The Paddle Steamer Mary Ann was the first to be used on the River Murray. It was built and captained by Captain William Richard Randall.
By Daniel Keane
Posted 14 Jun 2016, 6:00am
A hunt for one of the state’s most significant paddle steamers and more than two dozen other historic wrecks will begin today along the River Murray.
The PS Mary Ann was built in the 1850s by river boat engineer William Randell, the so-called “founding father” of the South Australian river town of Mannum. The 14-metre boat was the first steam vessel to be used on the river and kick started a thriving river trade.
Its boiler is on display at Mannum Dock Museum but there are only theories about what happened to the rest of the vessel, including the possibility its hull was divided and reused.
Museum executive officer Deb Alexander said everyone had an opinion on the Mary Ann’s fate.
“They’ve been looking for this boat for many, many years,” she said. Ms Alexander said it was not known how the boat met its end but was 70 per cent sure it had “a watery grave”.
Records show 77 boats were wrecked along the South Australian section of the river but the whereabouts of only 45 are known.
The SA Environment Department will carry out the search up until Sunday. It said historic records suggested the Mary Ann was buried in the river near Mannum. “It could have just been left on the riverbank, as many of these old paddle steamers were in their day,” Ms Alexander said. “They’ve documented on paper where all these wrecks are but they’ve never actually entered the water to see what’s around so I think it’s actually going to be quite a river treasure trove.” Ms Alexander said a key part of the search, which will centre on Mannum, Morgan, and Murray Bridge, would be local knowledge. She encouraged anyone with scraps of information to come forward. “It’s not just about putting the sonar in the water,” Ms Alexander said. “It’s actually talking to the people and doing a call-out for people who probably have never voiced their opinion, or they’ve got some facts or they’ve had the story passed down from their grandparents.”
Ms Alexander said finding the Mary Ann would have significance for the people of Mannum. “They’d all jump for joy,” she said. “It would probably make national, if not international, news if we found some relic of it.”