Friday, December 28, 2012

Up the River on a Side-wheeler

In the early years of the colony when roads were crude or non-existent,  water transport was a far more efficient way to move people and goods.

Steamers on the Brisbane River 1855 (Conrad Martens)
The township of Ipswich was previously a convict station where limestone was quarried and burnt in kilns to provide lime for building.

Beyond Ipswich the river was not navigable because of rocky outcrops, so the township was the natural location as the transit port for goods and produce to and from the interior.

At first punts were used between Brisbane and Ipswich, relying on the tides and manpower to make the journey.

In 1846, the Moreton Bay Courier announced that a steamer would make a trial run upriver to the inland port.

Advertisement in The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 20 June 1846
THE "EXPERIMENT."-This steamer started from North Brisbane, on her experimental trip to Ipswich, on Wednesday morning last. Mr. 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. [1]

The initial trip being a success, the owner immediately planned to also offer pleasure cruises around Moreton Bay.
Advertisement in The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 27 June 1846
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 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.[2]

A week later the Experiment was reported as having made the round trip upriver to Ipswich in the “highly satisfactory” time of six and a half hours.

THE "EXPERIMENT." - The return trip of the steamer on Sunday last, after allowing for the time occupied in placing beacons in various parts of the river, was accomplished in six hours and a half, so that the result, as far as regards speed, which averaged, seven knots an-hour, is highly satisfactory. Her future trips will be made on alternate days in each week, commencing on Monday next. In order to obviate any inconvenience to passengers, regularity will be observed in the time of departure from the two townships, notice of which will be given in our next number. It will be seen by our advertising columns, that the Experiment is engaged for the conveyance of a party of pleasure to the Bay to-morrow. The reasonable price of the tickets, and the accommodation provided for the table, will no doubt ensure a numerous attendance on board.[3]

Paddle steamer docked at the Ipswich wharves, ca. 1870
A few months later, a detailed report of a trip to Ipswich appeared in the local press. It is a fascinating description of a riverine landscape still largely untouched by European settlers and the waters unsullied by industry.

Trip to Ipswich by Water

Those among our readers who may be unacquainted with the scenery on the banks of the River Brisbane will, perhaps, feel interested in the following particulars, gleaned during a recent trip to Ipswich in the “Experiment” steamer.

The country on the south bank of the river has been cleared for a distance of about one mile from the township; a small portion only is under cultivation, the greater part being used for paddocks. A number of sheds for the sawyers extend some distance on the south bank, while on the opposite bank there is not a single dwelling or hut, above the township, of any description.

About five miles down the river are the Ovens rocks, situated a short distance from the north bank. The country here is rather thickly wooded, with patches of brush reaching down to the water's edge, the open parts, however, are covered with excellent grass. At the six-mile rocks the banks are of considerable elevation, and rocky; the soil is generally excellent; a fine rich mould prevails for miles.

Here the silk-oak, caouthouc[4], pine, cedar, and the eucalyptus trees flourish luxuriantly. On the south bank is a place called the Sandstone Rocks, from whence a man jumped in order to save his life when pursued by the blacks, and swam across the river.

Near this spot an attempt was made to find coal, but the sample not answering expectation, the cut then made was abandoned. About ten miles from the settlement is Canoe Creek[5] flowing into the river from the southward; and lower down on the northern side are several flats formed by deposits of sand and mud from the creek, and which are not covered at low water.

The character of the country is bold and picturesque; in the distance may be seen D'Aquilar's Range, presenting delightful scenery, while a range of hills at the back adds considerably to the romantic appearance of this beautiful spot.

Brisbane North & South Brisbane from kangaroo Point 1851 (Conrad Martens)

The tide extends to the crossing-place at Canoe Creek. The banks of the river at this place are covered with the most luxuriant foliage, indicating the excellent quality of the land, which only requires capital and labour, to render it highly productive.

About seven miles below Canoe Creek are the Seventeen-mile Rocks, which extend across the river, and form an insurmountable barrier to vessels drawing more than eight feet water. There is but one channel, which is very narrow, and the tide rushes through it with great rapidity.

The Sovereign steamer tried to get up the river at this place, but the width of the passage did not allow of her making the attempt, with safety, and she was obliged to turn back. A bridge might be constructed here at comparatively little expense. Two miles farther down is Mosquito Island, close to the north bank, and contiguous thereto is Mongrel Creek, flowing from Black Fellows' Range.

There is a road from the settlement to the brushes on this creek, the banks of which abound with pine, cedar, and other valuable timber. The country here is rather more diversified, the banks consisting of fine ridges opening away to the south, and clothed with the richest verdure; judging from the appearance of the grass, it would be very suitable for hay.

About twenty miles from Brisbane is Mount Ommaney, situated on the south bank, with a small blind creek running round its southern base. On the opposite side is an apparently well-watered creek, and apple-tree flats, the country thinly wooded.

At Lower Redbank, the banks are steep; a mud flat juts out on the south side, and extends upwards of twenty yards. The appearance of the river at this place is very pretty, forming a kind of basin; the elevated bank commands a most delightful prospect.

On proceeding farther up the river, the first object that claims attention is Cockatoo Island, in the middle of an extensive reach, near which place is the "Narrows," a name which indicates the difficulty of the navigation. A mud bank extends from this island to the middle of the river, causing a very rapid current in the navigable part of the stream.

Woogaroo Creek, Goodna 1890
After passing this island, and on the south bank, is Woogaroo, the residence of Dr Simpson, the Commissioner of Crown Lands, which is beautifully situated in a bend of the river, and commands a fine view of a very extensive reach. The house is placed on an eminence, and the prospect from it is very pleasing and varied; there is a gentle slope to the riverside, and the soil is of the richest description, being an accumulation of vegetable matter.

A more promising aspect or more favourable position could not have been selected on the banks of the river. The gardens are very extensive, and, owing to the labour bestowed upon them, have been highly productive. A portion of the brushwood has been left standing, and will, doubtless, furnish the site for an exceedingly pretty refuge from the scorching summer heats. Woogaroo Creek forms the western boundary of the property.

On leaving this delightful spot you proceed up the river until you come to the flats, formed by deposits from the last-mentioned creek, and which extend for some distance on the northern side of the   river. Avoiding these, you enter the Coal Reach, which is extensive and, hurried as our views were of its banks, they cannot, unless nature has deviated from her usual laws, but be fertile. It is here that the steamer obtains a supply of fuel.

There are also some flats, caused by the removal of Spicer's Island, which has been gradually washed away by the floods in the rainy seasons. On entering the River Bremer, the country improves very much, the banks being thinly wooded, and clothed with luxuriant herbage.

Ipswich landing place 1851 (Sketch by Conrad Martens)
With the exception of some occasional obstructions from partly-sunken trees, and rocks here and there, the navigation of the Bremer by vessels of light draughts of water is very easy; there is no tide-way, but a rise and fall of about two feet. The water within two miles of Ipswich has a brackish taste, but abreast of the town it is perfectly sweet.

The Experiment made the trip in eight hours, against a strong head wind, which is rather more than six miles an hour. While we are upon this subject, it may perhaps be as well to remind our Ipswich friends that they should erect a wharf whereon to land the goods brought by the steamer. The proprietor has done everything in his power to afford them accommodation, and he certainly has a right to expect that they will contribute their quota towards the improvement of the township.[6]

 © K. C. Sbeghen, 2012.

[1] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 20 June 1846
[2] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 20 June 1846
[3] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 27 June 1846
[4] Perhaps from caoutchouc, India-rubber i.e. a species of rubber tree. OED
[5] Now known as Oxley Creek.
[6] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 8 August 1846


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