Chapter Twelve: THE BEGINNING OF THE END.

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