Navigation of the Mersey
The St Patrick Steam Ship; The Majestic; The St George &c
There are few promenades more interesting and attractive than the marine parades of our town. George’s Dock Pier presents a delightful and ever-varying panorama, bounded to the westward by the Welsh mountains slumbering in their mists, and behind by the lofty piles of warehouses and mansions, overtopped by the gigantic spires of St George, St Michael, and St Thomas, the cupola of the Exchange, and that of St Paul; while the beautiful village of Everton, with its princely villas and gothic-towered church, scarcely visible through the cloud of smoke that hangs over the town, rises in the back ground.
The “Yo heave ho!” of the seaman, or the curling rush of water from vessel’s bow, mingle with the distant roar of commerce, and the stroke of the shipwright’s hammer. On the opposite shore, the fields of Cheshire appear like a coloured map; and Birkenhead (with its embowering trees), Woodside and Seacombe, and numerous hamlets and villas, smiling in the sunbeam, entice many an idle wight to step into one of the ferry boats that constantly ply to and fro.
The Mersey, studded with innumerable vessels of all descriptions, from the puny skiff to the stately East Indiaman, extends from north to south for many miles, and presents a continual shifting of marine scenery, as vessels glide up or down with the tide, or stretch across its sunny surface; some, amidst the shout of the boatman and the rude ejaculation of the pilot, setting sail for a far distant land; others returning portward, freighted with the riches of America or of India. Here a long-absent party landing amidst the welcomes and thick-coming inquiries of their friends; there some luggard wight alternately waving farewel to his friends who linger on the pier, and exhorting the speed of the rowers, who waft him towards some vessel already sailing on her outward voyage.
In such a scene, the actors experience emotions of the most opposite nature. Some oppressed with a silent, pensive regret, on leaving the land of their fathers, perhaps for ever, for some darkling and precarious prospect of ameliorated condition; others bounding with gladness, on returning from hardships and perils, to the place of their affections, and the security of an independent home. The sublime communion of nature and art which this noble inlet of the ocean thus presents, rouses, in the contemplative mind, a thousand speculations; and the charms of the picture are heightened and enriched by the delicate and fresh touches of the pencil of fancy.
Since the improvements made of late years in our naval architecture, the superiority of our vessels, both in speed, comfort, and safety, over those of our ancestors, has, in a great degree, rendered a voyage to sea a matter of much less gravity and portent than it was wont to be. In their days, the adventurer on the stormy deep deemed it incumbent upon him to settle his worldly matters by testament before he embarked for the colonies of Virginia or Pennsylvania — adding, frequently, thereto, if the clouds were murky, a codicil in favour of some pious or charitable institution, by way of appeasing the wrath of the elements.
We manage these things with more economy in the nineteenth century. Such are the despatch, comfort, and regularity of our packet-ships, that the fine gentleman and his lady (who durst formerly scarce venture upon Winandermere in a good boat in the month of June) make it a matter of perfect indifference, on the score of time, comfort, and safety, whether he spend a couple of months at the lakes in Cumberland, or in a tour through the Highlands of Scotland; or take a trip, in the same time, to Long Island, and thence to sun himself for a fortnight on the banks of Lake Ontario. A voyage of seven weeks or two months was reckoned expeditious to North America, in the olden time, when performed by our portly, bluff, John-Bull looking merchantcraft, of so Aldermanic-like a mould as to move with the dignity and composure of a floating haystack.
But now-a-days, our dandy packet-shops are so sleek, so genteel, and so wedge-like, that a puff of wind makes them start off like race-horses; on they dash through thick and thin, like Tam o’Shanter and his mare, “despising wind, and rain, and fire”; and the Atlantic Ocean is crossed in eighteen or twenty days. Many of our coasting and Irish smacks, too, show very houndish propensities when they stuff the gale; and it was long imagined that the surly sea defied all further invention or contrivance of man to improve our marine vehicles, or render them, in any degree, less dependant on fair winds, smooth seas, and patent canvas.
Steam navigation, if hinted at as probably feasible, was generally scouted as ridiculous; and the old jack-tar, while he shrugged up his shoulders with self-gratulating importance, laughed at the notion, as being just as good as that of a pair of blacksmith’s bellows on the poop to fill the royals in a calm; and deemed the whole a land-lubbers’ device to encroach upon the unalienable and indivisible privileges of mainsail, foresail, and jib. Yet, notwithstanding the sneers of honest Jack, he has lived to see vessels of upwards of 300 tons burden, and of the most beautiful models, propelled on their course by means of steam, with a velocity equal to that of a sloop of war in a topgallant breeze.
The Mersey is now enlivened, not only by the continual departure or arrival (in addition to the flotillas of ordinary merchant ships) of regularly-sailing elegant packet ships from the different large towns in the United States (than which finer or better appointed vessels never floated) but we have the grand novelty of steam ships constantly plying the river; rushing along, without a sail set, at the rate of seven to ten miles an hour; each like a monster of the deep, flapping the sea with its huge fins, spouting forth dusky streams of smoke which it trails frequently for upwards of a mile behind it, in a swelling line of melting clouds.
