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South Australian shipping lines: Coast steamships

Coastal shipping companies

Syndicates rather than formal companies frequently operated ships on South Australia's coast. Sometimes these syndicates would merge with others to become larger and potentially stronger syndicates, or to form companies. The situation was complicated as shipping investors could hold shares in several companies.

There were throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries a number of small shipping companies that came into being to service a particular region of the state. Some of these existed for only a few years, operating one or two ships, some went out of business entirely or were absorbed by other small companies in an effort to resist the monopoly, or desired monopoly of the Adelaide Steamship Company. This company was formed in 1875: it plied the more profitable routes along the South Australian coast including the Melbourne and the Western Australian runs, but often overlooked the smaller communities. The Euro Steamship Company was one of the first of these small shipping companies operating between 1874-1881 and serving the upper Spencer Gulf ports of Port Pirie, Port Augusta and Wallaroo.

Spencer's Gulf Steamship Company

Meanwhile some of the share-holders of the Adelaide Steamship Company (ASC)were dissatisfied with the service being provided to Spencer Gulf and formed the Spencer's Gulf Steamship Company in July 1876. They stayed in business for six years, but after that amalgamated with the Adelaide Steamship Company. The Spencer's Gulf Steamship Company's ships were bought for 90,000 pounds of which 67,000 pounds was paid in Adelaide Steamship Company shares. The ships were Franklin, Flinders, Emu, Lubra and Royal Shepherd. ASC also acquired Investigator which had been on order and arrived from the builders in February 1883.

Coast Steamships

The Southern Yorke's Peninsula Steamship Company formed in 1877, and reformed in 1881 as Yorke's Peninsula SS Company. They operated the James Comrie and also ordered a new steamer from England: Warooka arrived in October 1883. In 1902 they bought Kooringa, but five years later they merged with Coast Steamship Company, to form Gulf Steamship Company (an earlier company of that name had only a fleeting existence in 1885). The new Gulf Steamship Company was bolstered by its acquisition in 1907 of Karatta, a vessel that was to serve South Australian outports, including Kangaroo Island, faithfully for more than 50 years. All was well for a few years until the battle began for the West Coast trade. In 1906 West Coast Shipping Company was formed. The far west coast had been poorly served in the past but in the next few years would experience excellent service as a number of companies competed for its trade. ASC placed the Paringa on the Spencer Gulf run, and in 1912 added the Morialta. West Coast Shipping responded with Wandana, 1000 tons, delivered in May 1913.

ASC's Rupara began a weekly service to the far west; in reply to this competition West Coast Shipping placed Wandana on the more lucrative Spencer Gulf trade in direct opposition to ASC and its Morialta. The competition became ruthless: ASC now encroached on Gulf Steamship Company's territory, trading to Kangaroo Island and lower Yorke Peninsula.  By late 1913 the small companies, Gulf Steamship and West Coast Shipping merged and formed Coast Steamships. They owned Karatta, Warrawee, Wandana, Warooka and Kopoola. They hoped the union would be strong enough to withstand the competition of Adelaide Steamship Company. Their hope was in vain. ASC, with the resources of their interstate trade and large fleet, were not prepared to lose the Gulf trade. They threw additional ships into service in the Gulfs and offered cut-throat rates that could have but one result for their smaller competitor.  By late 1914 the competitors were at the negotiating table and by late January 1915 Adelaide Steamship Company bought Coast Steamships for cash and shares.  However Coast Steamships remained as a subsidiary company of ASC and operated Karatta and Yalata until 1966.  By this time maritime trade in South Australia was dwindling, taken over by road transport.

Coast Steamships' nemesis and later parent company, ASC would itself in a few more years be forced into a systematic disposal of its assets, and rebirth as a new company Adsteam Marine.

Further reading

Parsons, Ron  Southern passages: a maritime history of South Australia.  Netley, Wakefield Press, 1986

Parsons, Ronald  Port Lincoln shipping Murray Bridge, Australasian Maritime Historical Society, 2005

Parsons, Ron  Yorke Peninsula Shipping Murray Bridge, Ronald Parsons, 1998

S.S. Karatta
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SS Wandana at Port Lincoln
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