Commencement of Steam Navigation in Australia

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser

17 May 1831

First Steamer in New South Wales.

On Saturday last, the inhabitants of Sydney had the extreme gratification of seeing, for the first time, a steam-vessel floating in their harbour, having arrived from England during the night.

This being the commencement of steam navigation in Australia, we shall enter into as many particulars as we have been able to collect, for most of which we are indebted to the South African.

The name of the vessel is the Sophia Jane. She is commanded by Lieutenant Edward Biddulph, R. N., who is, we believe, part owner.

She was built in 1826, by Messrs. Barnes and Millar, the pupils of the celebrated Watt, and the only ones who have carried on business for themselves. The whole length of the deck, unimpeded (as all vessels of this kind are), is 126 feet; her breadth, 20 feet; her burthen, 256 tons; her power, 50 horse. In smooth water she will travel eight miles an hour. She draws only six feet water, and could easily be made to draw only five. She was originally constructed for the almost exclusive accommodation of passengers, and the greatest proportion of the room is adapted for their service.

Her principal employment hitherto has been in the carriage of passengers between England and France, and to various parts of the British islands. No expense has been spared for the comfortable accommodation of her passengers, and her apartments are of the finest description. She has three separate cabins, one for gentlemen, another for ladies, and another for steerage passengers. In the gentlemen's, 16 beds can be made up; in the ladies, 11; in the steerage, 20; and in case of emergency, 7 extra beds can be prepared, making in all 54.

Being intended in the first instance for Calcutta, where wood is the cheapest fuel, she is as well adapted for the consumption of that article as for coal. She originally cost 8,000, and her present value is estimated at about 7,500. She has brought out an experienced engineer, and a duplicate set of all the necessary apparatus. She was ultimately fitted out at London expressly for Sydney, on a private speculation.

On her passage, she touched at Pernambuco, in South America, and at the Cape.

At the latter place they were extremely desirous of purchasing her to ply between Algoa Bay and Table Bay. A public meeting was held in the Commercial Exchange, for the purpose of forming a joint-stock Steam Navigation Company; but the attempt failed, and she prosecuted her original course. We are not sorry for this, and we are confident she will prove a lucrative concern.

At present the arrangements are too immature to enable us to say how she will be employed, but in all probability she will form a regular packet, for the conveyance of both goods and passengers, between Sydney and Newcastle. Most cordially do we wish her every success, and congratulate our fellow-colonists on so valuable an accession to their pleasures and advantages.

The colonial-built steamer, to travel between Sydney and Parramatta, is rapidly advancing, and will be fit for work in the course, perhaps, of next week. It is proposed by some gentlemen, that her first day's employment, after a fair number of experimental trips, shall be at the expense of a private party. She would be let out for the day at the reasonable charge of 10, so that there would be no difficulty in carrying such a scheme into effect.