Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Hunter River Steamers 1831 - 1850

The Hunter River Packet Association was formed in 1834 to provide opposition for the Sophia Jane and the William the Fourth in trading between Sydney and the Hunter. A meeting had been held in April 1833 when it was decided to build a 200 ton steamer in New South Wales to be fitted with two 40 horse power engines each. Mr. Lowe of Clarence Town tendered to build the ship and when the machinery had arrived in 1836 it was fitted in the newly built Ceres. When the Ceres was wrecked six months later the company was wound up.

Steam Boat Captain
The Hunter River Steam Navigation Company was formed in 1840. A meeting had been called by John Eales and when the company was approved it was decided to have built in England, three iron steamers. These were to be the Rose and Thistle - both built by Fairbairn and Co., on the Thames and the Shamrock built for Paterson of Bristol. These additional steamers in Australia caused much competition in the Hunter River Trade with other vessels particularly the Victoria steamer.

In 1842 the General Steam Navigation Company offered for sale by auction the whole of their property consisting of their steam boats Victoria, Tamar, Sophia Jane and Maitland; the coal barge Jolly Rambler and the Hulk Alexander together with the unexpired lease on the company's wharf at Sydney and Stores at Morpeth.

The Hunter River Steam Navigation Company became the Australasian Steam Navigation Company in 1851 and held a monopoly of the Hunter River business as well as extending their services up and down the coast.

The wharves must have been bustling confusing places when the steamers came in. Adding to the confusion were the stage coach owners, vying for the trade of disembarking passengers. In 1842 James Stilsby appeared in court on a charge of assaulting Miss Emma Brown who had been a passenger on the steamer Shamrock from Sydney to Morpeth. It was Stilsby's practice to seize the luggage of passengers to force them to use his coach. He had on this occasion 'endeavoured by force and rudeness to compel her to go as a passenger in his coach after she had engaged a seat in a rival vehicle'. Stilsby was fined 40/- for the assault and the Judge in sentencing remarked that it was time to put a stop to the rudeness and ridiculous pretensions of Stilsby who scarcely allowed passengers a choice of the means of conveyance but illegally seized their luggage and used threatening and abusive language in his endeavour to compel their patronage.'

Disembarking passengers not only had to keep an eye on their luggage, but also their pockets. Mr. Wycks Norton of Newcastle landed in Morpeth on the Cornubia steamer in 1846 found on reaching the public street in Morpeth after pushing his way through the crowd of Passengers and idlers who stood on the quay that his pocket book containing £40 had been stolen.

Joseph Phipps Townsend described a voyage to Morpeth by Steamer in 1849 -

Three iron steamers, of about one hundred tons each, ply between Sydney and Morpeth on the river Hunter. They are very excellent boats, and behave well in the heavy sea that sometimes rolls up from the southward, making the passengers very sick, and causing the moustache of bearded men to droop. In their internal arrangements they are very neat, clean, and comfortable; and, in these respects, far excel some of the Marseilles boats. Other steamers, however, run in opposition to them; and carry cabin passengers from Sydney to Morpeth - a run of nine hours in fine weather - at two shillings a head. The lowness of the fares induced a pieman to become a constant cabin passenger, and he voyaged up and down the coast, enjoying the dignity of his new position, and driving a fair trade in tarts and lollipops. The iron boats start at ten at night. At that hour one hears the clanging of the bell, and, hastening on board, finds his horse on deck with a cloth over his loins, who, being an experienced traveller both by land and water, and, like most of the other passengers, used to tips and downs in the world, is quite unconcerned; indeed, positively happy when he hears your voice and perceives a bundle of hay which you proceed to hang on a peg exactly opposite his nose. At dawn the steamer is abreast of Newcastle, a free port, and the head quarters of the coal district. Having landed passengers there, we enter the river Hunter; and, passing many pretty farms on its banks, land at Morpeth at seven in the morning. On the banks of this river and of its tributaries are many thriving settlers, who send their produce to Sydney by the steamers, and these vessels also take down the wool and tallow of the Liverpool Plains and; New England squatting districts. Disembarking at Morpeth, the traveller rides on to Yeoman's Inn, West Maitland. East and West Maitland form a long straggling town, containing about four thousand inhabitants, which owes its prosperity chiefly to the traffic carried on through it between the squatting districts and Sydney. - Rambles and Observations in New South Wales With Sketches of Men and Manners, Notices of the Aborigines, Glimpses of Scenery, and some Hints to Emigrants... By Joseph Phipps Townsend

Steam Boat Captains :

Ceres - Built by William Lowe; Captain Alexander Livingstone 1836

Clarence - Captain Charles Wiseman

Cornubia - Captain Stericker 1846 ; Captain John Taggart 1847

Eagle - Captain Allen 1849

Experiment - Captain Toby 1836; Captain Alderson 1841; Captain Dix 1848


James Watt - Captain Francis Henry Griffin; Captain Taggart 1845

Karuah - Launched at Carrington, Port Stephens in 1831

Maitland - Captain Charles Wiseman 1839; Captain Parsons 1844 - 1852

Phoenix - Captain Charles Wiseman 1848 - 1850;


Shamrock - Captain Gilmore

Sophia Jane - Edward Biddulph, Alexander Livingstone, Captain (?George) Mulhall (1835) Captain Freeman (1840); Captain Charles Wiseman 1842; Captain Griffin;

Sovereign - Captain Cape 1843 - 1847

Surprise - First steamboat built in the colony

Tamar - Captain Charles Wiseman c. 1841; Captain Allen (1846 -1848), Captain Ellis (1835),(1843), Captain Mulhall (1844) (1848)

Thistle - Captain Robert Lorn Pattison

Victoria - Captain Taggart 1842

William The Fourth - Captain Taggart (1831), Captain Griffin; Captain Charles Wiseman (until 1846)

Sophia Jane

The Sophia Jane was the first working steamer to be seen in Sydney Harbour. She arrived from England in May 1831 after being built by Barnes and Millar in 1826. She was 153 tons and had one engine of 50 horse power. While the Sophia Jane was having paddles fitted in readiness for her maiden voyage another steamer made its first voyage - the 'Surprise' set off for Parramatta amid a volley of smoke and steam on 1st June, thereby becoming the first steam powered vessel in Australia.

When the 'Sophia Jane' was launched later in June 1831 the 'Australian' reported: Steam navigation will help greatly to raise the character of this Colony abroad, and to improve it at home. The addition of such a vessel as the Sophia Jane to our coasting trade is a most gratifying event. It is almost in the trading world what a new governor would be in our political hemisphere. A fresh spirit will be infused into all our settled and unsettled district that can be approached by water. Persons will shortly be able, we expect, to breakfast in town, lunch at Newcastle, dine at Port Stephens, and put up comfortably at Port Macquarie next morning, at half the present expense and in quarter the time, for the journey to Wallis's Plains. Should she not find enough to do between this and Newcastle the route to and from Hobart Town lies open, and the Western Port, when the fine line of coast about there shall be settled.'

The Sophia Jane was said to be of very beautiful build and a good sea boat. She was commanded by Lieutenant Edward Biddulph R.N. who was also part owner. The whole of her deck was 126 feet; her breadth 20 feet and could travel eight miles an hour in smooth water. She was originally constructed for the almost exclusive accommodation of passengers and her principal employment had been in conveying passengers between England and France. No expense had been spared in fitting her out and the apartments were said to be of the finest description. There were three separate cabins (one for gentlemen, one for ladies and one for steerage). Sixteen beds could be made up in the gentlemen's room, 11 in the ladies and 20 in steerage. In an emergency extra beds could be prepared making a total accommodation of 54. Her value was estimated to be £7,500 and she arrived from England with an experienced engineer and a duplicate set of all the necessary apparatus. She was considered very fast and could make the 60 miles between Newcastle and Sydney in under 8 hours.

