George Bain Johnston 2 Captain Richard Berry and bringing the steamer "Murray" to Australia

George Bain Johnston 2 - Steamer "Murray"

Extract from Autobiography of Captain Richard Berry

“An old tar’s yarn”

Captain George Johnston returned to Scotland to superintend the construction of his steamer “Murray”. A chance meeting with Captain Berry, who was involved in missionary work amongst the fishermen in the Cockenzie district led to Capt. Johnston employing Capt. Berry to take the Murray out to Australia.

“On arriving with my family in Glasgow, we were met at the railway station by Captain Johnston, and the vessel not being ready to take us aboard, other lodgings were secured, for the time being, for my wife and family. I now entered on my new duties, and at first felt very strange ; but that feeling soon wore off. The weather was very stormy for ten days before we were towed down to Garelock to get our compasses adjusted. While there my wife gave birth to a fine son. There, too, I heard of the loss of the ship “London”, and also of a screw steamer, loaded with railway iron, bound for Egypt, which went down, and all hands perished ; her Captain had just been married. The knowledge of these things I, of course, kept from my wife.

On the 1st of February 1866, when we were towed away from Glasgow quay, we parted with Mrs. Berry’s father and a number of other friends, to see them no more in this world. After our compasses were adjusted, we were towed to the Rue, where we encountered severe gales, the water at times being literally scooped up. I took all necessary precautions to hold off if she had dragged, backing the kedges and attaching them to the best hawser. They were only as a stand-by. A yacht laid up for the winter in bare poles, was driven on shore just from our side. We had on board the mate, his wife and three children, three A.B. seamen, four ordinary seamen – one of these acted as steward, another as cook, and another as engineer – and my wife and family of nine children. We were towed as far as Lamlash. On leaving we saw a large iron vessel lying wrecked on the west point. We crossed to Belfast Lough, where I went ashore with a letter, my wife accompanying me. We visited Captain Boyd’s wife who was the widow of Captain Duncan, my old friend. She was surprised, but glad to see her old friends. On going off again the weather was very boisterous, and I was glad when we got safe aboard.

On the 17th of February 1866, we set out for South Australia with the wind about N.N.W. passing down between the mainland and Copeland Island, we saw, about ten miles to the west of us, another large vessel ashore. All the time, I had formally passed and repassed here. I had never seen such vessels ashore. The Murray, which was the name of our vessel, was a steamboat 105 feet long, 12 feet broad, and 10 feet deep, rigged as a three masted schooner, with patent reefing top-sail. The mizzen mast only was intended to be used when she was under steam. The engines and all things belonging to them were stowed away in the hold. She drew only six feet of water and had a false keel 16 inches deep, which extended from the sternpost to the heel of the foremast where it tapered off to a point. She was built very flat to enable her to carry cargo through the shallow water at the mouth of the River Murray, in trading between Port Adelaide and Wentworth, where her cargo would be transshipped into smaller boats for the upper rivers. Our cargo consisted of another steamer in pieces with her boiler and other belongings, a quantity of galvanised iron, a quantity of flooring boards, a number of cases of bottled beer, and some furniture belonging to Captain Johnston and myself. Our vessel was very uneasy at sea ; every movement of the sea moved her, and at times it was very difficult to keep one’s feet on deck. She had on her sides the cup-shaped supports for the axle and wheels, which made a terrible noise when going through the water, and at every roll lifted a great quantity of water. These ought not to have been on, as they could have been easily fixed at Port Adelaide along with the other fittings for steaming on the river. Now with this craft as described, we take our departure on the 18th of February from Tusker. The Great Britain, with Captain Johnston aboard, passed us. We crossed the line in 28 days. In eight degrees south latitude, we buried our steward. When he left Cockenzie he seemed the strongest man we had, but when lying at the Rue his hair was cut and he got a chill from which he never recovered. This was the first death that occurred in a vessel of which I had charge, and to bury him at sea I felt to be a very solemn duty. We sighted Tristan d’acunha to ascertain the state of our chronometer, and found that it was twenty six miles fast. This we found to be correct, and we also found our longitude by an eclipse of the moon. The day after sighting these islands, when there was a strong breeze and a heavy sea running from the south west, the fore-swifter came down. This was a warning in good time. I ordered the best hawser to be passed between the doublings of the mast, set up on both ends with luff upon luff. The next day, the wind being still high and the sea heavy, the whole forerigging came down. The sea struck the vessel and knocked me against the cabin ladder and injured my hip, so that I had to go to bed. I ordered the mate to keep the vessel dead before the wind and under low canvas, and to secure the mast by getting the rigging put right. This being done, we entered the calm belt of Capricorn where we had fourteen days without wind. Our vessel however, made good progress when the wind was favourable. She was laid-to for five days when a strong gale from the south east prevailed. We sighted the Alchymist in the meridian of the Cape, and arrived in Port Adelaide fourteen days before her. We had been 117 days out, when on a Sunday morning we arrived at Victor Harbor. On the Friday before I thought I saw Kangaroo Island, and casting the lead, found it to correspond. On Saturday, believing that we were in close proximity to rocks laid down on the south of the island, and intending to go through Backstairs Passage, I remained on the forecastle deck through all that bitterly cold night, and found my reckoning to be quite correct. I had given orders to get the cables bent and the anchors ready, as we would see Porpoise Head by three o’clock in the morning, which we did. We stood out to sea for an hour, then stood in again. It was a beautiful Sabbath morning. The pilot came off and hailed to know if we had a pilot. I asked “Where could I have got one?”. He replied : “Why, from the way you were working in, I thought you had one”. I replied : “It is not the first time we have worked a vessel in places like this”. He came onboard, shook hands, and said that he had sent word to Captain Johnston that his steamboat was in the bay. About two hours after this Captain Johnston and Captain Barber came off. They were delighted to see us but very sorry to hear of the death of poor Donaldson who was related to Captain Johnston. We were taken into Victor Harbor. I was congratulated on the craft looking so well and clean. We had an open vessel for a few days, when a number of friends visited us, and then we left for Port Adelaide. My duties as Captain now ended …

“Our vessel was taken up on Fletcher’s Slip, where the wheels, paddleboxes, deckhouse, etc., were put in order and the false keel taken off. In due time she was launched and went down the river, and with some slight alterations she went well. We steamed round to Victor Harbor and discharged cargo for Goolwa”…

“The vessel steamed again around to Port Adelaide, where she was sold to a Melbourne firm, to ply between Melbourne and the Gippsland Lakes. The cause of the sale was that Captain Johnston had nothing for her to do. The long drought having rendered the rivers unnavigable, and other boats were stuck up for want of water to carry them. Captain Johnston made two thousand pounds by this sale; he then asked me to go back to Scotland and get another boat built. I tapped him on the head and said : “No thank you, I have had quite enough sailing in such craft.” I had my last look at my ark as she left the Semaphore, and steamed out of sight. My twelve month’s engagement now being entered on, I went around to Goolwa, and lodged with Mrs. Ford for a few weeks, and then went up the Murray as mate with Captain Thomas Johnston in the steamer Albury

By August 1867 Captain Berry had left the river and commenced his engagement as “missionary for the City of Adelaide”, later he helped form a new society called “the East End City Mission”.

Extracts from “Old Tar’s Yarn – Autobiography of Captain Richard Berry” 1895 of events in 1866