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River Steamers - The Brisbane River Steamer Era

The first River Steamer to ply from Brisbane to Ipswich was the 'Experiment'. In J.J. Knight's 'In The Early Days' he makes references to her:

An Unprofitable Experiment

Experiment Flounders at Wharf


I note my old friend, W. J. Morley, has been writing about the early river steamers. He mentioned in his letter that the “Settler” was cut in halves. I think he is mistaken in this. So far as my memory serves, the “Settler” “settled” at Bulimba ferry. The vessel he refers to as being cut in halves was the “Canaipa” and the other half was called the “Barotta,” lately owned by Burns, Philp, and Co., Townsville.

The “Settler” was one of the Mississippi type steamer with a big hog beam running fore and aft. She was owned by Mr. Miller, and her master was Captain Rooney. There was another vessel cut in half which was called- probably this was the one that was in Mr. Morley’s mind- the “Ipswich,” one half of her being the “Benowa,” and owned by my father in the 1880s. She sank at the Railway Wharf. The engineer of the “Ipswich” was, I believe, Mr. F. Shale, now of the Marine Department.

Another old identity, which can never be forgotten, was the “Tadorna Rajah,” owned by William Pettigrew, which used to run to Caboolture and Mooloolah.

Other old vessels were the “Gneering,” screw vessel, and “Culgoa,” paddle steamer, master Captain Goodall, and another was the “Kalarra,” master Captain Gruer; she was lost on the Tweed bar. Vessels, of course, of more recent date, were the “Charlotte Fenwick,” “Notone,” “President,” and “Garnet,” the latter vessel pioneering the present Humpybong traffic, now run by the commodious “Koopa.”

A small vessel was built in 1883 called the “Redcliffe,” and she ran from Sandgate to Woody Point. She was very narrow and most unsuited for the traffic.

- G. H. Collin


My information with regard to the old stern wheeler, “Settler,” may be regarded as nearly authentic as possible. Captain Jackson, the first owner and master, was a personal friend of my informant’s parents, and a frequent visitor at their house. My informant, as a child, accompanied his parents frequently on trips on board the old packet. Though, of course, very young at the time, he has a vivid recollection of what he certainly was told was the launching of the vessel, his parents being invited guests, the captain accompanying them home afterwards.

Any person with knowledge of a vessel could not but realise that the “Settler” could never have sailed up the coast from the Murray. She was really a flat bottomed sharp nosed punt, though her bilges were rounded, very shallow, and with very little freeboard. Her engine room was situated right aft and to give head room the deck was raised. Above the engine room was the cabin accommodation. The shafts on each side which revolved the wheel passed through two longitudinal openings in the tuck.

Any, even moderate, following sea would have flooded and swamped her. The boiler was placed right forward, and above this on the hurricane deck, was the wheelhouse. The hull was strengthened by wooden longitudinal bowed braces, built plank upon plank, similar to those on the old Breakfast Creek bridge, a portion of which was re-erected near the Albion Sawmills, where it collapsed a year or two ago.

The “Settler’s engines were high pressure. She was generally slipped on the bank of the river at Pinkenba, where logs had been placed at right angles to the shore, and she was floated on at high water. This will give some idea of her shallow draft, as she had to be placed high enough for operations to be carried out under her bottom.

Her boilers and furnaces had no protection and any sea taken aboard would have swamped her and extinguished her fire. So far as my informant’s memory serves him, the launch took place somewhere about 1864. If she was sailed from the Murray, then her hurricane deck and machinery must have been fitted in Brisbane, for as a steamer, she never could have made the voyage.

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 her pilot, respecting the river flats, she got aground near the crossing place at Woogaroo, and was detained until daylight. The following morning, she proceeded on her voyage, and reached her destination at one o’clock. The Ipswich folk 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 on 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 also that he will not commence plying between the two townships until Tuesday next, the time other departures 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 accommodation, consisting of gentlemen’s and ladies cabins, as well as spacious storage. On Tuesday, Mr. Pearce applied to the magistrates for a licence for the sale of spirituous liquors on board which was immediately granted.

- Isobel Hannah