State Library of South Australia logoDownstream, the River Murray in South Australia
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Did you know? : Race to open the River Murray to steam navigation

In August 1850 the South Australian government established a reward, of £2000 each, for the first two paddle-steamers to travel up the River Murray to its junction with the Darling. The conditions of the prize were that the vessels were to be built at a location on the river or Lake Alexandrina, were to be made of steel, were driven by at least 40 horsepower engines and were submerged less than 2 feet into the water when loaded. No one accepted the challenge.

William Randell constructed the first paddle-steamer to be launched on the River Murray. Randell owned a flourmill at Gumeracha and he wanted to be able to transport his flour to settlers along the river and to the Victorian goldfields. Randell's steamer, named the Mary Ann after his mother, was launched on the river from a landing near Mannum. It was first trialled on 19 February 1853. On 25 March 1853, the Mary Ann set off on her first voyage up the Murray, but had to turn back due to low river. Randell began his second attempt on 15 August 1853 and made his journey at a fairly leisurely pace.

Francis Cadell decided to establish wool transportation business along the river. He had a steamer built in Sydney and transported to Goolwa. Cadell's steamer was named the Lady Augusta after the wife of Sir Henry Fox Young, the governor of South Australia. The Lady Augusta set out from Goolwa on 25 August 1853.

On 14 September just upstream of the Murray's junction with the Murrumbidgee river, the crew of the Mary Ann had moored and set up camp for the night when the Lady Augusta came steaming past them. The Mary Ann and the Lady Augusta then 'raced' each other up the river to Swan Reach and back down again. Ultimately, Cadell's launch was the first to complete the journey although only by a small margin. He was praised as the winner, received £4000 and a medal especially made for the occasion by the South Australian government. Randell received a consolation prize from the government and through public subscription.

The River Murray had been proved navigable and the great era of the paddle-steamer trade on the river began.

Captain Francis Cadell
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'Lady Augusta' and 'Mary Ann' at Swan Hill
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Portrait of Captain W. R. Randell
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River Steamers on the Murray
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