[From Manx Annals,1901/2]
These, like those of "Ninety Years Ago" embrace a number of years, roughly from 1815 to 1825.
May the 4th, 1816, saw the first steamer at Douglas, This was the Greenock, from Glasgow on her passage to Liverpool. It was announced that she would sail for Laxey and back with passengers. On hearing this the good folk of Douglas rushed down, and the pier was rapidly crowded with spectators, and at tidetime a number embarked. A local paper of the time thus relates the incident : " Moved by apparent enchantment she went off in admirable style, and in less than two hours returned ; her passengers highly gratified with their aquatic excursion. This curiously constructed vessel proceeded yesterday morning (May 8th) to Liverpool," This was not the first visit of a steamer to the Island, as about eleven months before this there anchored in Ramsey Bay, on her way from Greenock to Liverpool, " a vessel worked by steam, which was intended to be used as a passage boat on the Mersey"
For two or three years Douglas received visits now and then from odd steamers ; but it was not till the summer of 1819 that communication to and fro was regularly carried on by means of a steamboat.
This was the Robert Bruce, which began as a regular trader between Liverpool, Isle of Man, Downpatrick, and Greenock. The hour of departure from Liverpool depended on the tide, and the passage from that port to Douglas was " the short space of ten hours," At the end of October the Robert Bruce discontinued running till the next season when she resumed her visits. In August 1820, she met with a deplorable accident. "Whilst at Liverpool she was run foul of by the smack Glasgow, and had her mainmast carried away. The mast in falling came down on three members of the band at that time a passenger steamer was not considered complete if she did not carry a band. These three unfortunate men were Thos Curphey, of Douglas (leader); Wm. Clucas, of Marown ; and Joseph Dread. The latter died a few minutes after the accident Clucas on his way to Liverpool infirmary ; whilst Curphey, though frightfully injured, lingered till December. Ryley, an itinerant actor, immediately got up a subscription on board, which resulted in six pounds being placed into the captain's hands for the benefit of the Bandsmen's families.
In the beginning of that summer a steam ship begun running. This was the Superb, which arrived in Douglas bay on the 28th June. In the press of that day she is described as being " the most beautiful vessel of the kind that had ever graced our coast. . . She appeared in the offing like a dismasted sloop of war, pierced for twenty-two guns . Her elegant conveniences, her exhilarating band of music, and the more than ordinary respectability of her establishment so commanded and so arranged;' etc., etc. She remained a short time at anchor and sailed again about noon, , The pier was crowded, and as for the bay " it represented a complete chain of boats filled with passengers and sightseers." The Superb came back to Douglas the next day, doing the journey in the remarkably short time of eight hours.
The Bruce and Superb were both laid up for the winter at the end of October, the Britannia, another steamer, having stopped for the year a few weeks before. So once more the passengers to and fro depended en the tender mercies of the sailing packets. To cross the water in winter was a trying job, and and not to be undertaken with a light heart. People often made their wills before venturing ; and this was not wholly unnecessary, In January, 1819, the packet Lord Hill was lost on her voyage from Douglas to Liverpool, and all her crew and passengers were drowned,
On the 16th of January the Lord Hill left Douglas, A storm arose after she had gone, and great anxiety ensued amongst the relatives of those who went with her. Such were the difficulties and delays connected with communication between the Island and the mainland that it was not till the last day of the month that word had come which dashed whatever little hopes the relatives had. Part of the stern with "Lord" on it, and part of the tail rail was cast up at Southport. On other parts of the coast were stranded a plank with ' Man Packet" on it, a water cask, cabin scuttle, and a lot of other wreckage, all recognised as belonging to her
It was concluded that she struck on a bank at the mouth of the Ribble. All the following were on board, and all perished John McBride, merchant; Major Crebbin of the Marines, and his servant.; Jane Robinson, Fort street; Mrs Clucas; Mr Farrant. Peel ; James Robins, England ; Daniel Kneale, master joiner, with niece and nephew; Edward Roberts; B. Milburn, Laxey; Mrs S. Jones and Thos. Cornbirth from North Wales; Wm. Cunninghnm; Robert Oates ; John Walker, Peel ; Mr Mercer, England ; two carpenters ; two sailors, passengers; seven sailors, crew. Total number lost, 29,
The "winter season" was not nearly as long as it has come to be during the present generation. The steamers were laid up at the end of October, 1820, began in the following March, running again between Liverpool and Greenock, calling each way at Douglas, where they stopped just long enough to take and discharge passengers: passengers were warned by John Clarks, the Douglas agent to have their tickets in readiness, the arrival of the steamers being announced by the sound of a bugle in the town.
