Paddle Steamers

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Paddle Steamers

This page is available to list details of any paddle steamers that operated on the Darling or Murrumbidgee Rivers. Like most pages on the AUS-NSW-WEST website, it relies on input from everyone to grow to be a resource for all.

For books on the paddle steamers, see Suggested Reading

Sources of Information appear in square brackets at the end of the entry, and are amplified at the bottom of this page.

EmilyJane.jpg (41188 bytes)


Paddle Steamer Trivia

The paddle steamers could only run about 8 months of the year - the Darling depended on the unpredictable rainfall in Queensland. Consequently the Darling was either in flood or drought.

Barges on the Darling were towed by a short line of about 50 feet long because of the many bends in the river.

There were passenger steamers, goods/cargo teamers, fishing steamers, shop steamers, a bottle-o steamer and even a church steamer for people in the bush to have a church service, get married and have children baptised.

Most of the steamers who worked around Echuca etc also went up the Darling and Murrumbidgee Rivers.

The river-boat men hated the Murrumbidgee because it was narrow and had so many bends and overhanging trees that accidents and losing their barges was a frequent occurence.

Due to the strength of the Darling flow, steamers were only allowed to go up river at night time - not down river. Some skippers would disobey the rules, of course.

Paddle Steamers

The Ariel steamed up the Darling in a flood in 1870 - water went down and she was left high and dry - miles away from the actual river. One steamer was found some 60 miles away from the river when flood waters receded. The Ariel was later rebuilt as the Kelvin.   [Lori]

Australien  Built for Capt 'Pirate' Wilson at Echuca in 1897. She made the fastest run ever for a steamer and barge with Capt 'Gentleman Tom' Kelly in 1920. Stopping at various places along the way to load and unload cargo, he made the trip from Echuca to Hay and back in 11 days and a few hours. Distance was 1406 miles of narrow winding rivers. [Lori]

Avoca Built in 1877 she was one of the largest on the rivers. She travelled the Darling River until about 1891.  [Lori]

Britannia. "The Steamer Britannia. In thanking our Customers for their kind support during the past week, we beg to remind them that the Steamer will REMAIN in Wentworth for SOME WEEKS, and that Supplies will be kept up by the steamer Victor, now trading on our behalf. TONKIN, FULLER & MARTIN." (1888 advertisement, Murray and Darling Telegraph)  [Linda]

Canberra Built in 1912 as a fishing boat and cargo steamer. She was purchased by the Connor Bros who fished high up on the Murrumbidgee. In 1940s she was fitted out as an excursion steamer on the Murray River.  [Lori]

Captain Stuart was photographed at the Bourke Wharf in 1925. For the image see

The Colonel Ran primarily for the wool cargo on the Murrumbidgee and towing two barges, by owners Permewan Wright. The Colonel became a bottom end boat, running between Mannum and the Darling. In the 1930s she became a houseboat and eventually was left abandoned on the banks of the river. [Lori]

The Emily Jane was a floating shop operated by W.Bowring and Co. on the Darling River. Does anyone know where they were based???   [Linda]

Emma was photographed with the Rita taking on bales of wool at the Bourke wharf on the Darling River in 1910. See for the image.

Fairy. Was carrying mail and supplies on the lower Darling during the 1890 flood, in place of coach lines.  [Linda]

Florence Annie
operated on the Murray-Darling River system between Bourke and Adelaide c1900 carrying mostly wool bales. No further details known. (from Strange Tales of Australia by Alec Hepburn, 1982 Rigby. p70 'Sanctimonious Murderer'). An earlier date of 1880 is given with image at [Jac]

Glad Tidings. A mission boat on the Murray River, and possibly elsewhere. When it sank, the registers went down with it, leaving problems for later-day family historians, who cannot prove marriages. [Linda]

Invinceable see Vega

Jane Eliza had the longest trip ever recorded when she took 3 years to go from Goolwa to Bourke during a drought. At Bourke the floodwaters came and it took only two weeks for her to return to Goolwa towing 3 barges of wool. [Lori]

