Introduction: The How, Why and Wherefore of this book
The drawings and the stories for this book were collected in and around Goolwa between 1950 and 1960. This is the explanation of how it all happened and how the book developed into its present form…
I gained my degree in medicine and surgery at Manchester University in 1935. I married in Bombay in 1936. I went home to have my first baby in Manchester in 1937 and met for the first time a much loved sister of my mother’s who had spent her married life in Australia married to Dr. Frank Mathwin, for many years doctor at Port Broughton. After his death she came home for a trip with her daughter – we liked each other very much
and she gave me a very pressing invitation to visit South Australia with my husband and baby. Many British people in India spent their annual leave visiting Australia on the P&O ships.
The war came in 1939 and I got a most loving letter from her offering a home to me and my children (two by then) if Donald should be posted to the Middle East. In September, 1940 we were in Calcutta. Donald was ordered to the Middle East, my baby boy was very ill after a dreadful attack of dysentery, I gratefully telegraphed to my aunt and we landed in Port Adelaide on October 14th, 1940. What a welcome! I shall
never forget their warmth and generosity.
My cousin had married a descendant of the original German settlers in South Australia and was living in Tanunda. The children and I spent many many happy weeks there. I was fascinated with the stories of the German settlers, many still speaking German and above all worshipping in German, yet loyally fighting for Australia in this bitter war against Germany. The war memorials tell only too sadly the price the Barossa Valley paid in two world wars.
This is what drew me to read all about Wakefield’s dream and the settlement of white people in South Australia, determined by Act of Parliament in 1836, almost a hundred and fifty years ago.
Another event that tied my love and loyalty to South Australia, apart from my children’s wonderful health, was my commission as Captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps in charge of the Blood Transfusion Service in the Freemason’s Hall on North Terrace. I was so proud of my uniform and my rising suns, the only woman in South Australia commissioned into the men’s army.
When the Japanese were defeated I took the children back to India. My husband had been able to come on leave so I had a nine months old Aussie baby born in Mount Lofty – one born in Manchester, one born in India, and now one in Australia.
I went back expecting to pick up life as 1 had left it, like the happy years we had spent from 1936 to the outbreak of war. I did not dream that within two years the partition of India would confront us. What to do? I had been very happy with the children here in South Australia, so Donald brought us over to find and make a home here while he went back to spend a last six months in India trying to tie up loose ends. He had a very responsible job in Ordnance to hand over.
Meanwhile, I looked for somewhere to settle. It wasn’t easy after all the confusion of the war, but somehow we found ourselves in River Road at Goolwa, opposite the Captain Sturt camping ground.
I had no medical work and so I looked for something else to do. My deep interest in the history of South Australia sent me delving here and there, all over Goolwa, the quiet ghost town. It was easy to find people who remembered going up the river on the paddle steamers with their grandfathers. I began to write down their stories. I looked at all the old buildings, and gradually the river history began to shape itself in my mind and then on paper.
Two wonderful people appeared to help me. My husband and I went to England in 1956, and on the way back we met Harry Rolland, a famous architect and Commonwealth Director of Works, who had built Canberra from Burley Griffin s plans. He started in 1913, and handed over the city to the Duke of York (later George the Sixth) in 1928. Later he planned and built Alice Springs when Director of Works here in Adelaide. When
I saw how beautifully he could draw I begged him to come and draw Goolwa. Retired, widowed, lonely, he agreed and for three years he came for about three weeks perhaps four or five times a year and drew everything that was precious and beautiful in and around Goolwa.
My ‘book’ was a hopeless uncoordinated muddle. I gave my manuscript with the drawings, to a much-revered man of letters at Adelaide University whose family I had known well during the war. I shall never forget him standing on some steps at the University with my manuscript in his arms. “Leslie!” he said. “What on earth have you written? A document or a novel? An autobiography? A collection of anecdotes? What a muddle!
But there is so much in it, and of course the sketches are exquisite. Do try and do something sensible with it.”
Along came my second wonderful person, Nancy Cato. She was living in Goolwa at the time. She already had a number of highly successful books to her credit and above all she loved the River Murray and Goolwa. She took my muddle, added to it much of her own knowledge, worked for six months and produced this book, River’s End. A third wonderful person was Dr. Norman Tindale, anthropologist, who had spent many years studying the Narrinyeri, the Aborigines who belonged to the river. Recently a full blood aboriginal born at Point McLeay told me that he had been about ten years of age when Dr. Tindale went to live with his people there. He said it was because the elders of the tribe loved and trusted Dr. Tindale that they told him their stories, for they were very silent secret people.
When Dr. Tindale met me and read what I had managed to put together he gave me all the myths, stories, beliefs that he had been given by the elders of the Narrinyeri, and he gave me permission to include them in my book as a permanent tribute to those wonderful people who had belonged to the river for thousands of years.
I have just had the great pleasure of meeting Dr. Tindale again after all these years, and ne has given his blessing to this book and to my use of the name ‘blackfeller’ rather than aborigine’ because of its poetic sound. He also confirmed the story about the Encounter Bay tribe singing to the whales, and told me that there is evidence that they were using porpoises to bring in the fish!
Thank you, Nancy Cato. Thank you, Harry Rolland. Thank you, Dr. Tindale.
Lastly I must add one more thank you. I had great difficulty in trying to publish the book. Then in 1960 I became a Medical Officer at Northfield Mental Hospital – 1200 patients under the care of Dr. Salter with only three doctors on his staff. I was the fourth, and for twenty-one years I worked at the hospital which later became Hillcrest.
There was no time to think about books! It was people that mattered. However, I retired three years ago, and with all the publicity about South Australia’s 150th anniversary I began to think of my book, River’s End. Harry Rolland’s pencil sketches were nearly twenty-five years old. But our Senior Pharmacist at Hillcrest, Peter Ruch, is a gifted artist, and he took Harry’s drawings, copied and strengthened them, making them young again. The majority of drawings in the book are Peter Ruch’s copies of Harry’s sketches. Thank you, Peter. . .
* * * *
Today I am sitting quietly in my little office, so generously given to me by Hillcrest Hospital when I retired, and thinking about the past. We moved from the house on River Road at Goolwa, to the original old house built by
Younghusband the Chief Secretary in 1854. It stands on Admiral Terrace high above the river at the exact point of the elbow. We can look far up the river towards Point McLeay and down as far as the Barrage.
We still go down to Goolwa most weekends and from our verandah watch the sun and the moon rise above Hindmarsh Island and make a path of light across the water opposite our house. Many of the old buildings appearing in this book have been demolished or altered beyond recognition. But more and more people are coming to Goolwa today and building new houses. They are interested in the past, and the Goolwa Museum is doing wonderful work keeping old memories alive. I hope this book will add to the history of our town and our river. Let us not forget that in the early days Goolwa supplied the needs of the Eastern States, and played a
great part in the development of early Australia.
And that’s the how, why and wherefore of this book. . .
Leslie Margaret McLeay
Chapter One: Goolwa the Ghost Town
“Though most men are contented only to see a river as it runs by them,” wrote Sir William Temple, “yet he that would know the nature of the water… must find out its source…”
Equally he must seek out its end, for when a great river at last approaches the sea it is most truly itself.
Here are gathered together all the streams, trickles, tributaries and back—waters of which it is formed, from the far—off source to the sea.
The Murray River, which cuts off a wedge—shaped slice of the Australian continent in its south-eastern corner, ends at Goolwa Beach in South Australia. The last and widest section is called the Goolwa Channel. Here one of the oldest and most interesting towns on the whole length of the river grew up in the paddle—steamer days.
Goolawa or Gulwa was the local aborigines‘ word for “elbow”. They bestowed it on the last great bend of the Murray, where the river holds Hindmarsh Island in the crook of its arm. After this it turns and cuts a way through the barrier of sandhills to the sea.
Along the beach great heaps of empty cockleshells can be found in the sandhills, and digging reveals further layers beneath the sand, with the charcoal of old campfires. For this was a gathering place of the tribes, a place for meeting and feasting for thousands of years before the white man came.
Sometimes the wind uncovers a skeleton. Sometimes the glance of a smoky dark eye, a creamy complexion, or thin brown legs proclaim the aboriginal ancestry of a local inhabitant. Otherwise little trace remains of this once handsome and numerous race, who wove seaweed cloaks and made garments of kangaroo skin and built shelters to keep the cold. south-west winds away.
Like the blackfeller* with his stories and traditions the river-boats and their captains have disappeared from Goolwa.
(*After much thought I have used the word “blackfeller” in my book, as I love its liquid poetic lilt, rather than the harsh-sounding ‘aborigine’. In no way is it meant to be offensive, as I have the deepest respect and affection for these people.)