The arrival or departure of any of these vessels attracts crowds of individuals to the landing places, and gives an animation to the shore and river, which it did not before possess. Nor is this to be wondered at, when we witness the numbers who emigrate even in one vessel; soon after she has discharged a sufficient number of both sexes, to people a moderate sized colony. Besides the larger packets which proceed to the Isle of Man, Dublin, Glasgow, Dumfries, Holyhead, and other parts of Wales, there are numbers, proportionably neat and convenient, plying almost hourly to the different ferries on the river, as far up as Runcorn.
For the information of our distant readers, and those in town who have not had an opportunity of seeing the interior accommodations provided in these vessels, which are exclusively adapted for passengers, we have visited two of them recently built and equipped at our own port, and shall endeavour to describe one of them.
The St Patrick Steam-Ship
This vessel (built by Messrs Mottershead and Hayes) is 130 feet in length, and admeasures 300 tons. Her rig is that of a two-masted schooner, with foretopsail; and her deck is flush as far as a small poop, and presents a fine roomy area, without that complication of cordage which so much cramps regular sail-ships; no part of the machinery rises in the centre of the deck so as to destroy its general openness and amplitude. Her chimney is proportionally lower than any we have yet seen, and, being whitened, has not the usual clumsy and disfiguring effect; and her whole appearance (having a handsome figure-head and quarter-galleries) is like that of what sailors term a rakish privateer; and gives a lively idea of the terrible effects of such a vessel even with one great-gun, if employed in harassing an enemy’s fleet in a calm. This observation applies also to the Majestic steam-ship, the St George, and most of the other packets in the trade.
It is due to the thriving town of Greenock, whence, we believe, our steam packet owners first derived the idea of these elegant steam ships, to state, that the beautiful figure-heads, on nearly all of them, were carved by a gentleman of that town, who is particularly eminent in that art.
We shall now describe
The front cabin
This neat and commodious room is of considerable capacity. A large table stands in the centre, and forms, or couches, cushioned in black-hair cloth, extend around it, The walls are neatly pannelled and painted, and open by respective doors into eight state-rooms, each containing three comfortable beds. The upper part of these doors is composed of mahogany Venetian blinds, for the freer admission of light and air; a wax-cloth covers the floor. This room is intended chiefly for a sleeping and dressing room for gentlemen — has every suitable convenience; and, as in the other cabins, a steward is in constant attendance.
Not far from the front cabin is the engine-room, near the top of which is a passage leading to a little gallery, with brass railings, where the curious may stand and have a full view of the whole engines at work, without interrupting those who superintend them. The engines were made in Liverpool, by Messrs Fawcett and Littledales, and, it is acknowledged by judges, are constructed and finished in a most correct and masterly manner. The improvement here exhibited on the plan of those first adopted in steam-vessels, is, to any one of the slightest mechanical turn, at once obvious; the whole being admirably contrived to avoid unnecessary weight of metal, and, by compactness and arrangement, to throw the main weight of the engines (which, we understand, with the boilers, to be about 130 tons) as low down as possible. The cylinders are 42 inches diameter, and the engines (both exactly alike, worked by a common boiler, and with a railed passage between them for the protection of the engineer) are upwards of 100-horse power. [We saw those of the St George, of the same power, and by the same makers, set a-going for the first time, not until the vessel was under weigh with passengers for the Isle of Man; so well could the manufacturers rely on their correctness and precision, that no previous trial was deemed necessary.]
Without being judges of the grand, we may say noble, art of engineering, we were struck with admiration on beholding the triumph of human art and genius, exhibited by the giant motion of these powerful engines. The castings combine neatness with strength; the minutest rods, and even screws, are of the highest polish and finish; and the regularity and smoothness of every movement left a conviction, that the art had reached the summit of perfection. One grand improvement we also observed: the fire is not, as in some other vessels, in the engine-room, but is fed from another room, on the other side of the boiler, so that the machinery is kept free from ashes and coal-dust, and the engineers are not annoyed by the opening of the furnaces and the heaving of coals. Moreover, there are an additional number of fire-places (five in all) under the boiler, which is an improvement on the original system, as, by diffusing a more equable heat, with less waste of fuel, a more constant and even power of steam is kept up.
The ladies’ cabin
On descending from the quarter deck, by a flight of stairs handsomely and richly railed, we arrive at the two principal cabins. The sternmost is adapted exclusively for the use of the ladies. This room is lighted by four windows in the stern, with rich cornices and hangings, and a frosted sky or deck-light in the centre. The sides are entirely of pannel work, of the choicest flowered mahogany, and superbly finished and polished; between each series of pannels, a mirror forms the middle of the pillar work that divides them, and, there are three large mirrors fixed in the rudder-case, and another of ample dimensions on the wall directly opposite; the whole incased in antique carved work of polished mahogany. The mirrors have a very striking effect, and on every side magically enlarge the appartment.
