The advertisements pages of the Limerick Reporter for 1840 provide some useful information about the operations of the estuary steamers. (I have not consulted every issue, so this is a partial account.)
First, there were two separate lines. One operated a single steamer, the Dover Castle; the other, the City of Dublin Steam-Packet Company (which was also active elsewhere), operated two steamers, the Garryowen and the Kingstown. The Dover Castle was built by Balley of Shoreham, the Garryowen by Lairds of Birkenhead. I have not yet found where the Kingstown was built.
The steamers operated from May to November: their services were not advertised in other months. The owners of the Dover Castle had tried to sell it before the season began, but don’t seem to have succeeded.
The Dover Castle offices were at the Wellesley (now Sarsfield) Bridge Pier, those of the City of Dublin Steam-Packet Company at the Steam-Packet Office, location unspecified.
The main route was between Limerick and Kilrush (whence holiday-makers travelled overland to the seaside resort of Kilkee), and the timetables were given for these two ports, which are about 60 miles apart. The Dover Castle listed these intermediate points served:
Foynes, Glin, Cahircon, Red-gap, or Lough-hill and Tarbert.
It is not clear what the “or” implies; nor is it clear whether all intermediate points were served on all journeys in both directions. Cahircon (near Kildysart) and Red-gap (near Labasheeda) are on the north side of the estuary; Foynes, Glin, Lough-hill (with various spellings) and Tarbert are on the south side.
The steamers discussed on this page did not visit Clare (now Clarecastle), though others did. The map shows Galway just to show the part of Ireland under discussion. The basic map (the green and blue bits) is adapted from here and is subject to the licensing conditions described there.
While the Dover Castle listed all points served, the City of Dublin Steam-Packet Company left itself more flexibility, listing these intermediate points:
Tarbert, Foyne’s [sic], Glin, &c, &c.
Embarkation at Kilrush
In her Scenes on the Shores of the Atlantic (T C Newby, London 1845, but first published some years earlier in the Dublin University Magazine), Maria Frances Dickson wrote this:
Nothing could surpass the bustle and confusion when we reached the pier at Kilrush, where the two rival steamers, the Garryowen and Dover Castle (between whom there is at this moment a fierce competition) were drawn up and smoking alongside of each other. Every jaunting car as it descended the hill bearing its freight towards the pier, was eagerly beset by the emissaries of each vessel, and the occupants severally accosted with — “Are you for the Garryowen?” “Are you for the Dover?” the questioner departing in triumph or else crest-fallen according to the reply given.
Our party were for the Garryowen, and as it lay the farthest from the quay, we had to cross the Dover Castle to reach it. When we had safely overstepped and cleared our way through all obstacles — no easy task — we were able to look about us at the scene of confusion on the pier. Jaunting cars were coming full gallop along the quay, crowded with eager-looking passengers fearful of being late; men, women and children pushing and jostling each other on the pier, some brought there by business, others attracted by curiosity; goods of every sort piled up for removal, or in the act of transition to the steamers; trunks, bags, barrels, hampers, baskets, boxes, to say nothing of the live cargo, of which we had an infinite variety on board — cows, calves, pigs, geese, horses, fowls, and some cages filled with canary birds.
The Babel of noises was deafening; men shouting, hallooing, and thundering out orders and counter-orders to the people employed about the merchandise; women screaming and talking, or else vociferously urging their wares, cakes, apples and oranges upon the passengers. Pigs yelling as only pigs can yell; the creaking crane swinging backwards and forwards with its weighty cargo, a huge barrel, a fat pig slung by the middle, or a bag of oats or potatoes; and loud above all the din the unearthly bellowings and hissings of the steam-engine. The noises were at their height when an unfortunate horse was put into the box to be slung on board the Garryowen. He was in mid air suspended over the deck when something went wrong with the tackling of the crane; this redoubled the shouting and ordering, and just then the great bell of the steamer began to ring. I never saw any thing like the agony of terror the poor animal was in: he flung himself down on his knees in the box, and when it was at last lowered on the deck and he was taken out, he was as wet as if he had been in the water and trembling violently.
In 1840 the Commissioners for Improving the Navigation of the Shannon were just beginning their work, and their quays at Foynes and Cahircon did not exist. There was a quay at Kilrush (Cappa), but not at Tarbert (the City of Dublin Steam-Packet Company constructed a quay there in 1842). There was no quay at Red-gap, and still isn’t, and the quays at Glin and Lough-hill were not suitable for steamers (new piers were later built near both places).
That’s what explains the sentence in the Dover Castle ad:
There are Fine Sea Boats on each Station, where every care will be used to convey the passengers as comfortable [sic] as possible.
