Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cadell, Francis

CADELL, FRANCIS (1822–1879), Australian explorer, son of H. F. Cadell, was born at Cockenzie, near Prestonpans, February 1822, and, after a somewhat brief education in Edinburgh and Germany, became in his fourteenth year a midshipman in the service of the East India Company. The vessel in which he sailed being afterwards chartered by government as a transport, the lad took an active part in the first Chinese war, 1840-1841, being present at the siege of Canton, the capture of Amoy, Ningpo, &c., and winning honours as well as prize-money. When only twenty-two he obtained the command of a ship. He devoted the intervals between his voyages to obtaining a practical knowledge of shipbuilding and of the construction of the marine steam-engine in the shipbuilding yards of the Tyne and the workshops of the Clyde. On paying a visit to Australia in 1848, his attention being directed to the navigation of the Murray, a subject then uppermost in the colonial mind, he carefully examined the mouth of that river and satisfied himself of the practicability of the scheme. Sir Henry Young, then governor of South Australia, offered a bonus of 4,000l. for the first two iron steamers, of not less than 40 horse-power and of not more than 2 ft. draught of water when loaded, that should successfully navigate the Murray from the town of Goolwa to the junction of the Darling river. Cadell, returning to Australia in 1850, and being encouraged by Sir Henry Young, set about determining the question of the opening up of the Murray. He started from Melbourne with a canvas boat carried on a packhorse, and, arriving at Swan Hill station, on the Upper Murray, launched his bark upon the waters of the great stream, and, with four gold-diggers as his companions, commenced a voyage of many hundred miles. His examination of the river convinced him that there would be little difficulty in navigating it with steamers, and his representations on this subject on his arrival in Adelaide led to the formation of the Murray Steam Navigation Company, chiefly promoted by himself and Mr. William Younghusband, for some years chief secretary of South Australia. The first steamship of the company's fleet was called the Lady Augusta, after the wife of the governor. On her voyage up the Murray, 25 Aug. 1853, accompanied by the Eureka barge, she was commanded by Cadell, and had as visitors Sir Henry and Lady Young. The Lady Augusta reached Swan Hill on 17 Sept., a distance of 1,300 miles from her starting-point, and returned thence with the first cargo of wool that had been floated on the Murray. At a banquet given to Sir Henry Young in Adelaide, a gold candelabrum of the value of 900 guineas, with a commemorative inscription, was handed to Cadell. At the same time three gold medals were struck by order of the legislature of South Australia, and one of them given to Cadell (Illustrated London News, 24 Feb. 1855, p. 173, and 11 Aug. 1855, p. 176). He continued for some time to run his vessel on the Murray, a higher point on the river being attained at each successive trip. His company then purchased two other steamers, the Albury and the Gundagai. In one of these, in October 1855, he reached the town of Albury, on the Upper Murray, a point 1,740 miles from the Goolwa. In 1856 he explored the Edward river, which, branching out of the Murray, rejoins it lower down after a course of 600 miles. During 1858 he succeeded, after a month's voyage, in reaching the town of Gundagai, on the Murrumbidgee river, a spot distant 2,000 miles from the sea and in the very heart of New South Wales. In the following year he proceeded up the Darling river as far as Mount Murchison. Largely as Cadell's labours contributed to the development of the resources of the colony of Australia, he himself derived very little substantial reward from them. The sums granted in aid of his explorations were utterly inadequate to cover the expenses incurred, and in his eagerness to serve the public his attention was distracted from commercial pursuits. The Murray Steam Navigation Company, never a commercial success, was dissolved, and its founder, having lost all his money, retired into the bush and began life again as a settler on a small station near Mount Murchison, on the Darling.

In November 1867, when exploring in South Australia, he discovered the mouth of the river Roper and a tract of fine pastoral country, in latitude 14° S. The concurrence of bad seasons and misfortunes induced him at last to undertake a trading voyage to the Spice Islands. In his schooner, the Gem, fitted with auxiliary steam-power, he was on a passage from Amboyna to the Kei Islands, when he was murdered by his crew, who afterwards sank the vessel. This tragic event, which put an end to the career of one of the most enterprising and honourable of men, took place in the month of June 1879.

[Anthony Forster's South Australia (1866), pp. 68–74; Heaton's Australian Dictionary of Dates, p. 30, and part ii. p. 96; Once a Week (1863), viii. 667–70; Times, 7 Nov. 1879, p. 5.]

G. C. B.