The old graving-dock has been towed upriver to Mannum. The beat of hammers and anvils at Graham’s foundry is heard no more; the slips where many steamers and barges were built are gone, and the last paddle-steamer settles deeper in the mud. She is the sternwheeler Captain Sturt, which helped to build the first locks on the Murray and the series of barrages at the mouth to keep the salt sea out of the river and the lakes. Her bottom is filled with cement, and she didn’t even move in the great flood of 1956. Her owners simply moved to the top deck and let the water flow through. Where once the boats unloaded at the bustling wharf, all is deserted except for the young Australians – “New”, “Old” and “Oldest” — who swing from the idle cranes and drop into the water about the sunken wreck of the Renmark. The Invincible hides away among a jumble of launches
and houseboats. The William Randell and the Cadell, named after the two rivals who were first to navigate the Murray by steam, lie side by side on the bottom with the old Melbourne barge. The chunk-chunk-chunk of paddles, the gentle chuff of steam, and the shrill thrilling whistle of paddlewheelers departing for Morgan and Mildura, Wentworth and Wilcannia and Bourke, are heard no more. Goolwa has become a ghost town.
The imposing courthouse and gaol have little use these days. The Signal Station at the mouth, built in the days when George Johnston took cargoes regularly from the river to the sea, has crumbled away with disuse. Though sometimes, with mistaken zeal, it is whitewashed, the local limestone weathers to a mellow gold when left alone. The old stone walls fronting the houses on Admiralty Terrace, the magnificent round—roofed stables which sheltered the horses that pulled the train to Port Elliot, the charming home built for Mr Jones, Superintendent of the railway — all blend with the sunburnt grasses and the blue—green river as though they had grown there like trees. ,
Just as the murmur of history sounds under the somnolent everyday calm of Goolwa township, the voice of the sea is an ever-present undertone. When the “bald sou’easter” beats up the channel, rippling the surface into choppy waves, the never-quiet surf is lashed to a menacing roar as it beats on the open coast beyond, out of sight behind the sandhills.
So it sounded when Captain Charles Sturt crossed those sandhills, the first white man to do so. That was in 1830, a hundred and thirty-five years ago.
“Our situation was one of peculiar excitement and interest. To our right the thunder of the heavy surf, that almost shook the ground beneath us, broke with increasing roar upon our ears; to our left the voice of the natives echoed through the brush… “
That night the moon was nearly full, silvering the wide reach of river. It was such a lovely night that Sturt, who had intended leaving at dawn to cross the sandhills to the coast rather than drag the boat over the intervening mud-flats, called the others at three a.m. With McLeay and Frazer he crossed row after row of sandhills. The tide was in, and they had an uncomfortable walk in the soft sand for seven miles before they came to the narrow mouth of the Murray. They reached it just as dawn was breaking, and stared with dismay at that inhospitable coastline, with its curving rows of foam like the bands of white lace edging a shawl.
“The mouth of the channel,” wrote Sturt sadly, “is defended by a double line of breakers, amidst which it would be dangerous to venture except in calm and summer weather; and the line of foam is unbroken from one end of Encounter Bay to the other. Thus were our fears of the impracticability and inutility of the channel of communication between the lake and the ocean confirmed.”
Indeed this is one of the grandest, loneliest sights in the world, akin to the terrible peaks of the Himalayas. Standing alone on the Ninety-Mile Beach one has the feeling of General Bruce regarding Nanga Parbat: “It gave one a feeling of impossibility; it gave one also a feeling that one wasn’t there, and that if one wasn’t there, it didn’t matter…”
The whole fury of the Southern Ocean, unbroken by any land between here and the Antarctic, beats upon this shallow sandy coast. It can make little mark upon it, and “the league-long rollers” pound in vain. A cold white spume drifts inland, shrouding the sandhills in perpetual mist. After days of southerlies the foam becomes solid, scudding along the sand like soap-suds.
Occasionally with a north wind the thunder of the surf is subdued, but not the massive swell. Captain Johnston, the “River Murray spaniel”, a man of great strength and a remarkable swimmer, is one of the few men who have gone overboard into the breakers at the river’s mouth and lived to tell the tale — he and the man he saved, the master of the Eureka barge.
Many others were drowned, including Captain Blenkinsop and Judge Jeffcott, who had gone through in a small boat to prove that the mouth was navigable and Goolwa an ideal site for the capital of South Australia. Many steamers and barges went aground there, but many others made the passage safely. George Johnston took the “Melbourne” steamer in and out on a. regular run round to Port Adelaide, nearly a hundred years ago. On Admiralty Terrace, Goolwa, high above the river bank, stands the stone-walled house built by Younghusband of the River Murray Navigation Co. ; and “Cockenzie”, the big house built by Captain Johnston for his wife Lizzie. Between them was a lookout, where watch could be kept for steamers coming through the Mouth, and a cannon was
kept for signalling. Up would go the flag on the signal station, and out would go Lizzie Johnston to fire her gun to announce the arrival of the Melbourne by way of the channel Sturt declared unnavigable. How proud she was of her man!
He plied hack and forth in his ungainly-looking steamers, side-wheelers with high, topheavy superstructures and very shallow draught. He brought out from Scotland the finest of them all, the Queen of the South, which was to prove that the Mouth was safe in all weathers. Alas! the ‘Queen of the South’ grounded on one side of the channel; a grand piano was thrown overboard and washed up, an unlikely wreck on Goolwa Beach, and George Johnston lost the bonus promised him by the Government.
Francis Cadell too lost his famous Melbourne and once was nearly drowned in the river entrance he was first to open up to trade. For it was he who brought the Johnstons and the Ritchies and the other Scottish skippers out from Cockenzie, to build cottages in the style of their home town so that Goolwa was given the name of “Little Scotland”. Almost all the houses in those days were solidly and attractively built of the local limestone with brick coigns -as were the Institute, Landseer’s flour mill and the big Customs shed.
In those days Goode’s store in the main street was the largest in the Colony; there were three hotels, three churches, two breweries, three boat-building slips, a sawmill and a foundry. A train ran to Victor Harbour four times a day.
The river alongside the wharf was jammed with steamers, the Customs shed overflowed with wool and wheat and hides, the town was bursting with life and activity.
In the 1860’s Abraham Graham built at least twelve vessels, (with iron hulls that later had to be sheathed in river gum, which becomes harder than iron under water) and supplied engines for nine of them. Today no trace remains of the foundry except the old beam engine which used to haul the steamers up onto the slip. It stands today near Sturt’s Landing, by the children’s playground. The rest of the machinery from the foundry went upriver long since to the pumping stations of the irrigation settlements, to help turn the Murray water into the gold of sultanas and oranges.
Graham’s Castle*(*now acquired by University for adult education), which he built with profits from the foundry, still stands on the high land looking towards the open sea. It has foot-thick walls, towers and battlements and secret rooms, and a well-authenticated ghost.
No steamers come off the slip these days, to be launched with champagne and tricolour silk, for it’s many a year since Goolwa people bid godspeed to a steamer built from stem to stern by Goolwa men. Landseer’s flour mill is a pathetic ruin, but many of the old buildings remain. The public buildings of Victorian period and the Cockenzie-style cottages give the town its quaintly old-fashioned air.
Let us hope no modern “motel” of concrete and glass will displace the ancient Goolwa Hotel, with the figurehead of the wrecked “Mozambique” — her face and buxom figure kept in repair with a yearly coat of paint — perched upon the roof. Inside, the cedar bannisters and the cedar chairs came from the same Windjammer.
TILL about ten years ago Thomas Goode’s wooden hut still stood beside his store though you’d never notice it unless you knew it was there, with its shingles peeping from under the iron roof.
Adam Johnstone’s house, built from the hull of a boat with planks that are slightly curved, is still standing. Sir George Ritchie added an imposing front and called the house “Port Seton”. He mounted a gun at the stone gateposts, and on the roof the signal-gun that once belonged to George Johnston. (Port Seton was later owned by Mr. Dodd, of the pleasure launch “Rose”.)
The wide sweep of cloud-reflecting waters, the flotillas of swans and pelicans, the shags drying their wings in the sun, are much the same as when Sturt came this way, for from here to the Mouth has been proclaimed a sanctuary for birds. Much of the past remains. The surf thundering on the bar still sounds the same, and the far wild cry of the swans going over from the sanctuary to the Lakes. Goolwa, liquid-sounding name given by its first inhabitants to the river’s last bend, has developed enormously in recent years, but its heart remains essentially unchanged today – one of the few historic towns in Australia to have kept its individuality and its charm.
Chapter Two: The First People
Who first heard the roar of the surf pounding on the sand of Goolwa Beach? Who were the first men to come down the river, and on reaching the Lakes, to taste salt water, see the gulls circling overhead, and hear the mighty voice of the sea?
The history of the white man on the river, from Sturt’s first journey to the present day, amounts to little more than a hundred years. Yet it has a past which belonged to a people who may have come here not long after the last Ice Age, the oldest people in the world. The tribes of the Murray valley, the Lakes, the Coorong and Encounter Bay were a migration from the north-east, an earlier people than the desert tribes. They were uncircumcised, contemptuously referred to as “the Narrinyerri” by the circumcised tribes of a later migration from the north-west. A tremendous barrier of custom and tradition separated them; there was no inter—marrying.