The Sydney Gazette reported the following article in 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 daughters if alive to the true interest of this country, will in future years look back with admiration. The first efficient exhibition of steam navigation in this fifth quarter of the world was beheld by the select few who had adventured on board the Sophia Jane on Friday the 11th day of June. 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 canvas and to urge rapidly onward, in defiance of winds and weather, a vessel of large dimensions and heavy burthen. Early in the morning the Captain gave breakfast on board to his Excellency Governor Darling 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. 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 everyone with admiration. She crept in and out with the utmost exactness, 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. 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. At 2 o'clock the company was 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 champagne and other wines, ale porter Etc. The passengers had already seated themselves at table when they were 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. 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 seemed to refresh and invigorate the joyous passengers. Part of the band of the 39th regiment added to the other delightful pleasure of the excursion the charms of martial music.

On her first voyage to Newcastle the Sophia Jane left Sydney at 7.13 a.m. and arrived at the King's Wharf at 3.13 p.m. having been detained a little by towing another ship to sea. She took another 3 1/2 hours to make the run up the river to the Green Hills and was exactly three hours coming down the river the following day. Read about a journey to the Hunter River by steamer in November 1831 here.

The Sophia Jane was engaged to convey female convicts from Sydney to Newcastle in 1833. Twenty female prisoners who had arrived on the Caroline in August 1833 were embarked on the Sophia Jane destined for private service in the Hunter Region. According to this article in the Clarence and Richmond Examiner the Sophia Jane was the first steamer to enter the Clarence River under Captain Griffin, calling on her passage from Moreton Bay where she had embarked female prisoners to return them to Sydney. In 1841 she made two trips to the Clarence river under Captain Wiseman. In 1842 the Sophia Jane was plying regularly between Sydney and Wollongong.

In August 1845, the proprietors of the Sophia Jane announced they would have to withdraw her from trade. Extensive repairs were required 'to a greater extent than it would be prudent to encounter' and they were reluctantly compelled to suspend her trips, although it was contemplated to build a new replacement Steamer. The Sophia Jane was to leave Morpeth for Sydney for her last trip soon after the announcement. In 1846 her engines were transferred to the newly built Phoenix and the old Sophia Jane was broken up. The Phoenix was wrecked on the North Head of the Clarence River in 1850.


On 30th November 1831 at Carrington the Australian Agricultural Company steamer 'Karuah' was also launched, although she was not looked on with such favour as the 'Sophia Jane' or the 'William the Fourth', she was nevertheless an important addition to the Company's communications capability. Sir Edward Parry recorded in his diary - 'Our little steamer got under way today for the first time and paddled about the harbour. I cannot yet say much for her success, but everything is stiff and new and we hope to be able to improve her. I do not think she went above three knots. '

On the following day she was found to have been greatly improved by an alteration in her paddle boards and by working the engine more, taking her speed up to 4 knots. Some of the excitement felt at the coming of the paddle steamers can be understood from the following letter to the Sydney Gazette later in 1831 on the imminent launching of colonial built William IV

'I, with pleasure take up my pen, to describe the gratifying sight I have this day enjoyed. Many of your readers, I am inclined to think, only know the Williams River as a part of the Hunter, while it is in fact a separate River, emptying itself into the Coal River; and has from its mouth to Clarence Town (a distance of about 68 miles), a depth of from four to five fathoms, of water, without a single rock or bank to impede its navigation. On the right bank of this noble river, now well named after our most gracious Sovereign, and adjoining to Clarence Town, the township of the Parish of Uffington in the County of Durham, Messrs Marshall And Lowe, shipwrights have in their yard on the stocks a steam vessel nearly finished to be called the William the Fourth. This colony can now boast of being able to build her own steamers, and these with her own indigenous timber, the flooded gum, which Messrs Marshall and Lowe, declare is equal to any in the world for ship building, and particularly for tree nails. Whenever this beautiful vessel may be launched into her proper element; which it is calculated will be in about a month, it will be seen that vessels now of 600 tons can be built or completely repaired in the William River quicker and cheaper than can be done in Sydney Cove, a circumstance of the utmost importance to our whale fishery speculators who I have not the least doubt will, when they see the masterly work of the 'William the Fourth' not fail to vie ample employment to Messrs Marshall and Lowe'.

Some of the enthusiasm had begun to wear thin by 1834 when the following letter appeared in the Sydney Herald:

'GENTLEMEN - Very great dissatisfaction has arisen in the public mind here, in consequence of the alterations which have taken place in the management of the steam vessels which ply to and from Hunter's River, since they changed owners; and notwithstanding the strong protestations about "sparing no exertion and expense for the accommodation of the Public" etc, which appeared some time ago in the newspapers, when the idea of monopoly was so amusingly disclaimed, the arrangements - which were formerly poor enough - are now so unequivocally bad that many people are talking of taking the road in preference. On one occasion, when bed time arrived no clean sheets were to be had! true, the detention at sea all night was not anticipated, but such cases should be provided for; on another occasion, some passengers when they asked for a towel were coolly presented with the tail of a shirt! Besides, the fare is very bad , and refreshments are charged for at an exorbitant rate. Can the owners suppose that in addition to this the Public are to be tormented and imposed upon by vexatious charges upon their luggage and small parcels - and that the dismissal of so deserving a favourite as
Captain Taggart, for not submitting to a reduction of pay will be over looked ? They must bear in mind that a new vessel is on the stocks, and that public patronage when once lost is not easily regained, - that they must eventually be the losers by a niggardly system - and that, whatever their own opinion may be, we, in this part of the world, cannot but look upon it as the result of mismanagement'. - Hunter's River 10th January 1834


Image of the Thistle (Sydney Morning Herald)

Captain Robert Lorn Pattison (1843); Captain William Mulhall (1844, 1848); Principal Engineer Robert McDougal (1847)

The 'Thistle', under Captain Pattison's command, was one of only two steamers to ply between Sydney and Morpeth during the winter of 1843. She was one of the first ships owned by the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company and was solid and two masted with flush deck and replaced. The Thistle replaced Sovereign on the Moreton Bay run in 1846. The settlement was impressed with her capacity and speed which enabled her to take wool clip to Sydney at a faster rate than the Sovereign.

The Thistle ran aground there in March 1846 when Captain Mulhall decided against a pilot. In 1846 the following was recorded in the Sydney Morning Herald: COLLISION AT SEA: On Saturday night, about nine o'clock, the steamer Thistle, and a small cutter called the 'Black Swan', came into contact, when we regret to say, two lives were lost. The following is an account of the accident : 'The steamer 'Thistle', Captain Mulhall, left Newcastle on Saturday evening, at six o'clock, the 24th October 1846, upon her way to Sydney; when off Bungaree's Norah, about 9 pm was run into by a small cutter called the 'Black Swan'. The night being very thick and dark, and the cutter showing no light, prevented her being seen before she came close under the bows, when she carried away the Thistle's bob stay, gib-guys, and top gallant mast. Hearing a cry for help aboard the cutter, the 'Thistle' lowered the larboard boat, which was no sooner in the water than she filled and got stove, losing the oars, and nearly the lives of two men; cleared away the starboard boat, and sent the second mate and two hands aboard the Black Swan, who returned with one man, being the only one left on board, the others, Nicholas Walsh and one other having been knocked overboard, it is supposed, by the main boom, and drowned. They lay to for the remainder of the night close to the cutter, during which time she had drifted about seven or eight miles from Newcastle. At day light, finding that the cutter had not received much injury, the second mate of the steamer was sent with two hands and the man belonging to her aboard, for the purpose of taking her into Newcastle. We the undersigned passengers by the steamer 'Thistle', upon Saturday night, the 24th October 1846 declare that the above statement is correct as far as we were witnesses of the circumstance, and that no blame is to be attributed to the master or crew of the steamer, as the cutter showed no light, and the steamer had a good light and look out at the time the accident took place. also that the master, officers, and crew used every endeavour to save the said cutter and her crew. Signed
Richard Windeyer, G. Morant, Simpson, John B. Smith, Henry Phillips, Thomas M. Jones, Joseph Forster.

