Some Timelines Revealing Early Shipping in New South Wales:

Coastal Runs – New South Wales

So much of Australia was impenetrable by land – the lifeline of these new coastal settlements was the sea.  Discover the ships that plied up and down the coast – picking up and delivering supplies, cargo, communications and passengers . . .

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Inland Waterways – New South Wales

The inland waterways were often the only communication for the early settlers.  Discover the rivers and lakes that transported the treasures and produce of the land to the rest of the world  . . .

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Murray River Steamers

This timeline provides an overview of the steamers that traversed the mighty Murray River – through drought and flood, and the infrastructure that supported the river highways . . .

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North Coast Steam Navigation Co.

The North Coast Steam Navigation Company operated along the north coast of New South Wales between the years of 1855 to 1954.  Before the introduction of railways and roadways, waterways were the only form of transport and communication.  As the face of travelling the waterways of the world progressed from the sail to steam:  Schooners (sail only), Paddle Steamers (PS), Screw Steamers (SS), Composite Steamers, Turbine Steam Ships (TSS), Steam Ships (SS) – shipping companies needed to progress with the times, updating and maintaining their fleets . . .   During its 99 year history, the company enjoyed a repertoire of some 120 vessels,  – with a further 8 vessels owned in partnership with others . . .

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In the Beginning . . .

The new island continent of Australia presented innumerable challenges for the first explorers and settlers.  The vast distances; the weather; the heat; the droughts; the deserts, mountains, morass and rivers . . .

However, together with the many challenges, there were the voluminous riches:  land, gold, the majestic giants of the forests, oceans of fish, – just to name a few.  All of which needed to be transported.  The water highways were the only answer in those early years, as the modes of transport available to those who first landed were ships propelled by wind and sail, or, by foot.

The ingenuity of those early settlers was remarkable, as they battled the forces of Mother Nature.  They built harbours, tamed rivers, created permanent entrances into the sea, built jetties and cranes to haul cargo, dug canals to redirect waterways, built cities and infrastructure (much of which is still in use today) . . .

Sailing ships navigated the waterways with such skill and speed, creating maps as they went, discovering new coastlines, rivers, lakes and inland waterways.  However, sailing ships relied on wind, and when the wind died, the ships stopped . . .

Enter the Steam Engine . . .

The advent of the steam engine began the transformation to a faster, more consistent means of propelling ships.  The first steam engines, however, were enormous and consumed huge quantities of fuel – there was barely room for any cargo, let alone passengers.  The fuel would only last a relatively short distance.

Hence the combination of Sail and Steam . . . until such time that the steam engine was refined to be smaller and more fuel efficient.  The first of the steam propelled ships was the Paddle Steamer (PS).  The mechanisms and penetration of the hull lay above the water line, thereby averting the challenge of water leaks.  The engine’s power was harnessed from its delivery point at the top of the engine, directly driving the shafts to turn the paddle wheels.  Paddles Steamers were excellent as long as the conditions were ideal, however, their efficiency reduced dramatically when the water level of the steamer varied (e.g. if it were heavily laden).

As technology conquered the challenges of penetrating the hull below the water line; delivering the steam engine’s power to a position below the cylinders and hence directly to the drive shaft – the future of the propeller driven steamer, first referred to as the Screw Steamer (SS), was secured.

Though the Paddle Steamer remained a very effective tug boat across shallow bars and so forth, it was the introduction of the Screw Steamer (SS) that provided the means for a faster, more efficient Steamer.  As Paddle Steamers were phased out, the terminology for ‘SS’ meaning ‘Screw Steamer’ transformed to ‘SS’ meaning ‘Steam Ship’.

As the face of travelling the waterways of the world progressed from sail to steam, paddles to propellers, shipping companies of the 19th and early 20th centuries needed to progress with the times, updating and maintaining their fleets . . .

Some Classifications – in Brief . . .

Schooners

Schooner

Schooner

A ‘Schooner’ is usually recognised by all the lower sails on all masts being rigged in line with the ship.  Some schooners have square set sails on the upper levels of the main masts only.  They consist of two of more masts – the most is up to seven masts !!!

 

Barque or Bark

Barque or Bark

Barque or Bark

A ‘Barque’, or ‘Bark’s’ main identifying feature is that the rear mast sails are rigged in line with the ship.  They are generally equipped two or more main masts – rigged with square set sails.

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Clipper

The ‘Clipper’ was often referred to as the “Greyhound of the Sea” . . .

Clipper Ship

Clipper

What separated the ‘Clipper’ from the other ships of the time was the long, narrow, sleek lines of the hull, as well as the immense volume of square set sails.  The sails were generally rigged on three masts – the enormous area of sail was designed to capture even the slightest of breezes.  The ‘Clipper’ hull was designed with a protruding stern.  The length of the ship was at least five times its width, and the draught at approximately one half of the width.  The early ‘Clippers’ were built of wood, however, from the 1860’s the hull was often of a composite construction.

These ships were designed to carry small, but valuable cargo, such as gold and tea, across the seas at high speeds.  For the people travelling to Australia during the nineteenth century, the trip from England could take up to four months, however, in the right conditions, the ‘Clipper’ could achieve the journey in 80 to 90 days . . .

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Composite Hull Design

Composite Steamer Midship Section - Small

Example Section Drawing of a Composite Ship

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A composite construction consisted of wrought iron or steel frame, lined with wooden planking.  This method of construction became increasing popular during the 19th century as the iron frame consumed much less room within the hull cavity and was relatively resistant to twisting and sagging.  This coupled with the wooden planks allowed for cooper sheathing which protected the hulls from the attachment of weed, hence heavy drag and slowing of the trip across the sea.

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