The frontier was a line which curved from the north-east to the south-west just above Goolwa, and it was as bitterly disputed as frontiers the world over. The initiation ceremonies which admitted the young boys of the Narrinyerri to full manhood were a matter of grease and red paint rather than the cruel mutilations to which the circumcised subjected their youths. Yet these river tribes were strong and brave and very warlike, and they gave the white men far more trouble than the tribes of the Adelaide Plains. Their rich, copious food supply was largely responsible for their strength. The myth of Nurrunderi and the Great Fish was the story of their origin. In the dim past they had come down the River Murray, and the endless twists and turns of the tortuous river were recalled in this story:
In the beginning, Nurrunderi made all things. He made the earth, and men to live on the earth, and to all men he gave land. To the Old Men he gave the Law, and to the young men he gave weapons of war and hunting. He taught them the skills of the hunt that they and their children might live and grow fat. Nurrunderi came from the far country between the rising and the midday sun. He was the mightiest of all hunters. One day, standing in his bark canoe, he speared a great fish. So big was this fish that even Nurrunderi with all his strength could not kill him. The fish leapt forward, twisting this way and that. Down the river he came, carrying the waters of the river before him, dragging the hunter behind him, this way and that. Down the river came the fish, down the river came the mighty Nurrunderi, in towards the dying sun, down towards the cold lands. At last the fish could go no further. In its struggles it threw the water farther and farther out onto the land, till at last it made a great shallow lake, and there Nurrunderi killed it. Hungry and weary, the hunter took the fish to cook and eat it. Then he said: “I cannot eat such a fish alone. Lo! this fish shall be all fish to all men who dwell here by these waters so that they need never be hungry.” And tearing the huge fish into pieces he threw them in the waters of the lake. They became all the fish beloved of the blackfeller that he speared from his canoe, except the sweetest fish of all, the tinuwarre. So Nurrunderi stood beside the lakeshore and threw flat pebbles into the water and these became tinuwarre, the favourite food of the blackfeller.
The Narrinyerri people were made up of many tribes. One of the most powerful and troublesome of these tribes was the Tanganekeld who lived along the Coorong, the long thin strip of water and sand running for some ninety miles to the east of the Murray mouth. The Tengenekeld sang a beautiful Dreamtime song of their coming to the Coorong:
In the long, long ago their fathers came out of the lend of the noonday sun. They came from Lerami, the inland scrub country, where there was no rain.
Weary and hungry they came, for all game had fled and the land was bare. The women were too weak to find roots with their digging sticks. The babies they carried weighed little, for their mothers‘ breasts were dry. The men had no flesh covering their bones. Many died, but the rest went on, seeking the promised land, the land of plenty.
As this people came out of Leremi to Tengi, the landward shore of the Coorong, they heard a terrible, roaring noise. It was an unknown sound, terrifying in its strangeness, tremendous in its ceaseless roaring. Many stood still, transfixed in terror. Others rushed here and there in senseless panic. The leader came forward and stood beside Pandalapi, the waters of the Coorong.
“What will you do now, oh my brothers?“ he asked, and in their language the question was, “Tanganwalognan?”.
Still they hesitated, overcome by panic.
“Tanganwalognan?” he cried once again. “Will you go back towards the land of the noonday sun, to the hot lands, where the soles of our feet crack and burn, and our children grow thin and die? Or will you stay here beside Pandalapi where there is game for our spears, and sweet roots for the women’s digging sticks? Tanganwalognan? What will you do now?” Some said, “Let us go back. This mighty roar is more terrible than any noise we have ever heard. Some mighty spirit speaks to us in anger.” But the rest said, “Let us stay. We cannot go back; we shall die of hunger. Let us stay and face this terrible noise. This is good country, let us make it our home.” So the people stayed beside the waters of the Coorong, and they were called Tanganekeld, because of the words of their leader.
One song belongs to the Ramindjeri of Encounter Bay whose ‘ngaitye’ (totem) was the whale, and tells of the mother whale and her calf coming so close into land during rough weather that it seemed they must be washed ashore.
Evil-minded men of the tribe set their minds on wishing that mother and son would be stranded on the beach. They coveted the whale oil with greedy longing, wanting it for their bone poisons and body paints:
“Onto the beach, whale mother and son!
Hei ei ei! Set the mind on wishing
Whale mother and son, onto the beach, hei ei!“
But the man of the whale ‘ngaitye’ , protects the sacred pair with his thoughts:
“Swim around the bay, mother and son!
Hei ei ei! Set the mind on wishing
Mother and son around the hay! Hei ei!”
This song is interesting evidence of thought transmission. There are many such among the fragments we possess of blackfeller lore.
There are other delightful songs and myths that tell of the lakeshore and river people. One called “Neilun”, or “Netting”, tells of the long ago Dreamtime when all birds were men:
The fishing birds lived beside a lagoon at Tenetjanul, (known today as Murrayville). They exhausted the fish in the lagoon and two gulls came south looking for better fishing grounds. On reaching the Coorong they found the water salt, so they turned back to the north shore of Lake Alexandrina where they found calm, fresh water and ideal fishing. They cooked and dried some Murray Cod and took it back to the fisher folk at Tenetjanul, whereupon the whole flock, gulls, shags, coots, divers, pelicans, weet-weets and many other fishing birds, migrated to the Lake.
They made their way round the northern shore of the Lake fishing as they went. The pelicans manned the nets, the shags and divers went ahead to locate and turn the shoals of fish towards the nets, the gulls drove them into the meshes, and the coots swam about in the wake keeping the fish within the nets. The magpie and the crow followed on shore carrying firesticks, ready to strike camp, make a fire and cook the fish for the rest.
They fished till the pelicans‘ hands were numb with cold.
“Make a fire, and cook us some fish,“ they begged, but the magpie refused, saying,
“Not yet, go on a little further.”
So on they went, filling the nets over and over again, carrying the fish on strings threaded through their gills.
Each time they rested, they begged the magpie to make a fire, but each time the magpie refused, urging them on. Down the eastern shore they went, past the Narrows to Lake Albert, avoiding the salt lagoon near Pelican Point and the salt water of the Coorong. Following the fresh water, eventually they reached the tall cliffs at Point Sturt, where they found animals of the Ramindjeri from Encounter Bay enjoying a warm camp fire. By now all the fishing birds were very angry with the magpie. “Make us our fire, magpie!” they shouted, and the little coots who had the job of sorting the fish, threw a lot of Bony Bream, a much despised fish, at the magpie. “See! You only get Bony Bream! That’s all the fish you’ll get!” the little birds called, and the magpie turned on them, chasing them and beating them with the fish, shouting at them as he chased them. Then he hit the crow with his firesticks and blackened him, then he beat the pelicans with the fish and covered them with white scales, and he finished up by falling into the ashes of his own fire, and blackening himself.
Then in the confusion all the Fishermen turned into birds. The pelicans dived into the water taking their nets with them hanging from their beaks, to help with their fishing. The gulls took to the air where they could watch for food. The coots ran into the reeds to hide from the angry magpie, and the magpie stayed up on top of Point Sturt watching the others, (so typical of his habit of perching up on high places.)
This is a story of a lakeshore, freshwater people. The tribes kept to their own country. Those belonging to the lakes kept away from the Coorong, and the Ramindjeri at Encounter Bay kept away from the river. The Jaralde tribe of the lakeshore shunned saltwater. The story describes with great accuracy the habits of the birds and the fishing technique of both birds and men. The River Murray tribes were very skilled at making and using nets. They made them from certain reeds found at special places, and used them in different ways to catch both fish and birds, especially duck.
They must have learned to net fish by watching the pelicans, and many a shoal of fish must have found its way into the blackfeller’s nets thanks to the activities of these wonderful birds! According to one authority, the “Ngaitye” or totem of the Goolwa people was the pelican, and they venerated and protected him. There seems to be some doubt as to who were the people of ‘’the Goolwa’. It was rather the meeting place for several tribes of the Narrinyeri — the Jaralde from the Lakes, the Tanganekeld from the Coorong, the Ramindjeri from Encounter Bay, and several other tribes. They met for initiation and marriage ceremonies, for corroborees, cockle feasts and other friendly gatherings. They quarrelled and fought there amongst themselves, and they fought near Goolwa against the circumcised tribes, and celebrated their victories beside the river. So the land beside the Goolwa was essentially a place of dance and song, of contest and battle. There was so much food.
Apart from the usual land food – bush creatures, roots and grubs, lizards and snakes – the whole place teemed with water food: salt and freshwater fish, freshwater crays which they called “yabbies”, water birds and their eggs. Swans bred in millions in the sheltered waters, and their eggs were a great delicacy.
The greatest delicacy of all was the cockle, still known today as the Goolwa cockle. It has always been found in abundance all along the beach, and was there in such quantities that the local tribes allowed the Murray Valley natives to come down the river for cockle feasts and even to carry away as many as they could in their canoes. The inland tribes travelled great distances down-river, and the cockle feasts were occasions of much dancing and jollification. They bartered women and exchanged useful articles. The inland tribes had hunting spears made from their own hardwoods; the coast and lakeshore tribes had all manner of nets made from reeds and also from certain roots that were cooked and then chewed by the women for hours. The fibres were split and twisted into strands of varying thickness, then woven into symmetrical nets and baskets; seaweeds were used too to fashion rain-proof cloaks.
