Beyond the Big Bend by Greg Barron
Anne Finniss waited until the footman had opened the carriage door, then climbed through, settled back onto the leather seat and arranged her skirts. Her good friend Mrs Irvine, then young Louisa Younghusband followed, the former removing her gloves and the latter putting on lady-like airs that made Anne smile. Her own son Travers, of course, had insisted on sitting up on the box next to the driver and he was already asking questions and pleading for a turn at the reins.
Anne was more than a little surprised at herself. After all, the idea of heading from Adelaide down to the Goolwa, where she would join the ‘first’ (for so the Governor and his staff kept repeating as if the Randell brothers did not exist) steam-powered voyage up the Murray seemed to be not only adventurous, but also a little frivolous for a mother and hostess.
Captain Cadell himself had invited fourteen-year-old Travers to come along on the voyage. Anne and her husband, Colonial Secretary Boyle Finniss could hardly let him go alone, yet would they deny the boy the trip of a lifetime? Boyle would be busy administering the colony while the Governor, Sir Henry Young, was also on the voyage, and thus Anne agreed to go.
Still just thirty-four years of age, Anne didn’t find the prospect of a five-week adventure altogether distasteful. She, like most of South Australian society, admired Captain Cadell very much. This realisation had at first made her feel guilty, before she decided that it was not sinful for a strong-minded woman to think well of a man other than her husband, provided it was purely in a theoretical way.
Anne, and the other ladies who moved in Adelaide’s highest circles, knew themselves to be a new breed of woman – independent, not subject to the social mores of England. Anne, although she had married an Englishman, would always be proud Irish, true to her County Westmeath roots, and originally of a social class far below that of Mrs Irvine, Mrs Young, Mrs Palmer and the others.
Anne was also something else that these ladies were not. She was a genuine, twenty-four-carat beauty. Even at sixteen years one glance of her face had compelled Boyle Finniss, then a Lieutenant of the 82nd Regiment, stationed in the town of Mullingar, Ireland, to pursue her from the moment he laid eyes on her.
When Anne insisted that she would not marry a soldier Finniss sold his commission and applied for a land grant in Australia. Originally landing in New South Wales, Finniss had sensed opportunity in South Australia and moved the young family there.
Even now, at thirty-four years, Anne’s skin was clear and healthy, her hair shining auburn, and she had the defined jaw and strong cheekbones that artists loved to paint. She felt that her thirty-four years were hard-earned, with six living children and one deceased, yet the active Irish girl was still inside her – the spirit of adventure and love of new horizons. Again, the excitement at spending many weeks aboard a boat with Captain Cadell rose, and she subdued it. Her husband was a good man – honest beyond reproach – with all the virtues.
That night the carriage stopped at Alexander Anderson’s Emu Inn at Morphett Vale, and Travers, just fourteen years old, treated Anne as if he was her escort. He was a sturdy boy, with the intelligence and honesty of his father, and a smiling face. It was quite a party that night at the inn’s dining room, joining with their Irish host, and passengers from a second carriage – the Younghusband family including their three daughters, along with dignitaries Mr Bright and Mr Palmer.
‘All these girls,’ Anne quipped to Travers when they reached their room. ‘You won’t know which one to flirt with.’
‘Shush mother, I’ve got better things to do than fret about girls.’
The next day a couple of incidents broke the monotony of travel in light but persistent rain, once when one of the horses drawing the lead carriage fell over on a steep and slippery slope, and the other when a tree branch caught the canopy of the second. Both times Travers went to help. Just fourteen-and-a-half, he was such a young man that Anne’s heart almost burst with pride.
Arriving at the Goolwa at last they craned their necks to see the Lady Augusta moored in the river. To Anne she was not an ugly boat, but a new kind of vessel, made expressly for the interior waterways of her adopted country.
As they left the carriages, Captain Cadell came ashore to greet them, and there was a spark in his eye as he kissed her gloved hand. A boat was prepared to row out with most of their luggage and a tour followed. This began with the steamer, followed by a stint aboard the new barge, the Eureka, which was to be launched the following day.
A tented camp for the official party had been prepared just out of town, and after the tour Anne and the others embarked again on the carriages. As they pulled away from the riverbank Anne looked back and saw Captain Cadell in animated conversation with a dark-haired young woman – very pretty, with the gloss of youth in her eyes.
‘That’s Miss Williams,’ said Mrs Irvine. ‘The one who will launch the Eureka tomorrow.’
‘She’s very attractive,’ said Anne.
‘Yes, she’s the same young lady who launched the Lady Augusta in Sydney last May. Strange that Captain Cadell would bring her all this way just to launch a barge.’ She pursed her lips and lowered her voice so Louisa Younghusband would not hear. ‘Though of course he may not have brought her all this way for that reason only.’ There was a strange expression in her eyes, as if she were watching Anne’s face for a reaction.
©2021 Greg Barron
Image is of the Emu Inn, Morphett Vale (State Library of South Australia)