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Clyde Steamer Services and Operators - Links to Historical Vessels - Bibliography

Waverley 1947 Alan Brown and GF.jpg

Above : Waverley was the last paddle steamer built for Clyde service (1947) and after 1969 was the only remaining paddler. After being withdrawn in 1973 she found a new life in operational preservation on behalf of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society and continues in service
Photo by Alan Brown (supplied by kind courtesy of Gillon Ferguson) shows her in her first season of operation

he Firth of Clyde, by virtue of its size, attractive scenery and potential for varied cruising possibilities, is the main area for coastal cruising in the UK. The river Clyde runs through Glasgow, a city built on international trade and major centre for steel, engineering and shipbuilding from the industrial revolution into the present day. It soon widens into an estuary with industrial towns dotted along it's steep sided banks. Further downstream, holiday resorts developed along the mainland coast and on the numerous islands in the Firth and wealthy industrialists built homes amidst the beautiful scenery. With city dwellers always keen to get away for a holiday at one of the resorts or take in the delights of a cruise up one of the many sea lochs, and islanders keen to commute to or deliver goods to markets on the mainland, the advent of steamship technology meant that the Clyde would become one of the foremost areas for its development. With so many shipbuilding companies located along the Clyde building sea-going ships for Britain and the world, it was only natural that many of them were also involved in building the "Clyde Steamers".

With some exceptions, ferry services on the Clyde are run by Caledonian-MacBrayne, a state-owned company formed out of the merger of the state owned Caledonian Steam Packet Company (operating on the Firth of Clyde) and David MacBrayne Ltd, a part privately owned company operating services in the Western Isles. Whilst MacBrayne had, for most of the steamer era, been in a monopoly position in its area, the Clyde was subject to continuous, often ruinous, competition.

Small fleets and independent vessels run by private owners essentially gave way in 1889 to the three main competing railway companies, who were extending their tracks to the Clyde coast and established fleets to challenge for the commuter traffic and the increasing tourist excursion trade, especially to the resorts of Dunoon (Cowal), Rothesay (Bute) and Brodick (Arran). A significant market developed for cruising in its own right, especially to escape the industrial city of Glasgow at weekends.

Only following railway nationalisation after the Second World War did the fleets eventually combine under the title of the Caledonian Steam Packet Company. Caledonian-MacBrayne disposed of the last Paddle Steamer (Waverley) after the 1973 season and the last Turbine Steamer (Queen Mary) four years later. Cal-Mac as they are commonly known, now operate a series of ferry shuttle services across the Firth, providing highly efficient links for cars, cargo and foot passengers. Waverley, now under the charitable ownership of the Waverley Steam Navigation Company, continues the cruising tradition of the "Clyde Steamer".


Select a company below to see brief company details, fleet list with links to more detailed vessel histories and a bibliography. Includes the main independent operators which survived the introduction of railway ownership.

From the south bank of the Clyde and the Ayrshire coast

Caledonian Steam Packet Company (1889-1972)  
(ship operating subsidiary of the Caledonian Railway and eventual monopoly operator from 1948)
Glasgow & South Western Railway (1891-1923)
London Midland & Scottish Railway (1923-1938)
(successors of the Glasgow & South Western Railway, operated in association with the Caledonian Steam Packet)

From the north bank of the Clyde. Independent until absorbed into the Caledonian Steam Packet Company as an ultimate effect of railway nationalisation

North British Steam Packet Company (1866-1902)  (ship operating subsidiary of the North British Railway) 
North British Railway (1902-1923)
(operating the steamers under direct railway ownership)
London & North Eastern Railway (1923-1947)  
(successors of the North British Railway)
British Transport Commission (1948-1951) (interim ownership of former LNER vessels operated in association with those of the Caledonian Steam Packet Co)


Caledonian-MacBrayne Ltd   (successors of the CSP operated PS Waverley in 1973 only (and TS Queen Mary until 1977). 
A limited cruising programme with motor vessels was offered for some years subsequently but with little success. "Cal-Mac" became a lifeline ferry only operator, latterly as franchisee of state specified routes

Originally sailing from central Glasgow (Broomielaw) with some independent owners providing services from downstream and Ayrshire piers. Downstream services were generally bought out by the expanding railway companies when their routes reached suitable railheads. Independent operators continued to concentrate on "all the way" services from Glasgow which were slower but generally cheaper for passengers

Alexander & John Campbell (1854-70) - Keith & Campbell (1871-84) - Captain Robert Campbell (1884-88)
Captain William Buchanan (1852-1890) : Buchanan Steamers (1890-1919)
Captain Alexander Williamson (1853-1890)
Captain John Williamson (1891-1919)
Turbine Steamers Ltd (1901-1935)
Williamson-Buchanan Steamers Ltd (1919-1935) / Williamson-Buchanan (1936) Co (1936-1943)

Castle Steam Packet Co / Glasgow Castle SP Co (1815-1851)

Limited Clyde services to provide access to the western highlands

David Hutcheson & Co (1851-1879): David MacBrayne (1879-1971) 

Loch Goil and Loch Long Steamboat Company (1825-1909)
Glasgow and Inveraray Steamboat Company (1877-1909)
Loch Goil and Inveraray Steamboat Company Ltd (1909-1912)
Wemyss Bay Steamboat Co (1862-1869)
Gillies & Campbell (1868-1890)
Frith of Clyde Steam Packet Co
Greenock & Helensburgh Steamboat Co (1865-1888)
Graham Brymner & Co (1867-1876)

Note : There were many more independent owners in the 19th century

Captain James Williamson, in his book "Clyde Passenger Steamers 1812-1901" lists turbine steamer TS King Edward as the 309th Clyde Steamer, following PS Comet of 1812. Prior to 1866 and the inauguration of services by the North British Railway, Williamson lists 234 vessels and describes vessels, services and captains in a chronological format. there are numerous lithographs and photos of the vessels themselves, the owners and captains.

Click here for a list of the vessels

SPECIAL REPORTS : CLYDE STEAMERS IN THE 1930s and 1960s - by Gordon Stewart 

The 1930s saw the final development of the Clyde paddle steamer, a story which began in 1812 with the pioneering vessel "Comet". The operators of the Clyde Steamers, mainly railway companies, which had fought a long and hard battle for supremacy in the trade, had severely outdated fleets and all embarked on a programme of modernisation which was the greatest since the "Golden Years" of 1890-1904. What was unusual was that the modernisation involved the use of tried and tested technology - steam, and in the case of all the ferry workhorses, paddles. Whilst this was understandable in the case of the London & North Eastern Railway's Jeanie Deans due to draught restrictions at her home base of Craigendoran, other operators had no such problem yet still chose steamers, including paddle steamers, over motor vessels. With a few exceptions, these were the last side-wheel paddle steamers built for use in Europe.

Not until the early 1950s were motor vessels prominent on Clyde ferry services, both as a cost-cutting measure and associated with the radical new designs needed to handle the growing traffic in motor cars. The introduction of the paddle steamer Waverley in 1947 could be seen as a conservative measure, but she was to sail out of Craigendoran and in any case it made sense to replace war losses quickly with tried and tested technology. She was to be the last. After a relatively short life, or so it seemed, she was withdrawn in 1973 and the turbine steamer Queen Mary thus became the last of an extensive fleet of steamers. Placed in the hands of preservationists, Waverley has continued the tradition to this day, whilst the "commercial" operators disposed of Queen Mary in 1977 to concentrate on car ferry services 

It has to be recognised that the paddle steamers were to all intents and purposes the ferries of their day and whilst the large turbine steamers could be regarded as excursion ships, for most, any excursion work was an "add-on" to their ferrying duties. Whilst Waverley does continue the tradition, the services of Caledonian-MacBrayne and Western Ferries now provide what the paddlers once provided - but in a different way, adapted to modern needs and "cargoes".

Clyde Steamer Operations and new ships built in the 1930s

The 1960s - the last full decade of steam - or that's how it seemed at the time......


Caledonian-MacBrayne inherited the services of the Caledonian Steam Packet Company but are now purely ferry operators. Waverley continues to spend the summer season on a traditional cruise programe under her charitable preservationist owners Waverley Steam Navigation Company and operated by Waverley Excursions Ltd.  The ship is owned on behalf of the Paddle Steamer preservation Society, which is also the majority shareholder in Waverley Steam Navigation Company.