These same Tanganakeld, with their skills and their abundant food supply, were dangerous enemies. Silent feet carried death along the beach at night, shod with shapeless shoes that left no prints: a dark figure, silent, invisible, carrying the deadly sliver of poisoned bone to plunge into the enemy’s neck. Before the sleeping man could wake to know his fate, his murderer had run back along the Coorong, mile after mile on the hard sand near the water’s edge, the tireless, shapeless feet bringing the man of the Tanganekeld to his tribe again before the first thin silver streak of dawn. He carried back the magic things, shoes of bark and human hair, smoked in a green wattle fire, bag of human hair to cover head and shoulders, coverings of kangaroo skin strips woven with rushes for arms and legs. It was these same Tanganekeld who murdered the survivors of the brig “Maria” and the unfortunate Captain Barker who had been sent to look for another mouth to the Murray — the young officer of the Army who went to his lonely death beyond Barker’s Knoll on the far side of the river from his companions. He had walked overland all the way from the mouth of the Onkaparinga, only to meet a silent death under the spears of the fierce dark men waiting for him when he swam the mouth of the Murray. His blood stained the foam as the undertow sucked him out into the cold south sea, never to be seen again.
A death song of the Tanganekeld tells of their first encounter with white men:
A dream man, Kulda, came out of the sky like a flash of light from the Southern Cross. Over he went to the West, and making a great smoke signal he held up his hand to call the people. As he did so there was a sudden noise which hurt the ears, and with it another flash of light, The people said, “Listen to the great noise away in the west. Kulda makes it. See, in the west he makes it and death comes. Kulda beckons and the spirits of the dead follow him into the west, to the Island of the Spirits.”
This song of death is thought to refer to early casual visits of European ships, Whalers and sealers, long before the settlement of South Australia in the 1830’s. The noise and the flash must have been the firing of the guns, and the great sickness a smallpox epidemic which decimated the tribe. Smallpox was ascribed by the blackfeller to the death-spirit Kulda who took all the dead to Kangaroo Island, the blackfeller Heaven.
It was there, after creating the world, that Nurrunderi made his way with his sons. To reach it he dived deep down under the sea, where he had to pass by a great fire. One of his sons fell asleep on the way, and when Nurrunderi reached Heaven he realised that the boy had been left behind. Tying a line to his barbed spear, he threw the other end to his son, who caught it and so guided himself to his father. From that time on, the son always threw the line to each man who died, to guide his soul to Nurrunderi. Nurrunderi by then was nearly blind. Whenever he felt a movement on the line he would ask: “Who comes, my son?“ If the man came from the people of the Goolwa or Encounter Bay, Nurrunderi would take him to live with him in his own hut forever.
If the man came from another tribe, he had to keep his distance; so Nurrunderi was the special protector of the Goolwa people. When the dead reached Wyirrewarra the old became young, the sick were healed, and they lived happily in the island where Nurrunderi waited to receive them. (It needs little imagination to see Heaven in the glory the sunsets along this coast; no wonder the natives enshrined their deity in the radiant light of that inaccessible island to the west.)
Wyirrewarra was believed to be in the Sky as well as on Kangaroo Island. Like every other nomad people whose last remembered vision each night is the spread of the starlit sky, the Australian native had an accurate knowledge of the movements of the stars and planets, part of the accumulated wisdom of the old men.
His heaven was peopled with the spirits of the dead. As the stars appeared one by one in the darkening sky, he believed they were the spirits of men leaving their huts to go about their nightly business of hunting, fishing, fighting and dancing, always moving on towards the west, the dwelling places of the dead.
He watched the sun come up in the east, making a golden path across the Goolwa, cutting the river from bank to bank at the equinox at the very point of the elbow; and he called Goolwa then “Nonpoonga”, or “Place of Sun on Water”. He believed the sun was a beautiful wanton, hastening across the sky to the spirit land. As she set over the Island each evening all the spirits gathered to receive her. They tried to make her tarry with them, and those who were fortunate enough to win her favours gave her a rich mantle of red—kangaroo skins, which could he seen in the colours of the sunset clouds. As dawn approached she would set off on her journey once more, rising in the east clothed in her glorious red dress, the envy of every woman. The moon was a wanton too. She followed the same path across the sky to Wyirrewarra where the spirits awaited her. She could not bear to tear herself away from her lovers each night, so she grew thinner and thinner, gradually pining away until Nurrunderi in anger ordered. her to he driven out of heaven. So she hid herself away and nourished herself with all manner of roots till at last she reappeared in the sky, growing
fatter and more beautiful each day — the two were synonymous to the blackfellers — only to take up her disastrous love life once more, and begin the cycle over again.
Now the tribes have faded away like the waning moon, never to reappear. The great heaps of cockle-shells in the sandhills, a few bones in a native burying-place, a few descendants fishing on the Lakes or moping at Point McLeay Mission and this is all.
A man who knows Goolwa well once found, moulded in a bank of seaweed, the form of a plump little child. Only the bones were left, but the shape of the child was complete, just as its sorrowing parents had laid it to rest — lulled by the everlasting roar of the waves which their ancestors had heard with such terror, but which had become a perpetual undertone to their daily lives, familiar and unheeded. Of the shadow people, there is no-one left. There are none who remember.
They walked the beaches, the river banks, the sandhills and the lakeshores, but they vanished and left no footprints.
They out their bark canoes from the red gums, and went out on the water. How many of them? Who can say? They have vanished from the water, and only a scar in the bark of an old red gum tree remains to tell us of the brown-skinned men who lived beside the Lakes, the river and the sea. They lit their fires and danced their tribal dances, but the ashes of their fires are cold, and there are none left to tell the history of the tribes in song and dance.
They put the smoke-dried bodies of their dead up into the sacred burial trees, but the last dry bone fell to the ground many years ago, and the sacred trees have long since been cut down.
“A thousand ages in Thy sight are like an evening gone…” This is a fitting epitaph for a people who lived a thousand ages, and are gone with the swift climax of an evening in this land of little twilight, this land that was theirs.
Chapter Three: The Roar of the Mouth: Tragic Waters
On calm nights of summer, when the few street lights of Goolwa are out, when Nurrunderi has chased the moon away and the skies are clear of cloud, the Milky Way is a misty luminosity above the reflecting water.
The Southern Cross hangs low above the river, each star a separate jewel. It points the way to the south, to the lonely beach where the breakers‘ restless roar sounds as it sounded long ago when the first men heard its note – subdued by distance, unless there is a southerly blowing, to a ghostly muttering of indistinguishable voices.
There are ghosts enough on this tragic shore, from young Collett Barker’s to those of the unknown sealers who must have died even earlier, when they tried to steal women to take back to their islands in Bass Strait. It is thought that revenge against such unscrupulous white men was a motive for the murders on this lonely coast. As cruel as the spears and waddies of the Narrinyerri were the cold waves seething over the bar. Sturt believed that if instead of mud-flats they had found a clear channel such as exists with a high river, “ignorant of the dangers before us, we should most assuredly have rushed to inevitable destruction.”
His report condemned the outlet as impracticable, after he later made unsuccessful attempts to run through from the sea in a whaleboat. Yet many, among them the naval Governor Hindmarsh, believed it to be quite safe for ships of shallow draught. The argument still goes on to this day. However, Colonel Light after one look at the exposed coast of Encounter Bay determined to put the capital on the gulf sixty miles from the mouth of the Murray: the site which is now admitted to be the right one. Through all the bitter quarrels and recriminations over the capital, Light steadfastly stuck to his guns, confidently leaving it to posterity to judge who was right. And posterity has
Among the ghosts that murmur in the surf are those of Captain Blenkinsop, a whaling captain, and Judge Jeffcott, South Australia’s first judge, who were drowned while attempting to prove that the mouth was navigable and that the capital should be near Goolwa. Governor Hindmarsh was determined to move the capital. He insisted that he had the right, though Colonel Light’s instructions were clear and unequivocal. Hindmarsh had grown more and more vehement in his dislike of “Port Misery” and the eight weary miles of muddy or dusty track between the capital and the mangrove swamp which served as a port and had to he traversed by people with neither horses carts, with all their worldly possessions on ships which could bring them across the world but could not navigate the swamps. Quantities of goods of vital necessity to the young colony, were ruined.
No doubt the fact that Mrs Hindmarsh had to watch her precious piano floating through the mangroves had something to do with the violence of the Governor’s feelings, but his sentiments were shared by many of the colonists. The South Australian Company’s losses were enormous, and had to be explained away to the shareholders. The Governor was determined to move the capital and the whole settlement to the vicinity of a good port, regardless of the fact that he was without the power to do it. A sealer by the name of Walker told him of the “splendid harbour” in the lee of Granite Island where Blenkinsop had anchored the “Hind”. He immediately sent the Crown Surveyor, Strangways, and a colonist, Hutchinson (who had travelled on the “Buffalo” with him) overland, and Captain Crozier by sea, to examine the anchorage and the surrounding country. Blenkinsop sent a whaleboat, “Currency Lass” and her crew of six through the Mouth on December 4th., 1837 to join Strangways and Hutchinson; who with a party of ten in all drove across country in drays to the river bank at Goolwa.
