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 Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife

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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Fri 03 Feb 2012, 16:57

I hesitated about posting this as it is basically a family history question (and I’m not sure I want to encourage the: “My name is John Smith, can anyone tell me where I can find my family tree…”, type of question). But since there are a few nautical experts here I would be grateful for any help they, or frankly anyone, cares to give.

My g.g.grandfather was master of a small steamship in the last quarter of the 19th century. This ship, the “Bob and Harry”, was too small to appear in Lloyd’s Register, but I have found her in the Mercantile Shipping Lists. She was a wooden steamship, built in 1870 in Newcastle upon Tyne: length 64 feet; breadth 19 feet; depth of hold 7 feet; net tonnage 25; gross tonnage 50; engine 14 hp, screw propelled.

Her home port was Newcastle (where gggfather lived). In the 1881 census she is recorded as being in port at Pittenweem, Scotland, with a crew of three: gggfather as “master”, his son as “engineer”, and an 18 year old lad as “fireman” ie stoker. From various sources her routes were from Newcastle to the ports of Fife, ie: Burtisland, Kirkaldy, Pittenweem, Crail... occasionally as far as Dundee. She seems to have been on long term charter (or a similar arrangement) to a merchant shipping firm based in central Newcastle who, from trade directories, seem to have dealt in such commodities as bagged coal, salt, pig iron, and lumber, while at the same time acting as approved shipping agents for Armstrong and Whitworth’s massive Tyneside shipbuilding and armaments business.

My questions are:

What sort of vessel was she? What did she probably look like? From her size and the trade she seems to have served, I have assumed she was something like an earlier version of a Clyde Puffer operating a bit in the style of Para Handy… albeit some 50 years earlier and in a different setting – would this be roughly correct ?

Also as I have stated above, the records suggest she may have carried coal, salt, iron… but all these commodities were, at the time, produced both in Newcastle and in Fife, while lumber was required equally at both destinations. So I’m a bit confused as to what her cargoes actually were. Any guesses anyone?

And finally gggfather’s occupation is always given as “master mariner” which I took to be owner/captain. But in the mercantile lists it is the Newcastle shipping agent who is given in the box labelled: “Sole Registered Owner or Managing Owner where there are more Owners than One”. So is a ship’s master not necessarily her owner?

Thanks for any suggestions and apologies if this posting is inappropriate for the forum.


Last edited by Meles meles on Fri 03 Feb 2012, 17:49; edited 3 times in total (Reason for editing : Comme d'ab... spelling & punctuation)
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normanhurst
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Sat 11 Feb 2012, 18:46

I saw this briefly and then it seemed to disappear… I thought you had deleted it for some reason, ref your bottom line. Maybe others thought the same. And then I disappeared

Although I have some nautical experience I’m certainly no expert so you can’t be referring to me… however I consider Gil to be an ‘expert’. (at most things)
What a fascinating little coaster your g.g.grandfathers ship was and so hard to picture a ship of that size having a profitable trade in the North Sea, I’m amazed at the size of the engine too… at just 14hp, hard to imagine, as I’ve a larger powered outboard on my dinghy.

Before I lost my internet connection last week I spent a good few hours searching for any info that may shed light on this type of vessel, and sad to say I’ve also drawn a blank, although I agree it would appear very much of a same with the Clyde puffers as you suggest.

The only thing I can suggest is to plead for old photos from the salty old seadogs that haunt the ports she worked out of… a lot of these old boys have vast photo collections of the vessels from their youth, but I wonder if it’s possible to glean any info from the archives of Armstrong and Whitworth’s as she was on charter to them… it could be worth a try. I suppose anything is possible via the Nett but I wouldn’t have a clue how to go about it.

