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The River Murray Steam Navigation Medal 1853

River Murray Navigation MedalThe Navigation of the Murray-Darling River System

In 1853 the South Australia Legislative Council approved the striking of the original River Murray Steam Navigation Metal to commemorate the beginning of commercial navigation on the Murray River System. It is an important commitment to record of one of the most important events in the history of the Murray Darling Basin and in the history of Australian transport.

Following the navigation of the Murray River to Swan Hill and beyond those steamers 'Mary Ann' and 'Lady Augusta' in September 1853, the South Australian Legislative Council ordered three gold medals to be struck to commemorate the event. One of the medals was retained by the council and the others were presented to Captain Francis Cadell of the 'Lady Augusta' and to Sir Henry Fox Young, Governor of South Australia. Captain William Randall, first person to place a steamer on the Murray River, was ignored but for a congratulatory letter from the council through public outcry at this treatment resulted in a gift of 400 guineas is being made to the Randells by public subscription.

All three original gold medals have now been lost; that of the South Australian Legislative Council was stolen from the Art Gallery of South Australia in 1914. However, a small number of bronze presentation medals were struck in 1856 and one of these is held by the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Another strike from the badly corroded dies was made in 1919 to produce some gilt medals, one of these is held by the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

The Navigation Metal was one of the earliest Australian commemorative medals (along with the Tasmanian Cessation of Transportation Metal) and the first with an (idealised) Australian scene. It was produced by the celebrated British engraver Mr Leon Wyon at the Royal Mint in London from a drawing by Mr Pitts of the South Australian Surveyor General's Department.

On the obverse (main design side) of the metal is a paddle steamer 'Lady Augusta', travelling on the Murray River. The barge 'Eureka' loaded with bales of wool is lashed alongside. The foreground of depicts an earlier Australian fertile landscape on the Murray River with crops, sheep and cattle. Above the scene are the words 'Inter Ripas Fluo' (between banks if flows) and in an encircling border 'Tri Juncta in Uno (three joined in one) New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria'. On the reverse of the medal is a wreath of leaves surrounded by the words: 'The Steam Navigation and Commerce of the River Murray Opened 1853.'

Powerhouse Museum Medal replica
More about the first paddle steamers on the Murray River
Building of the Mary Ann | The Mary Ann boiler


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