Milang and the Murray River Boat Trade.
In 1853 the governor of SA offered a reward of £4,000 to the first river steam boat to navigate the Murray to Wentworth and beyond. Captain Francis Cadell working with William Younghusband, a close friend of the governor received the prize although Captain William Randell of Mannum reached Wentworth in his steam boat at the same time. Cadell had named his boat after the wife of the Governor, the Lady Augusta and the Governor and a small party travelled on Captain Cadell’s boat. After this financial boost Cadell went on to establish the River Murray Navigation Company based in Goolwa. Randell established his own shipping line based in Mannum. The river trade began in earnest in 1854. The prize was intercolonial transportation of goods into western NSW and southern Qld via the Darling River from Wentworth. In the 1850s there was almost no settlement in SA along the river so the money to be made was in NSW and the upper reaches of the Murray in Victoria. Randell transported flour to Echuca, for example, for overland transport from Echuca to the goldfields at Bendigo. The early river steamers and barges were manufactured along the Murray and the lakes, often at Goolwa or Mannum or in Milang. Wool was the staple product shipped down the river from NSW and the return trips took up flour, sugar, tea, pianos, furniture, engines or whatever outback stations needed. Customs duties were due at the SA/NSW/Vic border and the Qld border. Milang established a niche role for itself in the riverboat trade; it made steamers and barges, provided captains and skilled navigators and handled the bulk of supplies going up to NSW as Milang was the closest and easiest river port to Adelaide. Duranda Terrace in Milang handled 50 to 60% of all SA exports up the river. Merchants flourished here and Landseers established a large wool handling and warehousing business with offices in Morgan, Murray Bridge, Goolwa, Wentworth, Wilcannia and Mildura. But their headquarters were in Milang.
Albert Landseer the company founder was born in England in 1829 and was a cousin to the famous British landscape painter of the same surname. Albert studied sculpture himself but gave it up to immigrate to SA. He became the agent for Captain Cadell of Goolwa in 1856 and from that contract he expanded his business all along the river. He had ten children with his first wife and six with his second. He controlled almost all the trade through Milang and was known as the “Duke of Milang.” His business partner who contributed financial support was William Dunk. Albert Landseer died in 1906 as the river trade was starting to reduce. Landseer contributed to the district by becoming a member of parliament and was a popular local identify. Alas his four storey stone flour mill and three storey warehouse in Duranda Terrace were both demolished a long time ago. (His impressive wool store in Morgan still stands.) Landseer’s flour mill operated from around 1870 to 1890 replacing the Pavy flour mill that was established in Milang in the 1850s to supply flour for the riverboat trade. The heyday of the riverboat trade was in the 19th century. Before any railways reached western NSW almost all trade was carried on the river through SA. Railways reached western NSW and upper Victoria in the 1880s. But the river trade persisted as so many stations were situated right on the banks of the Darling River and so river transport was the easiest and cheapest right into the middle 1920s. The first jetty was constructed in Milang in 1856 to get the river trade going. It was increased in length in 1859 and again in 1869 until it was 217 metres (711 feet) long. A tram track took cargo to the end of the jetty. The great Murray flood of 1956 saw half the jetty washed away.
Although much of the river boat trade died away in the 1920s some services continued, especially the local steamer service across Lake Alexandrina. Once the railway from Adelaide reached Milang in 1884 a service was started to connect with the trains to take passenger and freight across the lakes to Poltalloch station, Meningie and from there overland through the Coorong to the South East and Melbourne. The paddle steamer Dispatch plied this route from 1877 between Milang and Meningie. After 1884 other vessels were also used on this route. Trade declined considerably in Milang itself after 1878 when the SA railway reached Morgan. It then became the major river port, rather than Milang.
Because of the river trade Milang had a thriving boat building industry. George Ross established engineering works in Milang and then branched out into boats. Ross’ major competitor was Frank Potts of Langhorne Creek who built his boats in Milang too. Potts built many of the boats used by Landseer’s company. The last boat built for Landseer was the Marion in 1897. This is the paddle steamer now in the Museum at Mannum. Another well known boat builder in Milang was C.H.F. Kruse. The register of steamers built in Milang lists:
1872 The Ponkaree.
1873Landseer’s floating dry dock was built and then later sold on to William Randell at Mannum in 1876.
1876The Annie and the Bourke.
1877The Avoca and the Dispatch.
1878The Milang, the Elsie, the John Hart and the Victor.
