The passage boat services

The Royal Canal Company, before it was taken over by the Midland Great Western Railway, did not operate trade boats or lumber boats — boats carrying cargoes — on its own canal. However, it did operate passenger services in passage-boats. There were two services:

  • a fast fly boat between Dublin and Mullingar, the largest town on the canal west of Dublin
  • a slower night boat between Dublin and Longford, a town further west, close to the River Shannon.

In 1834, the company advertised its iron fly boats as offering

Unprecedentedly Expeditious, Safe, and Cheap Canal Travelling.[1]

It said that they covered the 52 British miles between Dublin and Mullingar in only seven and a half hours “including the time in passing through the locks”: a boat left each town at 9.00 am and reached the other at 4.30 pm. Fares were 6s 6d in the first cabin and 4s 4d in the second.[2]

Drawing the boats

When, in March 1840, the canal company sought tenders from contractors for “Drawing the [iron] Passage Boats upon the Royal Canal”, it specified the minimum speed and the lengths of the contract stages in Irish miles (which had been abolished in 1824): it wanted a minimum speed of “Six Irish miles [just over 7.6 statute miles] an hour, including the time of passing the Locks &c.”[3]

It did not say whether a lower speed applied to the night boats. From 1838 the night boat from Dublin left at two o’clock each afternoon; the boat from Longford left at half-past two. The night boat schedule was arranged to allow links with Charles Bianconi’s cars, which linked Longford with Carrick-on-Shannon, Boyle and Sligo.[4] Save for special arrangements for Mullingar Fair, the schedule does not seem to have been changed until January 1846.[5]

The contracts advertised in 1840 were to be for three years but the next competition was not until 1845.[6] The stages and speed were again specified in Irish miles. The four stages were the same as before:

  • Dublin to Newcastle [Newcastle is on the north bank, between Innfield (Enfield) and the Blackwater aqueduct], 21 Irish miles, and back
  • Newcastle to Mullingar, 20 Irish miles, and back
  • Mullingar to Abbeyshruel, 14 Irish miles, and back
  • Abbeyshruel to Longford, 16 Irish miles, and back.

A speed of six Irish miles per hour was specified for the fly boats but a time limit was set for the night boats:

The Night Boats between Dublin and Longford to be drawn in Seventeen hours, including the time of passing the Locks &c, namely between Dublin and Mullingar in Ten hours, and between Mullingar and Longford in Seven hours.

That works out at just over five statute miles an hour, including locks. Contractors were subject to fines of one shilling per minute for lateness.

Contractors could use the company’s stables along the line but had to provide their own Track-lines and Swing-bars.

The boats

The fly boats were lighter, narrower and less comfortable than the night boats. Ruth Delany says that they had neither toilets nor cooking facilities.[7] Mr and Mrs Hall were not impressed by the fly boat they travelled on:

It is long and narrow; covered in as we see it; and there are two divisions for different classes of passengers. As a mode of travelling it is exceedingly inconvenient; there is scarcely space to turn in the confined cabin; and an outside “berth” for more than one is impossible. The guide, or guard, takes his stand at the bow of the boat, and a helmsman controls its motions. It proceeds at a very rapid pace — about seven Irish miles an hour — drawn by two or three horses, who are made to gallop all the way. There is also a more cumbrous vessel, called a “night boat”, which travels at a much slower rate — about four miles an hour — and always at night. It is large, awkward, and lumbering, and is cheaply used by the peasantry on account of its cheapness.[8]

The phrase “covered in as we see it” refers to the illustration you can see here.

The night boats seem to have been heavier and beamier; Delany says that the company asked for tables in the cabins, shelves behind the seats and water closets.[9] She also said that the company wanted a hinged gunwale so that the crew could walk about the boat; Patrick Teeling said that he was on the Longford’s gunwale when the boat struck, but did not say whether it was hinged.[10] However, the evidence provided at the Longford inquest provides some further information about at least that one night boat, although the picture is incomplete.