The Thistle was more fortunate in 1848 when near Bird Island on a passage from Morpeth, the main shaft broke rendering one paddle wheel useless. She was delayed five hours while temporary repair measures were taken and the Rose replaced her run for 10 days while more permanent repairs were finished. In December 1848 the Thistle under Captain Mulhall was reported to have made the trip from Sydney in under ten hours, the fastest passage for a considerable time.


Captain Ellis (1835), Captain William Mulhall 1837, Captain Allen (1848)

December 1837 - To the Editor of the Sydney Herald Sir, Through the medium of your Paper, I beg leave to inform the Public, of the particulars of the Tamar steam boat, under my command, grounding on Reid's Mistake Point. About Half past twelve o'clock on Tuesday morning, the point of Bungaree Norah bearing N.W. Distant between three or four miles. The course I ordered was N. by E 1/2 E, and nothing to the northward of her course I went below leaving the deck in charge of the Chief Officer, and he must have altered the course two or three points after I was below to have brought the vessel where she grounded. At half past two, the vessel grounded on the point alluded to, I immediately ran on deck ,and order the Engineer to back the engine astern, when the vessel came off without making any water whatever, and continued on the voyage as usual, making no water But, for the satisfaction of the Public, and to suppress false rumours, the owner has ordered her on the patent slip to ascertain the exact damage done by this untoward incident I have the honor to be Sir, Your humble and obedient Servant, William Mulhall, Master of the Tamar steamer

The Tamar was purchased by J.T. Wilson in 1839. It was planned continue in Hunter river trade as before.

The Tamar was offered for sale with other vessels belonging to the General Steam Navigation Company in 1842. In 1844 she was involved in an accident opposite Mr. Hickeys property. James Coonford had been crossing the river and although a person on the paddle box of the Tamar called to him repeatedly to 'keep off' he persisted in coming stern on. His boat struck against the paddle box and was upset. Every exertion was made to save the man, the steamer being stopped, and a boat lowered in two minutes after the accident had occurred. No blame was attached to any person on board.

In 1846 the Tamar was owned by The Hunter River Steam Navigation Company. The crew had a narrow escape during a storm on the passage from Sydney to Morpeth on a January afternoon in 1846 when she was struck by lightning when between Lake Macquarie and Red Head. 'In consequence of the rain most of the crew had gone below to shift their clothing with the exception of the man at the wheel and the engineer; the captain was walking the poop when the occurrence took place. The Engineer saw the lightning playing along the foreyard for some time, and ordered the firemen to throw fresh fuel on the fires to create smoke, thinking it would prevent the lightning from entering the funnel. A few minutes after a heavy flash struck the throat halyard block of the foresail, and running down the halyard (a chain one), shattered the foremast within about four feet of the deck, where it was surrounded by an iron hoop to which the belaying pins were attached. The mast fell over the starboard bow, by which the rail and bulwarks were smashed. The fore cabin steward was coming on deck at the time, and narrowly escaped being crushed; the engineer was standing under the lee of the starboard paddle box when it occurred, but luckily escaped uninjured. When the mast fell the electric fluid is supposed to have passed along the chain, and over the anchor into the sea. ' She later underwent a thorough repair. The machinery was taken out and the working parts renewed. New boilers replaced the old by the Company's engineer, Mr. Fyfe. She was also strengthened with new beams in various parts and in June she made an 'experimental trip' a few miles outside the Sydney Heads. It was expected her speed would be nearly equal to the Company's iron boats; and her cabins, for comfort were said to be second to none - especially the ladies' cabin.

*In August 1849 Captain Allen was in command of the new steamer the Eagle on her first trip to Moreton Bay.


Captain Gilmore 1849 ;

The Shamrock was owned by the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company. She was rigged as a three-masted schooner, with a raised quarter deck and had been built in Bristol. In 1843 she replaced the Seahorse plying between Launceston, Melbourne and Sydney.

In February 1846 she was the vessel of choice for Rev. Dr. Lang on his voyage to Port Phillip and Moreton Bay and in October of that year she landed a party of five Europeans and ten blacks who were intent on an expedition to recover a white woman from natives in Gipps Land.

In August 1848 she was put in to Pyrmont for repairs. New boilers weighing twenty tons were fitted and the machinery was taken out and overhauled. Great improvements were made to her cabin accommodations - the ladies' cabin was fitted up with ten berths and situated in the aft part of the poop instead of the fore. This left a large saloon of 33 ft capable of accommodating 24 passengers. On each side of the saloon four spacious state cabins were fitted up in the best style. On completion of the repairs she was to resume her trips to Port Phillip.


Captain Alexander Livingstone (1836)

The Hunter River Packet Association was formed in 1834 to provide opposition for the Sophia Jane and the William the Fourth in trading between Sydney and the Hunter. A meeting had been held in April 1833 when it was decided to build a 200 ton steamer in New South Wales to be fitted with two 40 horse power engines each. Mr. William Lowe of Clarence Town tendered to build the ship and when the machinery had arrived in 1836 it was fitted in the newly built Ceres.

The Ceres, commanded by Captain Livingstone, made a trial trip on Sydney Harbour on 21st January 1836 and six weeks later made her first trip to the Hunter River. She was fast and was said to have only taken 6 1/2 hours from Newcastle Wharf to Sydney. Her launching in April 1835 had been a gay affair. The Sophia Jane, conveying a 'number of respectable persons' to the launch, arrived in Green Hills on a Wednesday evening 'amidst the acclamations of multitudes of spectators who crowded the eminences and banks of the river on either side. On Thursday morning they set off for the Deptford ship yard of Messrs James Marshall and William Lowe on the William River. They moored to the best advantage to give the ladies a fair view of the Ceres which was tastefully decorated with flags. The last block was cut from under and the pride of the Hunter River Steam Association glided down the slipway. She was christened with a bottle of fine old port wine by a daughter of T.M. Winder assisted by Captain Church. The band played 'God save the King', 'Rule Britannia' and 'Hearts of Oak' before the company stepped aboard the Ceres for a series of Quadrilles, and country dances.

The event was recorded by a correspondent to the Sydney Gazette: In April 1835 the Sophia Jane was engaged to take the Maitland Cockneys to see this grand sight. A beautiful day it was, and the numerous and respectable company seemed determined to enjoy themselves. Part of the 17th band were engaged, and quadrilles etc were the order of the day. A pleasing river is the Williams, and it was a splendid sight to see the proud boat, stately as a swan wend her way through the numerous bends of the river - now narrowing, so that the trees on either side almost formed a festoon over the vessel - now widening to a broad lake like sheet of water, with green hills and white cottages, dotting here and there the verdant banks. On nearing the yard where the Ceres was laying on the stocks, a burst of wonder and delight broke from the admiring spectators; the noble vessel was seen high in air - ready, at the word of insignificant man, to dart into her native element - the wonder and pride of the Hunter. The grateful ceremony of christening her devolved upon the fair daughter of Mr. Winder, who with Graceful timidity, advanced to the platform, laving her sides (not the lady's, but the boat's) with generous wine, proclaimed her name to the world. After partaking of refreshment the company again embarked and departed for home, the cheerful glass circulated, and dancing was kept up with spirit. The military spurs of a certain gent harmonised admirably with the flowing drapery of a lady passenger'.