The whole party gradually worked up-river, exploring the banks and tracing the course of the channel. They named Currency Creek after the Whaleboat. A “Currency Lass” was an Australian-born girl as opposed to a “Sterling Lass” born in the old country. The expression arose from the fact that in New South Wales there was a great shortage of sterling and a heterogeneous collection of coins from every country\and even minted by local merchants was in use. Sterling was of course considered of far greater value, and in the same way, the miss born overseas thought herself far superior to the local product. They crossed to a stony barren-looking island opposite the opening to Currency Creek, and named it after the Governor. From Hindmarsh Island they crossed back to the north bank of the river till they reached the western headland at the entrance to Lake Alexandrina, which they called Point Sturt. From this headland they gained an excellent view of the Lake and the strait which they judged to be about six miles wide. The point on the eastern side they called Point McLeay after Sturt’s faithful companion on his long hazardous journey, and that was as far as they got, the weather being far too rough for them to venture into the Lake with their whaleboat. Their supplies were giving out by this time. The obliging Captain Blenkinsop who had accompanied them, Offered to go back to the fishery for more supplies. On reaching the fishery he found Judge Jeffcott, waiting for a ship to take him on to Tasmania. The two men with a crew of four made a second assault on the Mouth, with tragic result. The treacherous Mouth is usually blamed for this fatality, but according to contemporary accounts, Blenkinsop discovered a rich quantity of very valuable whalebone on the beach near the channel, and he loaded the whaleboat to the gunwales. With a crew of six, and the stores for the surveying party, the boat was grossly overloaded and she foundered and filled as she went through the last of the great breakers, drowning four out of six of the men, including Judge Jeffcott and Captain Blenkinsop. The only body recovered was that of Blenkinsop, which was buried in the sand on the 12th of December with the broken whaleboat to mark the spot. Later the body was moved to his cottage at Victor Harbour and buried in the garden.
In spite of this tragedy, the report made by Strangways and Hutchinson on their return to Adelaide was favorable both to the port in question and to the river. They considered that the Mouth might be navigable for steam ships of shallow draught, but that a canal might be the most satisfactory communication between the Goolwa channel and Encounter Bay. They spoke in glowing terms of the ‘harbour’. In their report to Governor Hindmarsh they said:
“About ten miles from a deep and wide channel communicating with the Murray, over a gently undulating country is an anchorage at Granite Island in Encounter Bay… Captain Blenkinsop told us that good- sized merchant ships might lie close to the island… that men-of-war might anchor in five or six fathoms, open only from east to south. By laying down strong moorings, the anchorage might be made to hold three times as many ships as at present, and the greatest facilities exist for a long line of quays and warehouses…”
They added that what was to become Victor Harbour possesses rich soil, fresh water, two rivers as well as safe anchorage. Captain Crozier endorsed Captain Blenkinsop’s opinion of the harbour.
In this report of Strangways and Hutchinson two of the solutions to the problem of linking the river and the sea, and of overcoming the Bar between them, make their first appearance.
One was the direct assault on the Mouth with steamers of shallow draught, the other was the construction of a canal from Goolwa to Encounter Bay. No thought was given to the laying of a railway, and there was certainly not the slightest consideration of Freeman’s Nob as a possible port – that ill-fated bay which was to become Port Elliot and to ruin forever the South Coast and the River trade.
The drowning of Judge Jeffcott and Captain Blenkinsop happened late in 1837. This tragedy, and yet another wreck on the south coast (for the “John Pirie” was lost a few days later and the “South Australian” shortly before) caused a violent reaction against the Encounter Bay area.
The Whaling ventures had failed, the harbour had failed in the lee of Rosetta Head (“The Bluff”), and the Mouth had proved treacherous. “It appears to us that there is no practicable communication between the Murray and the sea by this entrance,“ as Strangways added to his report.
Governor Hindmarsh remained unconvinced. He had set his heart upon moving the capital elsewhere, but far too much money had been invested in Adelaide and the town lands for such a thing to be countenanced, The whole Province rose in an uproar. The drownings at the Mouth and the wrecks in Encounter Bay were the great topics of conversation. There was no peace until Governor Hindmarsh had been recalled. Soon after Governor Gawler replaced him, the South Australian Company built a new port on the Port River, with proper landing facilities. The South Coast never recovered.
Among its ghosts are the tough whaling men who put out in their little boats when the look-out spied a whale blowing out in the bay. That was more than a hundred years ago. Now only a few harpoons and trypots are left, and the ribs and vertebrae of whales scattered on a few verandahs,
Beside the ghosts of the whalemen stands another ghost, whose shelter is made of brushwood and seaweed over a frame of whale ribs; that brown man whose “ngaitye” or totem is the whale, and who stands on the beach singing his “wishing” song to save the mother whale and her calf:
“Swim round the bay, mother and son, hei, ei, ei!
Around the bay, mother and son, hei, ei, ei!”
The next assault on the Mouth was made by Captain Gill, master of the good ship Fanny, which was wrecked down the Coorong on January 21st, 1838. He procured a whaleboat from the fishery, also three men and a pair of bullocks, to help in the transport of passengers and goods from the wreck. This is his report on his passage through the Mouth:
“The information I received respecting the Mouth was that there was a long succession of big rollers that had a perpendicular fall of five or six feet, and that several sealers and Whalers, all good boatmen, had made various ineffectual attempts to get in…
“In our most recent charts extant, we are informed that ‘the passage from Lake Alexandrina to Encounter Bay is impracticable even for boats‘.
“I now give the result of my own observation and experience Having procured a whaleboat from Mr Harper at the Fishery, and three men, including a native, and a pair of bullocks, I proceeded along the coast for a certain distance, and then by aid of the bullocks, dragged the boat over the sandhills and launched it in the Western outlet of the Lake. Sailed to estuary, about midday. Being low water we sailed out under a close-reefed sail. There was not a single breaker in the channel, not did I perceive any bar, I should say there was from three to five fathoms of water. Although our boat was considerably lumbered she did not ship a spoonful of water.”
This statement by Captain J.M. Gill on 24th August, 1838 was published in the South Australian Gazette of 8/10/1838. In one account of Captain Gill’s adventures, it is stated that he entered the outlet several times. By this time Captain Sturt was back in the colony. Captain Hindmarsh had been recalled and was on his way home. The colony was in a state of great indecision and unrest. ‘Port Misery‘ was as much of a problem as ever. Encounter Bay and the Murray Mouth were a perpetual source of friction, uncertainty and hesitation. No-one felt like building or investing money or in any other way advancing the affairs of the capital. At the request of Milner Stephen, the Acting Governor, Sturt went back to the scene of his earlier distress, that fateful communication between the river and the sea.
“Unable to go through,” he says in his report,“ The rush of water from the outlet met the rollers as they came in and fairly doubled them up, if I may use the expression, there were in fact two currents, an under one of fresh water from the Lake and an upper one of salt water.
“Our boat therefore would have been driven into the waves, without a chance of her rising to the seas, which rose before they ‘topped’ to twelve or fifteen feet in height.
“It is marvellous to me how Captain Gill escaped at such a season of the year (June). I should not think that even steam navigation would conquer the difficulties of such a position.” This report appeared in the South Australian Gazette of September 20th 1838. Sturt made several attempts to take a boat both in and out of the Mouth, but was emphatic on the “utter impracticability of the place”.
Still the question of the Mouth reared its troublesome head, and the new governor, Colonel Gawler, sought a fresh verdict on the possibility of navigating the Bar. First Of all, he went himself to the scene of so much controversy. He spent three days watching the channel from Barker’s knoll, the high sandhill over which the ill-fated explorer had disappeared and in his report to the Commissioners of September 17th, 1840; he said:
“Having had two or three days of very favorable opportunity of observing the outside of the Mouth from the high sandhills on the eastern side, I ascertained what I conceived to be the course of a channel of deep water in which the rollers broke with much less force than on either side of it. On mentioning the circumstances to Mr Pullen, the Colonial Marine Surveyor, I found that his observations agreed with mine, and that he was desirous to attempt to sound it.
“The weather being very moderate on the morning of the 6th of September 1840, I allowed Mr Pullen to proceed in a whaleboat with five other volunteers, and am happy to say that in ten minutes from the time of leaving the point of the Western sandspit at the River’s Mouth, they had passed up the channel, crossed the bar at the head of it and had rounded into smooth water thoroughly on the outside of all the shoals and breakers, After waiting there a short time, they returned into the River by the same channel, without any approach to serious danger.”
He ended his report by saying: “There is every reason to think that, in moderate weather, steamers, and with leading winds, sailing craft of six feet draughts of water and under might with safety run into the Murray.”
In the South Australian Gazette of the 15th September 1840 the Governor declared;
“The port thus thrown open at the sea mouth of the Murray I have named Port Pullen after J. W. Pullen, the Colonial Marine Surveyor.”
And there matters rested. The young colony suddenly had far too many other worries requiring immediate attention, to spend any more time or money on the possibilities of opening up the Murray.
As far as ‘the Town on the Goolwa’ was concerned, it was surveyed in January, 1840, and was part of the Currency Creek Special Survey. The sections in this survey were allocated by ballot. They were peculiar land orders of 90 acres, comprising 8 acres in the town of Currency Creek, 2 acres in the Town on the Goolwa and 80 country acres. The survey does indicate nascent hopes for a port at Goolwa, for the blocks along the river front were long and very narrow, following the layout of ports in England, where warehouses ran up to the discharging ships for the receipt of cargo.
