Home | History | Moments In Time: Ships and Boats | Paddlesteamers on the Murray

Paddlesteamers on the Murray

The Murray River is to Australia what the Nile River is to Egypt: a great and ancient river system that has shaped the past and the present and will continue into the future as a national icon. The first European to navigate the river was Captain Charles Sturt who, being assigned to solve the great mystery of why so many rivers flowed westward from the Great Dividing Range (often known as the question of whether Australia had an 'inland sea') rowed a whale boat down the Murrumbidgee in late 1829 and reached the junction with the Murray River on 14th January 1830. He continued down Australia's largest river passing Murray Bridge in early February and reaching Lake Alexandrina, at the mouth of the river, on 9 February, 1830.

From this point onwards there was always the thought that the Murray River could be used for transportation and access to the western areas of New South Wales and Queensland. However it wasn't until the formal establishment of Goolwa as the port at the mouth of the Murray in the 1850s that this became a reality. For several decades late in the nineteenth century, between about 1860 and 1890, the rivers of the Murray-Darling were important trade routes carrying wool for export from thriving pastoral properties and returning with supplies for these stations. River traders became partners in the booming wool industry and prospered. But river trade did not become a permanent feature of the Australian scene because other, newer, transport methods provided better, and more economically attractive, ways of handling freight.

Echuca, Victoria

A former paddlesteamer port on the Murray River, the Victorian town of Echuca has re-invented itself as one of the most interesting inland tourist towns in Australia, whilst maintaining its position as an important local agricultural centre. Its present day attractions centre around the old port - the shops , hotels, stores and wharf that once served the river trade.

Echuca's huge 1865-built timber wharf, with its three wharf decks to accommodate the river's ever-changing water levels, is the star attraction. Here, visitors can wander over the original structure. The wharf is still operational, and among the relics from the past found within it are a blacksmith's shop with operation furnace, and the original railway station where goods were offloaded straight from trains and onto the ships that plied the Murray.

During a visit to Echuca at any time of the year, you are almost guaranteed to see ´┐Żat least one of the six authentic paddlesteamers based at Echuca these days tied up at the wharf. If they are not there, then they will be cruising up and down the river.

The paddlesteamers Adelaide and Pevensey are the most famous. The 135 tonne PS Pevensey was built at Moama (the NSW town on the opposite shore to Echuca) in 1911 for the Permewan Wright & Co. Ltd. After catching fire in 1932, she was rebuilt, but later fell on hard times and became a floating museum. Brought in for restoration in 1973, this great Clydesdale of the river was refloated in 1976 and began carrying passengers three years later. PS Pevensey starred as 'Philadelphia' in the international television mini-series 'All The Rivers Run'. PS Pevensey sails daily on one hour cruises up and down the Murray.

Built at Echuca, PS Adelaide is the oldest wooden hulled paddlesteamer still operating in the World!. Used as a logging boat for 90 odd years, she left the town briefly during the 1950's but later was brought back to Echuca as a community effort in 1960. 1964 saw her lifted from the water and put to rest in Echuca's Hopwood Gardens, where she lay for 20 years. However, in 1980 restoration commenced and she was refloated in 1984.

The paddlesteamers Canberra, Pride of the River and Emmylou are also based at Echuca and are used for river cruises and special functions. The Pride of the Murray claims a proud title: of the many boats originally built in Echuca, she along with the PS Pevensey and PS Adelaide, still operate from their home Port. Today, she spends her days providing pleasure and a unique heritage experience for Echuca's visitors, a far cry from her original purpose as a barge.

Echuca is also home to a large fleet of houseboats of a variety of sizes, which are hired for anything from a weekend to a few weeks by families or groups of friends seeking the peace and tranquilly that a cruise and and down the Murray can bring.

Swan Hill, Victoria
Swan Hill, a city of north west of Victoria, was a prominent port on the Murray River a century ago. Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement recreates life in the Murray-Mallee area from the period of 1830-1930 with historic buildings, exhibits and evening sound and light tours. The paddlesteamer Pyap is based at the Settlement and is used for river cruises. Built at Mannum in South Australia in 1896, in her early days she was used a floating general store. The PS Pyap travelled 500 kilometres each week selling goods to settlers at over 60 settlements and landing places along the river. Inside, she had a serving counter, a store section and a separate drapery at the rear of her lower deck. The crew slept on the upper deck.