Five months later the Ceres was wrecked when, after a night of heavy seas, she was taken between Bird Island and Bungaree Norah and struck a rock. She sank quickly however all 26 passengers and crew were saved, after the one life boat on board made four trips back, the last one taking passengers from the mast as the ship sank. The Sophia Jane first brought the news to Sydney after she had passed wreckage known to be of the Ceres. Two passengers walked to Brisbane Water from the site of the wreck with dark tales (later denied) of passengers and children denied seats on the life boats. Mr. John Korff later purchased the wreck for £91. He built a vessel on the beach from the wreckage of the Ceres and then took the machinery to Sydney where it was later installed in the Victoria

When the Ceres was wrecked the Hunter River Packet Association was wound up.


Captain Toby 1836; Captain Richard Cornelius pre 1838; Captain Alderson 1841; Captain Dix 1848

My thanks to Ron Madden for providing details about the Experiment.

On 18th May 1832, the Australian reported that (George) Yeomans and (Benjamin) Singleton had built a large boat to be worked by horse/paddles providing an up river service on the Williams and Paterson Rivers to connect with the vessel that arrived at the wharf at Morpeth. Built at the Deptford Shipyard at the Williams River by Messrs Marshall and Lowe the Experiment was 80 ft in length with beam 12 1/2 ft. and drew 2ft of water with 80 tons of cargo. Some difficulty was experienced at first with the horses but afterwards they made the boat move along at about six miles per hour. Although a novelty and used in her intended capacity briefly, she was not a success. The aptly named Experiment was sailed with considerable difficulty to Port Jackson where she was described as a horse boat and briefly operated as a ferry to Parramatta and back. It was claimed she was capable of carrying at least one hundred passengers and about 20 tons of cargo. She then briefly operated as a horse powered harbour cruise vessel before being sold to Mr. Edye Manning who installed a steam engine. Operating as a steamer between Parramatta and Sydney from 1834, she left Parramatta for Sydney every morning except Sunday.........

The handsome steam-boat Experiment, fitted up with great taste, and at considerable expense, by Edye Manning, Esq., plied to Parramatta on Saturday with a party of Sydney fashionables. We are happy to find that the river is already sufficiently opened to allow this vessel to proceed without the interruptions so frequently experienced by the Surprise, built by Messrs. Smith, and laid on for Parramatta. Mr. Manning deserves every success ; and we have no doubt that a certain passage in the Experiment (now that the river answers) will, on many occasions, be preferred, especially on sultry, dusty days, to the, perhaps, more rapid conveyance by coach. - Sydney 3 June 1834

The Experiment took part in a Regatta on Sydney Harbour in February 1836.....The Experiment, on board of which was the band of the 28th Regiment, appeared all ready alongside the Dock-yard at eleven A.M. for the accommodation of such as desired to enjoy a two-fold pleasure of aquatic and terrestrial excursions, and both was soon crowded both fore and aft, with gaily dressed parties, many families being still disappointed in their hoped for trip, by her crowded state. Every boat in the harbour was put in requisition and at an early hour formed a "musquito" fleet with their ensigns and pennants fluttering gaily in the eastern breeze, the wooded and rockey shores, resounding with the cheerful notes of preparation and the gaily dressed ships in harbour, presented an animated and exceedingly beautiful landscape - Sydney Gazette 20 February 1836. In 1846 the Experiment was purchased by J.C. Pearce Eds., of Moreton Bay and became the first steamer to ply on the Brisbane River. ......From William Lowe; Pioneer Shipbuilder of Clarence Town, An Australian Bicentennial Project printed by Craftsman Colour, Newcastle, 1988

An account of the first trip to Ipswich ....... Moreton Bay Courier in 20 June 1846.....THE "EXPERIMENT." - This steamer started from North Brisbane, on her experimental trip to Ipswich, on Wednesday morning last. Mr. James Canning Pearce, the owner, and a select party on board, were warmly greeted as they passed up the river, by a large concourse of spectators, who had assembled to witness her departure. Owing to the imperfect knowledge of the person acting as pilot, respecting the river flats, she got aground near the crossing place at Woogoroo, and was detained until daylight the following morning, when she proceeded on her voyage, and reached her destination at one o'clock. The Ipswich folks were quite delighted at her appearance amongst them, and expressed their satisfaction by giving a hearty reception to Mr. Pearce and all on board. Since the advertisement, which appears in our first page, was in type, we have learned that the charge for freight of goods is fixed at six shillings, instead of seven shillings and sixpence ; and, also, that she will not commence plying between the two townships until Tuesday next ; the time of her departure will be about two hours after the flow of the tide. Mr. Pearce intends to accommodate parties of pleasure desirous of visiting the Bay, and other favourite places, with the use of the steamer, should it be required for such a purpose. There is no doubt that many persons will gladly avail themselves of the opportunity to take trips down the river during the summer season. She has excellent accommodations, consisting of gentlemen and ladies' cabin, as well as a spacious steerage. On Tuesday, Mr. Pearce applied to the Magistrates for a license for the sale of spirituous liquors on board, which was immediately granted. In August 1846 The Experiment was employed by Captain Wickham R.N. assisted by Mr. Surveyor Burnett in Moreton Bay, completing the chart and sailing directions for the northern entrance to the Bay.

The Experiment was swamped at Queen's Wharf at North Brisbane in 1848 but later raised and put into working order. She resumed her usual trips to and from Ipswich.....The present proprietors being practical working men, will no doubt make her pay better than her late proprietor, who from one unfortunate occurrence and another, lost considerably by his experiment of introducing steam communication between the metropolis of Moreton Bay and Ipswich......SMH 5 May 1848


Captain Charles Wiseman 1848, 1849

In 1846 the Phoenix was launched in Sydney. She was said to be one of the best specimens of colonial ship building and Mr. Chowne the builder, had taken every care in her construction. Her draft of water when launched was 3'6" forward, and 4'6' aft; dimensions: 105 feet keel, 130 feet over all; breadth of beam, 19' 6 ' ; depth of hold, 9'. The accommodation for passengers was said to be superior. Twelve berths were fitted up in the ladies' cabin, sixteen in the saloon, and fourteen in the fore cabin. The engine belonged to the famous Sophia Jane that had been launched 15 years before to ply her trade on the Hunter, but the boilers of the Phoenix were newly made by Mr. Struth.

The Phoenix made an excursion to Wollongong in October 1846 taking four hours to reach her destination, she had travelled at an average speed of nine and a half knots. Estimated to be faster than many of the other steamers, she was to make her maiden voyage to Morpeth where a large number of spectators were expected to witness her debut at the Green Hills. She commenced her regular trips to the Hunter on Friday 9th November, 1846 and was despatched on days on which there was no other steam conveyance between Morpeth and Sydney. She left Kellick's Wharf in Sydney every Tuesday and Friday Evening at 8pm and Anlaby's Wharf in Morpeth every Monday and Thursday morning at 7am.

In 1849 the Phoenix was involved in the rescue of the 'Lady Clarke' off Nobby's. The 'Lady Clarke' had departed Newcastle for Twofold Bay on a Sunday morning and after clearing the heads with the wind on the land it was attempted to put her about without success. She drifted on to the reef off Nobby's before the Phoenix managed to rescue her from her perilous position. Captain Wiseman received £20 reward for his part in the rescue.

The Phoenix was employed in the Clarence River trade and the district was deprived of steam communication with southern districts for some time when the Phoenix was wrecked near the Clarence on Sunday 3rd March 1850 after a terrific squall or rather a hurricane of wind with driving rains blew up from the south. When the Phoenix encountered the gale, being a vessel of small power in proportion to her size she was unable to work herself off the land and was driven on shore. She carried on her deck a large cargo of wool which contributed to her difficulties. The crew and passengers - Mr. and Mrs. Manning and four children Mr. Birkett and ten in the steerage were all saved and Captain Wiseman, finding it impossible to save the ship ran her aground managing to save her cargo as well. The Phoenix, owned by Messrs E and W. M. Manning was valued at £6,000 and was uninsured.


