[From History of IoMSPCo, 1904]



BEFORE describing the origin and progress of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, we will briefly consider the methods of conveying passengers, goods, and letters to and from the Island prior to its formation. Before 1767, any communication between the Isle of Man and the " adjacent islands " was by means of vessels sailing at irregular intervals, usually from Whitehaven or Liverpool. But in that year the English Government established a regular " packet " boat for the conveyance of passengers and mails between Whitehaven and Douglas. The "packet", which was usually a cutter, left Whitehaven ("wind and weather permitting") on Monday, and resumed from Douglas on the following Thursday. The uncertainty of the passage by this and other vessels is illustrated by the fact that the mail-packet from Whitehaven having actually accomplished fifty-two voyages each way was mentioned, in 1813, as an extraordinary circumstance; and yet in that year also it was recorded that " the 'Duchess of Atholl,' Liverpool trader, which sailed from Douglas on Monday, October the 18th, with a great number of passengers, after being three days and nights at sea, and within sight of the North-west buoy at Liverpool, was driven back to the Island and relanded her passengers at Derbyhaven " (a). Again, in December, 1821, we are told that " the theme of everyone's regret is the extraordinary bad state of the weather, which after a period of six weeks admitted of only one communication by packet " (a).

Old letters also give us occasional glimpses of the hardships endured during these lengthy voyages.

We will content ourselves with quoting from two of them. In 1755, Vicar-General Wilks tells us of a voyage when they had to return to Douglas after beating all-out for twenty-four hours, and finally, on starting again, he was put on shore at " Sunderland Sands " after fifty-three hours' tossing; and, in August, 1773, the following humorous account of a passage to Whitehaven is given lay the Rev. Philip Moore: " Sore sick and sadly sick we were, awl, indeed, never worse in all my voyages that I remember, for you know how it was when we left you - a high wind aloft, with a very rugged and boisterous set. But ten times worse all along shore, the wind coming down from the mountains in thundering tornadoes that laid our ship almost on her beam ends, and this till we got cleer of the Manks land and Kirk Maughold Head. All this time Mr. Birkett and I were got into our cotts, swinging and banging about from side to side, with many a sore thump against the wainscot, cascading in concert, with grievous deep and hollow groans. Young Teare, Mollagh, all the while very assiduous with his mop and buckets to keep all sweet and clean about us, and well he was, for when near this coast and the sea running high, with a heavy roll of the ship, I was fairly unshipped and tumbled out of my cott, till our worthy Captain Moss came to my relief, and replaced me in my former berth, and clueing up the cott with a cord, made it take a shorter swing and play easier than before. At last, please God, we got safe ashore."

Sailing Packet "Duchess of Atholl"
Sailing Packet "Duchess of Atholl"

Under favourable circumstances, however, the passage between Douglas and Whitehaven, and vice versa, was accomplished in about six hours. The mail packet fare was ten shillings and sixpence. In addition to the mail service, there were, in 1755, two regular trader sloops of about sixty tons burthen, plying between Douglas and Liverpool. Cargoes were so small that it was not usually worth their while to make the passage out and home more than once a month. By 1793, however, traffic had enormously increased, and, by 1805, we find, besides a number of occasional vessels, six regular traders, of all-out 400 tons burden, plying between these two ports and taking on an average a fortnight for the double journey. The best known of these traders were the "Duke of Atholl," the "Duchess of Atholl," the "Douglas," the "Earl of Surrey," and the ''Union.'' The "Douglas" did the passage from Liverpool, on one occasion, in ninety hours. There was also a trader between Douglas and Dublin, and, for a short time, between Peel and Ardglass.*1

On the 16th of January 1819, a terrible catastrophe happened to one of the sailing packets, the " Lord Hill, which was lost with the whole of her crew and passengers, twenty nine in all, near the mouth of the Ribble. Among there passengers was Mr. Robert Farrant. great-grandfather of Mr. Reginald Farrant.

