First Australian Steamer
The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser
18 June 1831
Yesterday was a proud day for Australia - a day that ought to be placed high in the calendar of her improvements - a day to which her sons and her daughters, if alive to the true interests of their country, will in future years look back with exultation. The first efficient exhibition of steam navigation, in this fifth quarter of the world, was beheld by the select few who adventured on board the Sophia Jane, on Friday, the 17th day of June, 1831. True, the Surprise had, as we fully reported in a recent number, performed a trip to Parramatta some days before; but that was altogether so diminutive a display of the tremendous power of steam, that it cannot for a moment be placed in competition with the magnificent enterprise of yesterday. It must also be granted, that the Sophia Jane has herself performed one trip before that which we designate her first. On Sunday last she towed the ship Lady Harewood, bound for England, out of the harbour, and accomplished her task in the most gallant style: but this was no more than a private trip, intended for the amusement of a few of the Captain's friends, and therefore was not considered by us as entitled to any particular notice. But yesterday was the grand, the memorable era. The Sophia Jane put forth all her powers. She showed what the ingenuity of man had been able to contrive to dispense with oars and canvass, and to urge rapidly onward, in defiance of wind and weather, a vessel of large dimensions and heavy burthen.
Early in the morning, the Captain gave a breakfast on board, to His Excellency the Governor and a distinguished party of ladies and gentlemen. The vessel performed a gentle trip round Dawes' Point, Darling Harbour, and Goat Island, and in so fine a style, that His Excellency and all the fashionable guests were pleased to express the highest encomiums on the scientific construction of the vessel, and on the admirable skill with which she was managed.
But the grand display was reserved for the public excursion to Middle Harbour, and we are really at a loss for terms to convey, to those who were never on board a steam vessel, an adequate conception of the scene.
Soon after 11- o'clock, a signal gun having been previously fired, the Sophia Jane loosed her moorings in Sydney Cove, and began her adventurous journey. The manner in which she threaded her way through the shipping, without any assistance whatever, filled every one with admiration. She crept in and out with the utmost exactness, as if she had possessed all the attributes of a rational creature; and when fairly free from the Cove, her energies were allowed unlimited play, and away she went as on the wings of the wind. Her velocity was astounding. She actually flew through the water. The ordinary motion of a vessel leaving the harbour, compared with hers, was absolutely contemptible. Before the passengers well knew they had started, they found themselves abreast of Pinchgut Island; and ere they had digested this astonishment, they looked up, and, lo! they were in the very mouth of the Heads! Here a gun was fired, and Mr. Watson, the Pilot, came on board. Then away she dashed up Middle Harbour - crossing bars, skimming flats, and threading needles, in the finest style imaginable. She went about five or six miles inland. In many places, the harbour was so narrow as to resemble a mere canal. The scenery was beautiful, and was heightened by one of the most charming days earth ever saw. Having reached the utmost navigable point, she veered round, and again ploughed her way towards the Heads. At 2 o'clock the company were summoned to the mess-room, where they found a sumptuous cold collation, served up under the direction of Mr. Bax, of the Australian Hotel. Every luxury that could be devised was spread upon the hospitable table, garnished with the choicest champaign and other wines, ale, porter, &c. The passengers had scarcely seated themselves at table, when they became conscious of a very peculiar motion, the vessel rolling in the most regular and agreeable manner.; but supposing it to be only imaginary on their sitting down, for the first time, in the cabin, no particular notice was taken of it; but when the meal was finished, and they returned on deck, what was their astonishment to find themselves actually at sea - aye, rolling upon the wide ocean, the boundless expanse before them, and the Sydney Heads far behind! However, they greatly enjoyed the unexpected novelty of their situation, and while in the act of expressing their surprise, behold the miraculous steamer was again rounding Bradley's Head, on the full wing for Sydney, with both wind and tide against her. She performed the trip from between the Heads to Fort Macquarie, a distance of full five miles, in 26 minutes and 42 seconds; the shortest period in which it was ever accomplished by a sailing ship, with wind and tide directly in favour, being 42 minutes.
Having honoured Sydney with a hasty glance, to assure the good folk that all was well, she shot past with the velocity of thought, directing her course to Kissing Point. Thither she had a delightful trip, and returned to Sydney, the distance being about 10 miles, in less than three quarters of an hour. Her progress, throughout the day, varied from 10 to 13 miles an hour.
The day was the most favourable that could be desired. Not a cloud obscured the sky; the sun shone in all its chastened splendour, and a gentle breeze from the westward served to refresh and invigorate the joyous passengers. Part of the band of the 39th regiment added, to the other delightful pleasures of the excursion, the charms of martial music.
Captain Biddulph acquitted himself in the handsomest manner. His duties, as the navigator of the vessel, were performed with the utmost zeal and discretion; while his polite assiduities for the comfort of his passengers were all that became a commander and a gentleman. Everything, in short, went off in the very best style. Not one blunder - not one mistake. All was order and precision.
The accommodations between decks are truly admirable. The state cabin is appropriated exclusively to the ladies. The fair sex are always entitled to the best, and certainly their claim is fully conceded on board the Sophia Jane, their apartment having every convenience they could desire, together with superb looking-glass panels, which reflect their charms with all the fidelity of truth.
The dining-room is a noble apartment, being arranged with the most ingenious regard to utility and comfort. But those who would fully appreciate this wonderful achievement of human skill and enterprise, must take a trip, and judge for themselves. Her first voyage to Newcastle will be performed this day, and we hope she will have abundance of passengers. She deserves well of the colony: may she receive that liberal share of public patronage and support of which she is so eminently worthy!