John Ai Egge. (Photo enhanced by My Heritage) Statue courtesy of Wentworth Big 4 Park.
John Egge was born in Shanghai China in 1830. As a young man, he worked on a sampan on the Yangtze River. At the age of 16, he sailed to Australia as a cabin boy with Captain Francis Cadell.
Egge was the cook on Cadell’s PS Lady Augusta which raced with Captain Randall’s vessel, PS Mary Ann in 1853.
In 1866 he chartered his first riverboat PS Treviot. By 1870, Egge was established as one of the biggest traders on the Murray Darling and his on-shore business interests had expanded at the same rapid rate as his river trade.
Captain Egge died in Wentworth in 1901 and is buried in Wentworth Cemetery. Walking cemetery guides are available from the Wentworth Visitor Information Centre.
A bronze statue of Captain John Egge was unveiled at the Wentworth Wharf on June 12, 2009, during the 150th Anniversary of Wentworth. The statue was commissioned by the Wentworth Branch of the National Trust and sculpted by Lynne Edey. (Courtesy Big 4 Golden River Holiday Park, Mildura.)
Chinese riverboat captain, was born in Shanghai, China, and came to Australia in 1852 in the Queen of Sheba, owned by Francis Cadell. When Cadell opened the Murray River trade with paddle steamers, John, on the books as ‘John Bull’, served as cook in each new ship as it was launched. In 1856 he assumed by deed poll his Scandinavian surname. While establishing a piggery on Hindmarsh Island in Lake Alexandrina, South Australia, he met a Devon girl Mary Perring, whom he courted by swimming the river to visit her, his clothes piled on his head. John and Mary married on 8 April 1857 at St Jude’s Church of England, Port Elliot, and were to have eleven children. In 1859 the couple worked their passages up the Murray to Wentworth, New South Wales, where they set up a business hawking pies and pasties that they baked in camp ovens. By 1863 they owned a bakery and butchery, were general dealers and kept a boarding-house to cater for the many single men in the area. About 1867 Egge chartered the Teviot to trade on the river as a floating shop. Next, he chartered the Moira to carry cargo and in 1868 bought the Endeavour to ply the upper Murray between Echuca and Albury. By the 1870s Egge was one of the biggest traders on the river, operating from his large store near the wharf at Wentworth. He was said to pay up to £1000 a month in customs duties. The Murrumbidgee was his most elaborate boat, fitted with polished counters and mahogany showcases. For years he advocated Federation, foreseeing that it would end the poll tax he repeatedly had to pay—despite becoming a naturalized British subject in 1868—when he berthed his boat in the different colonies through which the Darling and Murray rivers flowed. One flamboyant exhibition increased his reputation: during a particularly high flood, he brought the Prince Alfred out of the river and down the main street of Wentworth. Wentworth’s citizens presented Egge with a testimonial and a gold ring set with diamonds when the family left in 1888 to live for a time in Adelaide, where their children went to school. Often in court suing or being sued for non-payment of bills, he put a value on apologies: ‘I’m ten pounds sorry’, he would say. ‘How sorry are you?’ He was generous to religious and social groups, making his boats freely available for dances and river picnics. Many a hard-up shed hand or station hand got a free ride. During the shearing strike of 1891, angry mobs held up riverboats that tried to carry strikebreakers, but picketing shearers cheered his boats from bend to bend. The drought of the 1890s forced him to cease operations on the river. Egge died at Wentworth on 11 September 1901 and was buried with Wesleyan rites in the local cemetery. Four sons and three daughters survived him. (Courtesy of Find a Grave)
DEATH OF CAPTAIN JOHN AI EGGE
From the “Federal Standard” September, 14, 1901
It is with the deepest regret we have to record the death of Wentworth’s oldest and most popular resident, in the person of Captain John Egge, late of the steamer Murrumbidgee, and formerly of the Tiviot, Endeavor, Prince Alfred, etc., which occurred at his residence, Little Darling Street, on Wednesday evening last, at a quarter to nine o’clock. The deceased gentleman, who was in his 71st year of age, had been in failing health for some considerable time past, being a sufferer from weakness of the heart, which necessitated medical attendance at frequent intervals. The latter end of last week he was seized with an attack of influenza, an epidemic which is the cause of much prostration in our town just at present; on Saturday he laid up with this complaint, which appeared to take a very firm hold, and there was great danger of it turning to pneumonia, and in spite of the best attendance and attention that loving daughters and sons could give, with medical skill, this worst of features happened, and the case became of a most serious nature, double pneumonia setting in with all its severity upon the already feeble body. Throughout the week the poor old gentleman lay between life and death, clinging to the former simply through medical attention and careful and constant attendance and nursing. When the seriousness of the case was known in the town, there was a gloom cast over his many friends, and that gloom was greatly increased when on Wednesday evening the worst was realised. The patient, who had lapsed into partial unconsciousness, but still conscious enough to show his recognition of loving faces and faces of old friends by a gentle smile, peacefully and quietly passed beyond that bourne from which no traveler returneth. Surrounded by the sorrowing members of his family, and tended by loving hands, his end was peace, and the pleasing expression upon the face told of the gentle and peaceful death which had been his, than whom no man better deserved it. As a mark of respect and esteem, flags were hoisted at half-mast throughout the town.
