Paddle steamers and paddle boats

Riverboat The Marion
Mannun SA

Paddle steamers and paddle boats have been on the Murray River and in the Murray-Darling Basin since 1853 when William Randell launched the first steamer the P.S. Mary Ann near Mannum, South Australia.  The first European settlement in the area was in 1840.

The rectangular boiler from the Mary Ann is in the town’s recreation park.  The dry dock held the Marion, an 1897 built paddle wheeler; managed by the National Trust of South Australia as a museum.

The Marion left active service in 1950 and spent until 1963 as a boarding house. It was recommissioned in 1994 and currently operates as a day trip and overnight cruising vessel along the Murray.

“The Murray River was first navigated in 1853 by William Russell and Francis Cadell who responded to the South Australian Government’s 2,000 pound competition to open the Murray as a waterway.

From then on numerous paddle steamers began travelling inland with stores and passengers and returning to port laden with wool. The paddle steamers which came to trade along the inland rivers of the Murray, Darling and Murrumbidgee were an Australian design. Some 300 were built of local red gum.” (Margaret Simpsom 2013)

Mannum Main Street

Historic paddle steamer shipwrecks

Earlier this year, two River Murray paddle steamers, Monada and Ventura II – both lost in 1944, were classified as historic shipwrecks under the South Australian Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981.

This law means that all shipwrecks, and any associated relics, are automatically entered onto the Register of Historic Shipwrecks database 75 years after they are wrecked.

These new additions to the shipwrecks register brings the total to about 80 shipwrecks that lay beneath the River Murray’s surface or along its banks. (South Australian Department for Environment and Water.)

The first European settlement in the area was in 1840. The first ship (a side-wheel paddle steamer) built on the Murray River was launched at Mannum in 1852. 


The town of Morgan was proclaimed in 1878, the year the railway line from Adelaide via Kapunda was opened, and was named at that time after Sir William Morgan, then Chief Secretary, later Premier of South Australia.

A large wharf was built, and Morgan, being the railway terminus (hence the name of a local hotel), became one of the busiest ports on the Murray. It handled nearly all the goods that were being imported and exported (particularly wool) to and from a vast region upstream from Morgan along the Murray and Darling rivers. At its peak, Morgan was the second busiest port in South Australia (behind only Port Adelaide), with six trains a day carrying freight from the Murray to the sea at Port Adelaide. As road transport improved through the early part of the 20th century, river transport declined. The railway to Morgan finally closed in 1969.

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Heritage and History Tragic... chasing the past, one picture at a time!

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