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Historical Database
South Devon Coast
Despite the area being a major tourist and holiday destination, excursion services remained reasonably undeveloped. Without the potential for ferry traffic, excursions were offered often by private individuals, smaller companies with limited capitalisation, or established operators from other areas making short-lived attempts to capitalise on the tourist potential.

The area also suffered from the lack of any significant number of piers and local practice became to run vessels on to the beach, supported by strengthened bow plating and stern anchors to hold the vessels firm. This manoeuvre was not without its difficulty, as illustrated by the wrecking of PS Duchess of Devonshire at Sidmouth beach in 1934. This problem limited the suitability of the area for many vessels. Campbell’s large turbine steamer Empress Queen was placed at Torquay in the early 1950s with little success, having to undertake longer trips such as to the Channel Isles rather than the more lucrative coastal day trips.

One ambitious attempt to place a steamer at Plymouth, the region’s largest city and an important naval centre, led to the building of PS Plymouth Belle in 1895, by far the largest vessel built for service in the area. Again, her main sailings were to the Channel Isles and she never established a position in the coastal cruising market.

The last attempt to base a paddler in South Devon was in 1960 and 1961 when Torbay Steamers Ltd ran the ex-Solent paddler PS Princess Elizabeth from Torquay. Smaller paddlers continued to serve the River Dart in south Devon until 1965 and coastal cruising was left in the hands of the local motor launch owners. The one sizeable motor vessel used was MV Devoniun (formerly P&A Campbell's MV Devonia) in 1982.

Main Operators and vessels

Ellett & Matthews / Devon Steamship Company / Devon Dock, Pier & Steamship Co. (1891-1932)

Operated the ex-Wemounth paddler PS Prince in 1891 from Exmouth and established the Devon Steamship Company to develop the enterprise. A new steamer, PS Duchess of Devonshire was delivered in 1892 to replace the much smaller Prince, and four years later took delivery of a similar vessel, named Duke of Devonshire. The company became the Devon Dock, Pier and Steamship Company in 1898. Services were suspended during World War I and resumed in 1920. The Duchess was laid up for the 1930 season. After the 1932 season, both ships were put up for sale. The Duchess went to the South Devon & West Bay Steamship Co, remaining in the area, the Duke being sold to operators at Cork in Ireland.

Prince (1891)
Duchess of Devonshire (From 1892)
Duke of Devonshire (From 1896)

The Saltash Three Towns & District Steamboat Co.

Alexandra  (1893-1912)

Plymouth Belle Steamship Company

At 654 gross tonnes, Plymouth Belle, delivered in 1895 for a company established specially to operate her by local businessman Mr W Dusting, was an exceptionally large steamer. Mainly offered over-night or longer trips to the Channel Islands and the Isles of Scilly. The vessel left the area on charter in 1896 and left the uK for a successful career in Germany soon afterwards. Sailing opportunities at Plymouth were left in the hands of the small railway-owned tug tenders that frequented the harbour and Plymouth Sound.

Plymouth Belle

The Plymouth Promenade Pier & Pavilion Co

Alexandra (1913-1928)
Built in 1888 by W Allsup & Sons of Preston
Length  125.7 ft  :  127 GRT
Engines : oscillating  20 and 38 in x 36 in

Cosens & Co (on station 1925-1927)

Weymouth operators Cosens stationed PS Alexandra at Torquay for three seasons between 1925 and 1927 with little success.


P & A Campbell (on station 1932-1933 and 1951)

The well established Bristol Channel operators who also stationed an number of their fleet on the Sussex coast for the summer season, sent PS Westward Ho to the south Devon coast in 1932 and 1933 offering escursions along the Devon, Dorset and Cornwall coasts.

The Campbell company made a second attempt at establishing profitable trade in south Devon when the turbine steamer Empress Queen was based at Torquay in 1951, but she was too large for coastal cruising and was unable to call at the beaches of resorts where no formal port facilities existed. The longer cruises, including to the Channel Islands were unprofitable and the enterprise was not repeated.

Westward Ho (1932-1933)
TS Empress Queen (1951)

South Devon & West Bay Steamship Company (1933-1934)

The Duchess of Devonshire was taken over from her long-term operators and under new management cruised from Exmouth in 1933 and Torquay in 1934. The ship was wrecked after being swept on to Sidmouth beach in August 1934, a tragic casualty of the dangerous beach landing method, following the failure of one of her kedge anchors to keep her in position.

Duchess of Devonshire (1933-1934)

Alexander Taylor (1936-1937)

Purchased the Duke of Devonshire from Irish exile and operated cruises in the 1936 and 1937 seasons before selling the vessel to Cosens & Co in early 1938, after which the vessel became the well-known PS Consul and was to enjoy a further 25 years of life.

Duke of Devonshire (1936-1937)

South Western Steam Navigation Company (1947-1948)

In 1947, the Essex Queen, previously operating on the Thames and Medway was purchased to restore excursion services to Devon and given the name PS Pride of Devon. Operated for the1947 and 1948 seasons before being laid up and eventually scrapped.

Pride of Devon (1947-1948)

Torbay Steamers Ltd

After being withdrawn from her duties in the Solent as part of the Red Funnel fleet, PS Princess Elizabeth came into the ownership of Mr E Rhodes who formed Torbay Steamer Ltd to operate her out of Torquay in the 1961 season. It is difficult to judge whether this attempt to re-establish services in Devon would have been successful. Mr Rohodes took his vessel to Bournemouth after a dispute with the Torquay town authorities.

Princess Elizabeth (1961)

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Historical Database