Twickenham Ferry

Last week a Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network meeting discussed Melbourne’s Ferries – Past, Present and Future. Upstream of the city all the ferries across the Yarra – one of which I will return to – have been replaced by bridges. Downstream, the river is subject to a fairly low speed limit, reflecting the use of the river by small leisure craft, container ships accessing the docks as well as the need to protect of the river banks. Geography means that for most destinations, unlike Sydney, other forms of transport are quicker or cheaper.

Bellarine Express and Geelong Flyer ferries passing in Victoria Harbour

Bellarine Express and Geelong Flyer ferries passing in Victoria Harbour

Apart from the tourist ferries from the CBD to Williamstown, we do have two ferries running from here in Docklands to Portarlington and Geelong, both services starting in the last few years. Portarlington  in particular lends itself to a ferry service – it’s not served by rail and the ferry is probably quicker than driving. Will we see more ferries? Not without suitable mooring facilities, the meeting was told.

But back to Ferries past. When the first settlers came here they brought a lot of their former place names with them. So as a one-time resident of Twickenham, now living in Docklands, I can easily visit Richmond, Hampton, Sunbury but no Twickenham. We do though have a Twickenham Crescent in Burnley. Why? Let the Australasian, 4 June 1904 explain:

TWICKENHAM FERRY

Extract from 1889 David Syme woodcut: Twickenham Ferry on the Yarra

Extract from 1889 David Syme woodcut: Twickenham Ferry on the Yarra

One of the prettiest reaches on the Yarra, within easy distance from Melbourne, is that portion lying between Burnley and Toorak, about 4 1/2 miles up from Prince’s bridge. Here a ferry conveys passengers across the river, starting at the bottom of Grange-road, Toorak, across to Burnley. The ferry dates back to 1880, when Jesse Harrow, a veteran waterman, founded it.Unlike its English namesake on the River Thames, where the ferryboat is manned by a “jolly young waterman,” Twickenham Ferry on the Yarra is worked by means of a suspended rope, stretched across the river*, with a sheave wheel and regulating lines at each end, so that it can be raised or lowered, according to the height of the water.

Twickenham Ferry postcard c.1907

Twickenham Ferry postcard c.1907

On the Burnley side of the river, partly hewn out of the bank, is constructed a most picturesque old dwelling, containing four rooms and a shop. Here the widow of the late Jesse Barrow, together with her son and daughter reside, and retail refreshments, ranging from soft drinks and kola beer to apples, pears, and lollies, to the thirsty oarsmen. The ferry hours during the weekdays are from 7 in the morning till 10 at night, and on Sundays from 8 till 9, the fare being one penny each way.

“There are a good many ‘dead heads,’ though,” added the ferryman; “you see sometimes, men looking for work, want to cross the river, and, of course, promise to pay when they return, and again sometimes a lady finds she has left her purse at home, or has no change; then we have to trust to their honesty. So it’s not all profit, in addition, we have to pay £5 a year for a license.”

Thirty years later the ferry service was no more:

FAREWELL TO TWICKENHAM FERRY

Not least perhaps among the many functions which his Grace the Duke of Gloucester will perform will be the official opening of the Centenary Bridge at Grange Road, well on the way to completion. Another step in the path of progress no doubt; but progress, no matter how desirable in practical ways, is not always a source of unalloyed gratification. At least, so thinks Mr. Barrow, the picturesque boatman of Twickenham Ferry, who, with the opening of the bridge, will find his occupation, like Othello’s, gone. Incidentally another, perhaps one of the last of those links that bind us to Melbourne’s pioneer days, will be broken.

Mr. Barrow, who has lived in or near his present habitation, Twickenham Ferry, just by Burnley, throughout his life, is the son of Jesse Barrow, who came to Australia from England in 1861….

None of the many regular or casual voyagers carried in his little craft during nearly half a century ever made an un-interesting trip with Mr. Barrow. Short though the transit might be, there was always time for some interesting reminiscence that gave additional interest or charm to an already charming spot. The strong structure that makes his service “no longer necessary” will be stolidly silent where he was eloquent, retaining its frigid parvenu dignity somewhat in-appropriately in the midst of rustic beauty. But though Mr. Barrow’s services will be no longer required, we in Melbourne know, they will not be forgotten

Argus 15 Sept 1934

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