1880The Mary Ann (second steamer of this name).
1891The Ada and Clara. (This was financed by the Bowmans for the lake crossing to Poltalloch Station.)
1892The Advance and the Retreat.
1897The Agnostic, the Marion and the Tarella.
1898The Etona (used by the Anglican Church for services along the Murray from Murray Bridge to Renmark.)
1911The Elsie (second steamer of this name).
Although the river trade was starting to die off in the early 20th century in 1902 the lock system was agreed upon by the states. It was mainly built to provide a constant river level free from snags in the Murray. The locks were also to control river flows in times of drought and keep the Murray navigable. The first Murray River lock was started in 1915 and finished at Blanchetown in 1922. It took another 20 years for the remaining 25 locks along the river to Albury to be completed. The final stage of this project really was the construction of the five barrages to prevent salt water from entering the lakes and Murray River. They were completed in 1940.
A Brief History of Milang.
The settlers of Strathalbyn were anxious to have a port near their town especially after the Wheal Ellen mine began operations in 1857. In August 1853 Captains Cadell and Randell had proved the viability of river trade. In light of this the Surveyor General Arthur Freeling ordered a township to be laid out on the shores of Lake Alexandrina near where the Bremer and Angas rivers enter the lake. A site was selected on high ground away from both river mouths. Milang was laid out by January 1854. The town had a grid pattern, like Adelaide surrounded by parklands on three sides and the lake on the other. Blocks must have sold quickly as in 1857 a private development was laid out beyond the parklands by Dr Rankine of Strathalbyn. The town name was selected from a local Aboriginal word “Millangk” which meant place of sorcery and magic. Some might argue that Milang is still a magical place!
Among the purchasers of the first town lots, as was to be the case in Langhorne Creek too, were the elite of Strathalbyn- the Gollans, Stirlings, Dawsons etc. Other pioneers of Milang were the Landseer family and G Chalken. Chalken owned the Lake Hotel, established in 1856 in a side street. The Pier Hotel facing the lake was built in 1857 and still stands. Landseer soon opened a general store and Post Office. He bought machinery from the original Pavy flour mill and built a new one in 1871. Around this time he also erected a large wool store and other warehouses along Duranda Terrace making him the main businessman in town. Milang blossomed overnight on the expectation of successful river trading. A South Australian Register newspaper article in 1857 described the new town thus: “Milang is becoming a very bustling little port and will shortly grow into a place of importance. Already it has two inns, a steam mill, a store of some extent, a chapel in the course of erection, a timber yard and a jetty on which there were lying on Tuesday the Symmetry twenty five tons, the Blue Jacket five tons and the Enterprise eight tons. There are now about one hundred and ten souls in the township and several hundred settlers within a radius of two or three miles. Cultivation is progressing extensively and wheat and flour are continuously shipped, and also silver and lead from Strathalbyn and the Wheal Ellen mines.” Alas Milang is no longer a bustling port or town!
As with most other towns the first public structures were the two hotels and the early school room in 1856. This purpose built school is still in use. The first church erected was the Church of Christ in Coxe Street in 1857. This church was enlarged in 1899 and again in 1901. By 1866 Milang had two further churches the Primitive Methodist erected in 1866 in Chapel Street and the Congregational Church erected in 1862 in Stephenson Street. The Congregational Church originally had a thatched roof and it is now the Uniting Church. The Anglican Church was not built until 1911 and its completion was financially assisted by the Dunk family. Before then Anglican services were conducted in the Institute building. Mrs Landseer laid the foundation stone of the Institute in January 1884. James Rankine of Strathalbyn opened the Institute later that year. By 1890 it was free of debt and in 1917 further additions were made to it. A District Council was formed in Milang in 1855 and the first meetings were held in nearby Belvedere. A police station opened in Milang in 1865 but Milang began to slide backwards shortly after that. The tramway to Strathalbyn in 1869 bypassed Milang despite pleas for it to travel via Milang. However they did get a rail line in 1884 to link with the Adelaide line at Sandergrove. In 1893 a butter factory opened in Milang, the Lakeside Butter Factory which exported local butter to England. It closed in 1915. It re-opened some time later and was still operating in the 1930s. The infamous shacks along the lake foreshore were built around 1948. The Milang Progress Association controlled the area until the local Council resumed control in 1967. Despite government threats to their existence the shack owners have had several reprieves and they are still there.