I wonder if you would mind me passing over these details to some online friends that seem to have the knack of identifying anything from an old motorbike, or car from the merest of clues…

Are you familiar with the area and that section of the coast…

I know and have worked out of all the ports you mention other than Crail, but there’s one port in particular that used to bring a groan of dread whenever we had orders to go there… Methyl, what a dump. Dark and dingy and unsafe to even walk the docks at night. The only place I’ve ever seen steel shutters on every shop along the high street. However, when I stayed at Dysart for a month or so a couple of years back, I was able to have a really good look around the area… wow, what a transformation. Although it was thirty years or so since I last sailed into any of those Fife ports everything has changed… gone are the ships… and the docks, gone are the heavy industry, and gone are the mines… the dark and grimy harbour side cottages that I remember are all now brightly painted and the harbours are now filled with the pleasure boats of the rich…

Your description of her charter is very reminiscent of John Masefield’s poem ‘cargoes’:

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of
Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.


I would think there’s not many old coaster men that haven’t recited those words on a dark and stormy night while clutching a steaming mug of tea desperately trying to draw warmth from it as they ‘stood’ a watch.

From your description she seems to have been on a general cargoes contract… anything and everything… to and from wherever she could earn a few pounds.

As for the ships masters being the owner… sure enough some were, Onassis owned hundreds of ships but he wasn’t the captain of them… I sailed with a few owners, but generally they were engineers, and didn’t want anyone to know they were the owners, they said any idiot could stand up ‘top’ (on the bridge) and drive them. But he wouldn’t trust anyone to keep the heart of the ship beating… i.e. down in the engine room.

I wonder if it could even be possible to get a photo of this ship… what a bonus that would be…
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Sat 11 Feb 2012, 19:22

Sorry but I'm off at a tangent again. Norm, your thoughts about the sailor on watch made me think of how little in the essentials the cabotage trade has changed since the days when the Phoenicians were doing exactly what you and Meles are describing; going from port to port, picking up whatever was available and braving whatever the weather would throw at them. Don't you feel that any of these sailors, from any age would, despite the change in technology, immediately understand and empathise with each other? It's a bit like farming, the sea, like the earth, is what it always was and making your living from either is something very fundamental and in every sense elemental.
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Sat 11 Feb 2012, 22:52

http://www.nationalhistoricships.org.uk/ships_register.php?action=ship&id=146

http://www.nationalhistoricships.org.uk/ships_register.php?action=ship&id=473

The lives of the above pair - cargos carried etc - might help you get a picture of what she may have done.
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Sun 12 Feb 2012, 02:56

I don’t mind tangents ferval… and from you they always add a further dimension.

I worked many regular routes, and it was good to know where you were going… you got to know people in the ports, or villages we went to… also where it was ‘safe’ to go. At the same time I enjoyed being on general cargo tramping… never knowing where you were off to with the next cargo. Indeed some cargos we loaded, say in Europort Rotterdam, and proceeded to sea, but even before reaching the Hook of Holland towers, we’d had a radio call with a change of orders to proceed to a backwater in say Vlardigan a few miles upriver towards the town centre of Rotterdam to unload… the same cargo.

At other times on just one trip we changed directions five times in the English channel as the cargo in our hold was bought and sold while we were still at sea.

The gear we had on board, apart from having an engine was pretty much the same as Cook or Nelson would have used and recognised… all very basic stuff. A compass and a book of tables… We had a sextant, mainly used for navigation exercises, but more frequently used for taking bearings when the radar had packed up, but the radar was the most commonly used piece of navigation gear. True we had wireless telephone and a radio direction loop… as part of that, but it didn’t work on all the ships I served on, and only one had the all singing all dancing, state of the art ‘Decca navigator’ (now switched off.) That was phenomenal, and once ‘tuned in’ you could plot your way through a maze.

Of course nowadays even a mobile phone has GPS… but even so… about ten years ago I helped a crazy Irishman to deliver his newly acquired 56 foot ketch back to Ireland…

I’d never come across GPS before, and intended to do the navigation in the traditional manner… not so Jeremy the owner, who couldn’t even be bothered with the compass… somehow I knew we were doomed when he suddenly announced we were leaving Poole quay at the start of the voyage at two in the morning… he immediately started to complain the boat wasn’t answering the helm… how do you point out to someone… as diplomatically as possible, without bursting into fits of laughter that the vessel has to be making ‘way’ through the water before any rudder movement would affect the direction of the vessel. Or… that no matter how much he revved the engine… the quay was still in the same place… about thirty feet behind us… and still tethered to the boat.

