Welcome to AusPostalHistory.com

FRANCIS CADELL, NAVIGATOR/ ENTREPRENEUR, & MURRAY STEAMERS

The first reference to Francis Cadell and Murray steam navigation I could find was surprisingly in The Courier (Hobart, Tasmania) on 9 October 1852. Page 3. He was described as "Captain Cadell of the Queen Sheba, with four successful gold-diggers, has sailed in a canvas boat on the Murray as far as Swan Hill, a crossing place on the upper Murray, distant 120 miles from the gold fields of Bendigo. The gallant explorer expresses himself most sanguinely as to the possibility of navigating a steamer up to the Swan Hill, which is a distance of 1300 miles by the river, and from whence the road to Mount Alexander is an excellent one. At Swan Hill the river is 150 yards in breadth, quite free from obstructions, with a depth of quarter less three fathoms.... The settlers in the districts of New South Wales and Victoria bordering upon the Murray and its tributaries have freely offered to supply sufficient fuel in the vicinity of their several stations." He mentions that a small steamer is being built to be launched on the Murray and it is soon to commence her first voyage towards the Victorian diggings (Figure 1).

A 2-column entry in The Argus appeared under the heading ‘Captain Cadell and Inland Navigation on 31 October 1862, page 7 and the following paragraph has been abstracted as follows: "It is now some seven years ago that Captain Cadell startled the inhabitants of the upper Murray district by appearing in their midst with a real steamboat.....and the Lady Augusta created quite as much as sensation as if she had been a live bunyip. The first trip being merely experimental, was not, of course, remunerative; but other vessels followed the Lady Augusta, and discharged cargo on the green sward at Albury..... Many were the prognostications of the future greatness of the Murray as a natural highway..... The excitement was at its height when, in October 1856 the Melbourne steamer arrived with Sir Richard Macdonnell, Governor of South Australia, on board..... and as she drew some seven feet of water, her arrival at Albury was hailed as a most convincing proof of the navigability of the Murray (Figure 2).

Nothing has been found in the press of the day that pointed to the fact that Cadell’s company issued four ‘stamps’ to defray some of the expenses of carriage of goods and people. The company was known as the Murray S.N. Co. (Murray Steam Navigation) and all four near-identical design items had ‘VICTORIA’ on the left hand side as well as N.S.Wales on the right hand side. The ‘HALF PENNY’ was grey, the ‘ONE PENNY’ orange, the ‘TWO PENCE’ blue and the ‘THREE PENCE’ was green. They differ in that the ½d, 2d and 3d have the numeral in the top left and right hand side, the orange 1d has a floret instead (Figure 3).

These four stamps issued in the 1869's were an item of considerable value presented by a highly prestigious Australian stamp auction firm, but a knowledgeable dealer of Australian revenue stamps has concerns about these ‘stamps’ being bogus, although he admits that there is no evidence, either way. The ‘HALF PENNY’ ‘stamp’ also exists as ‘HALF PENCE’.

In 2003, Australia issued a se-tenant strip of five 50 cents stamps depicting Murray River shipping as an 150 th Anniversary and the central gutter shows five towns on the Murray River, starting on the left Goolwa S.A., Mannum S.A., Wentworth N.S.W., Swan Hill Victoria and on the right, Echuca Victoria (Figure 4).

Despite being a great advance on the bullock team, river transport had its problems. There was no co-ordinated approach to the development. Intercolonial customs tariffs meant time consuming and burdensome custom-house requirements. The river itself was unpredictable and conditions were often dangerous. Rising costs, fierce competition and the expansion of the rail system contributed to the decline in river trade from its peak in the 1880s. River trade continued at reduced levels until the 1930s. Passenger steamers continued longer. Indeed, steamers can still be seen on the Murray River. Many individuals and organisations have restored vessels or built new paddle steamers to cater to the love of heritage and the resurgent tourist industry.

