Rodney - paddle steamer | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Rodney - paddle steamer

Item details

Name of item: Rodney - paddle steamer
Other name/s: ps Rodney
Type of item: Archaeological-Maritime
Group/Collection: Transport - Water
Category: Vessel - harbour & river
Location: Lat: -33.2167959577 Long: 142.3686933830
Primary address: , Polia Station, NSW 2648
Local govt. area: Wentworth
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Dareton


The recommended listing boundary is a rectangle of 40m a 14 m aligned on and north-south axis and bounded by Eastings 627621 and 627635 and Northings 6323704 and 6323744 (UTM 54H)
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
 Polia StationWentworth  Primary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Department of Trade & Investment, Regional Infrastructure & ServicesState Government 

Statement of significance:

The Rodney Historic Shipwreck site is significant as a physical marker to a violent episode in the Shearer’s Strikes of the 1890’s and as a symbol of the politicisation of the Australian labour movement. Burnt to the water line in an 1894 protest by unionist shearers, the archaeological remains provide a tangible link to this colourful era of riverboat activity on the Darling River. Community interest in the historic shipwreck is demonstrated by the significant centenary celebrations. A vessel renowned locally for its size, the Rodney was an established steamer that provided a critical service to pastoralists and the river towns that it frequented.
Date significance updated: 19 Nov 09
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Captains Dorward and Davies
Builder/Maker: Thomas McDonald
Physical description: The shipwreck is located low down in the bed of the Darling River and adjacent to Polia Station about 40 kilometres north of the river town Pooncarie, about 107 kilometres south of Menindee and some 100 kilometres north of Wentworth. The wreckage is orientated east-west on the southern bank of the river. The Rodney was 106 ft (32.3 metres) in length, 21 foot (6.40 metres) in beam, and depth of just over 7 feet (2.1 metres). The frames of the vessel are angle iron; the hull planking, stingers and keel timbers are River Red Gum. Access to the site is via a riverbank track seven-eight kilometres east-southeast of Polia Homestead. Even during severe drought when the river level is about 1.2m, (a depth described as 'pooling' depth, ie with little or no flow), the lower hull remains of the vessel are partly submerged. The river bank is comprised of light grey loam and the surrounding land is sparsely vegetated with River Red Gum and other Eucalypt species.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The wreck lies in an east-west orientation in the bed of a bend in the Darling River and up against the southern bank.

Although the Rodney was substantially destroyed by fire in 1894 and has been subject to many years of periodic inundation and exposure, the lower structure of the vessel, from stem to stern, has survived relatively intact. As an archaeological site there are sufficient remains to develop a model of the hull structure of what was one of the largest paddle steamers to operate on the river.

The exposed ends of the iron framing are heavily corroded with the extremities of these frames being extremely fragile. The Red Gum planking however is generally very well preserved, particularly in the permanently inundated lower hull area which is still beneath ‘pooling’ level in extreme drought conditions
Date condition updated:22 Nov 05
Further information: The site lies in a section of river that runs adjacent to Polia Station, owned by Terry Crozier.
Current use: Nil
Former use: Darling river paddle steamer


Historical notes: The remains of the Rodney encapsulate much of the regional history of the Darling River and the Western Plains: pastoralism, the river trade, the water-frontage stations, the tensions with the shearer's union and the uncertainties of the Darling flow (Regional Histories of NSW, 1996:195).

The river paddle steamer Rodney (Official Number 73295) was burnt by unionist shearers in 1894 in protest at it being used as a strike breaker during an industrial dispute. The 1890s shearer's strikes marked a turning point in Australian politics and the development of a politicised labour movement. Rising costs, job losses associated with new technologies, and a country that was headed towards an economic depression were combined with a growing sense of nationalism. The 1891 strike at Barcaldine in Queensland lead to the election of the first labour representative in parliament the following year. It is also regarded and the birth of the Labor Party (Egloff,1991:63). The 1894 strike was shorter and though by some accounts less hostile was accompanied by the dramatic burning and destruction of the paddle steamer Rodney on the lower reaches of the Darling River.

On Friday 26 August 1894, Capt Dickson was in command of the Rodney carrying 45 non-union labourers upstream to work in the wool sheds at Tolarno Station (Sydney Morning Herald 28 Aug, 1894). The Rodney was also hauling a barge carrying goods and supplies for the stations enroute (Mildura Cultivator 1 Sept, 1894, Riverine Herald, 28 August 1894).

On Sunday (28 August), the steamer reached a woodpile two miles above Moorara Station. Up to 150 striking shearers commandeered the steamer and surrounds. Having moved the passengers and crew to the riverbank, bags of chaff in the fore and aft holds were torn apart, soaked in kerosene and set alight (Riverine Herald 28 Aug 1894). The Rodney was soon ablaze from end to end and let go down the river. Eventually the vessel burnt almost to the water line and was destroyed (NSW Police Gazette, 19 Sept, 1894: p291). The incident was described in the press as 'the very worst outrage that has yet been perpetuated by shearers in these colonies' (Mildura Cultivator 1 Sept, 1894). An award was offered for the capture of those involved in the destruction of the Rodney, (NSW Police Gazette, 29 Aug, 1894) but no one was ever convicted (Parsons, 1996:125).

The hull of the Rodney was reported to be "irretrievably damaged so it was broken up and the debris was drawn out of the fairway of the river" (Mildura Cultivator 2 March, 1895).

In early 1895 the steamer Nile, itself now a wreck in the Darling River at Bourke, assisted in salvaging material from the wreck. The boiler and machinery was removed and a quantity of tools and ironwork were recovered. The boiler was allegedly later taken back to Echuca and used to power machinery at the local Freezing Works (Parsons, 1967). It is not known what became of the engine.