1. Site of the former Landseer’s General Store, flour mill and warehouse and wool store. Now a row of shops.
2. Pier Hotel dating from 1857. Limestone, brick quoins, diagonal front door. Note the memorial to Captain Charles Sturt opposite the hotel.
3. Milang Butter factory. Note curved factory roof. Began as Lakeside Butter around 1894. Closed for a short time around 1904. Then operated through to mid 1930s lastly by SA Farmers Union. Milk was delivered from Meningie by lake steamer.
4. Headmaster’s House. This villa houses built around 1900 is in typical Education Department style. Turn left into Rivers Street.
5. Primary School. The first school room was built 1856. Much of the still standing old school was completed in 1865. It has a high gable, single window in the gable and a door on the side with another single window. It is the oldest purpose built school room still being used in SA for its original purpose. The rest is far more modern.
6. Old Bake House. This single storey shop has been converted into salt-box style house called the Rookery. The house was erected in the mid 1850s and the second storey was added in 1868. Shops were then added each end of the house in 1870. The house is restored. Note the small windows to the street in typical 1850s style. Made of limestone with render and whitewash it has a skillion roof. The first Church of Christ services were held here before the church opened in 1857.
7. Ted Burgess Butcher’s shop. Diagonally opposite Robert’s General Store the former shop is now a residence. Note the large shop style window to the street and the attractive concave veranda. The shop was built around 1870 and was for many years a butcher shop. Butchery ceased here in 1947.
8. Robert’s Corner Store. Originally this shop had a shingle roof with diagonal shop doors and a low roof line. It closed as a general store in 1988! Once you walk past it you might be able to see the Robert’s General store sign in the back yard. When it closed in 1988 it still had some stock that was over 60 years old. Was it past the used by date? The Roberts family operated the store from 1905 to 1988.This is a real mid 1850s building.
9. Old Lake Hotel. This hotel was licensed in 1856. It is quite impressive and has decorative corbels in cement which were used to support the roof. Note the metal air vents. It has a stripped painted veranda roof. It has many uses since it closed as a hotel many years ago. Note the old stables at the rear.
10. Milang Post Office. Postal services began in 1867 from Landseer’s store. The Post Office which looks like a residence opened in 1880. The gable end has a single window. It is across Luard Street in what was once parklands.
11. Milang Police Station. A cottage police station was opened in 1866. The fine station we can see today was built in 1874. It has a central gable and a single room breaks the front veranda. Note the decorative barge boards. It is made of local limestone with brick quoins.
12. Milang Institute. This was opened in 1884 by James Rankine. The impressive façade has good symmetry. The slightly rounded windows have semi-circular windows above them and a large round air vent in the top triangular pediment. In the 19th century everyone was concerned about ventilation whilst wearing all those skirts and jackets and ties. The building has good proportions, limestone walls and cement quoins. Note the stunning urns on the corners of the building. The outside stair case and library room were added in the 1920s and the modern supper room was added in 1962.
13. Dunk family home. Turn left in Ameroo Avenue beside the Soldiers Memorial Park. If you look at the back of the house on the opposite corner you can see the original Dunk family 1850s cottage which had the bigger Dunk residence added in Ameroo Avenue. The front house dates from the 1880s by its style. The Dunks contributed to the Anglican Church which is further up Luard Street towards Adelaide. That church was opened in 1911. Continue walking down Ameroo Avenue towards the lake. But if you want to walk further to the west along Coxe Street behind the Dunk home you will find the Church of Christ which was the first church opened in Milang in 1857.
14. Old Railway Station. Unusually for SA Milang got a wooden station. The rail service ended in 1968. The museum here is staffed by volunteers. Allow 10 -20 minutes to visit it.
Albert Landseer’s grave is here dated 1906. Adjacent plots include his first wife, 1871, and his second wife and some children. Next to Landseer is the Dunk family plots. They business partners of Landseers. Nearby is the Chalken family, the original owners of the Pier Hotel. A usual symbol for riverboat captains is an anchor on their headstones. Such graves include Captain Thomas Jones who died in 1879; Captain Dan Cremer who died in 1942; and Captain George Jeffrey Wallace who died in 1906.
