|Part of South Australia, 1851
Adelaide to Edithburgh
Adelaide to Port Lincoln
Note: Spencer Gulf is geographically unusual because it is an “inverse estuary,” meaning the further inland one goes, the saltier the water becomes.
Both peninsulas are blessed with a Mediterranean climate well suited to grain farming, and close proximity to the coast meant that cheap sea transportation made it profitable. Although Tasmania was initially Australia’s wheat granary, South Australia's lower transportation costs gave it an economic edge. Within a decade of European settlement, South Australia became Australia’s biggest wheat producer, and held the lead for half a century; surpassed only by Victoria in the 1890s with the advent of widespread railways.
Grain that was destined for export markets, including the other Australian colonies, would be loaded onto ocean-going clipper ships, such as the City of Adelaide (shown above). You may be surprised to learn that grain was still exported by tall ships well into the 1930s, long after the advent of steam ships. Eric Newby’s “The Last Grain Race” is a vivid account of this era.
|Model of ketch "Annie Watt"
Gulf ports were often primitive. Loading and unloading usually entailed tediously ferrying cargo back and forth in small dinghies. Other times it meant taking advantage of low tide to deliberately ground the vessel and quickly unload and load cargo, before floating off at high tide. Over time wooden jetties were constructed at many ports, but they were often damaged by storms and as a result were in constant need of repair. Sadly, many of the old jetties are now gone for good, with often only the pylons remaining.
|Remains of jetty at Myponga Beach.
The fleet peaked at the end of the 19th century, with approximately 70 ketches and cutters operating out of Port Adelaide. The last two Mosquito Fleet vessels operating were the Nelcebee (built in 1883) and the Faile (built in 1919). Neither were in the grain trade though as both were used to transport gypsum mined near Pelican Lagoon, Kangaroo Island, up until 1982.
These days, the hustle and bustle of South Australia's old gulf ports belongs to a bygone era, but the coves, beaches and historic towns are delightful sailing destinations, and most are within only a day or two's sailing from Adelaide.