Category Archives: Steamers

New header pic 16 May 2020

Early steamer in Dublin 1820s

Dublin’s foreign trade 1837

Here’s an interesting extract from Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of 1837. It’s about the foreign trade of the port of Dublin.

At the time, trade was classified as either coasting or foreign: since the conclusion of the free trade area between Ireland and Britain in 1825, trade between Ireland and Britain was classed as coasting. As a result, no records were kept of that trade except for corn (from Ireland to Britain) and coals (the other way). To quote Tables of the Revenue [Tables of the Revenue, Population, Commerce, &c of The United Kingdom and its dependencies Part III from 1820 to 1833, both inclusive. Compiled from official returns; presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of His Majesty HMSO, London 1834 ]:

No general Account of the Trade between Ireland and Great Britain can be rendered for the period subsequent to 1825, the commercial intercourse between the two Countries having, from the termination of that year, been assimilated by law to a coasting traffic.

In this extract, Lewis is therefore talking about Dublin’s trade with places outside the United Kingdom. He starts with northern Europe, then moves on to the West Indies and North America, then China and South America, finishing in the Mediterranean. The indented italicised paragraphs are Lewis; the others are comments.

Northern Europe

There is very little foreign export from Dublin. The trade with the Baltic in timber, staves, &c, is greatly diminished by the high rate of duty imposed and the low rate at which Canada timber is admitted. From St. Petersburgh, Riga, Archangel, &c, there is a considerable import of tallow, hemp, and tar, with some linseed, bristles, &c.;

The Baltic had been Britain’s main source of timber and other supplies for shipping (including hemp and tar) but, during the Napoleonic Wars, timber from North America had taken over.

from Spain and Portugal the chief import is wine, with some corkwood, raisins, barilla, and bark; from France the imports are wine in wood and bottle, claret, champagne, &c, also cork-wood, prunes, dried fruits, and some brandy;

Wine, brandy and gin:

from the Netherlands the imports are bark and flax ; from Holland, tobacco pipes, bark, cloves, and flax-seed, and small quantities of gin, Burgundy pitch, Rhenish wines, madder, &c.

So far many of the imports seem to be either inputs to industrial processes (eg barilla, madder) and exotic food and drink for the more affluent consumers.

West Indies

With the West Indies the trade is chiefly in sugar from Jamaica, Demerara, and Trinidad, estates in the last-named island being owned in Dublin.

For more on Irish slave-owners, insert “Ireland” in the “Country” field of the “Address Details” section here.

Encouraging people to drink whiskey:

Coffee is imported in small quantities and also rum, but very little foreign spirits are consumed in Ireland, in consequence of the low price and encouragement given to the use of whiskey.

The Irish provision trade, which supplied (inter alia) the British navy and slave plantations, had been in decline for many years, with the livestock trade increasing to compensate.

Beef and pork in casks, and soap and candles in boxes, were formerly exported to the West Indies in large quantities, but the trade is now nearly lost in consequence of permission being given to the colonists to import these articles from Hamburgh, Bremen, &c, where they can be purchased at lower prices than in Ireland.

The West Indies could also buy from America (see below) and could buy preserved cod as an alternative to beef.

North America

The linen trade had become concentrated on Belfast; Dublin had lost its role in handling the product when Belfast opened its own Linen Hall in 1783.

To the United States of America formerly there was a very large export of linen, principally to New York, and flax-seed, staves, turpentine, clover-seed, &c, were brought back; but the bounty on the export of linen having been withdrawn, the trade between the United States and Dublin has greatly diminished. The export of linen and import of flax-seed is now chiefly confined to Belfast and other northern ports.

The growing of tobacco in Ireland had been banned in 1832.

The American tobacco which is either sold or consumed in Dublin is brought from Liverpool.

The import of American tobacco via Liverpool was part of a much wider trend. Liverpool was simply so much busier a port than any of its Irish counterparts; it dominated the Atlantic trade (to the chagrin of Bristol). It made sense to send cargoes in large vessels from the Americas to Liverpool; from there they could be distributed quickly, especially to Dublin, to which there were daily steam services. This changed the way Dublin merchants worked: instead of getting a few shiploads from the Americas per year, they could now import small quantities as required, once a week if they liked. That reduced the amount of capital tied up in stock and may have made it available for other investments.

UK port traffic 1833–1836 (derived from Tables of the Revenue 1838)

The timber trade was, in effect, the emigrant trade: emigrants provided a useful back cargo for ships that would otherwise return almost empty to the Americas.

With British America the trade is very great in timber, as a return cargo of vessels sailing thither from Dublin with emigrants.

An inland waterway connection:

With Newfoundland there is no direct trade; the cod and seal oil consumed are imported from Liverpool or brought by canal from Waterford, which has a direct trade with Newfoundland; dried codfish and ling being much used in the southern counties, but not in the northern or midland.

China

More exotica:

With China there are three vessels owned in Dublin, besides others engaged in the tea trade; the number of chests directly imported is, therefore, considerable.

South America

As well as timber, one of the things that industrialising countries were running out of was hides for leather. Argentina and Uruguay both had extensive exports; they were also able to export salted beef to the Americas and the Caribbean.

With South America there is no direct trade, the Dublin tanners being abundantly supplied with native hides, and any foreign hides required being brought from Liverpool, whence also is imported the cotton wool consumed in the Dublin factories.

Mediterranean

And finally …

With Turkey the trade is confined to the importation from Smyrna of valonia, figs, raisins, and small quantities of other articles: madder-roots and emery-stone being always transhipped for Liverpool.

With Leghorn there is a considerable trade for cork-tree bark, and small quantities of hemp in bales, oil, marble, &c, are also imported, but very little communication is kept up with Trieste or other Italian ports.

With Sicily the trade is in shumac and brimstone ; the latter article in considerable quantities for the consumption of vitriol and other chymical works.


Source: Samuel Lewis A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, comprising the several counties, cities, boroughs, corporate, market, and post towns, parishes, and villages, with historical and statistical descriptions; embellished with engravings of the arms of the cities, bishopricks, corporate towns, and boroughs; and of the seals of the several municipal corporations: with an Appendix, describing the electoral boundaries of the several boroughs, as defined by the Act of the 2d and 3d of William IV S Lewis & Co, London 1837

Steam, Kilrush and trade

Appendix D

Letter from Mr O’Brien, Agent to the Inland Steam Navigation Company
Kilrush Steam Packet Office, December, 1837

Gentlemen — I beg to inclose the Return which you requested; I also send a Statement of our Exports and Imports for the last ten years.

It affords me much pleasure in being able to state, that the trade and conditions of the people in this district appear much improved since the introduction of Steamers on the Lower Shannon.

I recollect when first Mr Williams commenced on the Lower Shannon, Kilrush was a very insignificant little place, quite deserted, without trade or commerce; it is now a rising town, with a number of respectable inhabitants and merchants; and the corn market, which was formerly rated at 2d per stone under Limerick, is now fully equal, and, in some cases, better than the latter.

This improvement, so important to the farmer, was certainly caused by the cheap and expeditious conveyance between this port and Limerick; because the country farmer at once saw the absurdity of selling his corn in Kilrush, at 6d per stone, when he could get it conveyed to Limerick by steam, for one farthing per stone, where the price was 8d per stone. This soon created a competition in the price, and soon broke down the old monoply [sic], so injurious to the public.

The facility of conveyance between Kilrush and Limerick had also a tendency to bring competitors into the field; and now, instead of one corn merchant, as was the case formerly, we have eleven; and instead of two grocers, we have fifteen; and instead of two woollen drapers, we have twelve, and so on.

Kilkee and Miltown, on the Clare side, and Ballybunion, on the Kerry side, have been equally benefited. Previous to the introduction of Steamers on the Lower Shannon, these places were scarcely known; they are now rising towns, and will, I trust, after a little time, compete with some of your English favourite watering places.

At Kilkee there are 305 very fine lodges, some of which brought £30 per month, last season; at Miltown there are 204, and at Ballybunion there are 96, with excellent hotels and boarding houses.

Persons leaving Limerick in the morning, are now enabled to breakfast at Kilkee — thus performing a journey of 60 miles in the short space of five hours.

This Company has rendered invaluable services to this part of the country, which are not generally known, but for which the people seem much indebted. A great deal still remains to be done to perfect our trade in this quarter; our pier is quite unequal to the trade, which is every day increasing.

At present there are nine vessels at the pier, and so crowded are we, that the steamer is put completely out of berth, and is obliged to anchor in the stream, and land her cargoes and passengers in open boats — a very dangerous process at this season of the year.

I am, Gentlemen, with great respect, your obedient Servant, P B O’Brien

To the Commissioners for the Improvement of the River Shannon

Statement of the Number of Vessels frequenting the Kilrush Pier for the last Three Years

Vessels at Kilrush [y/e 1 November]

This Statement does not comprise the Steamers which ply daily, but which, I fear, will be obliged to stop for want of a berth for discharging or taking in.

Abstract of the Imports and Exports of Kilrush, for the last Ten Years

Imports

Sundries (1835 only)

5 tons of Fish, 1 bale of Coffee, 1 bag of Rice, 1 cask of Indigo, Paints, Oil, Pitch, Tar, and Cordage.

Observations

This market does not embrace the foreign trade, which is blended in the Limerick accounts, and consists of timber from the British colonies, with a variety of wrecked goods in the winter season. Nor does it give more than a few of the principal articles imported from Great Britain, several being exempt from coast regulation; and owing to the facility of steam navigation, the greater part of the goods are imported to Limerick, and by canal from Dublin.

Exports. This account does not include the shipments made by small traders to Limerick, Cork, &c.

[Note: the quantity exported in 1836 was given as 87 firkins. Peter M Solar (“The Irish Butter Trade in the Nineteenth Century: New Estimates and Their Implications” in Studia Hibernica No 25 1990) suggests an average weight of 67.6 lb per firkin at Limerick in the early 1820s. Applying that figure gives a weight of 5881.2 lb or 52.5 long UK hundredweight, rounded to 53 cwt. There is nothing to say whether any of the amounts for Kilrush exports are gross or net weight; Solar says that “Earlier in the nineteenth century the weight of the cask was generally taken to be a fifth of the weight of butter it contained.”]

Sundries

1826: —
1827: —
1828: 2 boxes [contents unspecified]
1829: 29 bales [nature unspecified]
1830: 4 sacks of Sea Moss
1831: 94 Marble blocks
1832: —
1833: 19 cwt 3 qrs 9 lb of Staves
1834: 40 packages of Bacon
1835: 140 tons of Hides
1836: 20 bags of dried Leaves; 14 puncheons

Source

Second Report of the Commissioners appointed pursuant to the Act 5 & 6 William IV cap 67 for the improvement of the navigation of the River Shannon; with maps, plans, and estimates HMSO, Dublin 1837

Limerick Navigation

Last week’s talk at the Killaloe Ballina Local History Society, on the subject of the Limerick Navigation, was recorded by Scariff Bay Community Radio; a podcast (1 hr 13 min 11 sec) is available here.

Kerrygold

It is, no doubt, well known that the first transatlantic steam shipping company was founded by a Kerryman and was to be based in his home county: indeed on his own estate at Valentia Island. The transatlantic steamers would run thence to Halifax, Nova Scotia: that was amongst the shortest possible ocean crossing, which was important in the early days of steam navigation, when inefficient engines required prodigious quantities of coal. There were to be feeder services at both ends of the route, thus linking London with New York, and a second line from Valentia to the West Indies.

The Kerryman was Sir Maurice Fitzgerald MP, the 18th Knight of Kerry.  A meeting of supporters was held in London in June 1824 and, a year later, an Act of Parliament permitted the formation of a joint stock company with limited liability for its shareholders. However, the American and Colonial Steam Navigation Company did not last long: it softly and suddenly vanished away in 1828, its single steamer, the Calpé, sold to the Dutch government before completing a single voyage (although, under her new ownership, she ran a successful transatlantic mail service to Surinam and Curacao).

The prospectus, published before the meeting in June 1824, said of Valentia:

Ballast cargoes may be obtained there in slates, butter, and coarse linen, for the American markets.

However, Alexander Nimmo, writing to Fitzgerald, said

Remember, your whole peninsula only affords 100 tons of butter per annum, and all Kerry would not provide for a constant trade.

The gallant knight would therefore, I am sure, be delighted with the news from the Americas that “Irish Butter Kerrygold Has Conquered America’s Kitchens“. I hope he would have known enough to realise that “[…] Ireland’s landscape and economy, which both remain dominated by agriculture” may be true of the landscape but is not true of the economy.

Sources

John Armstong and David M Williams “The Perception and Understanding of New Technology: A Failed Attempt to Establish Transatlantic Steamship Liner Services 1824-1828” in The Northern Mariner/le marin du nord XVII no 4 [October 2007]

Letters and papers of Maurice FitzGerald in Public Record Office for Northern Ireland ref MIC639/6

Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser 28 June 1824

Expected benefits of the Ulster Canal (aka the Clones Sheugh)

The members for Donegal, Cavan, Fermanagh, Monaghan, and Tyrone, assisted by the leading gentry of each county, have joined in the grand object of improving the navigation of Lough Erne, and are at present in communication with sseveral experienced civil engineers, the Board of Works, and Colonel Burgoyne. Mr Saunderson, of Castle Saunderson, is indefatigable in improving the Upper Lough, and it is probably his exertions will be met and well seconded by John Creighton Esq, Crom Castle.

Already have several gentlemen been summoned from Enniskillen to value the land at Newtownbutler through which the Ulster Canal is to pass; and when its junction with Lough Erne is effected, and a stream of Commercial communication is opened between Ballyshannon and Belfast, the central point of which must be Enniskillen, enterprising individuals will not be wanted to establish steamboats and vessels of large tonnage upon the lake, which will render such encouragement to manufacturers and commerce by the quick and cheap transmission of goods and mails, as will in a few years render this a most flourishing town.

Ballyshannon Herald 20 April 1838

Cupid at Athlone

Aquatic Excursion (from a correspondent)

Athlone (2003)

September 17, 1846 — The Amateur Band of St Peter’s, who deserve so much from the inhabitants of Athlone for the many opportunities they seize upon, to amuse them, having provided — on a large scale — for themselves and guests a sumptuous and plentiful feast, with the necessary teetotal drinks, sailed up the lake on last Sunday in the Cupid Steamer. The day was beautiful and inviting and the placid stream of the noble Shannon — as if in harmony with the circumstance — opening wide its expansive bosom to receive them, displayed in gorgeous grandeur, the verdant beauties of its multitudinous islands and grove-covered promontories of its indented coasts.

I never saw the lake to such advantage as on that occasion. We had about eighty persons on board, amongst whom were the Rev Mr Philips CC and RW, Mr Keating and family, and other pic-nic parties, with viands and refreshments in abundance. As the steamer made the lake and swept through an Archipelago of islands — namely, Carbery, Kid, the Wren, and Crow Islands, &c, having the wood-embosomed Hare Island, the present insulated residence of my Lord Castlemaine, on the right and the grove-crested cape of the Yeu or, as some call it, the Loo Point on the left — then it was that she breasted the serene bosom of this inland ocean not as Byron says, “walking the waters like a thing of life”, but bounding over its mirrored surface like an impetuous courser she seemed to devour the distance, while she tossed a road of foaming surges from her heels.

On each side appeared emerging from wood and grove beautiful villas and noble ruins, towers and antiquated telegraphs, with their declivous lawns sweeping to the water’s edge. As we passed between Inchmore, Innisbofin, the Nun’s Island, the cultivated and rich callows of the Longford coasts, and Warren’s Point, St John’s and Mount Plunket on the Roscommon side, hill and dale land and water reverbrated with the dulcet tones of our excellent band under their inimitable instructor, Mr Keating, while at intervals the gay and cheerful dance on deck, to the music of the violin, enlivened the enjoyment of the exhilirating prospects that accumulated around us.

One or two objects which I observed, struck me very forcibly, and reminded me of the left-handed, nay, monopolising policy of former days, and the state of vassalage under which we yet groan and which “Ireland for the Irish” would never tolerate. In a beautiful valley, and modestly peeping from the clustering foliage of circumnambient trees and in accommodating contiguity to the “big house” stood the snug and aristocratic church of the minority, styled in legal parlance “the Established”, while at a distance on the bleak hill of Newtown, exposed to wind and weather, a chapel dedicated to the worship of the millions, displayed all the frigid isolation of a step-mother’s care.

We now arrived at Quaker’s Island, and having tacked about, we made for Warren’s Point, on our way home, and went on shore at St John’s Castle. With feelings of deep melancholy mingled with admiration, we viewed the venerable ruins of this once majestic pile (huge masses of which lay scattered here and there), its dismantled bastions, deep fosse, and the roofless walls of its antiquated chapel, while on a neighbouring hill stands the shell of its watch-tower to give timely warning of the approach of the feudal rival who would dare contest sovereignity with its lord. We then warmly and eagerly discussed the viands abundantly spread on the verdant sward at the base of

These ivy crowned turrets, the pride of past ages,
Tho’ mould’ring in ruins still grandeur impart.

After which the merry dance commenced, unconstrained laughter and encouraging shouts accompanying the performers, bringing the memory back to the times of rural felicity; when under the fostering tutelage of a domestic legislature, every family had its own quern to grind its own grain, every peasant could drink his own beer and the daily toil of virtuous industry being over, the children of simplicity, to the sounds of the oaten reed or the violin, or the more national bag-pipes, tripped it gaily on the “light fantastic toe”. And this was the happy and tranquil state of “Old Ireland” before the importation into it of such exotic materials as Sir Walter Raleigh and his rotten potatoes. To return to the ruins. I wish Lever, Carlton, or some one of those compilers of Irish legendary lore, had visited Lough Ree, he would find there more traditionary facts connected with the pristine magnificence of the different localities, than very many of those which have been already noticed in Magazines.