Sofa fixtures in black hair cloth surround the room, and form, when required, large and commodious beds, and over each the pannels slide down on pullies, and expose well-aired and neatly-fitted bed-plpaces. The large pannel-frames which thus slide down are richly draperied with stretched silk, which is protected by handsome net or wicker-work of gilded brass, and has a very light and relieving effect. There is also a water-closet and a small room, for the use of female servants; the entrances to both being from the interior of the ladies’ cabin. There are also two elegant private cabins for families, with ample bedding, and fitted up in a style of elegance correspondent with the main cabins.
Descending a few steps from this cabin (which is under the poop) we reach
The dining room
An apartment 24 feet in length by 18. The whole is pannelled with the choicest mahogany of a beautiful polish; and, in the pillars dividing each series of pannels, a mirror is inserted. Sofa fixtures of the greatest neatness and ample dimensions are placed round the room, and over each, as in the other cabin, the woodwork slides down, and exhibits roomy and comfortable bed-places.
The room is lighted by a large oblong window in the roof, and the floor is covered with a wax-cloth. At the far end is a circular library, contrived so as to surround the mainmast. There are six fashionable tables so contrived with screws to the floor, that they may be available apart and equidistant for small select parties, or may be converted into one large complete table all round the room, the guests being seated on the sofas, and the ample area in the middle left for the convenience of the waiters.
Here also those who feel inclined to jollity may “trip it on the light fantastic toe”. We can scarcely conceive any thing more delightful than the society at the well plenished table — of the respectable individuals who will naturally meet in good humour and fellowship in such a place — while converse is chastened by the presence of females of respectability and education, and the vessel is wheeled along over the ocean wave, and gallantly progresses on her voyage. Formerly, a voyage to sea, so cramped and miserable were the accommodations, and so frequently oppressive the effluvia of tar and bilge-water, was undertaken by ladies, only on occasions of imperative necessity; and endured as a sort of unavoidable hardship, which demanded, at once, their patience and their fortitude. Here, however, a hotel offers not more comparative convenience, suitable to the dignity and delicacy of the sex; and they are free to mingle in the general throng of genteel passengers, or avail themselves of that privacy which their own cheerful apartment affords.
Since visiting the St Patrick we have seen the St George, a twin steam-ship of the same owners (built by Messrs Dawson and Pearson of this town); and her fitting-up is, in every respect, similarly elegant. She is the sharpest-built vessel in the trade, and is extremely swift. The Majestic we last year amply described. Her cabins are also elegant, and rather larger than those described. The City of Glasgow may also be mentioned as another superb vessel. Indeed we may say, with justice and impartiality, that all the steam-ships of the port approximate, more or less, to this elegance of equipment; and, any alleged superiority in those of the larger class, may, in many instances, be but a mere matter of taste.
Such of their commanders as we have any acquaintance with are men of the utmost hospitality, frankness, and urbanity of manners — gentlemen whose education and cheerfulness always ensure even the strange way-farer an agreeable companion and an attentive landlord. Most of these vessels carry a few musicians; and the lively notes of the bugle and the clarionet are often heard mellowed along the water, and mingling with the splash of the paddle-wheel.
We consider steam-navigation to be one of the noblest inventions of the age. Already it has greatly increased the annual number of travellers between Scotland, England, Ireland, and France; and its operations may, ere long, extend to more distant shores, opening a new channel of commerce, and diffusing intelligence by facilitating the communication of nations. Some have availed themselves of this easy and health-inspiring conveyance for purposes of despatch and business; others for change of air, pleasure, or a thirst for travel and research.
In the summer months, the excursion to Wales, the Isle of Man, Dublin, Clyde, and the Hebrides, is peculiarly attractive; and, as in the days of Richardson and Smollet, many of our works of fancy were enriched by the strange and embarrassing adventures of the stage-coach; we may now anticipate from some of our modern scribes, animated speculations on character and incident on board the steam-ship, which, from the vast number of passengers, of various temperaments and pursuits which congregate on board, will afford a prolific field for the ingenuity of the novelist, or the vagaries of the muse.
An idea of the general speed of these vessels may be learned from the fact, that the passage from Glasgow, a distance of 209 miles, has been performed in twenty and a half hours’ sailing. That from Dublin (120 miles) in twelve hours; and this too in defiance of wind and tides.
From The Kaleidoscope; or, Literary and Scientific Mirror vol 2 no 104 new series 25 June 1822
My attention was drawn to this article by David M Williams and John Armstrong in their article “‘One of the noblest inventions of the age’: British steamboat numbers, diffusion, services and public reception, 1812–c1823” in The Journal of Transport History vol 35 no 1 Manchester University Press, June 2014