Sir Charles Elliot, Governor of Bermuda. He set to work to get the railway built and the wharves and moorings constructed at Goolwa and Port Elliot, in spite of formidable opposition in Adelaide.  The Governor believed that the opposition was entirely due to the jealousy and vested interests at Port Adelaide and said as much in his despatches to the Colonial Secretary. This was true in part, but there was also an honest belief prevailing both in Adelaide and along the South Coast that Port Elliot would prove dangerous and quite unsuitable as a harbour.  Unfortunately Governor Hindmarsh, who had knowledge and experience of the sea, was defeated by his own temperament and lack of authority in developing the South Coast; while Sir Henry Young, who knew nothing of ships and the sea, had the personality and the power to carry out his scheme on his own initiative.  For the truth is inescapable. So surely as Sir Henry was responsible for the birth of the river trade, so surely was he responsible for its ultimate death, at least as far as his own State was concerned.  Let us try to sort events into some sort of chronological order;

In June 1849 the Governor proposed to open up the Murray by cutting a canal from Goolwa to Encounter Bay, not very far from the outlet of the Hindmarsh River at Port Victor. In April 1850 he reported that he had examined the coast, and he favoured Freeman’s Knob (Port Elliot) as the seaport for the river.

Two months later he persuaded the Legislative Council, if somewhat reluctantly, to offer a £4,000 bonus from the general revenue for the first two iron steamboats of at least forty horsepower, and a draft not exceeding two feet, to navigate the Murray as far as the junction of the Darling. This was advertised in England as well as Australia and the public notice stated that owing to “the great surf which constantly broke at the most dangerous and indeed impracticable mouth”, the Steamers would have to be put together on the river.

In June Sir Henry referred to the opposition by the colonists in a despatch to the Colonial Secretary in the following words:  “I regret to say that there is a narrow feeling prevailing to restrict the shipments from Encounter Bay to a mere coasting trade with Port Adelaide, whither vested interests want to direct the traffic across the mountains, a route evidently circuitous and costly as compared with the advantage of river navigation to Goolwa and the shipment by sea at Port Elliot.”  Replace Port Elliot with Victor Harbour, and Governor Young’s statement is as true today as it was one hundred years ago. Today we lift every ton of produce from the rich lands along the Murray and its tributaries over mountain ranges to one of three capitals, while our river lies completely empty and deserted except for the water-skiers, launches and a few catamarans in summer.  Almost from the day Sir Henry Young landed in the colony, people sensed which way the wind was blowing, and the river once again became a favourite topic for conversation and argument. Feeling was just as violent as it had been in the days of Governor Hindmarsh. The pros and cons of river transport, of the river port, of a suitable seaport, the enigma of the Murray Mouth, these were once more subjects for heated discussion all over the colony, and the echoes of these arguments reached jealous ears as far away as Port Phillip and Sydney.   Gradually people began to drift down to ‘the Goolwa’.  Curiosity took them there, and then something held them – a dawning realisation that the wide waters in front of their eyes had come all the way from the borders of Queensland and the great watershed of New South Wales, from the gold diggings at Bendigo and the rich lands of the Riverina.  People’s ideas had travelled a long way in twelve years.  Governor Hindmarsh and the early colonists could only think of the sea, and a port that linked them with their distant homeland and the scattered settlements along the coast.  The overlanders droving stock across from New South Wales

the diggers back from the goldfields, the very fact of being here, gradually created a sense of the land itself, of the inland, of Australia, huge, sprawling continent, of which the coast was but a small part.  The river was the main artery, the life-blood of the eastern part of this great land. Sir Henry Young realised it, and suddenly others began to realise it too, and they came down to ‘the Goolwa’; to look at the wide sweep of water, so near the open sea.  They pitched tents and built huts and waited for things to happen. Although the sea was only three miles from the great bend, and the thunder of the surf crashing onto the beach often permeated all other sounds, yet this was another world altogether, this world of the river and the inland waterways.

The men who made their homes in Goolwa became Australians in the true sense long before anyone else.  Fifty years before Federation, these men of Goolwa were to integrate Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia with their lives and their talk, their boats and their cargoes.   Bourke, Hay, the Campaspe, Wilcannia, the Warrego, Echuca, the Namoi – these were names that were soon to be heard in the Goolwa streets far oftener than Adelaide or Melbourne or London.  Men who had started an argument over a pint of beer in Albury 2,000 miles away would finish it standing against the bar in Goolwa.  The Goolwa children soon knew that a rise in the waters of the Indi and the Macquarie meant Papa home for Christmas; and these children adored their fathers, for there never was a happier breed of men than the river men who first came into being in Goolwa.

