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Developing trade and port histories: Outports - Port Victoria

Port Victoria

Wauraltee, or Port Victoria as it was later known was proclaimed a township in 1876; town allotments were auctioned on 5 October 1876 and the contract for the jetty was signed on 29 May 1877. This was completed in late January 1878 and the first overseas ship to take grain from the port to Europe sailed just 13 months later. So began seven decades of activity at Port Victoria which saw the last two square riggers Pamir and Passat sail from the port in May and June 1949.  Port Victoria was not a deep water port; the holds of the large vessels were filled from those of the dozens of ketches and lighters that plied the waters. Because the ships moored in deep water well beyond the jetty, there were no wharf fees or the need for pilots: this made it a cheap port where sailing ships that were not tied to schedules could linger while the labour intensive work of loading the wheat harvest was carried out.

In 1883 an L-shaped extension was added to the jetty, providing shelter for the small craft. The 1880s saw three grain merchants established in the town, and in the five years since the Cardigan Castle was the first overseas ship, a further 22 sailing ships had loaded bagged grain for the European markets.

Port Victoria rapidly became the fifth largest port in South Australia in terms of tonnage.  By the 1930s the number of grain merchants had increased to six.

The ketches did not just ply Port Victoria's waters loading off-shore ships, but loaded wheat at the smaller Gulf ports of Port Minlacowie, Port Rickaby, Point Turton and Balgowan and carried this to the ships at Port Victoria moorings. For a while Wallaroo took some of Port Victoria's trade, but when it increased its wharfage fees the ships returned to Port Victoria.

The use of superphosphate increased the productivity of the farms on the peninsula and the amount of wheat shipped from Port Victoria also increased; in 1906 110,000 bags were delivered to the port, and in 1910 160,000 bags, with one farmer alone delivering 10,000 bags. The sailing ships' life was prolonged well into the age of steam and diesel powered vessels, as they arrived in ballast to load the Australian harvest for Europe. Port Victoria was the last of the Australian ports to fill the holds of European sailers. In the end bulk handling at other ports such as Wallaroo and Ardrossan won the day, and from being a port of significance, Port Victoria became a service town and a tourist centre with holiday homes increasing.

The Grain Race

However we cannot leave the port without references to the grain races. This was an unofficial race and the winner was the ship which completed the voyage home in the quickest time.  Operating roughly between 1921-1939 the results of the return voyages were followed eagerly not just by the companies that ran the ships but by shipping enthusiasts world wide, and by the residents of the Peninsula ports. Reminiscent of the tea clipper races of the 19th century, the grain race was the last hurrah for the big sailing ships of the twentieth century. Eric Newby's The last grain race fully captures life aboard the Moshulu in 1939 as it raced back to Europe in 91 days ex Port Victoria.

Further reading:

Cormack, Neil. Port Victoria 50 years on Port Victoria, S. Aust. : Windjammer 50 Committee, 1999.

Heinrich, Rhoda Wide Sails and wheat stacks:  a history of Port Victoria and the Hundred of Wauraltee Port Victoria, S.A. : Port Victoria Centenary Committee, 1976

Thompson, Barry The grain races and the ports of the Spencer Gulf today in Sea Breezes: the worldwide magazine of ships and the sea volume 82, issue 745 January 2008 pp. 7-12

Ardrossan jetty
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Arrival of 'S.S. Morialta' at Port Lincoln.
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Australian warships at Victor Harbor
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Barque Lawhill
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Boats moored at American River
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Cargo ships at Wallaroo wharf
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Channel leading into Lake Butler
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Customs House, Port MacDonnell
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Glenelg jetty 1850
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Grain ships at Ardrossan jetty
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Jetty at Murat Bay
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Jetty Port Lincoln
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