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Noicos, Leo and Ravenscroft, Alistair
Morgan Wharf: improving public access and amenity to the structure that established South Australia's role in trade along the Murray River
19th Australasian engineering heritage conference: putting water to work: steam power, river navigation and water supply
Engineers Australia and Engineering Heritage Australia
Engineering Heritage Australia, Barton, Australian Capital Territory, 2017, pp. 316-348
History of Applied Sciences Engineering and Technology

The Morgan Wharf is historically significant as the largest remaining structure in South Australia representing the great period of river transport - a form of travel and trade now abandoned. Located at the north-west bend of the Murray River, Morgan was said to be South Australia's busiest inland port, and in its heyday, the second busiest port in South Australia after Port Adelaide. From 1878, it was the interchange point between the steam-powered river vessels bringing goods down river from Central Queensland, Western NSW, Northern Victoria and South Australia, and the rail terminal from which six trains a day were dispatched to the sea port of Port Adelaide.

Following the establishment of the Colony of South Australia in 1836, the navigation of the Murray River potentially offered great economic prospects to the new province. In 1853 the South Australian Legislative Council also approved the striking of the original River Murray Steam Navigation Medal to commemorate the beginning of commercial navigation on the Murray-Darling river system. It was one of the most important events in the history of the Murray-Darling basin and in the history of Australian transport. From this time, the Murray, Murrumbidgee and Darling Rivers were established as vital transport highways providing access to inland south-eastern Australia; the period 1853 to 1880 is acclaimed as being the golden age of navigation.

River transport played a huge role in the young economy and facilitated further settlement, pastoral and agricultural development of southern and western New South Wales, northern Victoria and South Australia. The advantages were enormous and multiple. River boats and barges were able to carry heavy, bulky and even fragile loads, which could not be carried either physically or economically overland.

The massive timber Wharf measured an impressive 168 metres long (560 feet) and its construction - in three phases, 1877, 1878 and 1912, reflected the growing importance of the river trade through continued investment. Between 1915 and the cessation of passenger services from Morgan in 1950, little documents were located of works undertaken, with goods and cargo sheds removed from the Wharf deck in 1952. In 1965 repairs were made to the 1912 (northern) section, and the decking substantially removed from the earlier two sections. In 1994, following a major storm event (1993) and subsequent advice of the unsound nature of a large section of the southern portion, part was demolished, leaving the current extent of the structure.

The wharf has been placed on the South Australia Heritage Register.

Apart from repairs and restoration of historical facilities, it is sometimes also necessary to adapt them to attract economically sustainable new uses. This paper presents an engineering approach of such conservation works proposed for the Wharf, while maintaining heritage values and introducing an adaptive re-use. It is based on a paper presented by the authors at the 6th South Australian Engineering Heritage Conference, May 2017.

cohn 2018

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  • 19th Australasian engineering heritage conference: putting water to work: steam power, river navigation and water supply edited by Engineers Australia and Engineering Heritage Australia (Barton, Australian Capital Territory: Engineers Australia, 2017), 536 pp. Details