Notwithstanding the advent of the steamers, sailing packets continued to carry the mails till 1825, and to do a large share of the passenger traffic, and practically the whole of the goods traffic,between Liverpool and the Island, till about 1834 (a).

By about 1842 the regular sailing traders had ceased to run between Liverpool and the Island, though cargo continued to come and go by sailing vessels at irregular intervals. It is interesting to note that the " Duke Atholl " and the " Earl of Surrey," which, as we have seen, were sailing in 1805, were still in the coasting trade nearly fifty years later. After 1850 the " Duke of Atholl " was sold for foreign service. One day, when running up the Irish Sea in a storm, she was forced into Peel Harbour, where she had been launched. The old vessel, the last of the sailing packets, had come home to die!

The first mention of a steamer in Manx waters was at the end of June, 1815, when " a vessel, worked by steam, on her passage from Greenock to Liverpool, came to anchor in Ramsey Bay " (a). Her name was the " Henry Bell, ' she being named after her builder, who had constructed the " Comet," the first actual trading steamer. The " Henry Bell " plied between Liverpool and Runcorn. The next mention was on the 7th of May, 1816, when " great curiosity was exhibited at Douglas by the arrival at Douglas of the steam packet 'Greenock' on the passage to Liverpool " (a). She sailed on a pleasure trip to Laxey, when she " moved by apparent enchantment." After the pleasure trip " this curiously constructed vessel proceeded to Liverpool"(a).

It was in 1819 that a steamer, the " Robert Bruce," first called regularly at the Isle of Man, but, like all her successors up to 1821, during the summer only. She plied between Liverpool, Douglas, Port Patrick, and Greenock. She arrived at Douglas on Wednesday to take passengers to Liverpool, and on Friday to take them to Port Patrick, provided the weather was favourable. Her average passage from Douglas to Liverpool was ten hours. A year later other vessels of the same company, the " Superb," the " Majestic," and the " City of Glasgow " (300 tons and 106 horse power), called at Douglas occasionally. A " handlbill " issued by James Little, of Greennock, —the same well-known firm whose fine steamer the " Duchess of Devonshire" now plies between Douglas and Barrow during the summer—gives an interesting picture of the " Majestic," with three fully-rigged masts, a long slender funnel, and a paddle-box, well forward, bearing the Royal Arms. The same "handbill" informs us that the "Majestic," Captain Oman, and the "City of Glasgow," Captain Carlyle, sail from Greenock and Liverpool every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, " calling off Port Patrick an at Douglas, Isle of Man, both in going and returning from Liverpool," and that " the passage between Greenock and Liverpool is generally made within twenty-five hours " (a). These vessels were faster than the " Robert Bruce," and did the passage between Douglas and Liverpool in about nine hours.

We find the Editor of the Manks Advertiser commenting at this time on the great advantage to the Island from the steam packets, owing to the " general and uninterrupted influx of numerous and respectable visitors, who have almost — and it were perhaps not saying too much—have more than equalled the returns of an ordinary fishery "; and, he continues, 'Our country has not been generally known to the respectable inhabitants of the opposite shores. Until of late, it has been considered as a barbarous coast, scarcely visited by any but the destitute adventurer or the base deserter from justice, by the dishonest debtor, or the treacherous criminal; the smuggler, or the vagabond." Douglas, indeed, was then spoken of as a place " of gay society and pleasurable variety " (a).

In May, 1822, the steamer " St. George," of the " St. George Steam Packet Company," 27, Water Street, Liverpool—a company we shall hear of again —began to run in opposition to the " Superb" and the other vessels of James Little's Line already refereed to. Their best steamer, the "St. George," is described " as so fine a Vessel, so majestically beautiful in motion, so grand in her noble appearance. that she must afford additional gratifications (sic) to the gay concourse which are wont to crowd our Pier on the arrival of these beautiful acquatic accommodations"(a). It must be remembered that the Red Pier was formerly Douglas's fashionable promenade;

SUCH care was taken of it that those wishing to go on it had first to remove the wooden patters which were then very generally worn over shoes.