Waverley Steam Navigation Co Ltd / Waverley Excursions Ltd (1975-date)


A graphical representation listing  Clyde Steamers and the main steamer operators in the format of a Time Line. The aim is to show for each ship, the years in which she spent her main cruising season on the Clyde, and for each operator, the years during which they ran steamers during the main season. Additionally, for each main season, the vessels operating on the Clyde can be established. Brief details of changes in company management, structure etc and notes regarding the builders, launch date and subsequent fate of the vessels are included. The data is by no means complete and will be updated from time to time. Information supplied by visitors to this site would be much appreciated for incorporation into the "Time Line". We would particularly welcome clarification of the first/last summer seasons for each vessel where they changed ownership or were sold off the Clyde, and confirmation of the seasons spent on the Clyde at the start and end of both World Wars. The Timeline is held as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet (.xls) and can be viewed on-line or saved to your hard disk. When saved, the "freeze panes" setting should be reactivated allowing easier viewing of the spreadsheet, so that vessel names and years, the axis titles, remain in view. Select a line for a vessel and see the years she spent on the Clyde. View a column for any particular year and see which operators and which vessels under whose ownership were in operation for that main summer season.

To open or download the Time Line, please click here :  
Clyde Timeline


Rothesay was the prime destination for cruise boats from the mainland - an essential stop for boats going around Bute or to other destinations in the outer Firth and the main destination for holiday makers and excursionists in its own right. In the heyday of the steamers it could get very busy in Rothesay Bay. In this view taken in the early 1960s by Alexander Bain, two steamers (the paddler Jeanie Deans and the turbine steamer Queen Mary II) head off in different directions.To the left of the photo is one of the three "ABC" class car ferries, which provided the basis shuttle service from Wemyss Bay. 

Photo by kind courtesy of Donald Bain

General Bibliography and books about Clyde Steamers
Books relating specifically to individual operators and vessels are shown under the appropriate entry.

For excellent information and historic images, I recommend the Graham Lappin Collection at :  
The Victorian Summer of the Clyde Steamers (1864-1888)
Alan J S Paterson
Published in 1972 by David & Charles
IBSN 0-713-5630-5
Detailed acaemically researched history of the early years of the Clyde Steamers prior to the establishment of the CSP

The Golden Years of the Clyde Steamers (1889-1914)
Alan J S Paterson
Published in 1969
Detailed academically researched history of the Clyde Steamers at the height of the railway fleet competition

Clyde River and Other Steamers
Duckworth & Langmuir
Published Third Edition in 1972 by Brown, Son & Ferguson Ltd, Glasgow. First published in 1937
Definitive fleet list, vessel histories and summary history of operators

Clyde River Steamers of the Last Fifty Years
Andrew McQueen
Published in 1923 by Gowans & Gray, Glasgow

Clyde Pleasure Steamers An Illustrated History
Ian McCrorie
Published in 1986 and 1987 by Orr, Pollock & Co, 2, Crawfurd Street, Greenock, PA15 1LH
ISBN 1-869850-00-9
Comprehensive history

Pleasures of the Firth : Two Hundred Years of the Clyde Steamers 1812-2012
Andrew Clark
Published in 2012 by Stenlake Publishing
ISBN-10 : 1840335859 -   ISBN-13 :  978-1840335859
A comprehensive copiously illustrated history by local expert Andrew Clark

Clyde Passenger Steamers 1812 - 1901
Captain James Williamson
Published in 1987 by SPA Books Ltd, PO Box 47, Stevenage, Herts
ISBN 0-907590-19-5
Reprint of the first definitive guide, written by the founder of the "Caledonian" and first published in 1904.

Scottish Coastal Steamers 1918-1975 : The Lines that Linked the Lochs
Brian Patton
Published in 1996 by
Silver Link Publishing Ltd., The Trundle, Ringstead Road, Great Addington, Kettering, NN14 4BW.  Customer Service department on +44 (0) 1536 330588 or e-mail at
ISBN 1-85794-056-3
Copiously illustrated with extended captions and text. Also covers other Scottish coastal waters.

