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River Murray paddle steamers gain historic shipwreck status

Two River Murray paddle steamers, Monada and Ventura II - both lost in 1944, are now classified as historic shipwrecks under the South Australian Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981

Front and side view of 'P.S. Monada' sunk at Morgan, bow almost submerged, tilting towards river. – Photo: State Library of South Australia [PRG 1258/1/2715]

Under the Act, all shipwrecks and associated relics are automatically entered on the Register of Historic Shipwrecks 75 years after they are wrecked.

Paddle steamer Monada, built in 1870 by Abraham Graham, was considered the strongest vessel ever built at Goolwa due to its three-inch thick planking on iron frames, and massive sister keelsons running the entire length of the hull.

In 1944 the Commonwealth Navigation Branch prohibited the owners from working the vessel and it was dismantled at Morgan, on the western bank between Punt Landing and Landseer Slipway.

The second steamer, Ventura II, was built at Morgan in 1906 by Ebenezer Hainsworth Dodd.

While little is known about the history of the vessel, it did have a variety of owners over its almost forty year operating life before it was abandoned in 1944, two kilometres downstream of Berri.

Department for Environment and Water (DEW) Senior Maritime Heritage Officer Rick Bullers said paddle steamers were a part of the thriving river boat trade in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“The heyday was from the 1860s to the 1910s when pastoralists, settlers and travellers in inland areas depended almost entirely on the river boat trade for transport and communication,” Mr Bullers said.

“Paddle steamers towing large barges navigated the winding course of the Murray-Darling system, supplying stations and towns with supplies, and carrying passengers and various goods including mail, fruit, wool, wood and livestock products to market.

“In all there were about 300 steamers operating in the Murray-Darling system during the peak of the riverboat era.”

The exact locations of both vessels have not been identified, but a general area of their loss is based on historical accounts.

Although Monada is known to have been dismantled, there is still potential for relics from the vessel to be present.

Mr Bullers said anyone finding the wreck sites should notify the department of their discovery.

“Many people probably aren’t aware, but it’s a requirement under the Act that people notify us of shipwreck and shipwreck relic discoveries,” Mr Bullers said.

“These protections extend to any relics that might be kept in people’s personal collections - it is a requirement to notify DEW of the possession.

“Although it depends on how any relics were obtained, it is unlikely that we would seek to retrieve relics that have previously been collected from these wrecks, but they would be entered on the Register of Historic Ships and a certificate of custody would be issued to the custodians.”

DEW is responsible for the identification, management, protection and promotion of South Australia’s maritime heritage under the state’s Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981, including shipwrecks on the River Murray.

This classification provides a formal protection, making it illegal to damage, destroy, remove or dispose of any historic shipwrecks or relics.

People can learn more about the shipwrecks of the River Murray by following the River Boat Heritage Trail.

The trail was installed in 2009, and highlights listed shipwrecks along the river between Border Cliffs and Goolwa, telling the stories of the vessels, places and people.

Click here for more information about the trail.  

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Bow and side view of 'P.S. Monada', formerly 'Princess Royal', tied up beside a barge at river bank, in high water – Photo: Courtesy State Library of South Australia [PRG 1258/1/2713]

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