[From History of IoMSPCo, 1904]

CHAPTER IV.

The Company's Opponents.

AS long as human nature remains what it is, we suppose that war will continue to be not only more exciting but more interesting than peace. And so we find that, in the history of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, those portions of it relating to the numerous contests to which the Company has been subjected have always attracted the greatest amount of attention. All these contests ended either in the defeat, the extinction, or the absorption of the opposition Companies (1). In the first of them, which dates from the very beginning of the Company's existence, it was of course itself an opposition, because the Liverpool and Douglas Station was in the possession of the St. George Company, of Liverpool.

On the 16th of August, 1830, the "Mona's Isle," under the command of Captain Gill, made her first passage from Douglas to Liverpool, and her rival, the "Sophia Jane," of the St. George Company, under the command of Lieutenant Tudor, R.N., started at the same time, and defeated her by one and a half minutes. But this was the " Sophia Jane's" (2) last, as well as her first, victory. It would seem that the "Mona's Isle," as is often the case with new steamers, did not attain her full speed during her early passages, since she afterwards proved herself about forty minutes faster than her rival, and on one occasion, in a gale, she defeated her by as much as three hours and twenty four minutes. During the course of the rivalry between these Companies, fares were reduced to a very low level. Both sides began with 5/- "saloons " and 3/- " steerage " (single fares), and, finally, the St. George Company reduced its fares to 6d., a frantic step which the Manx Company did not follow. This resulted, according to the Manks Advertiser, in " bringing to the Island a great number of mendicants of all descriptions." The St. George Company did not relish their defeats, and so they decided to withdraw their largest and fastest steamer, the " St. George," from the Irish Station, and put her on the Douglas, Liverpool, and Clyde Station for the annihilation of their audacious Manx opponent (3). She was, however, almost invariably beaten by the "Mona's Isle." The first race between them was from Liverpool to Douglas. It so happened that, on the previous day, " the wind was blowing strongly from the south-west, which is, of course, a side wind for vessels going to and from the Isle of Man, and, in a heavy sea-way, the vessel of those days would almost constantly have one of her paddle-wheels out of the water. Captain Gill, instead of retiring to rest, had occupied himself and his crew during the night in removing the coal and cargo to the windward side of the vessel, so as to form a counter-balancing weight to the force of the wind where the vessel got outside. Next morning, instead of abating, the gale had freshened, but both ships put to sea, with the result that Captain Gill gained an easy victory " (4).

Great was the joy of the Manxmem We append a copy of the doggerel rhyme which was sung in the streets of Douglas to celebrate their triumph:

Cheer up, cheer up, my countrymen,
Come listen, and I'll tell
How " Mona's Isle " beat the " St. George,"
Of Liverpool the swell—
The famed John Bull,
The Great Mogul—
Of Liverpool the swell.

With famed Liverpool to trade
Mona's sons did never fail
In divers kinds of merchandise,
And lately for our mail
Our terms most fair,
As scion you'll hear
So thereby hangs the Tale.

To have the Royal Mail conveyed,
Six hundred pounds a year
Was paid St. George's Company,
F or steamboat stout and fair.
But to be drowned
In boats unsound,
" By George !" we had to fear.

But when to them we made complaint,
Indeed, I tell you true
" The boats," they said with insolence,
"Are far too good for you.
We'll make you squeak
If you dare speak
Of our 'St. George's' crew."

Now, this was rank bad policy,
In playing off their pranks;
Then up we started—one and all
" Here's at you !" said the Manx
"For soon a boat
We'll have afloat,
And to St. George no thanks."

In self-defence this boat was built,
The "Mona's Isle "—our pride
In splendid beauty now she plies
Unrivalled o'er the tide:
Be this our song,
God speed her long,
Huzza ! our Island's Pride !"

A crack boat of the Thames they got
To " nip us in the bud ";
Our Mona soon sent her to pot—
Aye, soon she made her scud,
Crying, " Ough-a-nee ! (5)
She has ruined me I'll never do more good."

The King of Terrors now steps in,
Monopoly his plan; He drew
" St. George's " frightful spear
To stick it into—Man;
But " Mona's Isle,"
With modest smile,
Said, " Do it—if you can."

Old Ocean got indignant
At this presumptuous threat,
He foamed and flew old Neptune, too,
Cried, " Go it now, my pet—
Thou'rt my delight,
O water sprite
The loveliest I've seen yet."

O " Mona's Isle," a jewel rare,
A little ruby bright,
She dashed—and broke—" St. George's " spear,
Then left him—out of sight.
Six hours before He reached our shore,
Safe moored was she all right.

