Paddle Steamers of the Past
: vessels and paddle steamer operators Note
: This database covers primarily passenger excursion paddle steamers.
It is important to recognise that all steam powered vessels in all
roles worldwide were paddle steamers until the middle of the 19th
century, when screw steamers and later screw-propelled motor vessels
increasingly took over most roles Above
: A replica of PS Comet, built in
1962, to celebrate 150 years since the inauguration of a service
between Glasgow and Helensburgh promoted by
Henry Bell to bring customers to his shoreside hotel and is regarded as
the first commercial use of a steamship in Europe. It, entered service
three years after Robert Fulton's North River Steamboat which was the
world pioneer for such services when it introduced a service on the
Hudson River at New York in the USA in 1809.
owned by the local authority (Inverclyde Council), is located alongside
main road past Port Glasgow on the Clyde estuary. In 2020 is
was reported that the wooden-hulled ship was deteriorating badly and beyond economic repair Click
below to see brief historical notes of
inland and inshore passenger steamer operators and vessels in many of the major operating areas in
Europe, with very limited coverage of other parts of the world.
areas are not the only ones where paddle steamers operated. Many ferry
and coastal services were operated by paddle steamers before replacement
by motor vessels. Most of the areas covered are rivers and lakes with a
significant element of tourist excursion traffic as well as ferry services.
You can return to this page (Paddle
Steamers of the Past), or follow onward links (e.g to existing vessels / services) from
the individual area historical pages Vessel dates are first and last years in the fleet.
Vessels may or may not have sailed for the company in the year of
purchase / disposal
Links are provided to vessel profiles from the pages covering the
paddle steamer operating companies in each geographical area.
Humber ferry service from Hull to New Holland saw large paddle steamers
continue in operation well into the 1970s.
The remarkable survival of paddle steamers on the Humber run was due to
the shallow draught required to negotiate the notorious shifting sands
of the estuary. Their demise only came with the advent of the Humber
road bridge and similar major bridges also put paid to paddlers on the
crossings of the Forth and Severn estuaries. Other major ferry
crossings included the Mersey crossing between
Liverpool and Birkenhead and other piers on the Wirral, where paddle
steamers dominated until the beginning of the 20th century, after which
all new-build was, typically, for screw-propelled ships.
were cross-river and down-river services on numerous rivers not
mentioned here, with most employing paddle steamers at some time in
ferry in west Wales is remarkable to the extent that the UK's last
paddle steamer was built to serve the short crossing of the Cleddau
River to Neyland. Paddle Steamer Cleddau Queen
was introduced in 1956 and was a small primarily vehicular ferry and
replaced the older passenger ferry PS Alumchine. She later sailed in
association with the newer Voith-Schneider propelled diesel ferry
Cleddau King and was converted to closely match her, with the removal
of her paddles and steam machinery in 1968. The ferry service
survived until 1975 and the opening of a road bridge.
These notes on selected operating areas of interest are illustrated with photos
which I believe to be out of copyright and in the public domain. It
should be noted that paddle steamers provided lifeline ferry services
and carried cargo to the main ports as well as passengers Egypt was
an interesting exception where British tour operator Thomas Cook owned
a fleet of ships which catered for tourists to the River Nile Photos of Thomas Cook vessels kindly supplied by that organisation for publication
history of steamships in the USA & Canada is a long and large one. The the
world's largest side-wheel paddle steamers could be found in large
fleets serving in particular the eastern seaboard around New York City
and up the Hudson River, the St Lawrence River and the Great Lakes.
Paddle steamers were widely used elsewhere around the world and no attempt has been made to cover these areas. Egypt
tugs were very numerous. As tugs are out-of-scope, no attempt is made
in this database to trace their history or profile any vessels except
those currently in preservation. Paddle tugs included small vessels
used for manoeuvring
larger vessels around confined port areas and larger vessels used for
carrying cargo (and also pulling cargo barges) on larger river systems. A
typical example of a Rhine or Danube tug is Adolf Linden IV, seen
near Koln on the Rhein in 1958 in a photo kindly supplied by Alan
OFF-TOPIC : SHORT
SEA FERRIES FROM GREAT BRITAIN (brief notes included for indication purposes only)
Royal Navy, finding that paddle steamers were ideal for use as
minesweepers, ordered purpose built vessels during World War II,
including the ill-fated Kempton (below). Two steamers found use as
passenger ships following their purchase from shipbreakers in 1927 and
are featured in this database. For more about the Navy paddlers, click
on the link above.
OFF TOPIC : PADDLERS WITH STEAM TURBINE ENGINES : Tried but never followed through on Turbines
fitted to three experimental paddle tugs built for use on the
River Rhein in the mid 1920s and one on the River Rhone, but it never
caught on and as far as the
webmaster knows, was not attempted elsewhere. The photo and
drawing below show the turbine and reduction gear fitted to the tug
"Dordrecht". Photo courtesy of Felix Brun of Alstom Power (successors to
Brown Boveri) archive.
The tugs were :
PT Zurich (1922) : Escher Wyss (Zurich) PT Dordrecht (1925) : Schiffs- und Maschinenbau Gesellschaft (Mannheim) / Brown Boveri Company PT Toulon (1929) : Sachsenberg / Parsons PT Rhone (1931) : Escher, Wyss (Zurich)
Above : Rhine turbine paddle tug "Dordrecht" at Kaub. Photo courtesy of Felix Brun / Alstom Power archive
ship was built for Dutch owners and with collapsable funnels so as to
be able to sail beyond Basel in Switzerland. She was one of the
longest Rhine tugs at 77.81 metres and was 22.20 metres in breadth.
Steam was fed to two turbines, one high-pressure, the other low.
There was one reverse turbine. Gearing reduced the revolutions from 3600 to 38. Reboilered in 1954 she
was withdrawn in 1957, parts of her boiler reused in another vessel and
the forward part of her hull used as a boathouse at Mannheim