ANMS0413380

The illustration accompanying this article is a copy of an old print of the first steamship to arrive in Australian waters—the Rose—the pioneer steamship of the Australian Steam Marine, which arrived at Newcastle on April 7, 1841, under the command of Captain Stewart,with the late Mr. John Fyfe as chief engineer. The names of these hardy seamen recall pleasant memories of the past.

The Rose, which was a small paddle-boat, built at Poplar, London, by the well-known Fairbairn Company, and finished in October, 1840, left London for Lisbon, where she refitted, and sailed from that port to Sydney Heads, and came in under steam on the above date.

The dimensions of the Rose and two sister ships, the Shamrock and Thistle, which subsequently followed her, were: Length on keel 150 ft., and beam 20ft., schooner rigged; and they were built to run the passenger traffic between Newcastle and Sydney for the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company, which ultimately became the old Australasian Steam Navigation Company—for many years the pioneers of intercolonial steam navigation whose fleet and properties, consequent on the universal adoption of higher boiler-pressures and the "compound" principle, and later the "triple and quadruple expansion" of steam in marine engines, with the enormous economies of coal consumption effected thereby, were compelled to liquidate and sell out to the new A.U.S.N. Company, still in full trade on the Australian coast.

Captain Thomas Stewart was the second son of Captain Charles Stewart (1736--1798), a brother of the Trinity House, who served in Sir Charles Saunders's fleet at the conquest of Canada. Captain Thomas Stewart also served in the Navy up to 1815, when he settled in Bristol as a ship owner. He was burnt out by rioters in 1831, and also suffered severely financially by the freeing of the slaves in the West Indies in 1837. He came out to Australia in 1839 in the Anne Watson, a teak-built barque, of which he was the owner. He was induced to take shares in the Hunter River Company in 1839, and went home to bring out their first steamer, the Rose. It is interesting to recall that before starting on this hazardous undertaking he was strongly of opinion that the chances of bringing his command safely to port through the stormy seas of the Cape were very slender; nevertheless, with the superb audacity of the typical old "salts" of those pioneering days, he undertook the commission, and doubtless assisted by the excellent seagoing qualities of the little craft he successfully accomplished the delivery of the first steamer in Australia. Captain Stewart was appointed inspector of distilleries in Sydney in 1843, and retired as senior inspector in 1860. He died at Carabella, North Shore, Sydney, on October 4, 1861. This property is now the Royal Yacht Club's headquarters. He was the father of Mr. F. B. Stewart, formerly managing director of Goldsbrough, Mort, and Co., and grandfather of the respected Registrar of the Queensland University, Mr. Cumbrae Stewart, B.C.L.

Mr. John Fyfe, who died about the year 1900, at an advanced age, was one of the foremost mechanical engineers in Sydney in my young days, and I had the pleasure of meeting him, in business several times, half a century ago. He was a strong personality—a Scotch marine engineer, hailing from Glasgow—a keen politician and supporter of Dr. Dunmore Lang and Sir John Robertson, whose nomination he for some years was entrusted to move from the hustings in Wynyard-square. He was man of sterling worth, sincere piety, and an elder of Dr. Lang's church. Arriving with the Rose in 1841, he was shortly after appointed superintending engineer to organise and lay down the works of the A.S.N. Company, at "the island," as it was then called, but now Pyrmont, and he remained there until 1854, when he was succeeded by the late Mr. Thos. M'Arthur, who joined the late Mr. Thos. Mort in establishing the great dockyard of Mort's Dock and Engineering Company at Waterview Bay, Balmain, Sydney. Mr. Fyfe was the first chairman of the Engineering Association of New South Wales, which is to celebrate its 50th anniversary by a great gathering of engineers at dinner on the 24th instant in Sydney. He was the father of Mrs. C. D. Burns, of New Farm, and the grandfather of the well-known dentist and war nurse, Miss Martha Burns.

The late Mr. Fyfe was trained as an engineer at the Soho Engine Works at Birmingham, founded by Boulton and Watt, the latter being the great improver of the steam engine, and it is a notable fact that Mr. Fyfe, as a young man, worked in the first practical steam engine constructed by that firm early in the last century, so that in the lives of father and daughter, the latter still hale and hearty in Brisbane, the whole of the immense developments in the economical and industrial conditions of civilised life consequent on the invention of the modern steam engine by James Watt
have eventuated within the range of two generations.

Source:  The Queenslander Saturday 2nd October 1920