Captain John Taggart 1842;

Mr. John Korff purchased the wreck of the Ceres for £91 in 1836. From the wreckage he built a vessel on the beach near Norah Head and then took the machinery from the Ceres to Sydney where it was later installed in the Victoria

Launch of the Victoria Steam Boat in 1842. - This being the day appointed for the launch of this splendid vessel, now the property of the General Steam Navigation Company, nothing could possibly exceed the interest taken by all classes, to witness the entry of that certainly beautiful piece of workmanship into her native element. The weather unfortunately did not turn out so favorably as had been anticipated, still the spirited inhabitants of the Hunter, William's and Paterson's River districts seemed determined to witness the (to- them) novel scene. We are aware that the greatest exertion, attended also by heavy expense on the part of the individual who built her, as also on the part of the Company, had been used to have everything in readiness for the 6th as intended, but with all the dispatch that could possibly be used, it was found impossible to have everything in readiness enough for the tide; the launch was consequently delayed till the 7th, on which day the
Tamar Steamer, loaded with passengers - amongst whom we had the pleasure of seeing-' E. Manning, Esq., Colonel Shadforth, and several gentlemen from Sydney, attended by a splendid Band of music, whose entertaining airs contributed much to the comfort and harmony of the day.

At twelve o'clock the tide being at the proper height, the orders were given by the builder Mr. Korff, to clear away and let go all. The bottle slung, and expectation at its height, the band struck up merrily on board, the lady (whose name we have not the pleasure of being acquainted with) gracefully delivered the bottle, at the same time pronouncing the name of our beloved and honored Queen, and amidst the sound of music and the cheers of some hundreds of spectators, the vessel glided into her native element. A trifling accident occurred to mar this otherwise beautiful launch, - owing to the vessel from her extreme length, having been built in a bite and the tide setting up strong as she came on the slip, it caught her quarter, and the ground being extremely moist from the late rains, assisted by her great weight, caused the ways, (although the precaution of driving piles 25 feet in depth had been used to secure them) to give way forward. The Tamar steamer, Captain Taggart, being close at hand, immediately came, up, made fast her warps and brought her into the stream. The only damage attending the accident was the loss of a sheet of copper, which was immediately repaired. The Tamar proceeded on her voyage to Sydney accompanied by the band, leaving the Victoria in her native element, a monument to her former spirited proprietors, and we sincerely hope a lasting and lucrative one to her present owners the Sydney Steam Navigation Company
. - Commercial Journal 15 January 1840

The Victoria was offered for sale by auction by the General Steam Navigation Company early in February 1842. She was described as a 196 ton vessel with two engines of forty horse power each, with everything complete and in running order. She had made her first trip in May 1840 and had never missed her usual trip of twice a week to and from Morpeth, with the exception of about six weeks when she was overhauled, and every part of her machinery was examined and perfected. She was said to be well suited to run between Port Phillip and Sydney or between Launceston and Port Phillip. The Hunter River Gazette reported later in February - 'This steamer has resumed her trips between Sydney and Morpeth; Mr. Edye Manning having made arrangements to run her in that trade. The Victoria leaves Morpeth every Monday and Friday at noon, and Sydney every Wednesday and Saturday. The public, we have no doubt, will continue to support this boat as effectually as they have done hitherto, for independently of her merits as a safe and certain conveyance, both for passengers and goods. The benefits derived by the public from competition have been experienced in the reduction of fares for passengers between Morpeth and Sydney, first introduced by the Victoria. Besides this vessel, another day steamer the Sovereign is also employed in the same trade, having been first introduced to supply the deficiency occasioned by the temporary withdrawal of the Victoria. The success she has met with is such, that we understand she will now be continued in the trade, and will thus afford great additional accommodation to the public which we hope they will know how to appreciate.

A correspondent to the Hunter River Gazette in April wrote of her - 'I confess it is not without some slight emotion, mingled with pride, that I watch the onward movement of the Lady Queen (Victoria) as she gallantly sweeps the river, whose rippling waves as they kiss the shore seem to awaken her forest subjects with their pendant boughs, to a graceful but silent homage, her veteran commander may not possess the 'Suaviter in modo' of some of his junior brethren, but if a rigid and unremitting attention to the duties of his vessel constitute a claim to public patronage then, of all the sons of the ocean whose proud barques sweep the waters of our unrivalled metropolitan harbour, is Captain Taggart, equalled by few - surpassed by none.


Captain John Taggart 1838; Captain William Parsons 1847; Captain Beel 1850;

The Maitland was owned by Mr. Edye Manning. In December 1837 she drew alongside Mr. Byrne's wharf at Darling Harbour to have her engines fitted. She was to be ready for her first trip on the 26th January 1838, the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Colony. She was launched from the Building yard of Mr. Russell, at Darling Harbour amidst an immense concourse of spectators. Intended for the Hunter River trade, she was 103 tons with one engine of 60 horse power. She was considered to be a very strong and substantial vessel. ......The engineer, Mr. Bourne, had her in good order for her first trip on Friday 26th January... The Sydney Monitor reported....... This vessel is colonial in every respect, and her engines are the largest that have yet been made in the colony. They are of thirty horse power each, and were manufactured by Mr. Bourne of Sussex street. The steamer's fires were first lighted about ten o'clock in the morning and about one she glided down the harbour. On first starting her speed was about five miles an hour, but towards the evening it had increased to nine. It would have been still greater but for a few defects in the machinery which caused an escape of steam. The arrangements of her cabins is on a novel plant. The state cabin is the sternmost; it is capacious and will admit eighteen persons to sit down to dinner with convenience. Great attention has also been paid to ventilation. The ladies' cabins, two in number are judiciously placed, so as to remove the objection often made in other vessels by families who wish to be quite retired. - Sydney Monitor 29 January 1838. The Maitland made her maiden trip to Newcastle on 14th February 1838.

In 1842 she boasted a new engine of 60 horse power that had been built expressly for the her (at a cost of three thousand pounds) by Fawcett, Preston and Co of Liverpool. The Maitland was run regularly between Port Macquarie and Sydney in 1842.

The Maitland was purchased by Captain Cole of Melbourne, owner of several other steamers, in December 1850 and was to depart for that port soon afterwards.

She was totally destroyed by a fire in December 1855 while lying alongside Cole's wharf. The captain and engine driver were both board and narrowly escaped with their lives.


In 1841 the new steamboat Huntress was advertised for auction - Coppered and Copper fastened; River built, after the American model, quite new; and admirably adapted for a Parramatta River despatch Passenger boat. Mr. Stubbs is under instruction by the West Maitland Steam Navigation Company to sell by public auction, the very beautifully modelled Steam passenger boat Huntress. No expense has been spared in the finishing of her; and her materials are of the very best quality; in fact her timbers are from a gentleman's Estate where they were selected from some of the cleanest and soundest timber in the colony. She is coppered and copper fastened, combining speed convenience and economy - drawing but very little water. She is the boat of all others in the colony to ply on the Parramatta River. She is a perfect model for despatch - easily worked and capable, from her peculiar scientific constructions, of making very quick profitable and successful trips. She is in a complete state to receive her engines and is in every respect deserving the notice of those parties on the Parramatta River, who have been contemplating starting a boat, in consequence of the unprecedented call for further accommodation.- Sydney Gazette July 1841

October 1844 - George Yeomans was reported to have raised the Huntress. She was moved down to the scene of a Regatta being held at Yeomans' hotel.....Just before ten o'clock the Huntress having been fitted up by Mr. Yeomans with an awning, a bar, benches, and tables, was towed down to the head of Macdougall's Falls, very near the coming in buoy at the bottom of Hunter Street, Maitland, the main point of attraction during the day; and Mr. Yeomans having procured a license for the occasion , her store of liquors was continually in demand, the heat of the sun making them very acceptable. Great numbers of people were seen on the banks of the river, the day only paralleled by so many, the day the Huntress steamer was launched. - Maitland Mercury 26 October 1844