Or that to get to Ireland from Poole… once outside the harbour you turn right… and head west… and at Lands End its right hand down a bit and a sharp right to go north towards Ireland…

So after I’d stowed all the gear away and lashed everything down… having hoisted the sails, made some samiches and mugs of coffee… whilst he was playing captain, and still doing his best to convince me that the GPS was far better than anything I knew, I couldn’t help noticing the pole star Polaris was on our portside and we were heading east… towards the Isle of Wight… the wrong way. Blimey he got really angry with me for that… strewth… such basic stuff I learnt as a boy scout.

And… stuff that the ancients knew well enough and used to navigate greater distances that we were about to attempt to go.

Coo blimey… I’ve gone off on one heck of a ramble… sorry.
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Sun 12 Feb 2012, 04:18

We get all sorts of yachts here, some almost as big as cruise ships with aerials, satelite dishes and other gizmos bristling everywhere. But I can't help but think that as impressive as it seems that it is not really sailing, whereas a propper yacht slicing through the water and with the sails full is a sight to behold.
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Sun 12 Feb 2012, 13:13

Norman - yes, I remember Decca, and its oceanic cousin, Loran - I wonder, though - do the old MW beacons still transmit the directional signals - a pattern of dots and dashes, with the bearing indicated by the transition - that we used to have in those days? I think we are getting too dependent on satellites - a really good electromagnetic storm in the troposphere and we'll be finding ULCCs trying to get into some benighted fishing port ....

MM - haven't had time to check yet, but those dimensions (64 x 19 x7) ring a bell - I think they are standard for a type of coastal / broad canal vessel, but I'm not sure which. Will check later.
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Sun 12 Feb 2012, 15:06

As I recall the beacons were turned off, not so long ago, having said that ‘not so long’ could be up to 15 years ago… or even less…



I agree we have become completely beholden to ultra modern technology, I went aboard a small posh yacht in Nayland marina Pembroke and was amazed at the navigation gear available to a boat of that size… in reality a chart and chart table is no longer a requirement as its all on a CD… loaded into the radar and plots not only your course but also the course and speed of all the other vessels on the screen, and even sounds an alarm if it detects a risk of collision, advises what action to take and can automatically make adjustments via the auto pilot to avoid the risk… as it happened the owner of the vessel was showing me around as I’d expressed an interest in buying it, he himself was an ex mercantile marine engineer, and stated his preference for the old fashioned and well tried and tested methods of course plotting. It makes me wonder just what we would resort to in the event of a complete collapse of the satellite system… what about if the mobile phone system was hacked into and taken over… I understand a lot of front line military communications in the gulf were made on mobile phones… furthermore… what’s happened to good old Morse… no longer a requirement to gain neither a ham licence, nor a radio opps licence at sea… when I think back at the struggle I had with my Morse… I tried not to go for ships with long names, as it was still required when entering the ‘Elbe’ on route to Hamburg… I dreaded it, tapping away out on the wing of the bridge on the trusty old Aldis lamp… best thing was to plan to arrive in daylight when the shore stations could read for themselves the name of the vessel…



MM coaster… I’m glad you’ve come aboard on this… interesting what you say about its dimensions… I think just suitable for the Caledonian and Crinnan canals… but the size of its engine… at just 14 HP… I wonder what speed she could maintain against a tide.
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Sun 12 Feb 2012, 19:39

Beware, Norman - hp figures for steam engines can be misleading in the extreme!
I would not be surprised if the HP given is NHP - Nominal Horse Power - derived from cylinder size, and not really a measure of HP - for a steam engine, you need (as I'm sure you know) to consider the IHP - Indicated Horse Power, which is more or less directly comparable to SHP or BHP, but
Quote :
Kempe's 'Engineer's Year-Book', 1898 edition, says of Nominal Horsepower "This may be taken as 1/6 of the Indicated Horsepower".