Another interesting point about the land grants is their wording. This is a copy of an original deed:
“John Dance of the Goolwa, Blacksmith, is seized of an estate in fee simple… of that section of land situated in the Town on the Goolwa, No. 27 containing 2 roods… originally granted on August 17th 1842 under the hand of George Grey, Resident Commissioner and Governor of the said province to John Thompson.”
Gawler had already been given the dual position of Governor and Commissioner, the Board of Commissioners realising that divided control was impossible, but it does seem strange that the title of Resident Commissioner should precede that of the Governor representing the Crown.
The Goolwa blocks were all taken up, although no substantial buildings were erected on them. The river flowed slowly and emptily by as it does today. The Mouth roared triumphantly and the mist shone above it with an unearthly beauty. Whalers and sealers came and went and gradually disappeared. Up on the east coast of Scotland in a little fishing village with the quaint name of Cockenzie there was a laddie going to school – he was just a wee bairn of four when the Foundation Act was passed in 1834. This boy, George Bain Johnston, came to know every whim, every caprice of the Murray Mouth. While surveyors argued and governments debated, George Johnston and his cousins and school friends made the river their own. For thirty busy, romantic years they, and many others, carried cargoes up and down the great eastern waterway; but it was George Johnston above all men who navigated the entrance to the river, plying between Goolwa and Port Adelaide with fearless regularity, throwing Sturt’s words in his teeth, week in, week out, solving the problem of the Mouth in his own independent way, by frontal attack. Of all the ghosts of Goolwa Beach he is the most persistent: Geordie Johnston with his black curly hair and beard, his laughing blue eyes, his happy chuckle and his great bear-like shoulders. Geordie, going in through the Mouth, with two barges abreast and one behind, standing at the wheel of his fine new “Queen of the South”; watching every movement of every wave, watching the troughs — for it is even more dangerous to go in than to come out. The following seas must not catch up with the stern of the boat.
When Captain Johnston brought out the “Queen” from Scotland, he wanted to give the public a service as regular and predictable as a train. She was to ply regularly through the Mouth between Goolwa and Port Adelaide until people forgot the evil reputation of the entrance. Yet she failed in the end, and her failure broke the mighty heart of George Johnston. When she went aground in the entrance people lost faith in her. She was only another steamer braving the treacherous Mouth. Trading interests, shipowners, insurance companies would have none of the Mouth.
George Johnston died a year after the “Queen” was sold to Melbourne interests.
The Johnston family still has the log-book of the Queen, with nothing entered in it – only cuttings pasted in by Captain Johnston from newspapers of the ’70s, referring to Goolwa, the river trade, and the plans for cutting a canal – all stuck in the empty log book which should have been filled with the triumphs of his finest ship.
Chapter Four: The Cockenzie Boys
Geordie was the eldest of a sturdy brood of dark, dark, curly-haired, apple-cheeked children born to Peter and Helen Johnston of New Street, Cockenzie.
Sixteen miles from Edinburgh along the Firth of the Forth, Cockenzie lies between Prestonpans and Port Seton, in the Parish of Tranent. The famous battle was fought in and around all four places.
The local people have reason to be proud of the part played by their ancestors in that particular page of British history. As soon as the fighting was over, Highlanders and Lowlanders joined as brothers to gather up the wounded. They were carried to New Street where they were tended with great compassion – in striking contrast to the bloody butchery of Culloden, and other battles of those days. The surrounding coast is flat and sandy, but the villages of Cockenzie and Port Seton stand upon a rock. A barrier of rock runs out from Cockenzie into the Firth, It seems as if the rugged strength of those rocks stiffened the character of the men who went out daily through them to their fishing, and, swam off them as boys.
The lives of the women too were dominated by the rocks six days of the week, as they watched for the safe return of their men. Only on the seventh day there was rest for anxious eyes, for the Cockenzie folk were devout, God-fearing people who loved their Church and kept the Sabbath. Faith, courage and compassion were their virtues: the men loving husbands and fathers, the women faithful and tireless in their devotion to the menfolk, though not so easily given to singing as the men; for waiting and watching are sad pastimes and soon carve anxious lines on young faces.
In winter the men went oyster-dredging and fishing for cod, whiting, flounder and other white fish for the Edinburgh market. The rich oyster scalps had been over-dragged, and white fish were very scarce along the coast in the 1830’s when Geordie was a boy, so that many of the men had to go whaling in summer. One year the whaling ships were trapped by the ice up in Baffin’s Bay through the long Polar night. Their suffering through the cruel months of darkness, for which they were unprepared, were very terrible, but the old account says: “The conduct of the Cockenzie sailors during the long night was most praiseworthy; they devoted a portion of each day to religious exercises, and awaited with calm resignation the will of Providence.”
At length the ice broke up and the ships were freed. In Cockenzie the houses were typical of any Scottish fishing village. Built of grey stone with slate roofs, they ran door, window, door, window, all the way along both sides of the street. On the Johnston side, the back door and the kitchen window faced the north, and the wild seas that surged up the Forth from the North Sea. A wooden stepladder led from the kitchen up to the boys‘ attic and the loft. This loft was a communal one running through the whole block of houses, so that the fishing gear could be dried and mended and the hooks baited under cover, by the light of lamp or candle. The fishing lines had 1200 hooks on them. Men and women rose each morning at two o’clock, and while the men prepared their boats and gear, and ate their bowls of porridge, the women baited the hooks. Then off the men would go to their day’s fishing, out into the Firth or beyond. There were about two hundred fishermen in the village. They shared thirty-one boats, from seven to sixteen tons‘ burden. They were solid, clinker-built, open-decked boats, beautifully made, suitable for the distant North Sea fishing grounds. These boats, and the fishing gear, were in constant need of care to be in top condition to face the weather, day in and day out, along that coast. In summer those who didn’t go whaling followed the herring around the top of Scotland:
“West of these
Out to seas
Colder than the Hebrides…”
Cockenzie, like the rest of Scotland, gave its children the best of schooling. The Johnstons and their cousins, the Ritchies, the Donaldsons and the Barclays, went to Stiell’s Hospital, a fine school built by a successful Edinburgh builder about a mile and a half from their homes. Here they were given an excellent education, and a warm midday meal. They studied hard, and after a long day at their books, as soon as their fathers came in from the sea they had to go “hooping the lines”, stripping all the remaining bait from the hooks. They all went to Church on Sundays, and the men were all great singers; music and harmony seemed born in them. An account of George Johnston’s life speaks of his “sweet but powerful voice” as a man, and his lovely soprano as a boy. The 107th Psalm was a great favourite of his in after years on the river, and in the little Cockenzie church he must often have sung those lovely words:
“Who go to sea in ships, and in great waters
Within the deep these men God’s works
And His great wonders see…”
Over a long period the oyster scalps were reduced to almost nothing, but in the earlier part of last century Cockenzie men were still able to make a living from them, and while at work dredging close inshore, they sang strange, weird-sounding songs that some say had been handed down from their remote Viking ancestors. At sea they sang psalms, hymns, sea shanties, the latest songs picked up in the taverns at night. Great singers they were, and swimmers too. Because of the fine stretch of sand at Port Seton, with deep pools among the rocks at high tide, the lads soon learnt to swim and dive. Geordie Johnston was the strongest swimmer of them all. Later in his life he saved so many people from drowning that he became known as “the water-spaniel of the River Murray”.
The first coal in Great Britain was discovered in the outcrops of Cockenzie, back in the twelfth century A.D. The whole history of coal-working, its romance and its infamy, was born at Cockenzie; and the fate of the collieries had a direct bearing on the development of Goolwa. In the early days the coal was taken from the pitheads to the old harbour at Cockenzie on horseback. In 1722 an English company constructed a wooden waggonway 15 feet wide and three miles long for carrying the coal, and this was the first approximation to a railway ever built. The wagons, which held two tons of coal each, were pulled by one horse. Towards the end of the eighteenth century new lairds came to Cockenzie. The Cadells bought the Winton estates of Tranent with the mines and the saltpans. They lived right in the village, at Cockenzie House, and were a typical family of industrialists: hard-headed, shrewd, businesslike Scots who soon became as much a part of Cockenzie as the fishermen themselves. The head of the family, Hugh Francis Cadell, introduced reforms which gradually made life easier for the people, while greatly increasing his profits. In 1815 he built the first iron railway, replacing the old wooden waggonway with iron rails. He later rebuilt the Cockenzie harbour and also enlarged it to cope with the rapidly expanding trade. This harbour was a great boon to the fishermen and must have had a lot toﬁo with the affection and loyalty they felt for the Cadells. The fishermen of Cockenzie were a different breed from the colliers and the salters. They had always been free. They were men of great courage and fine bearing, for theirs was a proud heritage. Their heredity and environment — the influence moulding the characters of these Cockenzie lads – were to leave their mark on the history of the River Murray.