There was excitement, anticipation in the air; questions, and a certainty that something was about to happen. Like a magnet the river drew men from all over South Australia, from the other colonies, from the coastal towns and villages of the British Isles, from the ports of the world, men who belonged to boats and ships, whose lives had been concerned with water.  The whole colony was keenly interested in the Governor’s whaleboat trip down the river. When he stepped ashore near Sturt’s Landing, in October 1850, with his wife and his infant son, it was, as it were, the birth of Goolwa, the official recognition of the terminal port of the River Murray the Vice—regal blessing on what could have been the New Orleans of Australia.  Sir Henry Young stepped ashore not far from the spot where Sturt had landed twenty years before. Sturt and his men had come ashore weary, half starved, bitterly disappointed at such an inglorious conclusion to such a mighty river, and above all, facing and dreading the prospect of having to row back up those terrible winding miles of water once again. But Sir Henry was glowing with health, tanned with sun and wind after his weeks in the open, and wreathed in smiles of confidence and proud satisfaction at his achievement, and the knowledge he had gained from it.  The boat was dragged well up the bank. Hundreds of excited people were there to greet the party. Dozens of eager hands were stretched out to help them to land. Cheer after cheer broke out as the Governor bent down to take his little son from Lady Augusta. The men crowded round to help her and the other ladies from the boats. Lady Augusta picked up her skirts and walked carefully across the marshy bank to the track where a bullock dray was waiting to take the ladies to Port Elliot. An audible sigh of pleasure could be heard in the crowd as she stood beside her husband and their baby boy, and smiled at the people who  clustered round them, especially the few women.  These were early days, and not many families had come to the river as yet.  There were no buildings, only a few huts and a number of tents scattered along the bank. “Thankyou for your welcome,” said the Governor. “I hope that this journey we have made down the river will prove to you and the rest of the colony that the Murray is safe and navigable. Where a baby can go, surely the rest will not be afraid to follow!” and he laughed as he held his little son high above his head. “You people of the Goolwa, you have faith in the future of your river — your presence here at this early stage proves it. I believe more than ever now that you, here, hold the future of this colony in your hands — in fact of this whole great land. The Murray is yours and you will make of it the commercial highway of the Eastern colonies.” He looked around him at the eager faces, and felt almost prophetically confident of the future. “You shall have your wharves and your sheds, your railway and your seaport. Yours will be the proud privilege of putting cargoes from the four corners of the world onto the steamers tied up here. I am sure from the little I have seen that boats will be able to go far up the Darling and the Murrumbidgee as well as the Murray itself, at any rate during the wet season. And these boats will bring back to the Goolwa the wool and the wheat from every settlement along the three big rivers and even the smaller tributaries.

Thousands of miles of river front will be reached from this port.  “I hope too to see you building boats, perhaps even the engines and the boilers to drive them – and barges, for these, I am convinced, are the best way of transporting wool, which is such a bulky cargo. God bless you all and the great future you have on this magnificent river.”

Two months later Sir Henry Young’s project, in its entirety, received the official blessing of the Colonial Secretary, and permission was given to spend up to £50,000 on the necessary works. Labourers flocked to Goolwa. Bullocks dragged huge Wagon-loads of materials over the hills from Adelaide.  Architects, surveyors, engineers, draftsmen, came with their instruments and their sketch books. In 1851 construction went ahead, and by the time Francis Cadell arrived back in South Australia at the beginning of 1852, the ports of Goolwa and Port Elliot had been furnished with moorings, the wharves had been built, much of the railway track was laid and the cutting at Goolwa almost  completed.  Oadell had gone home via Singapore to his family and his Cockenzie “lads”. His father had built him a new ship, the Queen of Sheba.  Meanwhile Geordie Johnston had grown up.  He had apprenticed at fifteen to Captain Donaldson of the schooner Mary Donaldson, and was not long back from four years at sea.  He was courting the bonnie Lizzie Barclay but hadn’t put enough by yet to get married.  Johnston was one of those who listened spellbound to the Laird’s son as he talked of his adventures in the Antipodes, and especially of that great river explored by Captain Sturt, of its difficult entrance and its unused miles of waterway.  Here was a new land where his dreams might come true, where a man of courage and enterprise might make his fortune, and end up owning his own ships like the Cadells themselves…  Off went Cadell again with the Queen of Sheba to San Francisco, where he loaded passengers and cargo for Sydney.  He made several trips round to Adelaide, each time seeing Younghusband again and falling more under his influence.  He had not yet built in Goolwa, but the town was expanding rapidly. Everyone was waiting for something to happen on the river. There was great excitement when Cadell and William Younghusband and a Mr Saunders, the new harbourmaster at Port Elliot attempted the passage of the Mouth.  Their boat overturned in the breakers and the three men were nearly drowned. Disappointment was intense among the settlers. They felt that the river had once again disgraced itself. They knew that Cadell had plans for putting a steamboat on the river to try for the Government bonus of £4,000.