14bhp is about the rate for a motor narrowboat - one that will be towing a butty - and would give her about 4 knots, or would give about that in a wide canal barge.
14 NHP would by the above work out about 80 IHP - about the power of the engines of the WWII Motor Fishing Vessels of the 61'6" group - of 50 tons net, and gave them 8-9 knots.
The vessel we are considering would meet the size limits for the Crinan, Caledonian, or Forth & Clyde canals.
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Mon 13 Feb 2012, 01:46



How very remiss of me… I’ve had no experience of steam engines and completely overlooked that… that does put a completely different light on it then… but would that apply to turbines as well, or deal only with shaft HP.

The WWII Motor Fishing Vessels of the 61'6" group you mention… are we talking of the traditional MFV high bows and a squat rounded stern… as in my picture, my first job away at sea… burry hard work.
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Mon 13 Feb 2012, 13:10

Thanks for all your comments and suggestions for further research.... I still need to mull through. Just a couple of points that I have uneathed since the OP.

I was confused about the term master... it is of course nothing to do with the vessel's ownership, but rather that the "captain" has attained his Master's Certificate of Competency. My confusion there.

I have found the vessel in Lloyd's Register for 1874/75 when she was listed under the ownership of an earthenware manufacturing firm on the Tyne, and she is then specifically listed as "a lighter, for river purposes only".

Interesting comments about yachts too... granddad on my mother's side of the family was in later years skipper on the private yachts of Colonel Buckley (a long term friend of Shackleton) as they pootled around Scotland, the Hebrides, Scandinavia, South of France and the Med. I have several photos of these yachts from just after WW1 .... the interiors were all plush uphostery, cut glass, carved mahogony and brass... the saloon even complete with piano and potted palms! That's the way to travel!
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Mon 13 Feb 2012, 13:29

Heavens, I hope the piano was bolted down. Hate to think what it would do to anyone in a rough sea!
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Mon 13 Feb 2012, 13:31

It wouldn't have been hard. Rag music was all the rage that time.
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Mon 13 Feb 2012, 14:06

There's a nice free card model of these at http://cfp.muerell.de/products/9/details
Pics at "photos of the original"
I remember being taken ashore from HMS Phoebe in one like MFV 256 at Portland - think she was an RMAS vessel at that date.
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Fri 30 Sep 2016, 10:24

From 2012:

@Meles meles wrote:
My g.g.grandfather was master of a small steamship in the last quarter of the 19th century. This ship, the “Bob and Harry”, was too small to appear in Lloyd’s Register, but I have found her in the Mercantile Shipping Lists. She was a wooden steamship, built in 1870 in Newcastle upon Tyne: length 64 feet; breadth 19 feet; depth of hold 7 feet; net tonnage 25; gross tonnage 50; engine 14 hp, screw propelled.

Her home port was Newcastle (where gggfather lived). In the 1881 census she is recorded as being in port at Pittenweem, Scotland, with a crew of three: gggfather as “master”, his son as “engineer”, and an 18 year old lad as “fireman” ie stoker. From various sources her routes were from Newcastle to the ports of Fife, ie: Burtisland, Kirkaldy, Pittenweem, Crail... occasionally as far as Dundee. She seems to have been on long term charter (or a similar arrangement) to a merchant shipping firm based in central Newcastle who, from trade directories, seem to have dealt in such commodities as bagged coal, salt, pig iron, and lumber, while at the same time acting as approved shipping agents for Armstrong and Whitworth’s massive Tyneside shipbuilding and armaments business.

..... What sort of vessel was she? What did she probably look like? From her size and the trade she seems to have served, I have assumed she was something like an earlier version of a Clyde Puffer operating a bit in the style of Para Handy… albeit some 50 years earlier and in a different setting – would this be roughly correct ?

Thanks for all the replies back then ... and yes the consensus was that she was a bit like an early Clyde Puffer.