Paddle steamer JG Arnold and barge Ukee was photographed with 1480 bales of wool about to be unloaded at Bourke. This was the last steamer into Bourke, NSW in 1932. For the image see

JHP - launched 1866 sank between Hay and Balranald Oct 1868. Raised and sank twice more. Dismantled in 1879.  [Lori]

Kelvin - see Ariel

Nellie. "E.R. Fitzgerald, having chartered the well and favourably known Light Draught Steamer "Nellie" Begs to inform his friends on the Darling and its surrounding districts he will run between Wentworth and Wilcannia with a large and assorted stock of General merchandise and hopes to receive a fair share of support". (1888 advertisement, Murray and Darling Telegraph)   [Linda]

The Nile was photographed caught on the bed of the Darling River near Bourke during the 1920 drought. For the image see

Pride of the Murray see Rodney

Rita was photographed with the Emma taking on bales of wool at the Bourke wharf on the Darling River in 1910. See for the image.

Rodney carried non union shearers during the shearers strike 1894. Unionists set fire to her at Moonara Station on the Darling. The Pride of the Murray and the Trafalgar also carried non-union shearers. The Pride of the Murray brought the prisoners from Wentworth Jail to Albury - 850 miles.  [Lori]

Sturt: Sank at Brewarrina Rapids with a travelling theatrical company on board - no casualties.  [Lori]

Success see Vega

The Tarella was built specifically for the Darling trade 1897, a passenger steamer capacity 20 passengers. She was lit by electricity which was making great changes along the Darling and other rivers. Imagine the sight of an electrically lit steamer whose light could be seen for miles, as opposed to the oil lamp, as the steamers made their way up river. In 1918 The Tarella, with her deckhouses changed from her passenger carrying days, now carried wool and wheat from the Darling, M/bidgee & Murray to Goolwa SA.  [Lori]

TP see Wannera

Trafalgar see Rodney

Ukee (barge). See J.G. Arnold.

The barge Vega was towed by the Invincible for much of her career. In 1956 she was towed by the Success up the Darling to flood bound Para Station to pick up a cargo of wool. Value of wool 75k pounds! All went well until they got back to the Murray before Mildura. The engine of Success broke down and the flood current took Success, Vega and cargo (320 tons) down stream out of control. The Vega crashed into a flooded tree and tore it out of the ground. Both vessels smashed into other trees until eventually were held fast by still more trees. The engine was repaired and they again set off for Mildura. Only three bales of wool were damaged!  [Lori]

Victor. see Britannia

Victoria. Was carrying mail and supplies on the lower Darling during the 1890 flood, in place of coach lines.  [Linda]

The Wannera began her life as a barge in 1900 at Echuca and named TP for Thomas Permewan of Permewan Wright & Co - the largest ship owner on the rivers. In 1911 she was converted to a steamer. She was one of the last boats to go up the Darling to Wilcannia. [Lori]

The Wave. Skipper Lloyd Surry boasted he would carry anything. He had a travelling circus on board going from Brewarrina to Bourke when the Wave sank . Imagine all the animals ( lions tigers elephants etc ) swimming in the Darling!  [Lori]

Other steamers on the Darling and M/bidgee ( & the Murray): Pevensey, Invincible, Tolarno, Canally, Gemini, Wandering Jew, Jandra, Hero, Mannum, Ruby, Marion, Kookaburra, Pyap, Maggie, Corrong with the barge Pelican, Enterprise (both mostly M/bidgee ), Moira, Fairy.  [Lori]


BUMBOATS - many people had small hand driven side-wheelers known as 'bumboats' - the occupants turned the paddle wheel by a crankshaft. These little craft were used on the rivers by fishermen, shearers, hawkers, tinkers, travelling photographers and others. These were the fore-runners of the modern houseboats which can be hired by holiday makers along the rivers today.  [Lori]

Sources of Information

Jac: e-mail christo1$


Lori: e-mail loribyn$

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Last updated on 22 July 2018