CADELL, Francis (1822-1879)


CADELL, Francis (1822-1879)
early navigator of the Murray
was the son of H. F. Cadell, and was born in Scotland in 1822. He was educated at Edinburgh and in Germany, and became a midshipman on an East Indiaman. He fought in the Chinese war of 1840 and afterwards was given a ship by his father. He went to South America, had experience of river navigation on the Amazon, and visited Australia in 1849. He returned to Australia in 1852 and became interested in the navigation of the Murray. In 1850 the South Australian government had offered a bonus of £4000 to the owners of the first two steamers that should successfully navigate the Murray to the junction of the Darling. Cadell gave orders for the construction of a steamer in Sydney and, while it was being built, explored the Murray in a canvas boat, in which, with four men, he travelled 1300 miles. In June 1853 his steamer the Lady Augusta successfully passed through the breakers at the mouth of the Murray, and on 28 August left Goolwa on a voyage up the Murray with Cadell in command. Among the passengers were the governor, Sir Henry Young (q.v.) and Lady Young. They returned on 14 October having reached a point 1500 miles up the river. A few months later it was ascertained that the Murray was navigable as far as Albury, and the Murrumbidgee to Gundagai. Cadell had carried a considerable quantity of wool and much trade was expected with the Riverina squatters. A gold and silver candelabrum was presented by the settlers to Cadell, with an inscription that it had been presented to him "in commemoration of his first having opened the steam navigation and commerce of the River Murray 1853". This was not quite accurate as J. G. and W. R. Randell (q.v.) had constructed an earlier steamer which had traded on the Murray as early as March 1853. It was, however, a much smaller vessel and not eligible for the bonus offered by the government. Cadell was also presented with a gold medal struck by the legislative council, and he joined with others in forming the River Murray Navigating Company. The establishment of inland customs houses and the refusal of the three colonies to join in the snagging of the river, created difficulties for the company, and the failure of Port Elliot as a harbour led to more than one steamer being lost. The company which had at first made good profits failed and Cadell lost everything he had. He went to Victoria, did exploring work in eastern Gippsland, and in 1865 was in New Zealand in the employ of the New Zealand government. In February 1867 the South Australian government sent Cadell to the Northern Territory "to fix upon a proper site for the survey of 300,000 acres". His selection of a site on the Liverpool River was much criticized at the time, and was eventually rejected. He had been able to give the authorities much valuable information about the country, but the climate of the territory and its great distance from other centres of population made its development a problem which had not been solved more than half a century after his visit. Cadell then took up trading in the East Indies, and when sailing to the Kei Islands near New Guinea he was murdered by a member of his crew, about March 1879.
Cadell was an adventurous man of great courage whose work for a variety of reasons was not sufficiently followed up by the authorities of his time. From the very beginning of the founding of South Australia the desire for a harbour at the mouth of the Murray was almost an obsession, and the failure of the efforts made to found one caused much discouragement. But Cadell had shown the value of inland trading in the rivers quite apart from the question of taking cargoes to sea.
A. Grenfell Price, Founders and Pioneers of South Australia; E. Hodder, The History of South Australia; The Times, 7 and 12 November 1879.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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