Crossing the Parramatta River (part 1)


As we board the Rivercat for the CBD, we take for granted the old boatshed on our left. As we cast our critical eye over this building, we are oblivious of its history in the early development of our nation. The earliest resident is believed to be Alfred Bailey who first built a lean-to about 1880 at Abbotsford Point, then later the boatshed you now see.  The Bailey family had an interest in farming, quarrying and a hotel, as well as running the boatshed.

Bailey’s Boatshed from Parramatta river about 1880 at Abbotsford Point

The first mention of a ferry was as early as 1834, then called the Bedlam ferry. This ferry, operated by convict labour, was capable of carrying one horse and cart plus a few passengers. The current engineering at that time was to anchor a chain at either side and wind the punt across by hand. At this point the Parramatta River is at its narrowest, so early surveyors would naturally build the Great North Road to this point.

Continuous complaints by the gentry that the ferryman would not carry the heavy passengers over the last few metres of water so as not to wet their shoes caused the ferry to close after 50 years’ service. The Bailey family, having an ever-ready eye for business took over the service with a rowing boat then later a launch named the Kinka. Another family of early settlers, the Cashmans, also competed for business, the fare being about 2 cents.

To call the ferryman to the northern shore, one would have to light a hurricane lamp and swing it slowly back and forth;  the first boat to hit the beach would get the fare.  On both sides, passengers would have to walk a fair way up the steep hill to board the coach awaiting them.

The steep path down to the derelict Bedlam Wharf (2012), Parramatta River, Gladesville
A ship berthed at the Bedlam Point Wharf around 1890. Image by Sydney photographer Henry King.

Folklore tells the story of illegal rum being sold to servant drivers carrying produce to market; at about Wareemba the drivers would take a break to sleep off the indulgence, allowing the horse and cart to become entangled in the bushland. Days later the owner would set out to find the culprit, much labour would be required to untangle the mess.

No drawing exists of the punt, however the most likely was a Napoleonic design with a chain across the river and wound by convicts.

Another excerpt from Abbotsford Cove Community Centre website, written by Don Coulter. Published with permission.)

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