By 1847 - The Old Steamer Huntress - This old craft, which is perhaps hardly entitled to the term steamer, in as much as although she was built for one, and has paddle boxes attached, no machinery was ever placed in her, seems to have at length found a secure mooring place, after having for some years kept the owners of boats on the river in terror by her vagaries during each fresh. The late flood, like each fresh, broke her loose from her previous moorings, but, unlike them, was high enough to take her on to the flat shingle beach by McDougall's Falls, where, a lucky ridge of shingle stopping her, she was stayed, and where she now rests, securely bedded in mud and shingle, some one hundred feet from the river. Here she will probably finally fall to pieces, unless some higher flood comes down and set her wandering again. It is a great pity that a claim of some £200 for unpaid work should have sufficed to prevent any shareholder from interfering with her even so far as to make use of her as she is, the dread of this claim and its interest having, we believe, been the sole cause why the shareholders declined to have anything to do with her when, a few years ago, an offer was made by an enterprising man to put a small engine in her and start her on the river at his own expense, if secured against old claims, and allowed to have her rent free for some time.- Maitland Mercury 3 March 1847.

THE " HUNTRESS" STEAMER.- This vessel arrived here on Sunday night, from the Manning River, for the purpose of being fitted with her engines, etc, which have been constructed Mr. G. Russell; and, as a specimen of colonial shipbuilding, is worthy of some attention. She is intended for a tug-boat on the Hunter River and will at the same time carry goods and passengers. Her dimensions are as follows ; length of keel 86 feet, fore rake 5 feet, breadth beam 16 feet 6 inches, depth of hold 7 feet 6 inches, draws when loaded 5 ft 10 inches aft, 5 feet 1 inch forward, and will propelled by two engines of the united power 80 horses. Her builders, Messrs. Newton and Malcolm, (who also built the Scotia), have adhered to the usual American system adopted on their river boats, which allows of deck housing being placed on vessels if required, but at present she is flush fore and aft. She is owned Messrs. J. and A. Brown of Newcastle, and came up from the Manning rigged as a three-masted schooner, with a large cargo of grain and proved an excellent sea-boat. - Maitland Mercury 1 October 1853.


Captain Stericker 1846; Captain John Taggart 1847;

Maitland Mercury February 1846 ........The Cornubia - You will be gratified to hear that the Cornubia, on her First trip to the Hunter, has performed exceedingly well. She left Kellick's Wharf at 25 minutes to 9 on Monday night and reached Newcastle at 10 o'clock on Tuesday morning, having had to contend with a heavy cross sea and the wind right in her teeth the whole of the way, against which she must have steamed about 5 1/2 knots per hour, with a full cargo; thus proving that her qualities as a sea boat are of no very mean order. At a quarter ebb tide (thanks to the dredge) the Cornubia went swimmingly over the Flats. This promises well for her future services. In deed, on the whole, Captain Stericker, who commands her, is much pleased with her performance.

The following week: Our readers will be glad to learn that this steamer has made another successful trip, having arrived at Morpeth yesterday morning with a full cargo, passing over the Flats at about half tide, without touching. There proves to be abundance of cargo for her at each end; so that there is every prospect of her proving a permanent accession to our facilities for trading with Sydney.

In March 1846 the Cornubia transported His Honor Mr. Justice Therry to the Hunter in readiness for the Quarter Sessions. Accompanying him on the steamer were the Attorney General, and barristers Messrs. Purefoy, Holroyd, and Dowling. Also on board were Mr. Blair, Clerk of Arraigns and Mr. Cornelius Prout, Under Sheriff.

By September 1846 the Cornubia was trading regularly between Morpeth and Sydney, advertising passage to Sydney for one shilling. This fee was for steerage. A Cabin ticket could be purchased for 4/-. Refreshments were purchased on board at 'moderate rates'. The Cornubia left from Morpeth every Wednesday and Saturday mornings and from Kellick's Wharf, Sydney every Monday and Thursday at 8pm. Captain Taggart was Master of the Cornubia in June 1847 between Port Phillip and Launceston.

James Watt

Captain Francis Henry Griffin 1840; Captain John Taggart 1845

Owned by Joseph Hickey Grose the James Watt was the second steamer to reach Australia from Great Britain. She had been built for the Glasgow trade but was not a success and although well appointed, her speed was affected due to miscalculation in regard to her draught. In April 1840, she underwent thorough repairs and was idle for some time. She was a 400 ton vessel with her main deck 87 ft. in length and poop deck 43ft. She was fitted with 2 x 45 h.p. engines. The Cabin accommodation was fitted with every necessity required. There were 16 enclosed cabins containing 16 berths; one ladies cabin containing 7 berths and the Captain's cabin.

For the convenience of the passengers, a bell of a different sound was fitted to each cabin and led to the stewards pantry. The wash stands each had a 'cistern of fresh water affixed above them with a pipe leading to the basin and a small brass cock by which means water could be drawn and after a small plug or stopper with a brass chain was drained from the bottom of the basin discharging the water over board'. The dining room was of polished mahogany and satin wood.

Captain Griffin who had previously been Captain on the Sophia Jane was to take charge of the James Watt after her repairs were complete. In 1842 she was sold to the newly formed Hunter River Steam Navigation Company and employed in the Clarence River and was a pioneer of the Moreton Bay trade.

John Taggart was Captain of the James Watt in 1845. In May of that year an unusual case was heard in the Sydney courts in 1845. Anne Elizabeth Canney was committed for trial for writing and publishing a libel of Captain John Taggart. In an outrageous letter sent to the cashier of a bank and to the manager of the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company she charged Captain Taggart with having committed numerous murders. Although doubts were said to be held as to her sanity, she was allowed bail.

The Hunter River Steam Navigation Company announced in December 1845, that they intended to transfer the engines of the James Watt into a new vessel, to be built for that purpose. The James Watt was to be employed in conveying coal from Newcastle to the Company's various depots. Maitland Mercury 6 December 1845; 10 May 1845.

The James Watt was broken up in 1847.


Captain Allen 1849

The new steamer owned by the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company, the Eagle had a close call on one of her first passages. Under Captain Allen (formerly of the Tamar) she was on her way to Newcastle from Sydney to load coals when at 3am, she collided with the cutter Trial under Captain Barton. The Trial was on her passage from the Hunter to Sydney laden with grain. She suffered a broken jibboom. The Trial's jibboom had run into the steamer's sponsons on the larboard side, breaking her jibboom off and again made a fresh entry in the steamer's quarters, tearing away a great portion of the ornamental work down to the stern. After repairing damage and loading coals at Newcastle she loaded her passengers and with a full cargo headed for Moreton Bay on the evening of the 31st August 1849. The passengers included Mrs. Asher, child and servant, Mr. and Mrs. Gibson, Captain Vignoles, Hon. Mr. Hope, Mr. Tingcomb, Mr. Cameron, Mr. King, Mrs. Daley, Mr. Bowman, Mr. Bigge, four in the steerage and forty Irish orphan girls. (Maitland Mercury 1 August 1849)

On her return trip south she made a very quick run of just 42 hours from Moreton Bay to Newcastle where she stopped for a supply of coals before proceeding to Sydney. In Sydney in December the same year a seaman from the Eagle met his death while bathing in Woolloomooloo Bay 30 yds out from the fig tree when he was attacked by a shark. He instantly gave the alarm and two men attempted to rescue him however the shark seized him in the groin, and it was not until he was struck several blows on the head with an oar that he let go his hold. When the unfortunate man was pulled into the boat it was found that nearly the whole of the flesh of the thigh was stripped from the bone and he expired a few minutes later. (Maitland Mercury 5 December 1849)

