Marion - an historic paddlesteamer
Town which stretches along the banks of the
Located 84 km east of Adelaide and 13 metres
above sea level, Mannum is an attractive town on
the banks of the Murray River which came into
existence with the advent of the paddlesteamer
transport industry in the 1850s.
Prior to European settlement the area was
inhabited by the Naralte Aborigines who were
described by one early settler as 'very friendly
and quickly picked up a smattering of English.
They were willing to work ... and attempted to
instruct the newcomers in their methods of
hunting.' The river provided abundant food and
they lived well off a diet of kangaroos, emus,
wombats, goannas, lizards, ducks, turtles, fish,
snakes and bird eggs.
The first European into the area was Captain
Charles Sturt who, being assigned to solve the
great mystery of why so many rivers flowed
westward from the Great Dividing Range (often
known as the question of whether Australia had
an 'inland sea') rowed a whale boat down the
Murrumbidgee in late 1829 and reached the
junction with the Murray River on 14 January
1830. He continued down Australia's largest
river passing Mannum in early February (there is
a plaque beside the river recording the event)
and reaching Lake Alexandrina, at the mouth of
the river, on 9 February, 1830.
From this point onwards there was always the
thought that the Murray River could be used for
transportation and access to the western areas
of New South Wales and Queensland. However it
wasn't until the formal establishment of Goolwa
as the port at the mouth of the Murray that this
became a reality.
There was a debate as to whether Victor
Harbour or Port Elliot would be the ocean port.
It was eventually decided that Port Elliot was
the best location but this was probably based on
its proximity to Goolwa and the belief that a
canal could be constructed between the two
locations. In 1851 it was agreed to build a
railway between Port Elliot and Goolwa at a cost
of £20,000. It ended up costing £31,000 and
wasn't completed until 1854.
By 1853 paddle steamers were operating on the
Murray. The first two steamers were the 'Mary
Ann' captained by William Randell and the 'Lady
Augusta' captained by Francis Cadell.
By 1840 the land along the Murray River
around Mannum had been surveyed and, although
the river was not being commercially used at the
time, some people started to lease and purchase
the land. The most prominent was the explorer
Edward John Eyre who took up land near the town
The founding father of Mannum was William
Richard Randell who, famously, had built the
first flour mill at Gumeracha. Believing that
there was money to be made by paddlesteamers on
the Murray he built a boat at Gumeracha and
transported it by bullock dray to a landing
which is about 3 km north of present-day Mannum.
The steamer was named 'Mary Ann' after Randell's
mother, was 55 feet long, and it was given a
trial run on the Murray on 19 February 1853.
Shortly afterwards Randell made a successful
trip as far as Echuca and Moama and subsequently
he travelled up the Murray River as far as
By the 1860s up to 20,000 bales of wool were
being brought down the river each season. The
steamers were used to move huge barges which
were laden with wool. Some went to Goolwa and on
to Port Elliot. Others were unloaded at Mannum
and overlanded to Adelaide by bullock teams. The
town was surveyed in 1868.
In the 1870s David and John Shearer
established a blacksmith business in the town.
They were remarkably creative building
Australia's first car (a funny piece of
equipment which was driven by a steam engine
fired by mallee timber) and the company evolved
into Horwood Bagshaw, a successful engineering
By the 1870s and 1880s many Germans had moved
into the area. Agriculture along the riverbanks
was becoming the mainstay of the town's economy.
Today Mannum is proud of its history. It is a
pleasant holiday town on the Murray River with
extensive parks along the river. It caters for a
variety of water sports and there is both
fishing and bird watching (the birds range from
seagulls which have made their way from the
coast to pelicans and swans). There is a bird
sanctuary next to the caravan park at the
eastern end of town.
Things to see:
Paddle Steamer Marion
Located on the riverfront at Randell St this
historic paddlesteamer was constructed in 1897
and used as a pleasure craft on Lake Alexandrina
before being brought to Mannum where it has been
restored to operating condition. It now operates
as a passenger vessel. For details contact (08)
Mary Ann Reserve
Named after the first paddlesteamer to ply the
Murray River, this park with its attractive
'band rotunda' picnic settings has the original
pumping engine from the PS Mary Ann as well as a
replica of the small whaleboat which Sturt rowed
down the Murray to Lake Alexandrina.
Located at the end of Crawford Crescent above
the Bird Sanctuary this lookout offers excellent
views over the Murray River and the town.