James Dunne said that the Longford was not a fly boat but a “light passage boat”.[11] William Keatinge said that the hulls of the night boats were made of iron; that suggests that the superstructures were made of wood. Keatinge, incidentally, “did not consider the iron boats as safe as the wooden, nor as steady”, but said “they were safe enough if the deck was not over-loaded”.[12]

There was a steerage area at the rear of the boat; it was large enough for at least two men to stand on.[13] In the hold beneath it was a cooking area where the cabin-boy boiled potatoes.[14] Patrick Teeling said “There were passengers about the boy”[15], and Robert Jessop said that he had been talking with Teeling in the steerage[16], so there was passenger access to those areas. Jessop said that he then “went up on the deck”[17]; perhaps there was a stairs or companionway at the rear of the cabin. The curved roof in the Halls’ illustration of a fly boat would not have allowed passengers to walk on deck, but there were passengers and, it seems, luggage on the deck of the Longford, although they did not affect the accident.[18]

None of the evidence gives any clue to the location of the doors, windows or companions (stairs), apart from the possibility that there was a companion from the steerage to the deck. It is clear that there were two principal cabins, the first forward of the second. There were other rooms too: the captain was in “an ante-room beside the cabin” when the accident occurred,[19] while James Dunne was in another room, which he referred to once as the bar and then as an ante-room: he was clear that it was not the room the captain was in.[20] According to one newspaper, Dunne described the room the captain was in as the ladies’ room;[21] according to another Dunne said

I think I saw the captain in the ladies’ cabin arranging some clothes.[22]

The captain said that, when the boat struck, he rushed to the companion-way. Might it have been in the centre of the boat, with doors to both cabins? He also said that

The passengers were now rushing through the door of the fore-cabin. [23]

It is not clear whether those were first-cabin passengers rushing to a door near the bow, first-cabin passengers rushing aft to a midships door or second-cabin passengers rushing forward from their cabin, either to a midships door leading out or into the forward cabin and thence to a bow door.[24]

The windows of both cabins were barred.[25] There was some inconclusive discussion about the key to the after cabin, which the captain said he saw in the outside of the after cabin door; he said it was never locked. Patrick Morris, a passenger, said “when the boat struck the door of the cabin was fastened” but that does not mean it was locked.[26]

Crew

Press reports listed seven adults and two children amongst the crew of the Longford:[27]

  • captain: Christopher O’Connor
  • steerer: James Dunne (replacing the regular steerer William Keatinge, who had twelve years’ experience[28])
  • stopman: James Connor
  • labourer, free passenger and relief steerer: Pat Teeling
  • cabin-boy: Alexander Campbell (replacing the regular cabin-boy James Dunne)
  • mistress of the boat: Mrs Wilson
  • servant: Jane Maney
  • “two children who were in the after cabin”. They may have been listed here as, like Teeling and the crew, they travelled free of charge; one of them was travelling with a nurse. Both the children (and the nurse) died.

The captain, Christopher O’Connor, of 35 Stoneybatter, Dublin[29], had held his position for two months[30], having been “elected by the board out of a number”.[31] Before that he had been a supernumerary captain, in charge of both day and night boats, for three years and could steer both types perfectly well.[32] James Dunne, cabin-boy and acting steerer, thought the captain was not competent to steer,[33] but O’Connor said that, although steering was not part of a captain’s duties, he had “made himself master of steering as soon as he could after his appointment” and had once steered most of the way from Longford to Dublin.[34]

The steerer, James Dunne, was from Mullingar and was the regular cabin-boy of the Longford. Aged 18 to 20, he had held his position for about four years;[35] before that he had worked on one of the Pilsworth boats.[36] William Keatinge, the regular steerer, regarded Dunne as a good steerer and nominated him as his deputy for the day.[37]

The stopman or stopper, James Connor, seems to have played no part in the events of 25 November 1845: he gave no evidence at the inquest and was mentioned in evidence only because he went to his dinner at the same time as Dunne. His role was not specified; it may have been to use a stop-rope to ensure that the boat stopped at an appropriate point in each lock.

The cabin-boy, Alexander Campbell, who had a “crooked eye”,[38] was 18 or 19 years old and lived in Longford. He was not constantly employed: Dunne engaged him when he took on the steerer’s role.[39] Campbell’s duties were not confined to the cabin: as well as bringing up bottles of porter to passengers, he was cooking potatoes but, at the locks, “was employed constantly in getting on shore at the locks to arrange the tow-rope”. He could steer too: “I always steered when the men were at their dinner”.[40]

Patrick Teeling, from Ballasfort, Co Meath, was a free passenger on board when he agreed to take the helm from James Dunne. He was a labourer employed in maintaining the canal banks and in that capacity was experienced at steering a lumber boat.[41] William Keatinge said