William IV

- Also known as King William IV
Captain John Taggart 1831

'Puffing Billy' Paddle wheel steamer, William the Fourth was launched in November 1831, fully rigged but minus her Liverpool made engines which were later installed and improved in Sydney by Alexander Lyle Pattison of the Phoenix Foundry. Mr. Pattison had arrived in Sydney in 1827 and was prominent in the development of early Australian steam navigation. A large crowd assembled to witness the launch and partake of the luncheon provided by owner and prominent Sydney merchant Joseph Hickey Grose. Her dimensions: 80ft in length; 15ft beam amidships and 13ft aft; 20ft over the sponsons, height from keel to flush deck 7ft; after cabin height 6ft 6in; Length of ladies cabin 12ft and gentlemen's cabin 16ft. Outside, the planking was of flooded gum 1 3/4' thick, deck planking being of native pine 2 1/2 inches thick. Tonnage: 100 tons; tonnage for goods, 25 tons; draft of water 5ft; two masts, schooner- rig. the whole (excepting the deck planks) including treenails was of flooded gum. The cabin fittings were made of cedar.
Although Captain Taggart arrived at the Williams River shipyard in September 1831 to superintend the launch of the William IV, last details still had to be completed and she was not launched until November. Captain Taggart who was previously Captain of the 'Lord Liverpool' was to be William IV 's first Captain. On her maiden voyage to the Hunter early in 1832 she left Parker's Wharf, Sydney at 7.30 pm, clearing the heads in 44 minutes and arrived at the Watt Street wharf in Newcastle at 6am the following morning. Fares from Sydney to Newcastle were 20/- for cabin and 12/6- for steerage.
Steamers were used for conveying prisoners to the courts or gaols. In 1834 an aboriginal named Wong-ko-bi-kan (Jacky Jacky) was committed for trial for the murder of John Flynn on the William's river. He arrived in Sydney by the steamer William the Fourth entirely naked with the irons on his legs lacerating them in a dreadful manner. He cried most bitterly on leaving Newcastle.
The contract to build the William IV had been signed with Williams River ship builders Marshall and Lowe earlier in 1831.Scottish ship builders James Marshall and William Lowe arrived on the Tiger in 1828 after spending time in South America. The abundance of excellent hardwoods - flooded gum and ironbark convinced them to commence their shipbuilding at the Williams River. They constructed a wet dock where a small creek entered the Williams so that vessels could be floated at high tide for repairs. They could be found at times travelling about the Williams River district in search of timber for their vessels. The vessels Ceres, Elfin, Earl Grey, Courier and Experiment were also built at the Deptford Shipyard. Captain Taggart (who was at various times Captain of the Lord Liverpool cutter and James Watt, Sophia Jane, Maitland, Victoria and Phoenix steamers) was well known throughout the Hunter River passenger trade. He died at his residence in Castlereagh Street, South Sydney on 6th January 1850 after a severe and protracted illness of many months aged 65 years. He was said to have been a respected resident of the colony for more than 22 years.
The King William was Wrecked at Newcastle in 1839.


1852 - Captain Charles Wiseman from England to Sydney

On Wednesday the new steamer Clarence arrived at Morpeth on her first trip. We have not yet had an opportunity of inspecting her, but her passengers unite in speaking of her as a very fine boat, promising to be very fast when her bottom is cleaned, and a remarkably easy boat. She will carry a large cargo, 160 tons it is stated, below, and will therefore be of the greatest value in clearing off the produce that has been so long accumulating on the river and in many cases spoiling), from want of means of shipment.

So great was the anxiety to take advantage of the opportunity of shipping, that cargo sufficient for two or three trips was ready for her at the wharf on arrival, and she consequently left, on Thursday morning, deeply laden. We are informed that the wise precaution was taken, on her passage down, of waiting to pass the Flats at pretty high tide, so that she did not leave Newcastle till late on Thursday evening. We are indebted for the following graphic account of her passage up from Sydney to Captain Lodge, one of her passengers:

'East Maitland, June 30 1852. The appearance of the new steamboat Clarence on the waters of the Hunter is doubtless an event of considerable interest to numbers living in the district, and the first trip will be much discussed, owing to her having started from Sydney at the same time with the Thistle. Although only a few hours have lapsed since the arrival of the boats at Morpeth, so many contradictory accounts of the passage have got into circulation, that I am induced to put you in possession of the facts as near as I am able, being a passenger by the Clarence. At 10 pm of Tuesday both boats were ready for starting; the Thistle with her head out from the A.S.N. Co. Wharf; and the Clarence, with her head up the harbour at the Phoenix Wharf. Whilst the people on the wharf were cheering the Clarence, and being responded to from the vessel, some ropes were by mistake let go, and she had to return to the wharf to get them fast again. This time the rope or ropes held on, but the place to which they were secured gave way, and caused considerable delay in getting the boat round. In the meantime the Thistle started fair, and was out of sight, and when the Clarence made her final start must have been well down the harbour. When we got down to the Heads, the Thistle was seen about three miles ahead, apparently under all sail. What took place during the night I know nothing of but upon coming on deck again at 4 am of this day, the Newcastle light appeared about six or seven miles off, and at 4.30 we saw a vessel carrying a light entering the harbour. The vessel appeared about five miles from us. The Clarence at this time going at about a quarter speed. This light I conclude must have been the Thistle's ; at all events we saw no more of her till we got to Morpeth. The Clarence remained outside till broad daylight, and then ran into the harbour; and, owing to vessels being in the channel, had twice to let her anchor go before getting to the wharf.

She remained at Newcastle till about 9 am, and then proceeded up the river, making the passage from Newcastle to Morpeth in about three hours, exclusive of stoppages, against a strong ebb tide and a considerable fresh in the river. The Clarence has not been cleaned since her long overseas voyage, her officers and crew have had but little experience in the trade, and many of them none at all; but I think few people can take a passage by her without being convinced that she is the fastest and most comfortable steamboat that has as yet appeared in Australian waters and that should she continue in the Hunter River trade the first complaint we shall hear will be that her cabins are not large enough for the demand there will be for room
'......Maitland Mercury 3 July 1852

The Clarence was soon advertised for sale. The Advertisement included the following description: 'The Clarence is an Iron Steam Ship built by Mr. Laird of Birkenhead. She is fitted with two new side Lever Engines, constructed by Messrs Fawcett and Preston of Liverpool, of 60 horse power each, with Tubular Boiler, and all modern improvements (with additional machinery for extinguishing fire, filling boiler, and pumping ship). The Building of this ship was superintended by Captain Wiseman, who went to England expressly for the purpose. The Clarence is of 383 tons, builder's measurement, 150 feet long between the perpendiculars, 23 feet beam between the paddle boxes, and 11 feet depth of hold. She draws when laden 7 feet 6 inches of water. She has a raised Quarter deck 3 feet high, and is remarkably roomy on deck. She carries 80 tons of coals in her coal burners, and her capacity for stowage of cargo is very large, as she can carry 240 bales wool below hatches. Her accommodations, both fore and aft, are of a very superior description, and on her trial trip she accomplished, under steam, upwards of 12 knots an hour. She is admirably adapted for all inter-colonial trade. Has proved herself a first rate sea boat, and capable of contending with high seas and tempestuous weather. ' Maitland Mercury September 1852.


The Rose was one of the first ships owned by the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company. She was a 'solid little two-masted flush decked packet built by Fairbairn Co in England. With the Shamrock and the Thistle, the Rose flew the flag of the Hunter River Steam Navigation Co. in 1841. Mr. John Fyfe who was subsequently superintendent engineer of that company was chief engineer of the Rose on her maiden voyage from England to Australia.

