It is just twenty years since Steam Navigation was commenced in this colony, and it may therefore be considered a proper opportunity to give a brief sketch of the progress which steam navigation has made in this colony in the past twenty years.
Messrs. Smith, Brothers (of which firm Mr. H. G. Smith is now the surviving partner,) were the first persons in the colony who turned their attention to steam navigation. In the latter end of 1830 they commenced building in Neutral Bay a small river steam-boat which was launched in March, 1831, and was therefore the first steam vessel that floated on the waters of Port Jackson; but as it was the 23rd July before her machinery was fitted, and the Sophia Jane, which arrived on the 13th May, made her experimental trip on the 17th June, to her attaches the honour of being the first vessel which moved by steam in the Australasian colonies, or the Pacific Ocean.
About the beginning of 1831, the late Mr. J. H. Grose commenced building the William IV. steamer, and we well recollect that on the arrival of the Sophia Jane a general feeling of regret was expressed that Mr. Grose should have entered into a speculation which had been thus interfered with, as the idea of two steamers finding employment in our coasting trade was not entertained.
In 1832, however, the colony began to feel the impulse given to it by the immigration of persons of capital, and it was determined to form a company, called " The Australasian Steam Conveyance Company, " which was to have the power of extending itself with the wants of the colony. It commenced humbly by building a very neat little vessel for the Parramatta River, called the Australia. We never understood the exact circumstances which caused this company to fail, except that it got into the meshes of the law, but with whom or what about, we do not remember, nor is it necessary now to enquire. The company failed.
From this time our steam marine gradually increased. The Tamar, originally intended for Launceston, arrived and was followed by the James Watt, the King William, and that beautiful vessel the Clonmel. The Ceres, the Victoria, and the Maitland, were built in the colony, and our steamers began to run along our coasts in all directions.
Towards the end of 1839 some gentlemen connected with the Hunter River trade, being discontented with the manner in which the steamers were conducted, resolved to have vessels over which they had some control, and they formed " The Hunter River Steam Navigation Company," of which the original shareholders were principally settlers, or persons in Sydney connected with the Hunter. This Company, which has rendered so much service to the Hunter River district and the colony generally, imported in 1841 those three excellent vessels the Rose, Thistle, and Shamrock, which have been running regularly for ten years.
Since the importation of those vessels several have been built in the colony, but we believe three only have arrived from England. The Seahorse, Cornubia, and the Juno, which were sent out under the auspices of the Messrs. Boyd. The former of those vessels it will be remembered struck on a rock at the mouth of the Tamar, and, in consequence of lengthened litigation between the owners and the underwriters, laid, for many years, in Johnson's Bay, exposed to the weather; her machinery has been taken out and sent to England, and the hull is now used as a hulk. The Cornubia being, from her great draught of water, unfitted for bar harbours, has been converted into a sailing vessel, and is now trading among the Sandal-wood Islands. The Juno was sent to Manila, and is running among the Phillipine Islands
There have been several casualties in our steam fleet, most of them from gross negligence. The Ceres ran, on a reef coming up from Newcastle a few minutes after dark; who was to blame was never clearly ascertained, there being some doubt who was in command of her at the time she ran ashore ; but there was no more excuse for the accident than if she had been run on to the North Head. The engines were afterwards recovered, and put into the steamer Victoria. The Clonmel was totally wrecked on her voyage to Port Phillip; the mate altered the course given by the captain, and ran her on shore near Port Albert. The King William was run ashore near Newcastle; this vessel ought never to have been allowed to go to sea; she was only a river boat, and is mentioned in a report on steam-boat accidents, printed by the House of Commons, in 1839, as having been refused a place on Lloyd's register, and been purchased by a gentleman (the late Mr. Street), for New South Wales. Her engines were secured and put into the Sovereign. The melancholy loss of the Sovereign, at the entrance of Moreton Bay, will be afresh in the memory of most of our readers. The Phoenix was driven ashore in a violent gale of wind, shortly after leaving the Clarence, and is still lying on the beach. This, we believe is the list of our steam casualties.
We have, however, had some deaths from old age. The James Watt, after a service of twenty years, was broken up, and her machinery transferred to the Eagle. The Sophia Jane was run until she was completely worn out: she was an excellent boat, admirably adapted for the Hunter trade, and did an immense quantity of work in this colony ; her engines were placed in the Phoenix.
We close this brief sketch of our steam history with a list of steam vessels now actually in the colony :
Tamar, wood, Greenock, 1833, 130 tons, 60 horse power, low pressure; Hunter River trade.
Rose, iron, Poplar, 1840, 275 tons, 100 horse power, low pressure; Hunter River Trade.
Thistle, iron, Poplar, 1840, 231 tons, 100 horse power, low pressure ; Hunter River trade.
Eagle, wood, built in Sydney, by Chowne. in 1849, 224 tons, 80 horse power, low pressure ; Moreton Bay trade.
Shamrock, iron, Bristol, 1841, 322 tons, 100 horse power, low pressure; Port Phillip trade.
William the Fourth, wood, William River, 1831, 84 tons, 18 horse power, low pressure Wollongong trade.
Emu, iron, British, 1841, 72 tons, 35 horse power, low pressure; Parramatta River.
Comet, wood, William River, 1842, 78 tons, 29 horsepower, low pressure; Parramatta River.
Brothers, wood, Sydney, 1847, 23 tons, 12 horse power, high pressure ; ferry boat, Port Jackson.
Waterman, wood, Sydney, 1844, 17 tons, 8 horse power, high pressure; ferry boat, Port Jackson.
Hawk, wood, Brisbane, 1849, 43 tons, 12 horse power, high pressure ; Brisbane River.
Agenoria, wood. Sydney, 1850, 21 tons, 9 horse power; Parramatta River.
Pet, wood, Sydney, 1849, 10 tons, 3 horse power, low pressure; ferryboat, Port Jackson.
Ferry Queen, Balmain ; ferryboat.
There are at Port Phillip, the Maitland, Aphrasia, and Derwent, employed between Geelong and Melbourne, and a screw propeller called the Melbourne, intended for the Launceston trade, is nearly ready to commence running.
Before leaving the subject we may say a few words on our prospects for the future, A very large proportion of the steam trade of the colony is now in the hands of the Hunter River Company, nearly all the seagoing steam-boats in the colony belong to them, and in the Hunter River, Moreton Bay, and Port Phillip trade, there are no steamers but theirs. Finding, however, that the trade is increasing beyond their capital and means, the Company is to be dissolved on the 30th June, and a new Company, with an enlarged capital, has been formed, called "The Australasian Steam Navigation Company. An agent is now in England purchasing steam vessels for this Company, and at least three steamers, one a full power paddle boat, and two screw-propellers, may be expected to arrive from England within the next six months. Should much longer delay in connecting this colony with the Indian steam route take place, it is probable that the Australasian Company will procure a couple of suitable vessels and run them between Singapore and Sydney.
Information has also been received that Mr. H. G. Smith is having a screw steamer built for the Wollongong trade. She was intended to leave England in June, and may therefore be expected here in November.
It will be seen from this that preparations are being made to meet the growing and extending wants of the colony as population increases, and that this is done by the gradual accumulation of colonial capital, and that the profits from Steam Navigation belong to the colony, and are not sent away to swell the dividends of absentees.
SG & SGTL Vol 8, p 152
^ back to top ^