The Rodney was built at Echuca in 1875 for Captain's Dorward and Davies (Riverine Herald 28 Aug 1894). Constructed by Thomas McDonald at his yard near 'Mackintosh Mills', the 133 ton vessel was 106 ft (32.3 metres) in length, 21 foot (6.40 metres) in beam, and depth of just over 7 feet (2.1 metres). Rodney was powered by a horizontal direct acting steam engine of 70 horsepower, built by Robinson Brothers of Melbourne (British Register of Ships, 61 of 1875: Port of Sydney; Riverine Herald, 29 May 1875).

Framed with angle iron (British Register of Ships), the hull was planked with River Red Gum (Riverine Herald, 28 August 1894). Fitted out with a single deck, cabin and upper saloon, the vessel was believed to be worth about 3,000 pounds (Riverine Herald, 28 August 1894).

At the time of the loss in 1894, the Rodney was owned by Permewan, Wright & Co and was said to be one of the most powerful steamers on the river (Lans, Smith & Smith, nd: 40). It was elsewhere described as 'one of the finest of the river boats' (Riverine Herald 28 Aug 1894).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Events-Activities and processes that mark the consequences of natural and cultural occurences Places of strikes and industrial actions-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Industry-Activities associated with the manufacture, production and distribution of goods Boat Building and Shipwrighting-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Pastoralism-Activities associated with the breeding, raising, processing and distribution of livestock for human use Woolgrowing-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements Maintaining maritime transport routes-
5. Working-Working Labour-Activities associated with work practises and organised and unorganised labour Working on pastoral stations-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The ps Rodney is associated with a significant activity and historical phase. The seizure and burning to the 'Rodney' was directly related to the endeavours of unionists to counter the attempts by the owners of the sheep stations along the Darling River to circumvent the effectiveness of the Shearer's Strike. At that time of the seizure and burning of the 'Rodney', the work of the riverboat steamers was a vital transport component of the wool industry. Control of river transport was a key issue during the 1890s Shearer's Strike, itself a highly significant event in the history of Australian industrial relations.

The existence of recognizable remains of the paddle steamer involved in the Shearer's dispute provides a strong sense of continuity with the process of industrial relations associated with a key economic activity of the Darling River - an economic activity that has spanned the time since the 1890s dispute to the present day.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The ps Rodney is directly associated with the industrial dispute between graziers and shearers in the last decade of the 19th century and, in particular. The use of the Rodney to carry non-union labour demonstrates the determination of the graziers to break the strike utilising the only significant transport available at that time. Equally, the destruction of the Rodney by the unionists, the only recorded act of industrial espionage of this nature, demonstrates the ferocity with which the dispute was being fought.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The ps Rodney shows and is associated with, creative or technical innovation or achievement and exemplifies a particular taste, style or technology. The Rodney demonstrates the essential technological character of broad, shallow draft river boats that served the inland river trade in the late 19th century. It is one of the few surviving original hull assemblages that show composite construction of iron frames and River Redgum planks, keel and stem/stern post.

The timbers, fastenings and iron frames that survive substantively intact to the turn of the bilge document inland shipbuilding traditions of the latter nineteenth century.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The ps Rodney is important for its associations with an identifiable group and is important to a community's sense of place. The site epitomises the empathy of local Darling River port towns with their historical links to the river and the earlier paddle steamer era.

The 1994 commemoration and re-enactment event that drew over 700 people to this remote location on the Darling River demonstrated the importance of the Rodney particularly to the communities along the Darling River. The interest in the history of the Rodney continues to be shared by unionists and station owners, as demonstrated by the cross section of people you attended and supported the event.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The ps Rodney is an important benchmark or reference site or type. The Rodney is an important reference type to the character and construction of late 19th century riverboats in New South Wales. It fills a gap in the archival records, few of which document construction details. Its original fabric retains a high degree of integrity unlike a number of other shipwrecks along the Murray and Darling which have been recovered and disassembled and the original fabric largely replaced in order to construct working vessels that are effectively only indicative of the original boat.
SHR Criteria f)
The ps Rodney provides evidence of a defunct custom, way of life or process and shows rare evidence of a significant human activity important to a community. The Rodney provides evidence of a defunct transportation system that operated along the Darling River.

The integrity of the original fabric in the hull is unusually accurate evidence of the riverboat boatbuilding skills used in the late 19th century. The remains of the Rodney are the only known, undisturbed, archaeological remains of a composite built river boat that was built for and operated on the Darling River.

The Rodney is the only recorded riverboat, coastal or ocean-going vessel to have been destroyed in the context of any industrial dispute in Australia. As such it is of high significance to the history of industrial relations in this country.
SHR Criteria g)
The ps Rodney has the principal characteristics of an important class or group of items, is part of a group which collectively illustrates a representative type and is outstanding because of its integrity or the esteem in which it is held. The remains of the Rodney retain the principle characteristics of the inland riverboats in terms of their broad beams, shallow draft and use of indigenous timbers, particularly the River Redgum.
Integrity/Intactness: The remains of the hull of the Rodney, recognising the loss attributed to fire and salvage copntemproary to the loss of the vessel, retain a high degree of integrity of its fabric. The site retains a high degree of integrity due to the presence of orignal fabric and the esteem with which it is held as a part of the history of the Darling River and the Shearer's Strike.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0177623 Nov 07 1728614

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenEgloff, Brian, et al1991'Archaeology of the 1891 Shearers’ War: the main strike camp at Barcaldine, Queensland' in Australian Journal of Historical Archaeology
WrittenParsons, R1990Ships of the Inland Rivers
WrittenTucker, Frank1994Paddle Steamer Rodney 1875-1894

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5056694
File number: H02/00204/1

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