Historic dry dock to give up its secrets

randell-ddockA team of archaeologists from Flinders University will excavate and document the Randell Dry Dock at Mannum, a major 19th century facility that once serviced the hectic riverboat trade on the River Murray.

From December 14 to 18, the team of staff and students from Flinders will investigate the structure with other experts including conservators, architects and a geophysics operator, with the aim of producing a plan to conserve what remains of the dock.

The community archaeology project is supported by the State Department of Environment and Heritage and the Mannum Dock Museum.

Originally built as a floating dock for use on Lake Alexandrina, the red-gum structure was towed to Mannum in 1876 and installed onshore, where it was the major repair and refitting depot for vessels on the Murray-Darling system up until 1927. The dock has since served as a home and repair site for the PS Marion paddle steamer.

Maritime Archaeology Masters student Britt Burton, who will co-ordinate the project, said the structure is one of only a handful in existence internationally.

“We have very little information on the construction and evolution of timber floating and dry docks, so the Randell Dry Dock is very significant: we hope to have it listed on the National Heritage Register,” Ms Burton said.

“My research suggests that it’s the only one in the world above water and in one piece.”

Ms Burton said a program of managed conservation is a matter of urgency. Expert advice says that left unchecked, the dock’s deterioration is likely to end in complete disintegration within 20 years.

While the basic structure of the dock – a heavy red-gum frame and a layer of planking – is obvious enough, there are many unanswered questions about its construction, and it is hoped that three separate mini-excavations in and around the dock will provide some insights.

“If we can get an idea of how it was constructed, what is original, what has been added, and what the environment is like underneath the dock, it will help us form the conservation management plan,” Ms Burton said.

Members of the public are welcome to visit the site while the excavation is in progress, and the project will be filmed for the dock’s owners, the Mannum Dock Museum and the Mid Murray Council.

The dry dock is located at the end of the Mannum main street, next to the ferry crossing.

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9 thoughts on “Historic dry dock to give up its secrets

  1. The community of Milang would also be very interested in the results/progress of the excavation and documentation of the dry dock. The location of the original dry dock on the Milang foreshore is still open to speculation. I think the dock was built by A.H. Landseer but proved impractical to operate efficiently. On another subject, I am a creative writing honours student at Flinders and would appreciate any information on the paddle steamer ‘Providence.’ My research has unearthed its registration and crew history and a few newspaper articles on its destruction in 1872, but I can find no plans, photos, paintings, drawings etc., of the vessel or its operating history. If anyone has any info could you kindly forward it to this email address. Thanking you.

  2. I remember that in 1962 or 1963 an excavator belonging to Roche Bros.(SA)Pty Ltd was working on the dock, either as part of a contract or on hire. It seems possible that some evidence of damage as a result of mechanical action could remain.

  3. To creative honours student writer Ian Pysden: I have extensive material concerning an interesting, but little known South Australian Maritime history subject, which need someone with the time , ability and incentive to record for posterity and possible publication, before i disappear due to old age. If you are interested please contact me initially via my email address: john.tenhaaf@flinders.edu.au

  4. Ian, the dry dock when it was here at Milang was not land based it was a floating dock. according to newspapers at the time the biggest floating dock in the sourthern hemisphere. It was built by Mr Thomas Smith for AH Landseer its dimensions were 144 feet long 40 wide and a depth of 9 feet, made of 3 inch redgum planking. Floor timbers 8×8, keelson 12×8. Total weight of structure was 350 tons.
    It was launched in early September 1873.
    It was taken by the Lady Daly to Mannum and declared open on the 5 June 1876. Landseer sold it to the Mannum company because it was not performing its function as expected. Its position at Mannum was alongside Stirling’s wharf.A traction engine powered a centrifigul pump to empty the dock. it pumped 40,00 gallons per hour.
    I hope this helps you.
    Terry Sim

  5. Would be interested in having a look at your material, John, but am unable to do anything until July of 2010 due to Honours commitments.

  6. To Ian Pysden,
    My friend, Rod Hobbs, is trying to build a model of Paddle Steamer Providence. Rod has built dozens of Riverboat models & has displayed them all over the Country. He, as you, has found Pictures and/or photos hard to come by. Did you get any of this sort of Information as a result of your plea?
    If so are you able to supply info to help Rod?
    Tony Weaver

  7. Hi – Tony Weaver, No luck so far with Providence pics search but perservering.
    Did find several excellent large books (about $44)depicting lots of paddle steamers
    in the Mildura 2nd hand/book exchange (opposite Coles)that Rod may find interesting.
    regards Dudley Sarina Queensland.

  8. Hi Dudley, Thank you for your interest in the quest for ‘Providence’ Pics. I have passed on the tip about the book exchange. I have heard that The “Godson Collection” in the State Library of South Australia still has a lot of un-catalogued or digitised river boat photos. The only way to see these is to go there and spend time going through them. One day…… I am still looking also.
    Thanks again.
    Cheers, Tony Weaver

  9. To Ian Pysden’

    A few years back now but did you manage to catch up with John Ten Haaf after he contacted you back in 2009?? I am trying to contact him re his sail around Kangaroo Island in 1982. I assume that it is the record of this trip that he refers to. I am a retired South Aussie living in Kupang compiling a Maritime History of Kupang. Also a collection of short stories re my time sailing the Lower Murray and Coorong, of which the story of the circumnavigation could be one,
    As one of his crew on the KI circumnavigation, I was given a comprehensive log of the event, but unfortunately this has been lost.
    Any info you could give me re his whereabouts would be appreciated.
    I trust your Mannum project turned out well for all involved

    Kind regards

    Ian Modjo

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