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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 7

I The First 100 Years 1788-1888

II Railways

III Motorised Vehicles

IV Aviation

V Modern Shipping

VI Innovative Small Craft

VII Conclusion

VIII Acknowledgements

IX Contributors



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The First 100 Years 1788-1888 (continued)

By 1841 there were sixteen steamers in operation along the coast, with a combined power of 780 horse power. Blainey maintains that Australia was slow to use steamships. 'The Australian cities were too far apart and the volume of traffic available was too small to attract many of those pioneer paddle steamers that were such gluttons for coal'.[24]

The economic prosperity which began with the gold rushes of the 1850s was naturally reflected in the shipping trade. There were thousands of people in other parts of the colonies wanting passage to the gold fields. There were thousands of tons of food, goods and stores which required water transport, to feed, equip and shelter the growing population. Melbourne, the gateway to the gold fields, acted as a magnet to ships. By 1853 it had 15 steamers and various sailing craft solely engaged on the Port Phillip to Sydney run.[25] Not only the number, but also the size of the steamers continued to grow. Throughout these years sailing craft continued to compete with the newer steam ships. With their coal stoked engines, however, the steamers were independent of the wind and thus 'technically more suited to the coastal conditions than sailing vessels'.[26] They were less likely to be blown off course or on to the treacherous coastline, and they were better able to navigate the shallow river mouths and inland rivers.

Steamship companies proliferated. In Tasmania, for example, the Tasmanian Steam Navigation Company operated from Hobart in 1852, as well as a Launceston based company. The Kiama Steam Company was also established in 1852 to work along the south coast of New South Wales and a second company had been established at the Hunter River. In the north The Grafton Steam Navigation Company and The Illawarra Steam Navigation Company were established to carry wool, cedar, coal and a variety of raw materials to the southern ports. These northern steamship companies were faced with sending steamers into what Bach describes as 'some of the worst bar entrances in the world'.[27] The two largest rivers on the coast for example, the Clarence and the Richmond both have entrances which were plagued by a maze of sand spits and shoals, made even more dangerous by the prevailing southerly winds. The Macleay River, on the same coast, had only eleven feet of water at the bar and was navigable for only thirty miles or so by vessels of 50-60 tons.[28]

These uniquely Australian conditions demanded a different approach to river sailing. The Grafton Steam Navigation Company, later known as the North Coast Company, developed a new technology in response, and had their vessels especially designed with a shoal draught in order to negotiate the river mouths.[29]

The steamers which came to trade along the Murray, Darling and Murrumbidgee Rivers may similarly be regarded as river boats of a specially Australian design.[30] The Murray was navigated in 1853 by William Russell in the 20 ton 8 horse power Mary Anne, and Francis Cadell in his 105 foot steamer Lady Augusta. Both men had responded to the South Australian Government's 2,000 competition to open the Murray as a waterway.[31]

The rivers quickly became busy, and by the mid 1850s numerous paddle-steamers were carrying supplies, stores and passengers inland and returning to port laden with wool. The river trade expanded and by 1855 Albury on the Murray was reached. Three years later steamers went as far as Gundagai on the Murrumbidgee, and the following year Mount Mercheson on the Darling was linked by steamer with the other ports. When, in 1860 the Edward river was reached on the Murray, 6,500 km of waterway had been opened to shipping.[32] Ports developed along the rivers: Swan Hill, Echuca, and Albury on the Murray; Bourke and Walgett on the Darling, and Wagga Wagga on the Murrumbidgee. By 1870 about 100 steamers and barges worked between ports, the majority of which had been made locally at riverside towns.

People in Bright Sparcs - Bach, John; Cadell, Francis; Inglis, Andrea; Russell, William

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 449 - 450, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher