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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 Robert Fulton's North River Steamboat was built to celebrate the centenary of the world's first commercially successful steamship which sailed on the Hudson River at New York City from 1807. Detroit Publishing Co photo at the Library of Congress - in the public domain


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. This replica, owned by the local authority (Inverclyde Council), was located alongside the main road through Port Glasgow on the Clyde estuary. The wooden-hulled ship deteriorated badly and was beyond economic repair by the time she was dismantled in April 2023. Photo by Gordon Stewart


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.

These 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.

Illustrations : Whilst it would be possible to illustrate almost all vessels with images available on the internet which are out of copyright and in the public domain by virtue of age, most will not be used and readers are encouraged to do their own research for photos. A limited number will be used, especially to illustrate the final paddle steamer designs for areas (particularly mainland Europe) where such vessels no longer operate. Others will be used for special reports eg : the paddle steamers owned and operated by the travel company Thomas Cook on the river Nile in Egypt whose photos were used with the agreement of Thomas Cook Travel and supplied from their archive. Other illustrated reports include paddle steamers in areas outside Europe for the benefit of European-based researchers looking to get a basic understanding of overseas fleets. I give my thanks to anyone who has made public domain photos available on the internet

This website is for educational purposes only


It is very rare for paddle steamers to have been scrapped in the 21st century but a few have :  Click here for details


Great Britain 


List of British Excursion Paddle Steamers (not fully comprehensive - only those profiled individually on this website and excludes short-sea vessels)

COASTAL and MAJOR ESTUARINE EXCURSION and ferry PADDLE STEAMER SAILING AREAS

Firth of Clyde
Western Isles (including Caledonian Canal and Loch Ness)
Firth of Forth
Firth of Tay


Thames Estuary, River Medway and North Kent, Essex and Suffolk
South Coast (Sussex)
South Coast  (Solent and Dorset Coast)
South Coast (Devon)
Bristol Channel
North Wales, Liverpool, Blackpool and Morecambe Bay
North Riding of Yorkshire
East Riding of Yorkshire

LAKE SERVICES

Loch Lomond
Windermere

RIVER SERVICES

River Thames (London)
East Anglia
River Dart
River Tamar
River Ouse (Yorkshire) and the Humber
River Trent and the Humber
River Tyne

CROSS-RIVER AND ESTUARY POINT-TO-POINT FERRY SERVICES

The 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, Tay and Severn estuaries. The crossings from the mainland to the Isle of Wight continue in the hands of ferries with paddle steamers surviving into the late 1960s before being replaced. Other major ferry crossings included the Mersey crossing between Liverpool and Birkenhead and other piers on the Wirral, where paddle steamers dominated only until the beginning of the 20th century, after which all new-build was for screw-propelled ships. Whilst no bridge has been built across the Mersey estuary, tunnels have existed for the railway (since 1886) and road vehicles (1934 and 1971). These have taken the vast majority of traffic away from the ferries which continue to run with a more limited service today.
The Pembroke to Neyland ferry is notable for being the location of the last first-generation paddle steamer built for use in the UK, Cleddau Queen.


Portsmouth - Ryde : Solent
Yarmouth - Lymington : Solent
Southampton-Cowes : Solent
Hythe - Southampton : Southampton Water
Woolwich - North Woolwich : River Thames
Tilbury - Gravesend : River Thames
Hull - New Holland : Humber Estuary

Liverpool - Birkenhead / Wallasey : Mersey Estuary
Eastham Ferry : Mersey Estuary
North - South Queensferry and Granton - Burntisland : Firth of Forth
Dundee - Newport  and Broughty - Tayport : Firth of Tay
Pembroke Dock - Neyland : River Cleddau/Milford Haven
Dartmouth - Kingswear : River Dart

London Ambulance Service to Long Reach Dartford floating isolation hospital


CHANNEL ISLANDS  
(see also Normandy / Jersey listed under France (below)

Alderney Steam Packet Co


Ireland
Belfast Lough
Lough Foyle
Lough Mahon
Rivers Suir and Barrow
River Shannon
Galway Bay
Blackwater River

Switzerland


Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstattersee)
Lake Geneva (Lac Leman)
Lake Zurich (Zurichsee)
Lake Brienz (Brienzersee)
Lake Thun (Thunersee)
Lake Constance (Bodensee)
Lacs de Neuchatel et de Morat

Smaller Swiss Lakes and Rivers

Italy

Lake Garda
Lake Maggiore
Lake Como

Bay of Naples

Netherlands
River Rhein
Lek and Nieuwe Maas Rivers / Other Netherlands

Germany
River

River Rhein
River Elbe (upper) - Dresden
River Elbe (lower) - Lauenburg
River Weser
River Memel and the Curonian Lagoon (East Prussia - now Russia/Lithuania) and Danzig

Lake

Lake Constance (Bodensee)
Ammersee


Estuary and short sea

River Elbe (estuary) and services to the sea resorts and Helgoland
River Weser (estuary) and services to the sea resorts and Helgoland
River Ems and services to the Ostfriesian islands
Nordfriesian islands-based operators
Pomerania and services to the Baltic islands and to Sweden
Mecklenburg and services to  Denmark


