SA Government LogoState Library of South Australia logoDownstream, the River Murray in South Australia
SA Memory. South Australia past and present, for the future




The river as a highway

 

 Steam navigation    
 William Randell    
 Francis Cadell    
 Crossing the Murray    
 Rails to the River    
 Locking the River    

When Charles Sturt voyaged down the Murray in 1829-30, the first European to do so, he wrote that the river was navigable by vessels much larger than his whaleboat. He also considered the Darling River navigable. However, he believed the Murray Mouth to be dangerous to boats. Debate over this issue would be hotly disputed for many years.

It was some 13 years after settlement before river trade was again seriously considered. Governor Sir Henry Fox Young urged in 1850 that the government offer a bonus to anyone who could show that this was possible.

After 1853, with the launching of William Randell's Mary Ann and Francis Cadell's Lady Augusta, the paddle-steamer trade burgeoned until at its height there were up to 300 boats on the Murray-Darling river system and it was vibrant with the sound of boat whistles and thrashing paddle wheels.  The trade brought increased settlement and the establishment of towns along the river.

Following the Federation of Australia in 1901, the states of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia began negotiations over control of the river, and this included the establishment of locks and weirs to manage the river levels.  It was hoped that these would provide constant water levels that would greatly advance the river trade.  By the time these were built, the railways had arrived at the rivers and the paddle-steamer trade declined as a result. Gradually, the tourist boat industry has assumed its place.


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