Paddle steamer accidents often fatal

Henry Pitcher, who died from injuries received on board the steamer Princess Royal August 15, 1870. His broken headstone is in the Bourke cemetery. Image: Sharyn Moodie.

Steam paddle boats accidents were common and often fatal on the rivers of inland NSW, prompting this scathing opinion in the press by an unnamed correspondent.

It followed the death of 28-year-old Henry Pitcher on board the steamer Princess Royal on August 15, 1870 – the same year the vessel was launched.

“As the Princess Royal arrived at Bourke, its engineer Henry  Pitcher,  in stopping or reversing the engine, by some means got his foot and leg drawn in between the cogwheels of the machinery, and it was literally crushed to pieces before he could be extricated from his agonising position— he died a few hours afterwards.

The Princess Royal was later renamed the Monada, and continued to ply the waters of the Murray River until it was dismantled in 1944. Courtesy State Library of South Australia [PRG 1258/1/2713]

 “A few weeks before a servant girl taking passage on the  steamer Jolly Miller had her clothes caught by  the machinery as she walked along the deck,” it continues.

“She was drawn in by it, and the flesh torn from her body in a most fearful manner — if she recovers she is ruined for life.'”

unnamed correspondent, mount alexander mail

The writer cited further cases.

“The year before last the engineer of the steamer Murrumbidgee had his arm crushed/and torn from his body by the cog wheel machinery in the same manner, and most of us remember how a lady passenger (Mrs Cotter) some few years back was caught by the clothes, and crushed to death in the machinery of one of these river boats.”

 “These are only a few of the accidents which occur in these river boats, independent of the lives lost by falling overboard in consequence of the want of sufficient guard or bullwarlks round their sides.

“ In all the cases I have mentioned, I have very little hesitation in saying that if proper precaution had been taken by boxing in or covering over this dangerous description of machinery, these horrible accidents would not have happened.”

He called for safety inspections on boats coming in from South Australia.

The Princess Royal was one of about 300 paddle steamers which operated on the Murray-Darling system during their heyday between the 1860s and 1910s.

They were vital to the survival of stations and towns, bringing food, mails and passengers and taking out livestock.

Bourke, NSW


Environment SA news, River Murray paddle steamers gain historic shipwreck status viewed at on March 15, 2021.

Mount Alexander Mail Wednesday 14 September 1870 p 3

Published by Sharyn Moodie

Travelling around Australia for work, I've found so many amazing headstones. But what is more amazing is the stories behind some of these deaths, and the way newspapers of the day reported them.

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