Austria
River Danube

Lake Constance (Bodensee)
Traunsee
Attersee
Mondsee

Czech Republic (ex- Czechoslovakia, ex- Austrian Bohemia)

Rivers Vltava (Moldau) and Labe (Elbe)

Hungary
River Danube

Lake Balaton

Romania
River Danube
Poland
River Vistula

France
River Rhone
River Seine and Normandie Coast
Normandy Coast and Jersey
La Rochelle to the Ile de Re and the Ile d'Oleron
River Garonne and Gironde Estuary
Lake Annecy
Lac du Bourget

Denmark
Oresund Crossing / Rail Ferries / DFDS services

Norway
Lake Mjosa

Gibraltar
Algeciras - Gibraltar
Turkey
Istanbul / Bosphoros

PADDLE STEAMER OPERATIONS OUTSIDE EUROPE

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

The 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

River Nile      Illustrated with the kind help of Paul Cook, archivist at Thomas Cook Travel


Iraq / Ottoman Mesopotamia
Euphrates & Tigris Rivers
Burma (Myanmar)

Irrawaddy River


India, Pakistan & Bangladesh
Ganges (Padma) and Brahmaputra Rivers
River Indus

Australia


Port Phillip Bay VIC
Sydney Harbour, Port Jackson and Manly NSW

Newcastle & Hunter River NSW
Clarence, Richmond & Macleay Rivers NSW
Southern New South Wales Coast
Queensland

Tasmania


New Zealand

North Island
South Island


China  

China - major Scottish-built paddle steamers


Americas  


USA and Canada  Including an illustrated listing of side-wheelers operational in 1900 and 20th century new-builds

Argentina and Uruguay  Illustrating the large number of Clyde-built paddle steamers operating on the River Plate

Brazil (Amazon River)
Brazil (Rio de Janeiro and surroundings)
Brazil (East Coast)
 .

SHORT SEA FERRIES FROM GREAT BRITAIN  (brief notes included for indication purposes only)

Trade around the coast of the UK and including Ireland had been conducted by sailing vessels but paddle steamers sound found a big market here. Numerous businessmen set up companies to conduct the trade, often between two ports with the company name reflecting this. Early steamers were generally used for cargo and a limited but growing number of passengers. Once regular postal services were established in the 1840s, contracts to handle mails became important. The advent of the railways gave a great impetus to passenger traffic between Great Britain and Ireland and continental Europe and companies associated with the railways and later the railway companies themselves began to dominate passenger traffic almost completely. These services were fast, point-to-point services, usually linking with railway services at the destination for onward travellers. 

On short-sea ferry connections paddle steamers quickly lost prominence to screw steamers after the advent of turbine power at the beginning of the 20th century and turbines were specified for new-build steamers. Speed was of the essence for cross-channel work and turbines proved to be considerably more economical when achieving over 20 knots. Few vessels survived into the Edwardian era (from 1910) and no British paddlers on the English Channel ferry routes survived until World War I. Only eight emerged after World War I in 1918, with French, Dutch and Belgian ferry operators. The last survivor, Belgian paddler Princesse Clementine, was demolished in 1928. The very last paddler on any UK short sea crossing was the Isle of Man steamer Mona's Queen of 1885 which was withdrawn in 1929.

Some pleasure steamer operators provided day excursion services to France. P & A Campbell, for example, operated passenger excursions to French ports from Sussex piers and local operators were also active in this business. These were possible when "no-passport" trips were allowed, in the 1930s and again after 1955). They were not ferry services and not associated with railway connections for onward travel.

The General Steam Navigation Company was perhaps unique in that it was a major shipping company combining its main cargo and passenger services with its own dedicated Thames Estuary excursion business. Although much of the business of the latter was in taking Londoners to the resorts in north and eastern Kent, many of these services were extended for day trips to France and Belgium.

Not all companies, ships or services are listed, especially in the early period (1814-1860) when numerous shipping companies were involved in cargo transport but also carried passengers 
For a comprehensive annotated photographic record through historical postcards : go to Ian Boyle's Simplon Post Cards Website : http://www.simplonpc.co.uk 



The accolade of the last paddle steamer built in the UK for cross-channel services goes to Mabel Grace (above) ordered by the South Eastern Railway from Laird Brothers of Birkenhead and put into service in 1899 after the company had merged its business with the London, Chatham & Dover Railway to form the South Eastern & Chatham Railway. Her regular route was from Folkestone to Boulogne in France. The turbine revolution which began in 1902 was so complete that Mabel Grace only had a very short life - ten years.  Her French contemporaries, the giant twins Le Nord and Pas de Calais, which ran between Calais and Dover, survived until 1923.
Photo in public domain. originally issued by J Adamson of Rothesay,the well known ship photographer and card publisher. Photo taken during her speed trials on the Clyde. Later in her life an enclosed wheelhouse was added on a bridge moved to in front of the forward funnel.
Note : The longest paddle steamer built for short-sea service in UK waters was Ireland of 1885 (366.3 ft) and the last in service was Mona's Queen of 1885 (1929)