The late Captain Egge was a resident of Wentworth for 41 years, having come here to live in 1860, though he was on the river and had been in and out of Wentworth some years previous to 1860, so that it may be fairly stated he was the oldest resident of the district. Prior to coming on to these rivers he was running in the vessel Queen of Sheeba, between Melbourne and Port Adelaide, with the late Captain Cadell, in 1853 and 1854. The latter end of 1854 he came on to the rivers with Captain Cadell, and was in fact one of the pioneers of the rivers. He became acquainted with his late wife at Hindmarsh Island; they were married at Port Elliott in 1856. He was then still with Captain Cadell on the rivers, but settled down permanently in Wentworth in 1860 as before stated, and his residence has been here since, with exception of a period of about 12 or 18 months, when he made his home in Norwood, while his children were at school in Adelaide. Briefly stated, he commenced business here as a baker, and also kept a boarding house; after that he built and successfully carried on a store; he built the store which was carried on for years by Messrs. Tonkin, Fuller & Martin, the premises now owned by Mr. C. Lemmon. Sometime after that he took to hotel business and carried on for a time the business known as the Wentworth Hotel. After that his energy carried him into a new line of business and he took up the butchery business, which is now carried on by his son-in-law, (Mr. Johnathon Miller Halbert).
Later on in the eighties he took the wharf stores, which became the central depot of supply for his steamers then running. In 1891 he experienced the severest blow of his life, in the death of his good and devoted wife, the late Mary Egge (nee Perring), who was a sister of Mrs. F.D. Kerridge (Susan Ann P.) of this town and of Mrs. W. Seward (Adelaide Jane P.), now of Mildura, and who, like her husband, was held in the highest esteem by the residents of the town and district. It might be inferred from the foregoing that he did not take up steam boating until later years, but such was not the case; his steam boating career runs almost parallel with his career as a townsman. He first chartered the steamer Tiviot, in which he carried on a successful hawking business; his next boat was the Moira of old days, and after a period of charter with these vessels he purchased the Endeavor and afterwards the Prince Alfred. He then sold the Endeavor to the late Mr. J. S. Upton, a former merchant of this town and retained the Prince Alfred for a number of years, after which he bought the Murrumbidgee, and built the well-known light-draught barge, the Susan, in turn parting with the Prince Alfred. With the Murrumbidgee he traded for a great number of years, until a little over 12 months ago, adverse circumstances coming upon him, he settled down quietly in Wentworth, with his sons and daughters and the continued respect and admiration of his many friends to comfort him in his declining years. All through his career, both on and off the rivers, he earned and retained the utmost respect and good will on all sides and the working men, in particular, thought much of their old friend, the skipper, as was shown in the troublous days of ’94, whenever Captain Egge’s boat hove in sight the shearers and rouseabouts on the stations cheered the good old skipper lustily until the vessel disappeared round the nearest bend. Such was his disposition and generous good nature through life that he leaves not a single enemy.
The deceased gentleman leaves a family of 4 sons and 3 daughters, living, namely, Messrs. R.J. (Richard John), F.J. (Francis James), E.D. (Edwin David), and W.F. (William Fredrick) Egge, and Mrs. J. M. Halbert (Susan Egge) and Misses Minnie and Maud Egge, and there are 2 sons and 2 daughters dead, (James Peter, Ellena Jane (Golding) and Amelia Adelaide (Paget).
The remains of the deceased were interred in the Wentworth cemetery on Thursday afternoon, and there was a very large attendance in the mournful procession, and much larger again at the graveside. The Reverend D.D. Hunter read the burial service in a most impressive manner, and there was many a tear-dimmed eye in the large assemblage of relatives and friends, over the loss of a good honest and true father and friend.