Paddle Steamer Gem, Pioneer Settlement, Swan Hill

From the information panel just before going aboard,  the Gem was built in 1876 as a barge, but a year later "was fitted with’4 40 horsepower steam engine, wood fired boilers and upper works enabling her to be employed carrying freight and passengers on the River Murray as a steamer.

In 1882, she was "cut in half using simple hand tools and the two pieces dragged apart by bullocks. A new 12 metre section was inserted in the space and an extra deck was added to allow more room for both passengers and cargo."

"In service, her lower deck was used for cargo storage; engine room, dining room and galley. Passenger accommodation was located on the middle deck, while the top deck was used for the wheelhouse and to accommodate the crew. The Gem also had a Smoking Room at the rear of the upper deck for gentlemen and a Music Room for the ladies at the front of the middle deck."

Exterior photos.

Go aboard!

Lower deck

Middle deck: cabin, music saloon

Upper deck

Horse-drawn Omnibus

Larger photo

Part of the horse-drawn vehicle collection at Swan Hill's Pioneer Settlement.

The horse-drawn Omnibus was a French invention which came to Australia via England in the mid nineteenth century, it was the equivalent of the modern suburban bus. Similar to the Family Wagonette in that it has parallel side seats, panelled sides and a rear entrance. Unlike the Wagonette though, it also has a fixed top, and windows.

The Omnibus displayed here is a basic model suited to a provincial Mallee town. It lacks the glass widows and the rooftop seating that were found on omnibuses in major cities. The history of this vehicle before arriving at the Settlement is, unfortunately, unknown.

Horse-drawn Hearse

Larger photo

Part of the horse-drawn vehicle collection at Swan Hill's Pioneer Settlement.

This Hearse was manufactured in Scotland, probably towards the end of the nineteenth century, and was imported for use in the suburbs of Melbourne. Once horse-drawn hearses started to fall out of favour with the more modern citizens of the City, it was transferred from Ravens Undertakers in Kew to their branch in Nagambie and then later again to Castlemaine.

Earlier hearses were much plainer, simply black, glass sided boxes, which looked very depressing. Towards the end of the nineteenth century though, there was a move towards a more flamboyant, if still understated, look and the cost of a funeral would be affected by the type and amount of decoration required on the Hearse and horses.

Lower deck, P.S. Gem

Larger image

Lower deck on P.S. Gem, at the Swan River Pioneer Settlement.

From information panel on post:

ENGINE ROOM
Following her conversion from barge to paddle steamer in 1877, this space would have been filled with the large, wood fired boiler which provided the steam for the engine. That was linked directly to the paddles through shafts either side. As can be seen in the photograph, the wood used as fuel took up a great deal of space here too. In 1891/92 that original engines was supplemented with a second set of pistons, increasing both power and efficiency.

To Middle Deck.

To Middle Deck

 

Upper Deck, P.S. Gem

Upper deck on P.S. Gem, at the Swan River Pioneer Settlement.

THE WHEELHOUSE

The nature of river travel on the ever changing Murray River required that the Captain have good visibility in order to guide his vessel through the pitfalls of snags, changing river levels and sand bars. From his perch high up in the wheelhouse the captain could pilot his boat secure in the knowledge that he had the best possible view--even if the foredeck was piled high with cargo. The broad decks fore and aft of the wheelhouse and accommodation on this level were also favourite spots for passengers. Overhead frames could be fitted with canvas shades on hot sunny days.

MURRAY RIVER CHART

The original Murray River charts were individually sketched by each captain based on his knowledge and experience in navigating the river. He would use India ink on cotton or linen materials and would map out features and topography for the appropriate length of the river. The map would then be rolled up like a scroll and unrolled as the boat progressed along different parts of the river. Survey bench marks, islands, snags and buildings would be added to the map by the Captain in order to assist in navigation. This section of a map shows part of the River Murray between Swan Hill and Boundary Bend; approximately 85 river miles (140 kilometres) downriver.

Down to Middle Deck

Down to Middle Deck.

Middle Deck, P.S. Gem

iddle deck on P.S. Gem, at the Swan River Pioneer Settlement.

From panel:
ART GALLERY
As part of the process of converting the PS Gem to an Art Gallery, all of the dividing bulkheads between the cabins along this row were removed. This gave a single large space which could be used for exhibitions. However, like the dividers in an egg box, the bulkheads also served a structural purpose and their removal meant that this deck of the vessel was largely open causing the vessel to change shape.

BATHROOMS
As "Queen of the Murray", the Gem was expected to provide a level of luxury beyond that of the "ordinary' boat. One of the elements of luxury which passengers could experience on the Gem was in the row of bathrooms and toilet facilities on either side of the main passenger deck.

Although the water wasn't plumbed, crew members would bring buckets of hot water up from the boiler room and passengers | could luxuriate in a hot bath.
It was, however, still the Murray River water and, given that the toilets simply emptied straight out into the river, as did every other paddle steamer using it, there was no guarantee of the water’s cleanliness.

To upper deck

Into Music Saloon

Into cabin

To Upper deck

To Lower deck

Music Saloon, P.S. Gem

Music Saloon on P.S. Gem, at the Swan River Pioneer Settlement.
From information panel on door:

MUSIC SALOON
The Music Saloon was added in 1982 to cater to the needs of the increasing number of passengers who travelled on cruises and holidays and wanted somewhere on the boat where they could entertain themselves. It was fitted out with a piano and passengers would play and sing old favourites, hymns and popular songs of the period. In the summer the windows could be opened to provide cooling ventilation and in the evening they could be closed to keep the chill, and the relentless mosquitoes, out. The Music Saloon would have been a very pleasant place to spend a chilly afternoon behind the glass which wraps around three sides.

Leaving saloon

Paddle Steamer Cabin

Larger image

Cabin on P.S. Gem, at the Swan River Pioneer Settlement.

From information panel:

PASSENGER CABINS
For all her luxurious fittings elsewhere, the cabins on the Gem were simple and straightforward, if not a little on the small size. It was joked that cabins were kept deliberately small in order to reduce the number of mosquitoes that had to be killed before settling down for the night. Not all passengers had even this level of comfort in their accommodation; deck passengers essentially purchased only standing room on the passenger deck. They would have to find their own berth for the night, usually an uncomfortable one, lying on the deck cargo of wool bales. barrels or crates. At least the crew had folding bunks!

Back to Middle Deck