paddlesteamers.info  :  The Internet's leading website for Side-Wheeled Paddle Steamers


Thames Estuary, River Medway, Kent, Essex and East Anglia Coast, England, U.K.
General Steam Navigation Company
The General Steam Navigation Company traces its history back to 1824 and in the 1960s it was absorbed into the shipping conglomerate P&O which continues to provide car ferry services between the U.K and France, one of the specialities of the GSN company.

The GSN was always a diversified shipping operation with deep sea interests as well as its excursion business in the Thames Estuary. This led to a financial stability which allowed it to outlast its competitors, although for short periods of time, Belle Steamers and the Victoria Steamboat Association were able to outclass it with their newer vessels.

The backbone of the GSN's services were the five so-called "Classical Birds" built between 1887 and 1889 which immediately preceded such luxurious but ultimately financially crippling vessels such as Victoria's PS La Marguerite.

Unsuccessfully experimenting with a turbine steamer (Kingfisher of 1906), GSN reverted to paddlers in 1909 and with three "Eagle" steamers built between 1909 and 1932, they came to dominate the excursion trade on the Essex and north Kent coasts. In 1937, the GSN effectively took over the New Medway Steam Packet Company, which had become its major competitor and in the 1930s introduced a number of large innovative motor ships and the two fleets, whilst nominally independent, were thereafter operated in association with each other.

Following World War II the GSN provided services very much as throughout the previous years albeit with motor vessels rather than paddle steamers until the end of 1966, when it was announced that they were withdrawing from the trade. Their subsidiary on the Medway continued to operate paddle steamer Medway Queen locally until  the end of the 1963 season.



Royal Eagle of 1932 was the last and in capacity terms the largest paddle steamer built specifically for Thames Estuary excursion sailings and remained the largest such UK vessel throughout her life. She did not match a number of earlier Thames paddlers which had disappeared by 1932, but joined fleet-mate Crested Eagle of 1925 which was longer but of lower tonnage capacity. She provided primarily day trips to Southend and onwards to  the Kent coast resorts as far as Ramsgate. Her life after World War II was limited as the combined GSN/NMSP fleet had a number of large motor ships including new builds to replace wartime losses and the expensive-to-run Royal Eagle became an anachronism, spending much of her time laid up before being scrapped in 1953. Paddle Steamer Medway Queen, much smaller in size and based in the lower estuary continued in service until 1964.
Photo in the public domain


Important Pre-World War I vessels on GSN's coastal services
Hoboken (1873-1898)
Halcyon
(1887-1906)
Mavis
(1888-1909)
Oriole
(1888-1912)
Laverock
(1889-1908)
Philomel (1
889-1907)
Eagle
(1898-1928)
     Kingfisher (Turbine steamer, 1906-1912)
Golden Eagle
(1909-1951)

1918-1937 New Build
Crested Eagle (1925-1939)
Royal Eagle
(1932-1953)

1918-1939 Second Hand Purchases
Royal Sovereign (1929-1930)
Isle of Arran
(1934-1936)
Laguna Belle
(1936-1946)

New Medway Steam Packet Co : fleet in 1937
City of Rochester (to 1939 - lost during World War II)
Queen of Southend
(to 1939 - not reconditioned after war)
Medway Queen
(to 1964)
Clacton Queen
Essex Queen
(to 1939 - sold after release from wartime duty)
Queen of Thanet
(to 1949)
Queen of Kent
(to 1949)

Screw steamer
   SS Royal Daffodil (to 1938)

Motor vessels
  MV Queen of the Channel (to 1939)
  MV Royal Sovereign (to 1939)

New Build 1939 in association with the New Medway Steam Packet Co
  MV Royal Daffodil

Post 1945 New Build (GSN)
  MV Queen of the Channel
  MV Royal Sovereign

Post World War II, the GSN service was provided by PS Golden Eagle, PS Royal Eagle and MV Royal Daffodil
MV Royal Sovereign and MV Queen of the Channel were built to replace wartime losses of ships of the same name.

The New Medway Steam Packet Co's post-war service was undertaken by PS Queen of Kent (sold 1948) and PS Queen of Thanet (sold 1948) and PS Medway Queen (withdrawn in 1963).

GSN/NMSP purchased two smaller motor vessels, ex-landing craft Rochester Queen and MV Crested Eagle (ex-Royal Lady, built 1938) for shorter runs.
Rochester Queen was bought late in 1948 primarily for the Sheerness-Herne Bay run. She was sold to German owners in 1956.
Crested Eagle was in the fleet from 1948 until 1957 before moving to Maltese waters as MV Imperial Eagle and surviving until scrapped in 1974.

PS Golden Eagle (in 1949) and PS Royal Eagle (1950) were withdrawn soon after the introduction of the new tonnage. Royal Eagle, at 292 feet was, by this time, the largest operational paddler in the UK, but uneconomic to run and taken out of service after a very short life.

Return to:
River Thames Historical
Clyde Turbine Steamers