I know Teeling for a long time, and I consider him to be perfectly competent to steer a boat in the daylight; I cannot say that I know him to be qualified to steer a boat by night; if I were steering myself, I would not hesitate to give up the helm to Teeling.[42]

The boat mistress and her servant were not employees of the canal company. According to the evidence given in a court case in 1843, the boat mistress “kept a sort of floating tavern in the passage boats”.[43] She and her servant (whom she paid) cleaned the boat, made fires and supplied passengers and crew with meals; the crewmen each paid her 2s 9d for six days’ meals (bread, butter and tea for breakfast; meat for dinner) but the captain got free meals. However, the canal company successfully maintained that the boat mistress had no contract with, and performed no work or labour for, the company.

The crew list did not include George Slack, who was responsible for hauling the boat.[44] He had thirty-four years’ experience during which period he was “thrown pretty often into the canal”. He said that he was “employed on the canal to ride the horse attached to the boat”. He said that he rode one horse and drove another before him, but provided no information about how the two horses were harnessed. Slack’s phrase “employed on the canal” does not mean that he was employed by the canal company: the haulage of the boats was contracted out.


 

This is the second page of a sequence about the sinking of the passage boat Longford on the Royal Canal in 1845.

The first page gives an overview of the accident.

The third page covers the inquest and trial. The fourth and fifth are about the management of the company and the sixth discusses who was steering when the boat hit the bank.

[longford184510]

Notes and sources

[1] Dublin Mercantile Advertiser, and Weekly Price Current 14 July 1834

[2] ibid

[3] Advertisement “Contracts for drawing Passage Boats” in Dublin Evening Post 4 April 1840. The contract was to be for three years, but I have not found any similar advertisement in 1843; it may be therefore that the 1840 contracts were renewed

[4] Freeman’s Journal 24 September 1838

[5] Freeman’s Journal 7 January 1846

[6] Freeman’s Journal 21 April 1845

[7] Ruth Delany and Ian Bath Ireland’s Royal Canal 1789–2009 The Lilliput Press, Dublin 2010

[8] Mr & Mrs S C Hall Ireland: its scenery, character, &c Vol III Jeremiah How, London 1843

[9] Delany op cit

[10] Evidence of Patrick Teeling, The Morning Post 29 November 1845

[11] Evidence of James Dunne, Dublin Mercantile Advertiser, and Weekly Price Current 28 November 1845

[12] Evidence of William Keatinge at the trial, Statesman and Dublin Christian Record 12 December 1845

[13] Evidence of Robert Jessop, passenger, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[14] Evidence of Patrick Teeling, ibid

[15] Evidence of Patrick Teeling, The Morning Post 29 November 1845

[16] Evidence of Robert Jessop, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[17] ibid

[18] Evidence of Christopher O’Connor, The Morning Post 29 November 1845

[19] Evidence of Christopher O’Connor, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[20] Evidence of James Dunne, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[21] Evidence of James Dunne, The Morning Post 29 November 1845

[22] Evidence of James Dunne, Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent 27 November 1845

[23] Evidence of Christopher O’Connor, Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent 27 November 1845

[24] ibid

[25] ibid

[26] Evidence of Patrick Morris at the trial, Statesman and Dublin Christian Record 12 December 1845

[27] Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[28] Evidence of William Keatinge at the trial, Statesman and Dublin Christian Record 12 December 1845

[29] Evidence of Christopher O’Connor, The Morning Post 29 November 1845

[30] Evidence of James Dunne, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[31] Evidence of Samuel Draper, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[32] Evidence of Christopher O’Connor, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[33] Evidence of James Dunne, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[34] Evidence of Christopher O’Connor, Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent 27 November 1845

[35] Evidence of James Dunne and Christopher O’Connor, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[36] Evidence of James Dunne, The Morning Post 29 November 1845

[37] Evidence of William Keatinge, Statesman and Dublin Christian Record 12 December 1845

[38] Evidence of Robert Jessop, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[39] Evidence of Alexander Campbell, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[40] ibid

[41] Evidence of James Dunne and Patrick Teeling, The Morning Post 29 November 1845

[42] Evidence of William Keatinge, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[43] Rogers -v- the Royal Canal Company reported in Freeman’s Journal 6 February 1843

[44] Evidence of George Slack, Statesman and Dublin Christian Record 12 December 1845

Newspapers

From the BNA

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s