The pastoralists moved into the well watered areas along the Bremer River early in the 1840s. The locality was named after two adventurers of the 1840s who had driven a flock of sheep to SA from NSW in 1841 for a local pastoralist. They were Alfred and Henry Langhorne and the district took their name. Pastoralism ended early here with the declaration of the Hundreds of Bremer and of Finniss in 1851.This meant that some of the land had been surveyed and was ready for sale to farmers for £1 per acre. The first person to buy land along the Bremer here was Frank Potts. Potts was born in 1815, arrived in SA in 1836 and purchased his land around 1851. He went on to establish vines here and his winery was one of the first established in SA. The rich alluvial soil washed down by the annual floods of the Bremer River were excellent for vine cultivation. He called his winery Bleasdale Winery which is still operating and houses the historic wine press. The press was used from 1892 until 1962 and it is 43 feet long and 23 feet high! From its earliest days the winery has specialised in Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz grapes. Frank Potts also made money from building boats at Milang for the river trade. His boats included the Beltana (1873), the Wilcannia (1875), the Bourke (1876), the Dispatch (1877) and the Milang (1878). His boat names indicate they were used for the wool trade up the Murray-Darling to Wilcannia, Bourke and beyond.
When the Langhorne Creek lands were offered for sale most of the early purchasers were land speculators from Adelaide or prominent landholders from nearby Strathalbyn. The Strathalbyn land occupiers including the McLeans, the Rankines of Glen Barr estate, Sir Edward Stirling of the Lodge mansion and other locals such as Sir William Milne( married into the Stirlings ) Bairds, Bayers, Hills, Greens and Borretts. John Borrett was one of the first to start farming here on his property called Raydon Farm. It was the land agent speculator George Green who laid out the private township of Langhorne Creek in 1854 but the hotel at Langhorne Creek was licensed and opened in 1850 with James Baird as publican. The hotel was used by the Gold Escort troopers going to the Victorian goldfields via the established Wellington ferry. Most town blocks were not sold until 1857 but by the 1860s the township had a school (1861), a Primitive Methodist Church (1867), saddlery, a general store and Post Office. In 1892 one optimistic fellow, Charles Grey opened a brewery here as it had a good supply of high quality water. The brewery did not last for long and appears to have closed about 1895. The town businesses did well from Sunday tourists and picnickers from Strathalbyn and long distance travellers heading to Wellington and the ferry across the Murray. Langhorne’s Creek was changed to Langhorne Creek in 1941 when the state government removed punctuation from all town and place names. Some buildings to look out for in Langhorne Creek:
•The Langhorne Creek Hotel on the banks of the Bremer River. Inside it has a good collection of historic photographs. Dates from 1850.
•The Soldiers Memorial Hall (for World War One) opened in 1934. Note it is the Langhorne’s Creek Hall.
•Langhorne Creek store. On the southern end is the old Post Office. It was operating well before 1870.The Post Office end has typical 1860s multi-paned style widows used in shops or offices.
•Old stables and coaching house. Next to the General Store. Good limestone buildings with brick quoins. Langhorne Creek was a coaching staging place for a change of horses on trips to Wellington and beyond.
•Old school building. This was erected in 1861 long before schools were state government responsibilities. Note the Georgian style many paned windows. An earlier schoolroom operated from 1855.
•St. John’s Anglican Church and tower. Opened by Sir Lancelot Stirling in 1929.
•On the other side of the street is the old hall with the galvanised projection booth for movies. It was the Oddfellows Hall built in 1870. Used as the town community hall until the building of the 1934 Memorial Hall. Projection box added for movies in the 1930s. Note the fine details around the windows.
The Langhorne Creek district only receives 375 mm (15 inches) of rain but its proximity to the lakes mitigates this low figure. Summer breezes have high humidity lowering the temperatures. Frequent flooding deposits new silt, with high moisture holding capacity. Because of the frequent flooding and humidity, supplementary summer irrigation is often not needed. But Langhorne Creek has its own privately funded irrigation scheme. The scheme began in 1996 when over 40 local farmers decided to contribute to it. Water is raised 27 metres above the level of the lake and pumped up to 17 kms away to 52 participants of the scheme. The availability of water for irrigation has seen the wine region expand greatly. There are now six other wineries apart from the Bleasdale winery in the district. After the implementation of the irrigation scheme grape tonnage rose from 10,000 tons a year to 51,000 tons in just a couple of years. It has been expanding ever since. Langhorne Creek is now the third biggest wine grape growing region of SA. Almost 90% of the wine produced is red wine. The district has also expanded the plantings of Verdelho vines in recent years too. And the region also produces the SA Newman’s horse radish.
Tagged: , Milang , Landseer , warehouse , River boats , river trade , paddle steamers