150 year search for the elusive Mary Ann!

1910, Captain William Randell & boiler of the Mary Ann opposite (still existing) Bogan Store (Mannum Dock Museum collection)

Nationality: Australian

Vessel type: Historic Paddle Steamer built 1852

Date lost: Approximately 1868

Cause of loss: Sanded – hull used on subsequent boats Gemini 1855, Nil Desperandum 1865

Number of Casualties: Nil

Discovery date: Still searching although 2016 sonar search has located boat-shaped “anomalies” in the suspected location

Location/water depth: Near Mannum ferry, Murray River in front of the  Mannum Dock Museum, water depth unknown

The first paddle steamer built on the Murray River has eluded many over the past 150 years who have attempted to find this precious piece of Australia’s maritime history.

Built in 1852 at Mannum by Captain William Randell, the PS Mary Ann now nestled in the depths of the Murray opened up 100 years of bustling river trade traversing the reaches of the Darling and the Murray across 3 States.

In 1853 the ‘great race’ to Echuca between the PS Lady Augusta and the Mary Ann was cemented in history with the winner still debated around riverside campfires today!

The Mary Ann’s original boiler was salvaged in 1912 and is on show at the Mannum Dock Museum.  In latter years Captain Randell was seen in a small boat near the ferry and when asked what he was he doing, he replied ‘polling for my lost youth’.

The search continues!

National engineering “excellence”

  • Under pressure the boiler flexed, sides held with bullock chains, Randell called it his ‘concertina boiler’
  • Original boiler at the Mannum Dock Museum SA
  • Captain William Randell and Elizabeth “Bessie” Nickels escaped on the Mary Ann to elope.
  • Mary Ann and Boiler awarded the Engineering Heritage National Marker in 2014.





1875, PS Cumberoone with what appears to be the boiler of the Mary Ann (RHS edge) sitting on the bank (possibly exposed due to a low river). (State Library of South Australia)

Contemporary etching shows the PS Lady Augusta (left) and the PS Mary Ann (right) at Swan Hill 27 September 1853 (Mannum Dock Museum Collection)

After Engineer JL Scott pulled the Mary Ann Boiler out of the river 1912  (Mannum Dock Museum Collection)

1917 Murray River flood, Mary Ann boiler (on bank under shelter) base of Post Office Hill (Mannum Dock Museum Collection)

1997 Captain Dick Bromhead conceptual drawing of PS Mary Ann (Mannum Dock Museum Collection)

Today – Original boiler on display at the Mannum Dock Museum (Mannum Dock Museum Collection)

Objects of interest (artefacts, images or other collection items) associated with the shipwreck story.

  • PS Mary Ann original boiler on display at the Mannum Dock Museum & replica at Mary Ann Reserve, Mannum
  • Replica of the PS Marion vessel and replica engine on display at the Mannum Dock Museum
  • Signage, monuments, replica boiler at Mary Ann reserve.

AMMC Member Institution

Mannum Dock Museum of River History

submitted by Debbie Alexander

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