Great Britain to the Isle of Man

Isle of Man Steam Packet Co

Isle of Man, Liverpool & Manchester Steamship Co

Liverpool & Douglas Steamers Ltd

Barrow Steam Navigation Co


  
Great Britain to Ireland 

Longest paddle steamer : Ireland (1885) of the City of Dublin SP Co
Last paddle steamer built : Iverna (1895) of the Drogheda SP Co
Last paddle steamer in service : Earl of Erne of the Dundalk & Newry SP Co (1918)

London and North Western Railway  

Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway   

Drogheda Steam Packet Company

City of Dublin Steam Packet Company

British & Irish Steam Packet Company

Liverpool & Dublin Steam Navigation Company

St George Steam Packet Co : City of Cork Steamship Co

Great Western Railway

Dundalk & Newry Steam Packet Company

Dublin & Glasgow Steam Packet Co

Dublin, Cork & Glasgow Steam Packet Co

Portpatrick & Wigtownshire Joint Committe

G & J Burns

North British Steam Packet Co

Barrow Steam Navigation Co

Bristol General Steam Navigation Co


Great Britain to the Channel Islands



Weymouth and Channel Islands Steam Packet Company (in association with the Great Western Railway)

London & South Western Railway


Great Britain to France. Belgium, Netherlands & Germany

General Steam Navigation Company



Great Britain to France (Calais, Boulogne & Dieppe)

South Eastern Railway
English, French & Belgian Royal Mail Co :  London, Chatham & Dover Railway
South Eastern and Chatham


London, Brighton & South Coast Railway / South Western and Brighton Railway Companies Steam Packet Service
 

Compagnie des Chemins de Fer du Nord


Great Britain to France (Le Havre)

London & South Western Railway

Great Britain to France (Cherbourg)

Great Western Railway


Great Britain to Belgium

Regie voor Maritiem Transport


Great Britain to the Netherlands

Great Eastern Railway
Stoomvaart Maatschappij Zeeland


PADDLE MINESWEEPERS BUILT FOR THE ROYAL NAVY IN WORLD WAR I



The Royal Navy, finding that paddle steamers were ideal for use as minesweepers having requisitioned passenger ferries for such work in World War I ordered thirty-two such purpose built vessels. Two of these found use in passenger fleets following their purchase from shipbreakers in 1927 (including Atherstone, seen in a RN photo above) and are featured in this database. For more about the Navy paddlers click on the link below.

Go to :  
Royal Navy Paddle Minesweepers

Paddle steamers were deemed to be unsuitable for use in direct battles as "ships of the line" primarily because their paddle wheels were exposed to enemy fire but also because the wheels took up space which otherwise would be used for cannons. Paddle-driven frigates and sloops were common in the 1840s but screw steamships usurped paddles quickly. Several navies did continue to build paddle steamers, but mainly as Avisos, out of range of battles but in support of the fighting forces, particularly with regard to transporting messages before the inception of telegraphy. The high speed of paddle steamers made them particularly useful for this role. Click here for details of paddle Avisos in the service of the Ottoman Navy. Navies also built paddle steamers for support roles : harbour tugs and survey vessels in particular. 

ROYAL YACHTS

Royal Yachts became popular status symbols and important instrument of state for several monarchs in the 19th century, most notably Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom in whose long reign three paddle steaming yachts were commissioned. However, it was Denmark which can claim to have had the last such vessel built for a European monarch and also the longest surviving. 



Denmark can claim the most modern paddle steamer built in Europe for royal use and the last such vessel to be decommissioned
Dannebrog entered royal service in 1880. She is seen above in 1913 after a major reconstruction in 1907 when she was lengthened, re-engined and received a second funnel. She was replaced in 1932 by a diesel-engined screw ship of the same name and was scrapped during 1934 
Photo by kind courtesy of Nationalmuseet Kobenhavn : Creative Commons licence  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

Go to :  Royal Yachts


PADDLE TUGS

Paddle tugs were built in enormous numbers for hauling barges, especially along major continental rivers, and for harbour work, manoevring larger sea-going vessels into position. Navies also built their own tugs for attending tio their military vessels. Some harbour tugs also acted as tenders, having some capacity for passengers for short transfers from shore to larger vessels which moored away from any quayside. Particularly in the UK, some of these vessels were used to provide short passenger excursions when available  

No history of paddle tugs is attempted in this database




Above : A typical example of a major river barge-hauling tug is Adolf Linden IV, seen near Koln on the Rhein in 1958 in a photo kindly supplied by Alan Murray-Rust.

Go to : Paddle Tugs

OTHER TOPICS

French Transatlantic Paddle Steamers

Special acknowledgement
Two related sources of much data : The Clyde built ships database  http://www.clydeships.co.uk/    and the UK Shipping & Shipbuilding database  http://shippingandshipbuilding.uk/

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