Steam Boats on the Murray?
South Australian Register
18 February 1852
Our leading article on Monday, on the interesting and important subject indicated above, attracted the notice of an enterprising settler on the Darling, Mr. P. B. Walsh, who happens to be just now in Adelaide, having brought hither by land, for sale or shipment, some of his last clip of wool, and a small flock of wethers for a market.
The circumstantial information which that gentleman has obligingly furnished us with is so completely confirmatory of the views which we have so long exerted ourselves to impress upon the public mind as to the importance of providing steam navigation on the Murray, that we have great pleasure in laying it before our readers in a connected form.
Mr. Walsh's principal station is 120 miles up the Darling, and he has hitherto been accustomed to send his wool to Melbourne by way of Swan Hill on the Upper Murray, where there is a large ferry punt capable of taking, over ten bullocks and a dray with a load of three tons.
The journey is a long and wearisome one, although the road from Swan Hill to Melbourne is remarkably good.
The tardiness of the South Australians in carrying out the proposed navigation of the Murray has created in the minds of the settlers on that river and its tributaries a feeling of disappointment amounting to disgust, and has caused some of them to entertain a proposition made by a wealthy firm interested in preserving intact the intercourse with Melbourne.
This proposition goes to the extent of meeting the distant settlers half-way, namely at Swan Hill, on the Upper Murray, with supplies from Melbourne by means of carriers, who take back the wool, and thus save such distant settlers half the journey heretofore incurred with so much toil, and attended by the serious inconvenience of the long protracted absence of some of their people.
Thus much in explanation of the many disadvantages, and the great expense of the present means of transit available to the settlers on the banks of the Darling; which may serve also to elucidate the toils and expenditure connected with other stations, remote from any of the Australian ports.
We now come to the inducements which are already presented for the encouragement of traffic upon the waters of the Murray and its navigable tributaries.
We do not imagine that there can be any necessity for our insisting upon the possibility of navigating the Murray from Wellington to the junction of the Darling.
That seems to be a settled point. And whether the steamers, in order to become available at all seasons, and under all circumstances, must draw not more than 3 feet or 5 feet is only a matter of detail which may easily be determined on the safe side; by adopting vessels of 3 feet draught, which are sure to answer.
The Darling is occupied on both banks to a point 250 miles distant from its junction with the Murray.
The season of flood usually succeeds the time of sheep shearing, and it is then navigable not only to that extent but far beyond.
There are 400 miles of country on both banks of the Darling yet unoccupied simply in consequence of the extreme distance from any place of shipment; but, if steamers were employed, they might ascend the Darling after the season of sheep-shearing, and load even from the wool-sheds, some of which are built on the banks of the river.
The 400 miles of unoccupied country on each bank of the Darling include a large proportion of as fine cattle country as any in the world; the whole of which would be taken up at once, and plentifully stocked, if the Darling were but furnished with facilities for its navigation.
About 40 miles above the junction of the Murrumbidgee with the Murray is the imperfect junction of the Lachlan, which requires the judicious application of human labour to unite the navigable waters above with those below.
The intervening space, however, is capable of easy land-transit; and, if steamers could be engaged to ascend to the point indicated, a vast quantity of produce would be brought, even from the banks of the unconnected Lachlan.
That river is thickly settled to a great extent on both sides, and is capable of producing vast quantities of butter, cheese, hams, and bacon for distant consumption or export.
Mr. Walsh says that, from his own knowledge, he can pronounce the Murrumbidgee navigable for a distance of 400 miles from its junction with the Murray.
Mr. Scott, in his recent Report to the Government, which appeared in our columns, says it is navigable as far as Wagga-Wagga, a distance of between 500 and 600 miles.
The Edwards River is also navigable to a considerable- extent, and the country on its banks is plentifully stocked with sheep and cattle.
With respect, to the Upper Murray, the settlement of Swan Hill seems to be the proper landing place for steam-boat passengers bound to the gold fields lying between Mount Alexander and that river.
And as that point is actually less than 100 miles from the northernmost diggings of the Mount Alexander district, with a good road, well watered, abundance of feed, and several intervening stations, and as the Murray and its continuations are navigable all the way through from Wellington to Swan Hill, we want nothing in the world but one or two suitable steamers to establish an active and profitable traffic with that El Dorado, and to bring down an immense and perpetually increasing amount of produce of various kinds.
The above is only a portion of the detailed information with which we have been favoured by Mr. Walsh upon this most interesting subject.