The " St. George " was, however, soon transferred to the Company's Irish station, and her place was taken by a slower vessel, the " Sophia Jane," which usually accomplished the passage between Douglas and Liverpool in all-out nine hours.

Other rivals*4 now appeared on the scene, with the result that, as the Manx Rising Sun puts it, " the unprecedented opposition in this useful navigation is attended with lower fares and more passengers".

At last, in 1825, came a steamer, the tiny " Triton," of thirty tons, which ran throughout the year. She carried the mail between Whitehaven and Douglas, sailing once weekly each way In 1828 the mail service was transfered to Liverpool, and the St. George Company was given the contract to carry it twice weekly in the summer and once weekly in the winter.

All went merrily enough during " the gay season when steamers ply and visitors throng our shores" (b), and fares were so low that they almost amounted to "a gratuitous invitation to take pleasure on the wave "(b). But winter told a different tale.

Coasting Steamer about 1828
Coasting Steamer about 1828

The St. George Company alone remained, and it ran its slower and smaller boats*5, which are described as " shameful hulks, devoid of shelter or accommodation other than that of a small cavern aft, and what screen there might be on the lee side of a singularly tall funnel " (b). If this is a fair description of the craft which, " wind and weather permitting " (and often they did not permit), came once weekly to our shores for eight months in the year, it does not surprise us to learn that there was profound dissatisfaction with such a state of affairs. Our illustration, dated 1828, will give an idea of what these steamers were like.



(a) Manks Advertiser
(b) Liverpool Daily Post

*1 In 1815 the ' Regular Packets and Traders " were—


The " Lady Elizabeth," Captain Crabb......... once weekly.
The " New Triton," Captain Beadon ..


The " Duke of Atholl" (Sloop), Captain Morgan,
The " Duchess of Atholl " (Sloop), Captain Thompson.
The " Douglas " (Sloop), Captain Quayle.
The " William Leece " (Schooner) Captain Jones.
The "Friends" (Packet), Captain Towl.


The " Earl of Surrey," Captain Greaves.
The " Earl of Lonsdale," Captain Cubbon.

*2 According to Gores Directory of 1832, there were two firms of Manx shipbrokers in Liverpool, i.e. T. D. Moore and J. Christian (see page 82), who were agents for the " Douglas," the " Earl of Surrey," the Edward," and the "Jessie and Phoenix," sailing to Douglas; and the ' Emulous," " London," "Asenath," and " Caledonia," sailing to Ramsey; and Mark Quayle &, Son (see page 82), who were agents for the "Holmes Pacquets," belonging to Messrs. Holmes, the bankers, of Douglas, which were advertised to sail to Douglas " regularly once a week, with goods and passengers." Their vessels were called the " Eleanor," the "Mona Castle", and the " Henry Holmes". Quayle & Son were also agents for the "Lady of the Lake", the "Dasher," the "Royal Duke", and the " Catherine", sailing to Castletown; and the " Esther and Jane " and " Lord Glenlyon," sailing to Ramsey.

*3 The" First Cabin " fares were: Liverpool to Douglas and vice versa 17/6: Douglas to Greenock, £1 10s. 6d. " Second Cabin" fares: Douglas to Greenock, 10/-: Liverpool to Douglas, and vice versa, 9/6. The first cabin fares included provisions and steward's fee, the second cabin fares did not.

*4 The "James Watt," the "Henry Bell," the "William Huskisson," and the "Albion," belonging to Liverpool Companies; and the "Highland Chieftain," the "Glasgow," and the "Ailsa Craig," belonging to Scottish Companies. These vessels ran to the Clyde. There was also the "St. Andrew," which ran between Whitehaven, Douglas, and Dublin and the " George IV.," whose route was Liverpool, Douglas, and Warrens-point.

*5 The " Prince Llewelyn " and the " St David," of 150 tons and 7s-H.P., the '` Lady Abbess," the " Onward," and the " Orinoco,"



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