Having embarked once more we soon arrived home, and thus ended to the satisfaction of all parties, one of the most amusing days I, at least, ever spent in my life. To Bernard Mullins Esq, the young men composing the band return their sincere acknowledgements, for his kindness in accommodating them with the Cupid for this very pleasant excursion.

O’B

Athlone Sentinel 18 September 1846

Staffing the Shannon

According to the eleventh and final report of the Shannon Commissioners, published in 1850 but covering the year 1849, each of the quays built by the commissioners on the Shannon Estuary had an officer stationed at it to collect tolls and other charges. Five of the six — Querrin, Saleen, Kilteery, Kildysart [aka Cahircon] and Clare [now Clarecastle] — had Second Class Collectors; Kilrush, being busier, had a First Class Collector.

Cappa [Kilrush] pier

Moving upriver, Limerick was one of only two places on the Shannon to have an Inspector; it also had a First Class Collector and a Lock-keeper. Park, the next lock up on the Limerick Navigation, also had a keeper, as did five of the six locks on the Plassey–Errina Canal — Plassey [aka Annaghbeg], Gillogue, Newtown, Cloonlara [so spelt] and Errina. Presumably the Cloonlara keeper also locked after the nearby Monaskeha Lock. Preusmably, too, the keepers collected any tolls or charges due at the locks: there were no separate collectors, yet from other evidence we know that tolls and wharfage were collected at Plassey [Annaghbeg] and Errina.

O’Briensbridge modern [ie 1830s] navigation arch

Back on the river, O’Briensbridge had a Second Class Collector. On the Killaloe Canal, each of the three locks — Cussane, Moyse [sic] and Killaloe — had a keeper; the Cussane keeper must have collected tolls and wharfage. Killaloe had a First Class Collector.

On Lough Derg, Scarriff and Portumna each had a Second Class Collector. Portumna, like several places upstream, had an opening bridge, but the Shannon Commissioners did not employ a bridge-keeper: the bridge was not built, owned or operated by the Shannon Commissioners.

Back on the river, on what used to be called the Middle Shannon, the commissioners employed both a Second Class Collector and a lock-keeper at Victoria Lock (Meelick). There was another Second Class Collector, and a bridge-keeper, at Banagher. At Wooden Bridge, the crossing of the Shannon from the Grand Canal’s main line to its Ballinasloe line, the commissioners employed two ferry boatmen: by that stage the bridge no longer existed and the commissioners had installed a ferry to carry horses and tow boats between the canals.

Shannon Bridge had a Second Class Collector and a bridge-keeper; Athlone had a bridge-keeper but earned itself a First Class Collector. On Lough Ree, Lecarrow and Lanesborough each had a Second Class Collector but Tarmonbarry had nobody: a First Class Collector was assigned to Cloondragh [so spelt] but presumably had to look after Clondra and Tarmonbarry locks, the weir, Tarmonbarry bridge and the collection of tolls. Mighty men they had back then.

The second Inspector was based at Rooskey, along with a lock-keeper who presumably also operated the bridge and did anything that needed doing on the weir. Albert Lock on the Jamestown Canal had a lock-keeper but Kilbride, the quay at the upper end of the canal, had a wharfinger, the only one on the Shannon.

Fermate at Kilbride Quay

The collection of tolls (presumably by the wharfinger) did not begin at Kilbride until March 1849 but in that year it took in £6 in tolls and £1 in wharfage, compared with £1 + £2 at Drumsna and £0 + £0 at Jamestown. Perhaps the road beside the quay made it a suitable place for cargoes from Roscommon to transfer from road to water transport.

Carrick-on-Shannon, not an important station on the Shannon, had just a Second Class Collector; there was a lock-keeper at Knockvicar for the Boyle Water and another at Battle Bridge who presumably looked after all the locks on the Lough Allen Canal.

Cranes were provided at several places but there is no mention of designated crane-operators.

Source: Eleventh and Final Report of the Commissioners under the Act 2 & 3 Vict c61 for the improvement of the Navigation of the River Shannon, Ireland; with an appendix Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be Printed, 3 June 1850 [407]

 

Hail glorious St Patrick

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.

The engine-room

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

Did you know …

… that Robert Emmet’s brother was the unwitting cause of the death of Robert Fulton?