Passengers and cargo travelled between ship and shore in boats and moved from boat to steamer, or vice versa, in mid-stream. Maria Frances Dickson described the process:
The various stoppages between Kilrush and Limerick to give out and take in goods and passengers are very amusing. They often reminded me of Head’s humorous descriptions of “exchanges” on board the Rhine steamer in his inimitable “Bubbles” [Francis Bond Head Bubbles from the brunnens of Nassau Ad Wahlen, Brussels 1834]. At Glin we had exactly a case in point, when a boat came out bringing us a huge pig, and departed carrying back in its stead a bandbox full of smart caps and millinery which we had had charge of from Kilrush. […]
Many were the stoppages that took place after we left Tarbert to take up or let down pigs and passengers. The ways of getting up the former from the little boats into the steamer is [sic] very rapid and unceremonious. The smaller ones are pulled up very uncourteously by the legs and ears, while the large heavy fellows are hoisted up by a rope tied round their middle; each and all expressing their disapproval of the measure by obstinate and vigorous kickings and shrieks that rend the skies.
The egress and ingress of passengers by means of the little boats which put out from the shore to meet the steamer, are very droll. The eager anxiety to get a place in the tiny skiffs; the number of rough hands stretched out to help the individual up or down, as the case may be, the slippery paddle-box steps; the pushing and hustling, while the little boat keeps heaving and tossing in the swell under the wheel, and the blinding steam is blowing into everyone’s face and adding to the confusion.
Until its quay was built, the Dublin Company employed a different system at Tarbert.
As the intercourse may demand
The steamers did not run on Sundays. Each passage took a whole day, so the Dover Castle could offer a sailing from each end (Limerick or Kilrush) only every second day while the Dublin Company, with two steamers, could provide daily sailings.
In November, the Dover Castle reduced its frequency of sailings:
Twice in each week certain, and at such further times as the intercourse may demand. For Days and hours of Sailing see Handbills.
Handbills and advertisements were needed because the times of departure changed by the day, which suggests (the tide tables for 1840 are not to hand) that the depended on the tide. I have noted departures as early as 6.00am and as late as 3.00pm.
Dover Castle ads carried these termss:
Bills of Sailing can be had at the office on the Wellesley-Bridge Pier, where all Parcels will be received and forwarded as directed.
NB — The Proprietors will not be accountable for any Luggage or Goods that have not been regularly Booked.
The Dublin Company said:
Information as to the rates of Freight, Fares, &c, will be given by the Agents of the Company.
The Dover Castle‘s other selling point was that it was described as
The beautiful and fast sailing steamer.
However, the Dublin Company’s Garryowen was faster than the Dover Castle and, despite its many halts, could get to Limerick first. Miss Dickson described the race:
Owing to our many delays the Dover Castle was fast gaining upon us, and in her strenuous efforts to outstrip her rival, she was pouring from her chimney dense volleys of black smoke. This quickened the zeal of our crew; captain, sailors, engineers and all were on the qui vive, down to the steward, a spare little man carrying a napkin under his arm, who in his ardour for the glory of the ship so far overstepped the bounds of his vocation as to seize on a rope and commence tugging away at it with all the might he could muster.
The Captain soon espied the little man’s ill employed zeal. “I say you, sir steward, let go that rope;” he cried in a stentorian voice. The crest-fallen hero did instantly what he was ordered, and went to take refuge at the top of the vessel with the helmsman. Here he gave vent to his fears, exclaiming while he dolefully gazed at the puffing and smoking Dover. “Ah! she’ll beat us! she’ll surely, surely beat us!”
It was amusing to watch the contemptuous curl on the handsome, weather-beaten features of the gruff old seaman. He evidently regarded the poor little steward in much the same way that a Newfoundland dog would an importunate puppy. Without deigning to glance towards him, he said, “Eh, never fret yourself, man. If the Dover‘s catching us is all that troubles you, you may rest easy enough. She’ll not do that.”
His prediction was fulfilled, for our vessel soon outstripped her pursuer, and reached Limerick long before her.
The rival firms highlighted different features of their operations. The Dover Castle ads always gave the captain’s name:
J W WHITE, COMMANDER
The Dublin Company did not advertise its captains’ names.
The companies used slogans on their ads. In May Dover Castle offered STEAM CONVEYANCE and the Dublin Company STEAM COMMUNICATION. But in June the Dublin Company promised DAILY STEAM COMMUNICATION, something the Dover Castle could not provide.
But by the end of the year a price war had broken out. Dover Castle offered CHEAP STEAM CONVEYANCE and the Dublin Company CHEAP TRAVELLING. Both firms now quoted their prices, which were identical:
Dover Castle: Cabin Fare 1s 0d; Deck 0s 3d
Dublin Company: Fare in Cabin 1s 0d, Ditto on Deck 0s 3d.
The Dover Castle was sold to the Dublin Company in 1841 and fares increased to 2s 6d (Cabin) and 1s 3d (Deck) (see Ignatius Murphy Before the Famine Struck Irish Academic Press, Dublin 1996, reprinted 2008).
On 9 March 1843 the Clare Journal reported that Captain White, by then commanding the schooner Native, had been charged, along with the mate, with plundering and scuttling the vessel (owned by Mr Spaight of Limerick) on its return from London loaded with tea and spices.