When George Johnston was born in 1829, young Francis Cadell was eight years old, a slim fair-haired boy, the apple of his parents‘ eyes: spoilt, wilful, charming, handsome and brave. He was a great favourite with the fishermen. When the men went fishing close inshore they often took him with them, and he was particularly attached to Peter Johnston, father of George, who first taught him to swim. All the Cadells loved ships and the feel of the sea. The Laird spent much of his time down at the harbour. His wife worried about her headstrong son, but Cadell told her he would take no harm with the fishermen until he went away to school. Later, Francis went to sea as a midshipman on an East Indiaman, and took part in the siege of Canton and the capture of Amoy in the first Chinese War of 1840. He gained the rank of lieutenant, received an officer’s share of the prize money, and then was discharged for insubordination.
Back he came to Cockenzie, and his father sent young Francis to study shipbuilding and engineering on the Clyde and Tyneside. Then he sent him off trading with one of his ships to Europe, then to North and South America. Once he reached South America he seems to have abandoned his ship – this was to become quite a habit of his – and gone wandering up and down the Amazon, a rolling stone incapable of gathering moss in any part of the world. Eventually he turned up in Port Adelaide in January 1849 from Cape Town. His ship, the ‘Royal Sovereign‘ must have been yet another of his father’s ships, because having very little cargo and being sadly out of funds he tried to recoup his fortunes by raffling her. It was while he was in Port Adelaide that he first made contact with William Younghusband, who became his shipping agent. Younghusband had been in the colony since 1841, originally to represent the trading interests of his father’s firm. However being an energetic and ambitious man he soon branched out on his own and by 1849 he had already become a power in the community both as a merchant and as a politician. He was a member of the first Legislative Council and a close friend of the Governor Sir Henry Fox Young, and later he was to become Chief Secretary. The Governor was intensely interested in the development of the River Murray. When Younghusband heard of Cadell’s experiences on the Amazon, his knowledge of shipbuilding as well as navigation, he thought immediately of Sir Henry’s wish to put steamers on the Murray, and it seems likely that Cadell discussed the whole project with Younghusband, and possibly with the Governor, on that first brief visit to South Australia. Sir Henry had been advocating a canal from Goolwa to Freeman’s Knob (later Port Elliott) to help develop the river trade. It was only after Cadell’s visit that there was any mention of a railway. And it seems too much of a coincidence that the first horse-powered railway in the British Isles was at Cockenzie and the first one in the Commonwealth should be at Goolwa. The plan to link the river with a sea-port by railway must have originated with Cadell, who passed it on to Younghusband who then planted the seed in the Governor’s fertile mind, from which grew the Goolwa—Port Elliott railway.
One can imagine their making a trip to “the Goolwa” together, standing on the high point of the bank where Admiralty Terrace now runs, and Younghusband’s solid house still stands; the two of them discussing the River, where the coloured reflection of Hindmarsh Island lay in the mirror-like surface across the wide channel.
“Just beyond there lies the Mouth,” said.Younghusband, (and even with the calm they could just hear the roar of the breakers). “The idea is that if a canal were built from here to the sea-coast, it would by-pass the dangerous Bar, and shallow-draught steamers could bring goods right down the Murray to the sea. There are some who think they could even go in and out the Mouth itself.”
“So there’s not a single boat trading on the Murray as yet?” said Cadell. “It seems madness not to use this wonderful stretch of water. ‘When I think of the Mississippi and the Amazon…I wonder how far upstream it is navigable? I wonder…”
As he stood there gazing across at Hindmarsh Island and up the wide channel that led to the Lake, he imagined a fleet of steamboats owned by Cadell and Younghusband passing by laden with wool and produce from the back country of this enormous continent.
“It’s a wonderful place, Australia,” he added. “So much space…and the clear light, you can see for miles and miles.” “Aye,” Younghusband agreed. “Now that my house is finished in North Adelaide, I’m tempted to build here so that my wife and the children can stay here in the hot weather. Adelaide can be very trying in summer…Just here I’d like to build, where we’re standing..”
“If you and I were to run boats on the river, you could keep an eye on them from here,” Cadell said. “You’d certainly have a grandstand view!”
“You could do worse than marry and bring your wife here to live.”
“I’ll never marry’. I’m too much of a rolling stone,” said Cadell abruptly, “But I know lads who would come here and take boats up the river, and bring wives out from. Home to settle here in Goolwa.” He began to tell Younghusband about the tough Cockenzie fishermen and his father’s boat-building yards, his Scottish accent growing noticeable as he rolled his R’s in his excitement.
“The furrst coal in the wurrld was mined in Cockenzie – aye and the furrst railway built, frae the mines to the harbour. They were wooden rails; it was my father put doon iron rails- the horses can pull twice the load… Noo then! A railway would be cheaper and easier than a canal, would it not, between here and yon porrt?”
“It’s certainly an idea,” said Younghusband. “I must talk to Sir Henry about it. He believes in the river, you know”
“And the Colony needs the River! It can be done. A railroad to take the big cargoes of wool to Port Victor, and shallow draught steam-boats, and men skilful enough to brring them doon! – Come, build your house here Mr Younghusband, and I’ll build the boats, and together we’ll make our fortunes.”
“Meanwhile, Captain Cadell, you’d best get that ship of yours away,” said Younghusband drily, “for I have little money to spare and I’m thinking that you have less.”
“My father will help me. My Cockenzie lads will come out with me…” The wind had changed, as it so often does in the afternoon. It had gone round to the south. There were catspaws rippling the river’s surface, breaking up the orange and ochre reflections. Over the sandhills the surf thundered on the beach, and the wind brought the sound of the great breakers at the Mouth with a foreboding roar.
Chapter Five: The Young Lady Augusta
Governor Gawler had built a fine residence for the Representative of the Crown, and had been well rapped over the knuckles for his extravagance. But in his time there had only been the most formal of dinner parties, for he and his wife were strict Evangelicals much given to prayer and the delivery of religious tracts, and frowning on all frivolities such as music and dancing, so that the colony got little fun for its money!
As for Governor Grey and his lady, sadness hung over Government House while they were in residence for their only child, a baby boy five months old, died there. They were not a happy couple and they separated soon after leaving Adelaide. Governor Robe was unmarried, so it was a great joy to South Australians to welcome their first civilian Governor, the handsome, likeable Sir Henry Fox Young, and especially his charming bride, who was young and gay and very lovely, and enjoyed music and dancing and pretty clothes. Altogether, Lady Fox Young was a most satisfactory Governor’s lady, much beloved. She was known to everyone as the Lady Augusta. She had no right to this title, being the daughter of a commoner, one Charles Marryat, brother of the famous writer. But Lady Fox Young seemed too formal a title for such a young girl, and soon everyone called her by her Christian name except on formal occasions. Her name will be remembered as long as the history of the River Murray, for it was given to the first steamer to trade upon its waters. (X Mary ANN was the first)
It was a warm, sunny morning, with a clear blue sky and a gentle gum scented breeze, very welcome after a week of incessant rain and bitter winds that blew sharply across the Adelaide plains.
Sir Henry and his wife stood together looking out from Government House over the green parklands. The twisting Torrens was looking quite a splendid river, bordered by lush green banks and fattened by the winter rains, instead of the miserable, untidy little creek it became in summer. Adelaide had grown into a fine city in twelve years, thanks mainly to the efforts of poor Governor Gawler, who had used the ever-increasing number of emigrants pouring out to the colony under Wakefield’s scheme, on an extensive building project. They could not work on the land as they were supposed to, because the land had still not been surveyed, and rather than have them destitute and without work, he used government funds to employ them on very necessary public buildings. The buildings were altogether too imposing for such a young, impoverished colony, and the unfortunate governor’s bills were repudiated; he was recalled in disgrace, and replaced by Governor Grey, who came with strict instructions to retrench and economise in every possible way. But the buildings remained, and by the time Sir Henry Young arrived the colony was solvent once again. The city looked particularly lovely that morning as it lay, sunlit and prosperous, between the blue hills and the Sparkling sea. Lady Augusta turned excitedly to her husband.
“Exploring, Sir Henry? Oh, yes, indeed I shall love it. I was only thinking as I rode across the parklands, how glorious the spring is here — not soft and sweet as at home, but strong and challenging, with the wind and the sharp smell of the gums, and the kookaburras laughing and the sunlight… But, Harry, what about Aretas? Can I bring him with me?
You know I can’t possibly leave him behind, I shall still be feeding him for at least three months yet. Besides, there is no—one I would care to leave him with.”
“I see no reason why he should not accompany us, my love. The change will benefit us all I’m sure, and he is so contented. He will lie in his little basket – far less trouble than if he were running around.”
“How shall we go?” asked his wife. “Shall we go all the way by boat, or across to the river on horseback? Harry, don’t put me in a carriage. You know I’d far sooner sit on a horse. Aretas can travel in the carriage, I will stay close to him. Will there be any other ladies? Mrs. Freeling would love to come, I’m sure, if he is to accompany you. She would stay in the carriage with Aretas, she hates riding over rough country. I’d far sooner sit on a horse than travel any other way – ” Sir Henry burst out laughing.
“You, sit on a horse! You talk as if you sat on a horse as you sit on a chair! You mean, go careering through the bush at a mad gallop, light as a feather on that great Pasha of yours! No, my love, a carriage and then a bullock-cart for you.”
