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River Seine and Normandie Coast, France
The Seine is one of France's major rivers, linking the national capital, Paris, to the sea at Le Havre and flowing through Rouen, the capital of the province of Normandy. Always a major transport route, its importance declined with the advent of railways, but Le Havre remains a major international sea port. Paddle steamers provided a transport service along the river for a short time and excursions, particularly out of Rouen, for a little longer. They also found a role in crossing the Seine estuary and linking Le Havre with the coastal resorts of Normandy, particularly Trouville.


Rouen and the River Seine

The first steamship to navigate the River Seine to Paris was the Elise in 1816 and from August the following year instituted a regular daily service between Elbeuf and Rouen. The service lasted for two years until technical issues brought it to an end. Elise had been built in 1814 by Archibald McLachlan at Dumbarton, Scotland as Margery to inaugurate a service on the Thames between London and Gravesend. The enterprise faltered in the face of opposition from vested interests (ie the Thames "watermen") so the ship was sent to France, becoming the first steamship to cross the English Channel, reaching Paris on March 16th, 1816.   

Not until 1826 were services resumed with the paddle steamer Dauphin after which there was rapid growth with new vessels and expanded services all leading to intense competition between ship owners on services linking Rouen with Paris upstream and also downstream to the coast at Le Havre. Traffic was most intense in the area around Rouen but business upstream to Elbeuf tailed off considerably after the opening of a railway in 1853, but downstream to La Bouille, the railway did not arrive until 1883. After this time, freight traffic continued using screw steamships and passenger vessels, paddle steamers amongst them, sought a new market in offering local excursions, particularly on weekends and public holidays.  The local Compagnie des Bateaux Omnibus offered a Rouen to Le Havre outing in association with the local railway company for Parisians who then returned fully by railway and the motor vessel Felix Faure, built in Nantes in 1896 was the regular vessel on that route. From 1909 the "Omnibus" comaony became the Compagnie Rouennaise de Navigation a Vapeur.

Some later paddle steamers :

Chamois was built in 1875 for Louis Bertin's Rouen-Honfleur-Le Havre route.

Antilope was a cargo and occasional passenger steamer built in Nantes in 1896 for service on the Loire. It sailed on the Seine itself and along the coast and was seen at Trouville and as far away as Cherbourg

Elan

Boieldieu was the former Vanbrugh built in 1905 for service in London but only running there for two years as the city council's over-ambitious water-bus scheme collapsed in financial disarray. sailed for the Cie Rouennaise de Navigation until the late 1930s

Jersey was bought by the Cie Rouennaise de Navigation in 1913 from the Great Yarmouth Steam Towing Company of the UK where the 1896-built paddle steamer had been called Lord Nelson. Built by Allsup in Preston she was 133.3 ft long and had a GRT of 229. She had two single-cylinder diagonal engines of 30 x 48 in.  She was later sold and renamed Au Revoir as a tender to ocean liners and later La Dryade




Above : Chamois in a post card view at Le Havre



Above : Post card view of Antilope on a trip out to sea to Trouville



Above : Leon & Levy post card view of Elan  near the Transporter Bridge which was built in 1898 and destroyed in 1940 to delay the advance of invading German troops.



Above : Post card view of Boieldieu at the favoured excursion destination of La Bouille



Above : Jersey in her earlier life as Lord Nelson. Photo on the Shipping and Shipbuilding UK database


Le Havre and the Normandie Coast

As well as services down the Seine to Rouen, paddle steamers took passengers from the major port town of Le Havre across the Seine estuary to Honfleur and onward along the Normandie coast to the resort of Trouville and as far as the city of Caen on the river Orne. Paddle steamer replacement had already begun on the passenger service by 1882 when the first screw steamer was introduced on to the run 

The first paddle steamer ailing across the estuary was the Triton in 1820. Services from Le Havre to Caen were established in 1837 with the formation of the "Societe des Paquebots a vapeur entre le Havre et Caen" with the ships Calvados, Neustrie and Orne. In 1839 three ships, Colibri, Ocean and Vesuve established a service to Cherbourg. In 1843 services began between La Havre and Trouville.

The "Compagnie Anonyme des Paquebots a vapeur entre le Havre, Caen, Honfleur et les ports de la Normandie" was established in 1862 following a number of amalgamations and the fleet consisted of Cygne, Orne, Manche, Normandie and Calvados. The company was then re-established in 1897 as "Compagnie Normande de Navigation a Vapeur".  Much of their business was in cargo with dedicated screw steamers. 


Known later paddle steamers

Le Francais  (1835-1875, built for the Vieillard company's Le Havre- Honfleur route)
Le Courrier
former Calais to Dover steamer purchased by Deschamps from Vieillard & Cie. Wrecked at Ouistreham in 1885)

Orne (1851, built by Chantiers Auguste Normande at Le Havre for service to Caen)
Cygne (1851-1894, built by Normande. Operated from Carteret to Jersey for the Cie Rouennaise de Navigation until 1912)

Eclair (1856-1879, sold to Louis Bertin for his Seine service to Rouen, then later to the Cie des Bateaux Omnibus )

Francois 1er (1866-1911, sailed principally between Le Havre and Honfleur)
Hirondelle
(1875-1928, built by Chantier des Nieges in Le Havre for the service to Caen)
Rapide
(1881-1938)
Gazelle
(1884-1937, built by Chantiers Auguste Normande at Le Havre for the Cie Normande's Trouville service)
La Touques (1901-1940)


In 1878 a new company the Compagnie of Steamers chartered two paddle steamers to challenge the main incumbent operators of the Le Havre-Trouville service, Deschamps' Compagnie des Paquebots a Vapeur. The ships brought in were old cross-channel paddle steamers Diamant and Perle.
 
Diamant dated from 1846 when she was built for the Belgian Governement by London shipbuilders  Ditchburn & Mare with engines by Maudsley and originally named Chemins de Fer. Renamed Diamant in 1852, she ran the packet service between Ostend and Dover. In 1872 she was bought by French owners, renamed Nord and put on the Calais to Dover service.  

Perle was built by Thames Ironworks in Blackwall, London in 1859 as John Penn for cross-channel service, becoming part of the Chatham & South Eastern Railways in 1864.
Oscillating engines were by John Penn & Sons 
She was renamed Perle when bought by the Belgian governement in 1866 to partner Diamant on the Ostend to Dover run and followed Diamant into French ownership.

The challenge only lasted two years. Diamant was then in the posession of Compagnie des Paquebots a Vapeur until 1882. Perle was converted to a barge and used on the Seine



Above : Rapide at Trouville in a Leon & Levy post card view



Above : Leon & Levy post card view of La Touques leaving Trouville. The final design of "Le Havre" paddle steamers and the last survivor. She had been laid up since 1937 in the port of Le Havre in view of the ferry run to Honfleur being deemed uneconomic when she was reactivated in 1940 to assist in the evacuation of civilians facing the advance of German troops. Her journey from Ouistreham aiming for St Malo came to an end when she was wrecked off Dinard. All passengers were saved. The ship was eventually raised and scrapped in St Malo in 1941.

Le Havre Harbour Paddle Tugs

Jean Bart (1872-1899) Built in London in 1859 as Enterprise
Trouville (1884-1888) Built in London in 1874 as Hibernia. Returned to UK to Middlesbrough as Hibernia. Served until 1917
Surcouf (1891-1900) Built in London in 1874 as Scotia.
Returned to UK to Middlesbrough as Scotia. Served until 1917
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Historical Database