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Firth of Tay : Excursion Steamers
A Review by Gillon Ferguson

Early train ferries were operated between Tayport  and Broughty Ferry  from about 1850 to the collapse of the first Tay bridge in 1879. A long standing passenger and vehicle ferry operated from Dundee to Newport until the opening of the Tay road  bridge in 1966

In the nineteenth century excursions in the Tay were mainly given by paddle tugs and occasionally by Newport ferries  There were also occasional visits by Forth excursion steamers.  Dedicated excursion vessels first appeared in 1886 but ceased after 1931

Above : Carlyle and her twin Alleyn were the most modern paddle steamers used on the River Tay, having been built for use in London in 1905 and purchased by George Martin in 1909. Martin's excursions took the ships up the River Earn to Bridge of Earn and at 130 ft long were suitable for such work. The enterprise ended as a result of the outbreak of World War I. Only one "large" paddle steamer operated on the Tay : the 225-ft long Slieve Bearnagh, operated by the Nichol Brothers' Tay Pleasure Steamers was also a casualty of the war. She had been built in 1894 for local service out of Belfast
Photo is a post card kindly supplied by Alan Ginn from his collection 

Tay Excursion Steamers

Most of the pleasure sailings from Dundee were up firth to relatively calm waters and hence many of the paddle steamers that plied on the Taywere more in the nature of river steamers  The principal ports of call were :

Balmerino just a short distance upstream on the Fife shore, Newburgh, a little further in North Fife and 

Some of the smaller ships sailed up the tributary River Earn as far as Bridge of Earn.  For this a shallow draught was essential and hence paddle steamers were favoured. Between 1909 and 1914 D & J Nichol operated two much larger steamers the Marchioness of Bute and the Slieve Bearnagh which made possible more extensive sea cruises to Arbroath, the Bell Rock, St Andrews and further afield. On the outbreak of the First World War the ships and their trade disappeared  and when restarted in 1917 was carried on with smaller ships and mainly to the upper firth .

Princess of Wales  (1886-1890)  later Albion (1891-1901) then Shamrock  (1903-1909)

Built in 1866 by Aitken & Mansel of Glasgow
Length  142.6 ft  :  118 GRT
Engine : Oscillating
The first purely excursion steamer on the Tay served in three different periods with different names and owners.
Originally built for Loch Lomond,
she was owned privately at Alloa and Dundee from 1881 until bought by the Dundee, Perth & Newburgh Steamboat Co in 1886.
Had numerous local owners (including D Nichol from 1891-93 as Albion) until 1901, when she was sold for use at Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
In 1903 she returned to the Tay to sail for George Martin Ltd and was renamed Shamrock.
From 1909 she was registered in London and from 1912 in France

Hero (1886-1888) 
Built in 1858 by T Wingate & Co of Glasgow
181 ft  : 157 GRT
Engine : Steeple

Built for service out of Belfast, but from 1865 moved to the Clyde, latterly with Keith & Campbell and then William Buchanan
In 1886 she came to the Tay for the River Tay Steamboat Company, serving primarily from Broughty Ferry to Perth
In 1889 she returned to the Clyde for private operator James Orr
In 1890 she joined the David MacBrayne fleet as Mountaineer for whom she served until 1909

Argyle (1890-1904)
Built 1866 by Barclay, Curle & Co of Glasgow
177 ft  :  240 GRT

Engine : Steeple 47 x 42 in by Wm King & Co of Glasgow : re-engined in 1879 by Hutson & Corbett of Glasgow
A former Clyde steamer primarily on the Wemyss Bay service for Gillies & Campbell
Served on the Tay from 1900-1904 for the Dundee & Perth Passenger Steamboat Co (managed by D Edwards)

Sold for use in Spain as Ares

Two very small paddlers were built for James Tare  suitable for low water at Balmerino and trips up the Earn

Bonnie Dundee  (1890-1904)
in 1890 by Scott of Montrose
57 ft

Advance (1905-1912)
in 1890 by Scott of Montrose
Engine ex- Bonnie Dundee
70 ft
Sold for use at Poole as Stirling Belle

Scotia (1894-97) 
Built in 1894 by
  Gourlay Bros of Dundee
164.6 ft  :  223 GRT

Engine : Compound diagonal 18 and 36 in x 42 in
Built for the Dundee Pleasure Boat Company
Sold for use in Russia

Carlyle   (1909-14)
Built in 1905 by Thames Iron Works. London

130 ft :  120 GRT
Engine : Compound diagonal 16 and 31 in x 36 in
Purchased by
George Martin Ltd from the liquidated London County Council fleet
Withdrawn on the outbreak of World War 1 and sold in early 1916

Saw war service in Iraq and abandoned in 1916.

Alleyn   (1909-14)

Built in 1905 by Thames Iron Works. London
130 ft :  120 GRT
Engine : Compound diagonal  16 and 31 in x 36 in
Purchased by
George Martin Ltd from the liquidated London County Council fleet
She was subject to a mortgage held by a Mr F Waters of Newhaven, Sussex, and it appears she reverted to him when there was a foreclosure 

Marchioness of Bute (1909-1914)
Built in 1890  by
J Reid & Co. of Port Glasgow 
200.4  ft  :  246 GRT 

Engine : Compound diagonal  30 and 54 in x 60 in by Rankin & Blackmore of Greenock
Built for Caledonian Steam Packet Co on the Clyde
Moved to the Tay in 1909 for D, J & A Nichol (Tay Pleasure Steamers)
Sailed to Arbroath, Bell Rock and Perth.
Became minesweeper 1915 and was stationed at Portsmouth
Possibly used at Archangel (Russia) in 1919
Scrapped at Inverkeithing 1923

Slieve Bearnagh  (1912-14)
Built in 1894 by J & G Thomson of Clydebank
225.6 ft  :  383 GRT
Engine : Compound diagonal  25.5 and 54 in x 54 in

Previously sailed on Belfast Lough for the Belfast & County Down Railway

Moved to the Tay in 1909 for D, J & A Nichol (Tay Pleasure Steamers)

Largest ever Tay excursion steamer : Ran to Montrose and St Andrews
Minesweeper during World War I and a hospital transport after the war ended
Scrapped at Inverkeithing in 1923 

Empress  (1917)
Built in 1893 by J Reid of Glasgow
140.2 ft  :  156 GRT
Engines : Triple expansion  9, 15 and 24 in x 12 in by J Kincaid of Greenock
Built for the Goole & Hull Steam Packet Co
Purchased by the Tay Steamboat Co 

Sold for use at Cork, Ireland and later in service at Bilbao then Sevilla, Spain possibly until 1930

Dundee (1920-1923)
Built in 1875 by William Simons of Renfrew

Length  149.3 ft  :  264 GRT
Built for the Trustees of the Harbour of Dundee
Bought in 1920 and
used for Newburgh sailings. Sold for use on the Queensferry Passage on the Firth of Forth in 1923

Cleopatra (1918-31)
Built in 1898 by the Thames Iron Works
120.1 ft  :  111 GRT
 shallow draft paddler built for Thames river traffic (Thames Steamboat Co (1897) Ltd

Bibliography :

Steamers of the Tay.           Ian Brodie    Stenlake Publishing  2003  ISBN 1840332492

British Pleasure Steamers.   Geoffrey Grimshaw   Richard Tilling  1945

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