Despite her great size - she is almost 30 metres long and 4.8 metres wide - PS Pyap has a very shallow draft which means she can float in less than a metre of water. One hour cruises depart from the Pioneer Settlement wharf each day, taking you upriver past the Riverside Caravan Park, Murray Downs Marina and the historic Murray Downs Homestead. Boarding of the Pyap is via a ramp and at times depending on river levels can become quite steep which some visitors may find it difficult to manage.

The Paddle Steamer Gem was launched in 1876 and was the largest Murray River paddle steamer. It was originally built to carry cargo and wool, but was later enlarged to carry passengers, before ending its long working life on the Murray and Darling Rivers in 1953. It is one of the few survivors of the steam boat era of trading along the Murray-Darling, a significant period of economic development for Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales. It is a central part of the Pioneer Settlement and can only be accessed through the Pioneer Settlement.

Renmark, South Australia
Renmark is the principal town, regional and administrative centre for the rich irrigated lands of the Upper Murray River district of South Australia. Produce from the area includes citrus and stone fruit, wine and table grapes, vegetables, wheat, timber, sheep and dairy produce. Renmark did not acquire any importance until 1887 when George and William Chaffey signed an agreement with the South Australian government which led to the creation of an irrigation scheme which was to turn the entire area into one of the most productive in the country.

The paddle ship Murray River Queen was built at Hindmarsh Island in 1974 as a luxury passenger cruise boat. She was a tourist boat carrying passengers on the Murray River in South Australia and is is currently moored in Renmark operating as a restaurant and bar. For many years, her home port was Goolwa where she offered week-long cruises operated by her builders, the Veenstra family. She was the first of several large boats built by the Veenstras for the Murray River, they later also built the M.V. Murray Explorer and PS Murray Princess.

The historic PS Industry fires up on the first Sunday of every month. It's one of the few remaining paddle steamers from the busy river trade days. The P.S. Industry was built in Goolwa and commissioned in January 1911 as a workboat for the SA Engineering and Water Supply Department. During her work life, the vessel played a major role in keeping the river open for traffic by removing snags and later in the construction of locks and weirs. In 1968, the P.S. Industry was decommissioned following 60 years of service.

Mannum, South Australia
Mannum is an attractive town on the banks of the lower Murray River that is the starting point of the Adelaide water-supply pipeline. The town is 84 km east of Adelaide and 13 metres above sea level. Mannum is home to three paddle boats: Murray Princess (1986 - built Goolwa); P.S. Marion (1897 - built Milang); P.V. Mayflower (1884 - built Moama).

Built in 1897, the PS Marion provides a unique opportunity to experience the thrills and mysteries of the golden years of the river boats. Undertaking short cruises throughout the year on the Murray River departing from Mary Ann Reserve in Mannum, PS Marion also conducts overnight passenger cruises, including the acclaimed Rockford Steam Powered Dinners as well as being available for private charter cruises.

Visitors are welcome to view PS Marion whilst she is moored at her home at Arnold Park Wharf (museum opening times) including inspection of the galley, dining room, lounges and cabin accommodation. Join the PS Marion s crew aboard the heritage paddle steamer for a short cruise along the mighty Murray River, departing from Mary Ann Reserve on River Lane at selected times throughout the year.

A great way to see the Murray River and a slice of the hauntingly beautiful and dramatic Australian outback, the rich legacy of old riverside ports and indigenous culture close up is to drift unhurried and quietly on a cruise aboard the paddle-wheeler PS Murray Princess. Operated by Captain Cook Cruises, PS Murray Princess offers a unique historic and nature-based adventure, and an authentic paddlewheel experience, through some of the driest parts of the driest continent, past mallee scrub and ancient red gum forests, through towering gorges and ochre-coloured limestone cliffs. Along the way visit historic ports and lush vineyards as we navigate the Murray's locks and big river bends.

Launched in June 1986, PS Murray Princess is the latest in a line of such vessels that date back to the late 19th Century. At a little over 67 metres in length and weighing just over 1500 tonnes, she is the largest paddlewheeler ever to operate on the Murray and the largest paddlewheeler in the Southern Hemisphere. The regular cruising schedule offers a 3 night cruise departing each Friday, a 4 night cruise departing each Monday or a 7 night combined cruise departing either Friday or Monday.

The ship has 60 cabins onboard which include inside cabins, outside cabins, limited mobility cabins and staterooms, and a passenger capacity of 120. There are various public spaces on board to enjoy, such as the double story elegant PaddleWheel Lounge, which offers floor to ceiling windows looking out on the enormous paddlewheel. The Sturt Deck (4th Deck) is home to the Sturt Dining Room and Sturt Deck Bar - which has a warm and inviting feel. For the sunny days, passengers can use the Sun Deck to watch the scenery pass by. There is also a spa, sauna and gym available.