And now over four years later, and thanks to the sleuthing skills of Normanhurst, I can finally show you what she really did look like. This is a painting of the 'Bob and Harry' made probably about 1882-1885 when she passed to a new owner a Mr Ross of Newburgh, Fife, the photo coming, via Normanhurst, from Ross's great, great-grandson. Isn't the internet wonderful for finding things like this.



... and now to try and find a picture of my g.g.grandfather's last ship, of which he was master from 1882 until he retired in 1891, the "Blue Billy".


Last edited by Meles meles on Fri 30 Sep 2016, 11:58; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Fri 30 Sep 2016, 11:10

No picture as yet, but there was a Blue Billy built on the Tyne in 1872;

Blue Billy
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Fri 30 Sep 2016, 11:28

Yes that's the one (Reg No.67339) she was a tad bigger than the Bob & Harry but much the same sort of vessel and when gggdad was master she was occupied in much the same trade up and down the NE to the ports on the Forth, and around Fife as far as Dundee. The name Blue Billy refers to so-called 'purple ore', calcined iron oxide, which was a by-product of roasting pyrite to make sulphuric acid. This was basically a waste product but the Siemens iron works on the Tees operated a process that could utilise 'purple ore' mixed in with regular iron ore. So I assume originally the Blue Billy had been used to transport this material from the chemical works on the Tyne, down to the iron works on the Tees, probably returning with iron and steel for use in the Tyneside shipyards.
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Fri 30 Sep 2016, 13:48

These records have not been digitized and cannot be downloaded. Next time you're in Kew. Meles, you can pay them a visit;

Agreements and Crew Lists

Couldn't resist;

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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Fri 30 Sep 2016, 15:17

It's in Lloyds Register for 1874/75:



For some reason, I cannot find it in the 1883/84 edition.
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Fri 30 Sep 2016, 15:54

I can't remember the details from when I was looking at all this but I think she was just at the lower size limit to be included in Loyd's Register, hence why she might be missed for 1883/84. She does also appear, sometimes, in the Merchantile Shipping Register which was a separate register and included much smaller vessels than Lloyds.

Ships Agreements and Crew Lists are a very labourious way to get information (unless you are trying to find the names of the crew)... but, knowing the name of the master (my ancestor), what I have done is search for the Blue Billy's mention in the 'what's in port' sections of local newspapers. These newspapers are often available online but you have to pay to see the relevant pages (which are scanned images of the old newspaper pages). However if you do a google search using the ship's name and a likely port, you often get a search response showing the newspaper name and date, (say the Dundee Chronicle Sept 1886) with your search words (eg the ship name and gggdad's name) highlighted together with a few words either side. Since I was interested in looking only at shipping news, all the newspaper entry would typically give anyway would be something very brief such as: date, ship-name, master, principal cargo ... and then onto the next ship etc. Bear in mind to be searchable the newspapers' old-fashioned typeset text has been scanned by OCR, and so 'Blue Billy' might have been read and be recorded for search purposes as '8lue Hilly', but with a bit of playing around I found I could trace the Blue Billy and gggfather's movements through the 1880s, and the cargoes they carried, as together they pottered around the ports of NE England, the Forth, and around Fifeshire to Dundee and Montrose.
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Sat 01 Oct 2016, 21:52

Do you know where she was registered? There's often quite a bit of info available from the records at the port of registry.

On a totally different tack, take a look at http://www.ssfreshspring.co.uk/blog
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PostSubject: Re: Small Coastal Steamships - NE England/Fife   Sun 02 Oct 2016, 17:32

'Blue Billy' was originally registered at Newcastle upon Tyne in 1872 as "a lighter, for river work only" ... but that was a decade before ggg-dad took command of her as a sea-going vessel, and so by his time she'd obviously been modified a bit.

And whilst details of the ship are always helpful (and can give important leads to other things) ... my primary interest remains trying to trace the history of my ancestor. A photo of the 'Blue Billy' would be very nice indeed, but it probably won't now tell me much more about ggg-dad's life than I already know, as found through other sources.
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