“He’ll never do it now!” they said, remembering the wave of feeling after the tragedy of Judge Jeffcott.  However, Cadell was still undaunted. In May 1852 he offered to place a steamboat on the river, a contract was drawn up and he agreed to have it ready by November. He had once again appealed to his father for a ship – an iron-hulled steamboat of shallow draught.  Evidently he had it in mind to fulfil the contract with this vessel built at home.  His father responded by supplying him with the brig “Lioness”, which he had built in Liverpool, an iron vessel of 75 tons, to be sailed out with her paddles and paddle-boxes stowed below.  She cost £5,500 to build, and was sailed down the French, Spanish and African coasts, across to Brazil, then round the Horn and across the Pacific to Melbourne, without once entering port.  Her master was Captain Robert Kay, Mate Robert Ross, Engineer George Gibson, cook Avery – all Scotsmen – and her crew were George Johnston of Cockenzie, and his friends and cousins James Ritchie, William Barber and John Barclay, all to become river skippers on the Murray.  By the time the “Lioness” had reached Melbourne Cadell

had made arrangements in Sydney for the construction of a wooden-hulled steamer.  Whether he intended to put both vessels on the river at once in order to claim the full bonus is impossible to say. Whatever his intentions, he was offered £21,000 for the “Lioness” within five weeks of her arrival, and needless to say he sold her.  It is to be hoped that he gave the master, officers and crew a bonus from the profits of this quick sale, for the voyage had been a perilous one: and the Cockenzie men, all Cadell apprentice seamen, had signed on as volunteers at one shilling a month!  Another factor that may have caused him to sell the “Lioness” was her iron hull, if she arrived after the

experience of his trip down the Murray by canvas canoe.  It was in July of that same year that Francis Cadell carried out this magnificent exploit, which gives him the right to a place among Australia’s great pioneers and explorers. Like Sir Henry Young, he wanted first-hand information, and being a shrewd, hard-headed Scot, he wanted to reap the fullest profits out of his very first trip with his steamer. So he had a collapsible canvas boat made in Melbourne and took it up to Swan Hill on two packhorses, collecting four gold diggers at Bendigo on his way up to the river, to come down to Goolwa with him as crew.  The frame of the boat was smashed before they reached Swan Hill. They made a new framework from rough timber cut out of the scrub and set off down the river 1300 miles to Goolwa in a boat 21’6″ long 3’8″ wide and 1’8″ deep, a crazy contraption of canvas and rough wood, which he aptly called the “Forerunner”.  He was just the man for an expedition of this sort. His adventures on the Amazon had taught him rivercraft. His golden tongue talked the diggers into going with him and  the settlers all the way down the river into believing his promises. They were overjoyed at the thought of the steamboat which was to put them in touch with the amenities of civilisation and a market for their produce. His river sense was quite amazing. The yielding quality of the canvas took it safely through the deadly snags which were such a menace all the way along. In his own words: “It was surprising, the rough usage the canvas from its yielding nature, stood.  We would often go rushing over a branch or snag, expecting to see it every moment protruding through the boat’s bottom.” The boat was snagged once during the whole voyage, and he simply took her in to the bank and put on a patch with needle and thread, caulked it once again with mutton grease and continued on his journey. He took twenty-two days to go from Swan Hill to Wellington, where he procured a heavier boat for the lake crossing.  It was probably on this expedition that he realised the superiority of a wooden hull over an iron one. The iron hulls were all too easily snagged and impossible to repair in rough-and-ready fashion.  The river men learned to do amazing things with the timber available along the banks.  It would seem that Sir Henry Young was in agreement with him on this point, for although the notice of the bonus specified an iron steamer no demur was made when it was known that Cadell’s steamer had a wooden hull.  Cadell had seen a great deal of the Governor during the year. He was a man after the Governor’s own heart, with the courage, skill and determination to carry out Sir Henry’s most cherished scheme. He and William Younghusband spent many an hour at Government House discussing ways and means.  He had long since, like the rest of the colony, lost his heart to the Governor’s lady. They had much in common. She knew the sights and sounds, the dangers and the beauties of the river, just as he did.   So Francis Cadell asked and was granted the Governor’s gracious permission, and called his ship the “Lady Augusta”.   In August he arrived back in Goolwa, down the river in the whaleboat with his four diggers pulling the boat, proudly towing his little canvas “Forerunner”, and with a long list of orders from the settlers all the way down the river from Swan Hill in his pocket. The crowd that welcomed him as he stepped ashore near Sturt’s Landing went nearly crazy with excitement.  He was the hero of the hour.