Morgan, South Australia
Morgan sits on the right bank of the Murray River, just downstream of where it turns from flowing roughly westwards to roughly southwards. Morgan is well known for its number of houseboats, and historic timber wharf. Many of the old buildings remain in the town.

The town's famous wharf, built in 1878, was and still remains one of the most impressive examples of it's kind on the entire Murray River. As Port Morgan became a huge success, during the height of the Paddle Steamer trade between 1880 and 1915, the massive 550 meter, red and blue gum wharf had 5 water hydraulic cranes, with gangs of up to 50 men working continuous 24 hour shifts. Today's remaining section of wharf was restored between 1996 and 1998.

Located in the old railway buildings on the riverfront, the Port of Morgan Historic Museum's display includes the PW Mayflower (1884) the oldest paddle wheeler in South Australia and an impressive display of memorabilia much of which relates to the town's era when it was an important port.

Murray Bridge, South Australia

80 km south easat of Adelaide, Murray Bridge is one of the few Australian towns named after a bridge (and not a very original name for a bridge at that). This service town is the gateway to the Fleurieu Peninsula or the south east region of South Australia, depending on which way you are travelling.

Visitors can explore the vast and natural beauty of the lower River Murray on a cruise the Captain Proud, a Paddle Boat which boasts a fully decked out period styled dining area and bar. aptain Proud was originally built as the Proud Lady and worked as one of the original showboats on the Port River. In 1993 the vessel entered the River Murray from the sea at the Murray mouth near Goolwa and traveled to Echuca. The Captain Proud has now returned to Murray Bridge where it used to trade since 1995. Wharf Road Murray Bridge, South Australia 5253.

Goolwa, South Australia
Goolwa was once a thriving river port but now the boats carry just tourists and its historic buildings have been restored as art galleries and cafes. It is the last of the historic river ports on the Murray River before it empties into Lake Alexandrina 11 km to the south east, and then the Southern Ocean.

From 1854, it travelled with goods waggons between Goolwa and Port Elliot, and as such was Australia's first passenger railway. The section of the line between Goolwa and Port Elliot, now used by the SteamRanger Heritage Railway, was the first steel railway built in Australia. A restored passenger carriage from the train is on display in the town.

In the early 1850s, the competition for the Murray River trade began at Goolwa. The town became a busy port for the river trade and goods were sent downstream to be exported from Port Elliot and from 1864, Victor Harbour in Encounter Bay. This role diminished once the railway from Morgan to Adelaide opened in 1878 but the re-emergence of paddle steamers on the river as a tourist attraction is a link with Goolwa's past.

The restored Paddlesteamer PS Oscar W is berthed at the Goolwa Riverboat Centre. A one hour cruise departs from the Goolwa Wharf on weekends. Oscar "Charlie" Wallin (1867 - 16 August 1934), who born in Sweden and naturalized as a British Subject in Australia in 1897, owned and skippered several steamboats on the Murray-Darling river system. He built the boat at Echuca in 1908, and named it for his son Oscar William Wallin (ca. July 1897 - 20 September 1917) who fought with the 8th Battalion in World War I, and was killed in action in Belgium. The paddle steamer is of composite construction and was built from steel topsides and 3 inch Red Gum below. The engine gives out 16 hp - a wood-burning Marshall Steam engine. It was used to tow barges of wool from stations to the markets.

Milang, South Australia
An isolated and relatively undeveloped small town near the mouth of the Murray River, beyond Goolwa, on the shores of Lake Alexandrina. For some time Milang competed with Goolwa for the lucrative Murray River trade. It became a port for goods offloaded onto bullock wagons bound for Adelaide. The town faded into insignificance when railways replaced the river trade. At its height Milang was a port where goods were unloaded onto bullock drays which made the slow (usually about 9 miles a day) journey across the Mount Lofty Ranges to Adelaide. At the same time the town was known as a ship building centre with a number of paddlesteamers being launched from its yards.

Ships Of The Line

Post WW II Migrant Ship Post WW II Migrant Ships

Bass Strait Ferries Bass Strait Ferries

The First Fleet The First Fleet

This website is published as information only. Please direct enquiries about places and services featured to the relevant service provider.

Design and concept © Stephen Yarrow | Email us | W3Layouts