Francis Cadell, river navigator and entrepreneur, was born on 9 February 1822 in Scotland, second son of Hew Francis Cadell, mine-owner and shipbuilder. He was educated in Edinburgh and he joined the East Indiaman Minerva at 14, and sailed in her to the first China war in 1839. In 1844 in the Royal Sovereign he visited European and South American ports. He returned to Scotland in 1846 and for a year in the workshops of Robert Napier & Sons in Glasgow studied shipbuilding and the application of steam-power to navigation. In 1849 he attempted to raffle the Royal Sovereign in Adelaide and then to sell it in Sydney. He returned to Scotland, had the Queen of Sheba built to his specifications and sailed to the Pacific. In 1851 some of his crew deserted in San Francisco and he recruited several natives in the Society Islands, some of whom later helped to man his Murray steamers. He then went to Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, where he arrived in February 1852, took over the Cleopatra and made several voyages between Adelaide and Sydney.

Attempts were then being made to establish the steam-navigation of the River Murray. With his agent and partner, William Younghusband, Cadell negotiated with the South Australian government which had offered a bonus of £2000 for each of the first two steamers to travel up the Murray as far as the Darling junction. In May the council agreed to pay him £500 for taking a steamer through the Murray mouth, £1000 for reaching the junction and another £1000 for continuing to run on the river for twelve months. Cadell arranged to have a wooden steamer built in Sydney and then travelled down the Murray from Swan Hill to Lake Alexandrina in a canvas boat with a crew of diggers from Bendigo. He also examined the Murray mouth.

Cadell's steamer, Lady Augusta, arrived at Port Elliot on 10 August 1853 and six days later he took her through the Murray mouth. In the next decade Cadell was active in the navigation of the Murray and its main tributaries. He formed the River Murray Navigation Co., which bought the Melbourne and in 1855 imported two steamers in parts from Glasgow. They were assembled at Goolwa and one of them, the Albury, reached the town of Albury under Captain George Johnston on 2 October. About this time the New South Wales government made a grant of £2000 for clearing snags from the Murray and Murrumbidgee under the supervision of Cadell. Although his method of cutting snags off just below water-level led to criticism, he was commissioned by the South Australian government in 1857 to supervise the building of the snagging boat, Grappler, which became known as 'the White Elephant'.

In that year the company dissolved but Cadell and a partner continued to run the Melbourne and Albury with their barges. They also bought the Ruby, which they ran between Melbourne and Wentworth, at the Darling junction, until intercolonial customs barriers became insufferable. Despite complaints of settlers about his trading methods, Cadell extended his activities into tributaries of the Murray. In April 1859 a testimonial fund was opened by river settlers who admired Cadell, and £1100 was collected. This amount was more than offset in November when the Melbourne, which had cost him and his partner £6000, was lost at the Murray mouth. In 1860 when he claimed to have lost £17,000 in trying to open the Murray trade, he examined the La Trobe and Snowy Rivers, and proposed without success that the Victorian government finance him in establishing a steamer service between Melbourne, the Gippsland Lakes and the Snowy River. In mid-1861 his business failed, his stores at Menindee, Hay, and elsewhere suspended payment and he was forced to sell the Albury and the Bogan, which he had converted from a barge to a steamer.

By the end of 1866 Cadell was in South Australia, a guest in a new river-steamer, Francis Cadell, on its trial run. He then did some snagging on the Darling for the New South Wales government. Early in 1867 he was appointed by the South Australian government to lead an expedition to the Northern Territory to choose a site for the capital and an area for agricultural settlement. He examined the Liverpool River, went up the Roper River in a small steamer and visited Port Darwin, Anson Bay and the Victoria River. He spent most of the year in thorough investigation, but the instructions on which he acted were misdirected.

In 1870 Cadell was whaling in New Zealand and appears to have unsuccessfully attempted to pacify a mutinous group of Maoris by trading with them. He then traded between Fiji and neighbouring islands and in 1873 pearled on the northern coast of Australia. In 1874 there were suggestions that he should explore the Murchison River area but he was too busy recruiting native labour from the Dutch islands for the pearling fleet. Two years later news of charges against him of ill treating his pearlers and fishermen led a number of his old South Australian associates to protest that he would be incapable of such an offence. In 1879 he disappeared while either trading or pearling in the Dutch East Indies. Various accounts of his death were reported; according to a letter to his brother from an official in Batavia he was murdered off the Kei Islands in his schooner Gem by the cook's mate, who alleged that Cadell had not paid him any wages for five years. The Gem was then scuttled with Cadell's body on board. A picture of Francis Cadell is seen in Figure 5.

 

The Australian Dictionary of Biography provided much of the information and Figure 5 on Francis Cadell.

 

 

 

 
Copyright 2000-2016