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The only surviving relic from the 1853 Mary Ann is the boiler

Sketches by Walter Cunningham - Text by Ian Mudie, from River Rivals - Australians in History
Hand coloured by Design Train - Boiler now in the Mannum River Dock Museum of River History


William Randell's PS Mary Ann, built in 1853, was the first steamer to trade on the Murray.
The only surviving relic of this famous boat is its boiler.

The Boiler of the Mary Ann

The boiler for the Mary Ann was generally regarded as the worst part of the setup. Because there were no real boiler makers in South Australia, William Randell commissioned a German blacksmith, who worked in Adelaide, to make one.

As boilers are usually round, the oblong shaped one the blacksmith put together caused a great deal of comment. Some say that he made it that way because no suitable iron for a round one was available. Others put forward the less likely story that the blacksmith didn't know how to make one.

Was it safe?

According to Mabel Kinmont, Randell's grand-daughter, it seemed that when the boiler was fired up it expanded almost beyond belief and made enough noise to frighten even the most intrepid supporter of steam power.

It was so weak that the pressure of steam made it swell almost to the shape of a football. The Randells studded bolts into the weak places in the plates in the hope of strengthening them. Next they wrapped bullock chains around the boiler, and after that they drove wooden wedges under the chains to tighten them.

The first firing of the boiler

Despite their reinforcements, the Randells had little faith in the success of their repairs. When they got up steam even Elliot Randell, who was acting as engineer, went and lay down in the bush some distance away, afraid that the boiler would blow up.

The boiler simply swelled in defiance of the bolts, chains and wedges. Some who saw it described it as 'breathing'. Nearly a hundred years later river-hands, who had heard about it from old hands along the Murray, referred to it as 'the concertina boiler'.

Ditching and salvaging

The deficiencies of the Mary Ann and its oblong boiler were soon realised and it was scrapped in 1854. The hull was re-used as one half of the twin hulled Gemini but the boiler was simply ditched in the river.

Nearly 50 years later, when the historical importance of the abandoned boiler was first realised, it was dragged from the river by the engineer, James Scott. The photo left shows William Randell, then in his eighties, with the salvaged boiler from the Mary Ann.

 

Building of the Mary Ann
The first paddle steamer race between Randell & Cadell
History of Murray-Darling Paddle steamers
Ride on a Murray River paddle steamer

 


 



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