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Developing trade and port histories: Outports - Port Elliot

Port Elliot

To see this small bay on the south coast of Fleurieu Peninsula is to wonder why it was selected as the port for the River Murray trade in South Australia. Governor Gawler in 1839 was the first governor to realise the potential of the river for trade, but he was recalled, and the colony entered a period of tightened finances. Governor Sir Henry Fox Young was interested in steam navigation on the river and initiated a prize for the first successful paddlesteamer on the river. The question of an outlet for the river trade also needed to be considered. The Murray Mouth was briefly considered but posed too many problems.

In 1849 a Commission of Inquiry considered this issue, investigating whether to construct a railway or a canal to a port in Encounter Bay as against work on the Murray Mouth. This Commission settled on a railway, and on a port in Horseshoe Bay under Freeman Nob. This was nearer than Victor Harbor and this together with the colony's still straitened economy, was probably the motivation behind the decision. Time would show falseness of the reasoning.

Work commenced on the railway between Goolwa and Port Elliot in 1851, and large store sheds were built at each end of the line. Stables were also built for the horses which were to be the motive power on the line. The first cargo was moved along the line in December 1853 and the railway was completed on 18 May 1854.

Meanwhile work was begun on the port facilities at Port Elliot. It was proclaimed a port 28 August 1851, its boundaries extending from Freeman Nob to Pullen Island (formerly Lipsons Island) and to Frenchmans Rocks and the beach. It extended three nautical miles to seaward. The jetty, under Freeman Nob, was completed in May 1852, and was considered sufficiently well protected from the south-west swell. An obelisk was erected on top of Freeman Nob in early 1852, as a guide for ships; a blue flag was raised on the flagstaff when the channel into the port was considered unsafe. The obelisk was visible for 10 miles out to sea.

Two mooring buoys were laid down in the bay and later mooring rings were placed on the rocks in the bay. The port was being used even before the railway was completed, and in 1852 it was decided that a breakwater was required. This ran from Freeman Nob towards Pullen Island.  Economies were made and in 1855 a storm dislodged some of the larger rocks. Repairs were not made - but the errors in the construction of this breakwater were used to determine the size of blocks quarried for the breakwater later built at Victor Harbor.

The vessels which used it were largely small coasting vessels, though there were a number of ships which loaded directly for overseas ports. However it was the number of wrecks in the bay which spelt its doom. In 1853 the schooner Emu was wrecked with the loss of all lives and in 1856 four vessels were wrecked. From this date the number of ships using Port Elliot declined, and in 1860 another two vessels were wrecked, confirming the general opinion of the bay's unsuitability.  Io in 1865 was the last ship to use the port.

The total amount spent on facilities to make a port at Horseshoe Bay had been 30,000 pounds.  By 1864 Victor Harbor was the port for the River Murray trade - Port Elliot was effectively closed as a port, after a short and disastrous life.

Further reading:

Tolley, J.C. South Coast story:  a history of Goolwa, Port Elliot, Middleton and The Murray Mouth.  Port Elliot, S. Aust.: District Council of Port Elliot, 1968

Linn, Rob A land abounding: a history of the Port Elliot & Goolwa Region, South Australia Goolwa, S. Aust.: Alexandrina Council, 2001

Thompson, Malcolm H.  Rails and the river:  a history of the Southern Railway System and the River Murray Shipping 1854-1885 Goolwa, Alexandrina Council, 2004.

Port Germein

At the northern side of the wide Germein Bay sits the town of Port Germein. For many years its jetty was the longest in South Australia but after the closure of the port in 1959, time, storm action and a deliberate shortening has seen the jetty shrink.

Before the jetty was built, a landing stage was used for the loading and unloading of goods. From this the goods were transferred to shore by wagon at low tide, or lightered by barge or ketch to vessels anchored off shore. In 1879 and 1880 petitions were presented to the South Australian Parliament for the erection of a jetty. This was finally approved in 1880. Work was begun from both ends simultaneously and the jetty was opened in July 1881.

At the same time another petition was submitted for extensions to take the jetty out to 'deep' water. This extension was completed by March 1883 and the jetty was then 5459 feet (1664 metres). Initially the trucks were hauled along the rails by horse power but in September 1884 an engine was substituted. Port Germein was finally declared a port in November 1884, and exports and imports through it credited to it. Before this time they had been credited to Port Pirie at the southern end of the bay. Waiting ships loaded bagged wheat. In 1888 a total of 19 vessels loaded at the port and in 1924 the very large windjammer Kobenhaven took on wheat there. In 1939 the last of the large grain ships, Archibald Russell left Port Germein. Use of the port declined over the next decade as bulk grain facilities were installed at Port Pirie and Wallaroo.

A lighthouse was built at the end of the jetty in 1894, replacing the offshore lightship. This structure has now been relocated to the adjacent shore as has the clock-face tide gauge.

The remains of Port Germein jetty are still impressively long and the piles that continue beyond the walkable length of the jetty give a good impression of its full length in its heyday.

Further reading:

Please sir, let's do history, text by the teacher and students of Port Germein Primary School. Jamestown, S.A.: Nadjuri Australia, 1978

Collins, Neville The jetties of South Australia, Woodside, SA, Neville Collins, 2005

Robinson, Nanc. Reluctant Harbour: the romance of Pirie, Jamestown, S.A.: Nadjuri Australia, 1976

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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