THE FIRST STEAMBOAT SERVICES
first steamer to run commercially in Europe was built on the Clyde in
1811-12 to the order of Henry Bell (1767-1830), who had submitted
proposals to the British Admiralty in 1800 for the steam propulsion
of vessels. The Comet had a 4-h.p engine driving two side paddle wheels;
on her trials in August 1812 she steamed from Greenock to Glasgow, about
20 miles, in three and a half hours. John Knox (1778-1845) the
Scottish artist painted this view The Paddle Steamer Comet on the
Clyde, 1812 (left) from Dalnotter Hill of the historic voyage of
the tiny Comet along the Clyde between the tall sailing ships.
in 1819 used Comet to establish steam communications between the West
Highlands and Glasgow. The Margery, launched in Dumbarton in 1814 was
the first 'steam packet' to be seen on the River Thames in January 1815,
astonishing the crews of the ships anchored in the harbour and the London
public. She maintained a public service between London and Gravesend,
until she was sold to a Paris operator, who renamed her Elise. She sailed
from Newhaven on the 17th March 1816 and after a stormy voyage across
the Channel reached Le Havre after 17 hours at sea, the first paddle
steamer to make the crossing. She then sailed down the Seine to receive
a tumultuous welcome on arrival in Paris, the occasion being celebrated
with the issue of a coloured print inscribed; Arrivée de Londres
à Paris le 29 Mars 1816 du bateau à vapeur 'Elise'
(above right). She remained there to carry passengers along the Seine
between Rouen and Elbeuf. By now in England passenger steamboats were
plying on the Thames, Mersey, Trent, Tyne, Ouse and Humber rivers, and
there was a ferry service between Scotland and Ireland.
In 1816 William Wager crossed the North Sea from Margate to Rotterdam
in his steamboat Defiance; this had the new feature of a permanent awning
structure abaft the funnel to provide sheltered deck space at the stern
for the passengers, an improvement introduced by Watt's son James on
his steamboat Caledonia, (1815). King Willem welcomed and honoured Wager,
but refused to grant him the concession to operate four steamboats on
the Dutch inland waterways, largely in response to the objections of
the city councils of Rotterdam and Amsterdam. They feared the effect
this fast and comfortable transport would have on established stagecoach
and horse-drawn passenger-boat services (described as the 'trekvaart'
in the essay on Rivers and Canals).
1821 the 88-ton Rob Roy with a 30 h.p engine established a regular Dover-Calais
service taking about 2 hrs.45 mins. Only two years later the Chain Pier
at Brighton (see left, Turner, The Chain Pier, Brighton) was built to
provide a landing stage for the steamboat Swift (80 h.p) to operate
a bi-weekly service to Dieppe.
first iron steamboat was built in 1821 by Aaron Manby (1776-1850),
an iron-master from near Tipton, in association with Captain, later
Admiral Sir Charles Napier. The hull was fabricated in sections
at the Horseley ironworks, which were taken to London and assembled
at the Surrey docks. The 116 ton Aaron Manby crossed the Channel to
Le Havre, thus becoming the first iron-built vessel ever to put to sea,
and proceeded up the Seine to arrive in Paris on the 10th June 1822,
It provided a steamship service between Paris and Le Havre, and was
the precursor of two further iron steamboats, built by Manby in his
new ironworks built on the Seine. The vessel remained in working condition
until 1842. The river Seine service was thereby dominated by British-built
steamboats, a source of some pride to Turner, who included them in many
of his pictures and sketches.