“Three cheers for Captain Cadell”  they shouted.  “Long live Frank Cadell Hip, hip, hurrah” they yelled, and seizing hold of him, they hoisted him onto the broadest pair of shoulders in the town, and carried him off with his diggers in triumph to a feast rapidly prepared in their honour in Tom Goode’s new hut, where enormous quantities of Murray Cod, baked native style, and young lambs roasted whole, were washed down with rum and home—brewed beer. It was the town’s first real celebration and it was a good one.  Everyone wanted to hear about the trip. Questions flew thick and fast. And of course, the burning question, the one that came from the heart of everyone there was:

“What about your steamer, Cap’en Cadell?“  “When will she be ready? Is she to be assembled here? Or will you try to bring her through the Mouth? Will she be on the river by the end of this year? Who’s building her?  What’s her draft? What tonnage? Will she have an iron Hull? Have you given her a name yet? How far up the river d’you reckon you’ll be able to take her?”  “Gentlemen, gentlemen!” protested Cadell, as he stood up to answer the questions hurled at him from all sides of the packed hut. “One at a time! First of all, when will she be ready? Not this year, I’m afraid. There are many difficulties to be overcome. A shipbuilder by the name of Chowne at Pyrmont in New South Wales is building her. She’s to be timber built.

“The river will have to be carefully charted in dry weather,” he went on. “I did as much as I could, but the water was too high. There are rocks and snags, and sandbars at each bend. It should be possible to move most of the dead trees with the right equipment. “The name of my steamer? my secret till she is launched,  gentlemen; but I promise you she shall have a name worthy of her destiny. I hope to navigate her as far as Swan Hill, and considerably further with a high river. I have as yet no specifications, but she will have to have a very shallow draft, which will limit her capacity. Judging from this first list of orders which I gathered on my way down,” Cadell pulled a paper out of his pocket, “mainly wool to be brought down, I shall need a barge as well. I should think a steamer could pull two barges or even three if necessary. It will be rather tricky to navigate, for the river winds and twists so much, and there are so many snags to avoid, but I’m sure that I, and many others, will soon learn all the tricks of our river.”

He paused and smiled, for he knew that his next piece of news would be received with great enthusiasm – it was the news they were all longing for – the placing of an order for boat-building in Goolwa.   “I want to build a barge. And I propose to have it built in Goolwa, if you think it can be done.”  This statement produced cheers which shook the walls of Tom Goode’s hut.

“The Winsbys,” everyone shouted, “they’re your men!  They’ve got a slip nearly ready, by Sturt’s Landing there, and a shed nearly built.”  The two brothers were brought along and introduced to Cadell. “That’s a good strip of beach where we have our slip,”  they said, “protected from the main stream, shelving well into deep water. We’ve been building boats all our lives. Our dad’s a boat builder, Bristol way.”  Before the evening was over Cadell and the Winsby brothers had come to an agreement. Next morning he went along to Sturt’s Landing, and there in the damp sand with a stick, the three men drew the first sketch of what was to be the first barge on the River Murray, the “Eureka”.

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