Grafton Rowing Club History: Early Shipping 1
Australian Rowing Professional
Flooding Grafton
Early Shipping on the Clarence

Early Shipping 1 - "Susan" and "King William"

A sketch of the "Susan", the first vessel to visit the Clarence.
(Drawing from June Huish from a painting by E. J. Short)

Whilst the first vessels to visit the Clarence were the sailing ships "Susan" and "Taree" in 1838, steamers were soon sent to explore the river and became the mainstay of the shipping trade to the North Coast. Many of the early steamers were "sail assisted" (ie they had a mast or two with sails to assist the steam engines and also to reduce fuel consumption).

The first steamer to visit the Clarence was the "King William". The "King William", built in 1830,  at Blackwall, in England, was 42.7 metres (140 feet) long and 81 tons. In August 1839, she was sent to explore the Clarence, with a variety of passengers on board including the Deputy Surveyor General and a number of colonists interested in land for farming. They reached Susan Island on August 29, and on the 30th reached rapids 136 kms (85 miles) from the mouth of the river. The location of the rapids was named "King William Mount" and the travellers noted that above the rapids they could see two streams feeding into the river - they proclaimed these streams as also being navigable for some distance.

A sketch of the "King William", the first steamer to visit the Clarence.
(Drawing from June Huish from a painting by E. J. Short)

Unfortunately, the ship was grounded at the site of the rapids and it took the crew three days to free her. Even more unfortunate, however, was the loss of the "King William" at Nobby's at the entrance to Newcastle only one month later. The passengers on the "King William" on her visit to the Clarence were, however, so taken by the country that many settlers soon moved to the area, creating an immediate need for coastal shipping.

Steamers did not fully replace sailing vessels for quite a few years to come - the ratio of sail to steam ships was still about 50-50 at the turn of the century, but continued to change in favour of the faster steamers, especially as the sailing fleet became older. Sailing vessels made fewer and fewer regular runs up until the 1920s and 30s. Generally, the sailing vessels were used to transport coal and timber (the ships on the right are loading timber on the Clarence in the 1890s), whilst foodstuffs, perishables, industrial goods and many consumer products were carried by the steamers.

The heyday of the north coast shipping trade was the last fifty years of the 1800s. The opening of the Hawkesbury River railway bridge in 1880 sealed the fate of the shipping trade, as it provided a direct rail link between Sydney and the north. As the rail line stretched further north over the ensuing years, so the need for shipping declined.

Early Shipping - Page 2