The owners of these steamers having found in 1820 that their speculation was likely to be a good one, ordered a larger boat to be built at Scott's yard, Greenock, This was the Majestic 348 tons, 100 horse power launched on the 19th of April. She began running only in July, when the Robert Bruce was transferred to Liverpool and Dublin. Early in September the latter steamer, with thirty-six souls on board, caught fire when on her way to Dublin, and to extinguish the flames the crew had to scuttle her at North Anglesey.
Shortly before the Bruce was taken of the Douglas station, a clergyman laid a complaint before the public about the treatment he and his party received on one of her last passages to Douglas. They embarked as steerage passengers at a quarter past eight, and owing to their very early breakfast the clergyman's wife, at eleven, wished for some cheese and crackers. They applied to the steward (a Negro) who told them to ask the " boy " ; but the " boy " said cheese was only given to cabin passengers after dinner.
'' Could they have anything else ?" The " boy" thought they could have some "checks" (slices of cold meat), Checks were ordered for four. The ''boy" returned and said the steward would give nothing till the cabin passengers had dined. Then the lady bethought of a seed cake she was bringing to some friends in the Island. Soon the cake was demolished, and by its means hunger staved off till they reached Douglas at seven.
In April, some year, the Highland Chieftain began again between Dumfries and Liverpool, calling at Whitehaven and Ramsey. Besides these steamers there were the regular sailing packets Lady Elizabeth, Duchess of Atholl, Douglas, etc., ; whilst at Peel a new cutter the Charlotte ran between that port and Ardglass, captained by Wm. Norris, who also ran for. a short time the New Inn at Peel, here is his advertisement :
"New Inn and Ardglass Packet Office. Wm., Norris begs to say that he has removed from his former house to one elegantly and commodiously fitted up, commanding a beautiful prospect of Peel Bay and Castle, where his patrons may ensure to themselves the best possible attention. The Ardglass packet sails regularly every Monday and Thursday."
Previous to this Captain Norris had the '' Pleasure boat Susannah," which sailed from the same ports, She was owned by Mr, Wm. Kissack, of Ramsey.
In 1822, when the passenger steamers commenced another " season," they found they had a rival to contend with the War Office steamer St. George, which carried the mails between Liverpool and Douglas. This rivalry caused a reduction in fares and an increase in speed., One day in July the City of Glasgow left Liverpool fifteen minutes,before the St. George, and got a start of a mile, and a half ;. and from extra canvas kept the lead. But the St. George had only jib sails, afraid of being carried too much to leaward. The two, vessels got into mist, and when it cleared the City of Glasgow found herself beyond Maughold Head. At length she got to Douglas hours after the St. George with broken machinery,
Thus the rivalry was kept up till October,1825. One night; in that month the City-of Glasgow attempted to start for Liverpool,'but the engines would not work, and she drifted on to the rocks at Fort Anne and became a wreck. Just before she struck, Sir Wm. Hillary who at that time was the new holder of Fort Anne offered ten pounds to any of the boats that would go out and take a line from her, but none ventured for a while. At length Sir William and six volunteers some of whom, Isaac Vondy and Thomas Kewin, had been several times before with him in danger managod to get a rope on shore. The gallant lot pushed off again, and succeeded in crowding fifteen passengers in their boat. On their return they found their boat badly damaged, rowlocks broken, rudder unshipped. Instantly after they ware swamped, and a lot of passengers washed out on to the rocks. Sir William waded into the surf three times, saved two men and a woman. The passengers were saved. The captain and crew refused to leave, and though badly bilged and full of water, the steamer was taken off a fortnight later,
As for the St. George, her turn to be wreaked came in November 1830, when she finished her career on Conister. But this is a tail for another time.
[Correction. In last week's "Guardian" it is stated that the late Mr Quayle the banker died in 1858, The date should have been 1815.]