The Rose departed London on 31st October 1840 under Captain Stewart and came via the Cape of Good Hope arriving in Sydney in April 1841. Passengers included Mr. and Mrs. Christian and Mr. Griffin. The Rose was the first new steamer acquired by the H.R.S.N Co., and the first iron boat to touch Australia shores.
The three vessels, the Shamrock, the Thistle and the Rose, were very popular, and they traded on the coast for many years. Graceful of line and comfortable to travel in, the Rose was a great improvement upon the earlier craft that coastal passengers had at their disposal. From 1846 - 1851 Mr. Fyfe was in the service of the A.S.N.Co the ancestor of the A.U.S.N. co., After he retired from the former company he followed other business pursuits, but subsequently resumed engineering practice and became consulting engineer to the H.R.S.N. Co. Later he filled an important position in the Harbours and Rivers Department, which he held until failing health compelled him to retire. He died in 1888. He had a very interesting career. Members of his profession regarded him as one of the oldest engineers in the world - a link between James Watt and the engineers of the early eighties. In announcing his death the S.M. Herald of August 7 1888 stated : He worked in the construction of the first engine in 1812, was a good man, a skilled engineer, and one who during his long life won and kept the esteem of all with whom he came in contact.
On Monday afternoon 12 April 1841 the Rose made a trial trip from Girard's wharf and proceeded several miles beyond the Sydney Heads, and returned about five o'clock. There was a select party on board and a band of music, which latter greatly enlivened the excursion. The vessel is one of the very best description - her model is elegant, her accommodation superior, and her speed averaged throughout nearly 14 knots an hour. Her velocity certainly will be increased when her engines have been in full play for a few voyages. The proprietors handsomely furnished to all on board a most splendid entertainment, and the day was spent with the greatest pleasure and hilarity.

The Rose with the Shamrock and Thistle were intended to ply between Sydney and the Hunter. The Sydney Herald reported that the Rose started on her first trip for the Hunter on the morning of the 15th April 1841 with about twenty passengers. She was intending to leave Morpeth on the following morning in company with the Victoria and was expected in Sydney between five and six in the evening.


Wreck of the Sovereign in 1847.
Owned by the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company, the 'Sovereign' was a steam packet plying trade between Sydney and Brisbane.

The steamers were the fastest means of communication in 1847 often making the journey in just three days, although not always - Ludwig Leichhardt, travelling (gratis) on the Sovereign on his journey in 1845 took a week to arrive at Brisbane. The Sovereign would regularly carry livestock, wool and other goods as well as passengers. She was ill equipped for the conditions however, having been built to travel shorter distances on the coast or rivers. Like other steamers of the day, she was also regularly overloaded with goods.

In 1844 she had visited the Manning River, being the largest vessel and the first of her class to do so. The Captain entered without a Pilot, although the passage was considered very intricate, and the Steamer grounded on one of the numerous flats that occur at the mouth of the river. She was removed from the flats in a few hours and continued on as far as Taree Wharf where she took on a cargo of 94 bales of wool and wheat.

On the 10th March, 1847 the Sovereign, laden with wool bales and delayed at Amity Point by a succession southerly gales, set out to navigate her way through the South Passage between Moreton and Stradbroke Islands. The passengers on board were in high spirits as the little steamer topped the rollers - Mr Gore even observed 'Here is a five barred gate - how nobly she tops it'. However before she could clear the bar, disaster struck. The engineer had found that the framing of the engines and part of the machinery had broken down. The Sovereign began drifting onto the north spit and steam was let off to prevent the vessel from being blown up. At this point the rudder chains parted and water began washing over the decks. The larboard anchor was let go - the starboard one having been carried away from the bows. There was no wind at the time, however the waves now broke upon the vessel with great violence, carrying away bulwarks and causing the wool and timber on the decks to shift dangerously about. Three men were almost killed and several more had arms and legs broken. Captain Cape informed all on board that he entertained no hope of saving the ship. Waves continued to break over the ship and many people panicked, plunging into the sea in the hope of making it to shore. Messrs. Dennis, Berkeley and Elliott worked for some time at the pumps to no avail.

Richard Stubbs was washed overboard at this time however he managed to climb on board again making his way to the ladies' cabin. He tried to save Mrs. Gore and her child before returning on deck to throw bales of wool overboard. Returning to Mrs. Gore below he heard her tell the stewardess 'We can die but once. Jesus died for us. God keep us' They returned to the deck where they found Mr. Dennis standing near the poop with his head cut and bleeding profusely, Mr. Elliott standing close by and Mr. Berkeley standing just below them. Captain Cape, who several times had been washed overboard was hanging on by the shrouds. He saw Mr. Joyner, John Scard and others near the foremast head and the mainmast. With danger imminent Richard Stubbs now jumped overboard crying to others as he did 'avoid the suction'. A dreadful shriek was heard proceeding from one of the females as the Sovereign took one roll, heeled over and sank.

The struggle for life then commenced; some of the passengers clung to the wool bales - some to portions of the wreck, while others who had been disabled on board soon drowned. Mrs. Gore was drowned immediately. Her husband, Mr. Dennis and Mr. Elliott clung to a wool bale in the water. Richard Stubbs, who had remained calm and practical throughout the ordeal, assisted Mr. Gore's child and a servant girl before tackling the enormous breakers to the beach where he was assisted by a native belonging to the pilot's crew. Others were not so lucky coming through the mountainous breakers, Mr. Berkeley who until then had been clinging to the paddle box with Captain Cape disappeared as the water broke upon them, to be seen no more. Captain Cape made it to shore and was carried to a hillock of sand by natives who had dragged him through the surf.

Several members of the Nunukul and Ngugi tribes braved the treacherous waves to drag survivors of the wreck to the shore. Together with Mr. Richards and Mr. Clements who had been fishing and William Rollings, a prisoner of the Crown, they managed to save the lives of six more people who otherwise would have perished in the surf. The survivors were taken to the settlement in the pilot's boat. Although a search was made along the shore line, only two bodies were washed ashore (Mr. Brown, second officer and Frederick McKellar, steerage passenger). All others were supposed to have been washed out to sea.

Captain Cape was to be given command of a new steamer being built by the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company to run the Moreton Bay trade once more. He would retain his salary while it was being built.

LIST OF PASSENGERS WHO DIED - Cabin Passengers: Mr. and Mrs. Robert Gore, two children and servant girl; Mr. H. Dennis, Mr. E. Berkeley, Mr. Joyner, and Mr. Elliot Steerage Mrs. Bishop; Mrs. Chettle; John Higgins; Bremmy, a shearer; John Robertson, Bathurst; Isaac Smith, shoemaker, Brisbane; James Anderson, servant to Mr. Gore; James Merry, hut keeper to Mr. C. Mackenzie, buried at Moreton Island; Frederic McKellar, bullock driver to Mr. C. McKenzie; Joe and a one armed man, lately in employ of Dr. Ramsay,; three men lately in the employ of Mr. Leslie, and four whose names are unknown Crew James Ryan, steward; Mary Ann Griffiths, Stewardess; Michael Mooney, second steward; Henry Neil, third steward; Henry Wood, fore cabin steward; Mr. Gibson, 1st officer; Mr. Brown, 2nd officer; Mr. Somerville, 1st engineer; Mr. Robinson, 2nd engineer; George Smith fireman; Isaac Jones, seaman; Robert Mackenzie, seaman; Henry Cumberland seaman; John Miller, seaman; Robert - , Seaman; George Blair, 1st cook; and William Horsemann, 2nd cook

Those saved Captain Cape and Mr. Richard Stubbs, cabin passengers ; John McQuade, John Neil and Lawrence Flynn, fore cabin passengers; John McCullum, fireman; John Scard, fireman; John Clements, seaman; Thomas Harvey, Steward's boy; and John McGovern, boy