Sunday History Photo, SA

Submitted: Sunday, Apr 19, 2009 at 00:44
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One of the first paddle steamers to run cruises on the Murray River, the PS Marion is now the world's only operational, heritage, steam driven, wood fired, side paddle steamer with overnight passenger accommodation still operating.
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In 1896, Milang shipbuilder A.H. Landseer was commissioned to build a steamer by Mr George Swan Fowler, a prominent Adelaide business man. It would appear that Mr Fowler had intended to use the steamer as both a work boat and also a pleasure craft. Unfortunately Mr Fowler died soon after building began, and his trustees decided that the hull should be completed and offered for sale as a barge. It was named Marion and first floated in February 1897.
Designed and built in the context of the Murray Darling river system, she has spent all her life on the river and has become recognised as a part of it. Her continuing and intimate link with the River Murray is of great significance.
PS Marion was recognised as one of the flag ships of river transport and demonstrates the organisation and operation of an intact example of its type. PS Marion is the third oldest Australian vessel on Lloyds Register. The vessel reflects the evolution of the economic, trade, transportation and social development of the Murray Darling system and its regions during the twentieth century.
The process of alteration over the life of the vessel demonstrates the flexibility and adaptability of river steamers and their owners to meet the challenge of changing local conditions. The Marion’s current configuration is a culmination of these changes, and represents the most feasible function for a mid twentieth century river boat. A number of significant river personalities and organisations, which have contributed to the development of the Murray Darling system, have been associated with the vessel, as captains, members of the crew or owners.
William Bowring kept a store in Wentworth and also traded up and down the Darling, selling goods from a paddle steamer. In early 1900 WM Bowring & Co. bought the Marion after his previous steamer had caught fire and burnt to the waterline. The barge was towed to Echuca, where Bowring built a superstructure so it could work as a store and Marion entered her working life as a hawking steamer. Bowring imported her engine, which was built by Marshall & Sons of Gainsborough, England in 1900. Marion is still powered by its original engine.
PS Marion left Echuca as a fully independent working steamer in October 1900 and returned to Wentworh. From here she worked the Darling trade, taking supplies to settlements and stations along the river.
In 1908, the Marion was sold to Ben Chaffey of Renmark, who stripped off her storebuildings and rebuilt her with accommodation to carry eight passengers, the captain and crew as well as carry cargo. Chaffey also had two barges specially built for her to tow.
Over the years, Marion went through many changes of ownership. Her shape and function also changed many times as she evolved from cargo with passengers to passengers with cargo and eventually to a passenger boat alone. In her final working guise Marion had accommodation spread over three decks, lounges on the top and middle decks with the dining room on the main deck.
Marion was best known during her days as one of the passenger steamers of the Murray Shipping Limited. In December 1934 she left Morgan for the first of what became regular Summer cruises. She went upstream as far as Renmark, then down to Goolwa and back to Morgan .
After Murray Shipping Limited went into liquidation in 1952, Marion was sold a number of times and spent some years as a floating boarding house in Berri. In 1963, Marion was bought by the National Trust to be used as a memorial to the River Navigation Era. She sailed down river to Mannum under her own steam on what was then thought to be her last voyage. Captain Bill Drage, who captained the Marion during her last years as a passenger steamer, took the helm on that voyage.
For over thirty years Marion rested in the historic Randell Dry Dock at Mannum, where the local branch of the National Trust maintained her as a static museum. In 1989 the Mannum community and Council decided that the best way to preserve the Marion for future generations was to conserve and restore the boat to being fully operational. The Mannum Dock Museum was appointed to manage and develop the facilities and opportunities of PS Marion and Randell Dry Dock as the core of the Mannum Dock Museum of River History.
Major restoration work was undertaken with great love and attention to detail. This work has involved many tens of thousands of volunteer man hours. The superstructure has been restored to what it was in her heyday as a passenger steamer, with cabins, lounges, dining room, galley and bathrooms. Marion was recommissioned in November 1994.
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Registration - registered number 112,509 First registered in Sydney in 1900 - number 46/1900 Registration was then transferred to Adelaide in 1928 - Number 4/1928
Length - 107'11" Beam - 22'7" Depth of Hull - 5'3"
Height from waterline to top of funnel - 30'
Underdeck 104.49 tons Deckhouses 52.82 tons Gross 157.31 tons
Engine and crew space 58.2 tons Nett 99.11 tons Wood Capacity 40 tons
Steel 120lbs PSI manufactured by Marshall & Sons Gainsborough
Common non-condensing, semi-portable type, 2 cylinders each 11" by 16" stroke, spur gear drive, NHP 20, IHP 120, manufactured by Marshall & Sons, Gainsborough in 1900.

I can remember when only 5 and 6 years old the excitement of seeing the Marion pass by Walkers Flat during our annual Xmas breaks spent on the banks of the murray by the big Gum tree near the ferry landing

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Reply By: Member - Geoff the chef (NSW)M - Sunday, Apr 19, 2009 at 07:12

Sunday, Apr 19, 2009 at 07:12
hi Doug,
once again an excellent history lesson.
Its always something to look forward to on sunday while having a cup of tea and listening to Macca on the radio.
AnswerID: 360271

Reply By: Rockape - Sunday, Apr 19, 2009 at 07:39

Sunday, Apr 19, 2009 at 07:39
Thanks Doug,
she sure is a fair lump of a boat.

Up keep must cost a packet.

Have a safe one
AnswerID: 360281

Reply By: Member - Fred B (NT) - Sunday, Apr 19, 2009 at 09:12

Sunday, Apr 19, 2009 at 09:12
Hi Doug, you are on the mark as usual. Well done. Shame the river system hasn't been treated and pampered the way the Marion has in recent years. She is a beautiful craft.
Hava a great week and give Dusty a pat from us.
Fred B
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AnswerID: 360295

Reply By: Member - Oldbaz. NSW. - Sunday, Apr 19, 2009 at 11:26

Sunday, Apr 19, 2009 at 11:26
Another fine lesson in Murray Darling history. Well done, Doug.
We owe those responsible a huge debt for their foresight in
restoring such projects for the pleasure of future generations.
AnswerID: 360315

Reply By: Louie the fly (SA) - Sunday, Apr 19, 2009 at 12:57

Sunday, Apr 19, 2009 at 12:57
Great story Doug. I remember her in semi-dry dock as a floating museum not to long ago. Every time we went to Mannum I just had to go onboard and look around. For some reason I always ended up in the hold. The restoration team did a fantastic job of doing her up and it's great to see her on the water again. The volunteers that operate her are passionate about her and the Murray's shipping history and they operate her with pride.PS Marion website

I remember as a kid in the 70's & early 80's there were a few steamers still running that had been converted to diesels. We used to play on the PS Avoca (the owner was a friend of my dad) and we used to swim out to the middle of the river on whatever we could float on when the Coonawarra came past. The PS Oscar W was in dry dock on Moritz's slipway at Murray Bridge in those days as well, a rotting hulk that everyone thought would just fall apart. Her full restoration has also been fantastic as she is a beautiful example of a working boat. I was down at Goolwa during her Centenary celebrations.

My dream since I was a kid has been to captain a riverboat. I've seen a couple for sale but... Maybe one day.



AnswerID: 360331

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