It was a charming sight to see Lady Augusta riding across the Parklands on her morning visit to Kensington to see her uncle, Bishop Short. She looked beautiful in her well-cut habit, her hair bound back in a snood, mechlin lace pinned in soft folds at her heck instead of the severity of a stock, her cheeks glowing with health and happiness. All the young men were in love with her. It was an experience to go riding with her. Her husband had brought out two splendid hacks for her, fine jumpers, and well accustomed to the side-saddle. It was hard to keep up with her when she set her horse at a gallop and sailed across creeks, over fallen trees, up banks and down gullies, the reins held firmly in her strong little hands, seated as easily and lightly on her horse’s back as if she were perched on an armchair. Sir Henry knew his wife only too well, and he knew there would be no peace, and possible disaster, if he let her loose on horseback in bush country.
“I propose’” Said Sir Henry: “to go up as far as the Rufus, with Mr Freeling and Mr Torrens. I hope we can persuade their ladies to accompany you by carriage. If it seems suitable, you can embark on the whaleboats with us when we reach the Rufus. I intend to have two boats sent along with us; we shall go up on horseback, examining the river and the country as we go along. From the Rufus I wish to attempt the passage of the river as far as the junction of the Darling by boat, returning all the way to Goolwa by water. I particularly want to come through Lake Alexandrina. I believe the waters of the lake can prove very treacherous, and this will be a factor in the decision to make Goolwa a port. But I will not let you come through the Lake unless the weather is exceptionally calm.”
“Oh, Harry, it will be fun! This country fascinates me, and it will be a great experience to travel along the course of the river. I remember with what interest I read Captain Sturt’s account of his voyage when I was about fifteen. I little thought then that I would see it all with my own eyes!
“I remember, my uncle Marryat gave it to me. He said it was far more exciting than anything he had ever written, all the more so because it was all true! I must see to the provisions. When do you intend we shall go?”
“Well, my dear, as you know, we are offering a bonus of £4000 for the first two steamboats to go up the river as far as the Darling, and the bonus is now being advertised here and in London. I am anxious to go as soon as possible, to get some idea of general conditions, and of what can be done. It will be much easier to carry out negotiations” if I have first hand knowledge. Augusta, I’m longing to see steamers on the river! The whole country needs them. They would be a boon to everyone in New South Wales and the country south of the Murray as well as to South Australia, and they would bring much wealth to this colony. I shall never rest till I see goods carried freely to and from the river and the sea. The Murray should be South Australia’s richest asset – indeed the greatest source of wealth to this whole country if used aright. Gold indeed! If I were a young man here to make my fortune I would sooner own two good boats on the river with access to a good seaport, than dig gold out of the ground. I wonder if that young Scot, Cadell, will try his hand at winning the £2000. He seemed interested, but I think he’s a great talker!”
So they went, a merry party: the Governor and his lady, their infant son, Mr. and Mrs. Freeling, Mr. and Mrs. Torrens, and Mr. Hutton, on the tenth of September, 1850, when the young shoots were springing like flames from the newest branches of the eucalypts, and a golden cloud of wattle dappled the scrub and scented the air.
The strange Australian spring, a grey-green spring tipped with red, with wildflowers in blossom, and filled with a pristine, secret beauty of its own. Shy wallabies and other little bush creatures with mournful eyes, watching them anxiously from the shadows; kangaroos thumping towards the billabongs to drink in the evenings, startled at the strange creatures invading their territory; magpies singing at sunrise, pouring out the most ecstatic of all bird songs; kookaburras laughing above their heads, their raucous mockery echoing and re-echoing across the bush; and suddenly a sense of silent, human watch, of deep—set eyes hidden under huge, over-hanging orbital ridges: blackfellers appearirg as if from nowhere, their women and children in clusters behind them, to gaze upon the first white women they had ever seen. Across the ranges they went, along the drovers well-beaten tracks to the river country, to the Murray with its twists and turns and high red cliffs, rising first on the one bank and then on the other, and its own red-gums, standing deep in the flooding waters – waters from the Indi above Mount Kosciusko and the Great Dividing Range over the Queensland border from the Namoi and the Barwon, from the ancient bed of the Darling, from the Campaspe and the Goulburn and the Ovens and the Avoca, from the anabranches and the unnamed creeks, from billabongs which had rejoined the river after years of separation – all identity lost in the greater waters of the Murray as it wound its slow, majestic way to the lakes, to Goolwa, to the Mouth, and the Bar, and the Southern Ocean. It was a fascinating world, full of challenge.
“It is a great privilege, and a great responsibility I have been given,” said the Governor, as the party rode along through the scrub under the feathery shade of the river gums. “This surely is the most wonderful of all lands.”
At night before they slept, they saw the sky and the stars and the silver path of the waning moon on the water, and the twinkling lights from the blackfellers’ fires all the way along the winding river banks. “Like the lights all along the Embankment!” said Lady Augusta, amazed at their number. They heard the crickets and the frogs and the silly willy-wagtails who never know when to go to bed. They heard the rhythmic beat of swans‘ wings as they flew low overhead, calling as they went, the ‘mo-poke‘ of the boo-book owl, one of the strangest of all bush sounds at night, the ringing note of the bull-frog, and the slither and plop of snakes and other unknowns all along the reedy margins of the river. The sights were unforgettable. Blackfellers, still so numerous along the river, with their thin canoes cut from the bark of the biggest of the river gums, and patiently shaped in hollows dug in the sand. In the centre of their canoes they carried their little fires, as they went from one encampment to another. Some were friendly, and catching ten and twenty-pound Murray cod, they would bring them wriggling on the prongs of their spears to lay at the feet of the Governor. Sometimes they would cook them first, native way, in a bed of hot ashes.
But others vanished. Silently they disappeared up the mouths and tunnels of a thousand little creeks. “I feel as if they’re Watching us all the time,” said Lady Augusta, with a shudder. “How silent they are! I feel as if they hate us for coming into their country…” The dawns and the sunsets, and the birds; unforgettable sights. But more than the sights, it was the sounds of the river that she never forgot, especially in the silence of the night. There is a Murray curlew that wails like a banshee
after dark, and a nightjar who works all night along the bank collecting food, strangely noisy in his operations. Duck fly at night and cry as they go. Water birds are restless, nocturnal creatures, mostly they fly and seek their food after dark, unlike birds who nest in trees and regulate their life by the sun. There are owls along the river bank who shriek and moan like tormented souls, and the lap and suck of water lends an eery, haunting quality to the music of the bush after sundown, with its accompanying chorus of frogs. Lady Augusta, as they camped each night, could hear all these strange sounds and, like many another wife in a strange place, she turned over and, touching the solid warmth of her husband, crept gratefully into the comfort of his arms, while young Aretas slept as tranquilly in his basket as if he were in his nursery at Government House.
They travelled by horse and carriage through Gawler to the police station at Murrundie, where Mr Scott the Protector of Aborigines joined them. The men rode on to the Rufus, where Scott had two whaleboats manned by aborigines to row them to the junction of the Darling, which they reached on the 28th of September. Then they returned to rejoin the ladies at Murrundie. The whole party then embarked in three boats, an extra one having been sent overland from Port Adelaide, and they reached Goolwa on the 17th of October. They had progressed at a leisurely pace down the river, taking soundings as they went. Here they found submerged rocks, there a wide sandbar stretching right across the river. Ugly snags in the shape of dead trees stuck unyielding arms out into the main channel and the river twisted and wound about. Sometimes they would find themselves looping back a hundred yards to a place they had left a couple of hours before.
“It’s hard to visualise now,” said Sir Henry, “after such a wet, cold winter, with every creek overflowing, what it will be like at the end of a hot, dry summer. We are in shallow boats and the river grows wider and deeper every day – in fact every hour. But they will need to be boats of very shallow draft, and then I wonder how they will fare fully loaded. The settlers will not be happy to use the river for their produce if they find the boats getting stuck half way down!” “It might be quite dangerous, I imagine,” said Lady Augusta, “if the waters came down suddenly. Even in the short time we have been on the river the water’s risen rapidly, some of the creeks are veritable torrents.”
“Aye, there’ll be danger. It will need a lot of skill and sound judgment and courage to navigate this river. But it only needs the skill and daring of one or two and the rest will follow.”
The skill and daring of one or two… of Francis Cadell, and of another, strangely interesting character, a young man who knew nothing of boats or rivers, yet without help or advice or encouragement from anyone, put his Steamboat on the river first, Young William Randell. And as the Governor prophesied, following the lead of these two, came the rest , the Cockenzie boys and all the others, brave men working out fresh problems circumventing fresh dangers every day, for the waterways were never the same. Each day, each season, each year they changed. But three years were to elapse after the Governor’s memorable trip before the first two paddle-steamers thumped and thrashed their way up the river.
Chapter Six: The Brave Lioness and 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”.
Chapter Seven: The Growth of Goolwa
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.
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.
Chapter Nine:The River Murray Navigating Company…
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.
Chapter Ten: The Great Voyage of the Albury
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.
Chapter Eleven: Rivals of the River
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,
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.
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.
Chapter Thirteen: Romance on the Darling…..
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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’. ..