Steamers of the Clyde and Western Isles
MacArthur, McCrorie and MacHaffie
Published 1964 and 1965 by the authors
Pamphlet with vessel histories of the existing fleet at the time of issue, with fleet list and technical details

Clyde Steamers of Yesteryear
MacArthur, McCrorie and MacHaffie
Published in 1965 by the authors
Pamphlet with histories and technical details of selected historical vessels

Clyde Coast Pleasure Steamers
E C B Thornton
Published in 1968
Concise history pamphlet with appendix explaining terms associated with steam engines

Clyde Piers - A Pictorial Record
Joy Monteith and Ian McCrorie
Published in 1982 by Inverclyde District Libraries, Central Library, Clyde Square, Greenock, Scotland
ISBN 0-9500687-5-6
Photos of Clyde piers with extended captions invoking memories of the piers, vessels and services.

Classic Scottish Paddle Steamers
Alan J S Paterson
Published in 1982 by David & Charles (Publishers) Ltd, Brunel House, Newton Abbot, Devon, UK
ISBN 0-7153-8335-3
Clyde story told through extended histories of twelve representative steamers

The Sea Routes to Arran
Ian McCrorie
Published in 1993 by Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd
The history of Clyde services to Brodick and the other Arran resorts plus the current Lochranza ferry

Clyde Steamers Remembered
Published in 1994 by the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society (Scottish Branch)
Steamer Photo album with magnificent views and extended captions

More Clyde Steamers Remembered
Published in 2001, with glossy paper and many colour photos, this book follows on from the original edition with a further selection of high-quality photos
Days at the Coast
Robert Preston
Published in 1994 by the Richard Stenlake, Ochiltree Sawmill, Ochiltree, Ayrshire, KA18 2NX, Scotland
ISBN 1 872074 42 1
Excellent album of black & white photos with extended captions covering many vessels at Clyde locations

Caledonian Steam Packet Co Ltd
Alistair Deayton
Published in 2002 by Tempus Publishing Ltd
Excellent album of black & white photos with authoritative captions covering the ships of the famous CSP Fleet

Dunoon Pier - a celebration
Ian McCrorie
Published in 1997 by Argyll Publishing, Glendaruel, Argyll  PA22 3AE
ISBK 1 874640 68 8
Extensive illustrated history of the pier and services at one of the Clyde's premier resorts in Ian McCrorie's informative and highly readably style. In hardback

Tighnabruaich Pier
Ian McCrorie
Published in 2002 by the Thighnabruaich Pier Association and Douglas press, Glendaruel, Argyll, PA22 3AE
ISBN 1 902831 82 9
Detailed story, copiously illustrated, of the pier on the Kyles of Bute, a favoured destination for cruises for generations

Lochranza Pier
Ian McCrorie
Published in 2003 by Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd, The Ferry Terminal, Gourock, PA19 1QP
ISBN 0 9507166 2 6
Written by Clyde steamer expert Ian McCrorie to celebrate the reopening of the pier on the isle of Arran for use by PS Waverley

Glory Days - Clyde Steamers
Brian Patton
First Published in 2003 by Ian Allan Publishing Ltd, Hersham, Surrey, KT12 4RG
ISBN 0 7110 2925 3
Clear text and informative extended captions alongside excellent illustrations. Nothing new but nevertheless an excellent review of the history of Clyde Steamers for beginners and experts alike

Steamers of the Clyde : NB & LNER
Alaistair Deayton
Published 2000 by Tempus Publishing Ltd, The Mill, Brimscombe Port, Stroud, Gloucestershire, GL5 2QG
ISBN 0 7524 2107 7
Brief history of the Clyde's "north bank" fleet followed by illustrations with informative captions written up by one of the acknowledged experts on Clyde (and other steamers)

Return to
Paddle Steamer Index
Historical Database


Queen mary Tighnabruaich 1967 J Dale s.jpg

Although Clyde Steamer fleets were dominated by paddle steamers, the introduction of the turbine steamer King Edward in 1901 dramatically improved the quality of the long-distance day excursion fleet. The world's first ever passenger ship powered by turbines brought a new level of speed, comfort and smoothness and in the next 35 years a number of excellent vessels joined the Clyde fleet.

The only surviving example is TS Queen Mary (seen above in 1967 at Tighnabruaich in a photo by Jake Dale) which sailed from 1933 to 1977 and later served as a floating restaurant in London. In 2014 she was purchased by the Friends of TS Queen Mary, a Scottish charity, with the intention to return her to Glasgow for static use

Click here for Clyde Turbine Steamers

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