Success to her proprietors,
And her directors three
Long may they live to bless the day
They set their country free;
And our blest Isle
Henceforward smile,
In health and liberty.

Now one word more before we part
For we have nought to fear,
" Mona " has beat the swell " St. George,"
And she has no compeer.
For " Mona's Isle " we'll cheer!
We'll cheer! ! We'll cheer ! ! !
For " Mona's Isle " we'll cheer! ! ! !

At last, after two months of racing, came a catastrophe which practically put an end to any further competition between the two Companies. On the 20th of November both vessels arrived from Liverpool. The astute Captain Gill, foreseeing a southeasterly gale, which is " inshore " at Douglas, put to sea again after discharging his passengers and cargo. The " St. George's " captain (Lieutenant Tudor, RN.) did not follow his example, but anchored his vessel in the bay. A heavy gale from the S.S.E. came on at night, the " St. George " parted her cable, struck upon Conister, and went to pieces. Her crew were saved by the Douglas Lifeboat, whose captain was Sir William Hillary, one of the founders of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, who then lived at Fort Anne. The St. George Company determined to continue the struggle, At they did so in a very half-hearted way, putting on the "Prince Llewellyn " and the "Orinoco," vessels whose achievements we have already described. At last, in July, 1831, they retired from the station (6). But the " Mona's Isle " still had a competitor during the rest of this summer, though seemingly not a formidable one, in the shape of a steamer called the "William the Fourth," which disappeared in the following year.

In our biography of Captain Gill will be found an account of the meeting in 1835, when the Directors were dismissed (7). Some of these Directors, and of the Shareholders who sympathised with them, seceded from the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, and formed a Company called the "Isle of Man and Liverpool Steam Navigation Company " (8), which, at the end of 1835, ordered a steamer called the " Monarch " to be built by Steele, of Greenock, her engines being supplied by Caird, of the same port. She was of 300 tons register and 150 horsepower, and had a black funnel. This Company, in August., 1836, issued the following advertisement: " The Isle of Man and Liverpool Steam Navigation Company's splendid Steam Packets ' 'Monarch' and ' Clyde' will leave George's pier Head, I.iverpool, for Douglas, on Saturday morning at 10 o'clock, and return the same day at 8 o'clock in the evening; and will, after that day, leave Liverpool for Douglas every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning at 10; and Douglas for Liverpool every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8. The 'Clyde' has been engaged by the Company in consequence of their splendid vessel, the 'Monarch,' not having been completed in the time expected, and from the known power and accommodation of the 'Clyde,' they hope to give an earnest of their desire to satisfy the Public."

The Directors of this Company were Gavin Torrance, William Duff, and J. Garrett; the Douglas Agent was Robert Poar`:lmall, and the Liverpool Agent, James Duff, formerly Agent of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company (9).

'I'he " Monarch," under the command of Captain Armstrong, arrived at Douglas early in September, and, a fortnight later, the following account of her performances is given by her owners in an advertisement: " The 'Monarch' is decidedly the first vessel on the Station, having performed the passage from Liverpool to Douglas on Monday last, with a strong weld, in less time by about half-an-hour than the 'Queen of the Isle'; and also on her return from Douglas to Liverpool the following day, in twentyf~ve minutes less time; and again from Liverpool to Douglas yesterday, in half-an-hour less time, thus proving in three successive days her superior speed, together with her very spacious and elegant accommodations. The Proprietors, therefore, trust that she will meet from a generous public with that support her great superiority is entitled to " (10)

The " Monarch" was taken off the Station in October, but resumed in the following summer, when she again raced with the " Queen of the Isle " (11). The latter proved herself to be, on an average, the faster boat. Our illustration depicts a remarkably close race; so close, indeed, that the " Monarch " appears to be running into the " Queen of the Isle,' and it will also be noticed that that steamer looks as if she were running into Douglas Head!

As is usual in internecine strife, very bitter feeling arose between the two Manx Companies. Some of it found expression in the local Press, where the adherents of the " Monarch " Company wrote: " The Proof of the Great Superiority of the splendid Steam Packet 'Monarch' has this day been fully exemplified in her having beaten the hitherto boasted crack boat, 'Queen of the Isle,' three-quarters-of-an-hour in a strong gale and heavy sea." To which, in the next week's issue, came the reply: " The 'Monarch' had the advantage by twenty and a half minutes, which has been magnified into forty-five by the Party who never deviate from the Truth " (12).

It is pleasant to find that such controversies were varied by what the Manx Sun calls " a harmless but good joke " which was " played on the New Company." 'This joke is described as follows: " As it was known that the 'Mona's Isle' was not to sail in the morning, persons were sent to watch the Post Office, to give information should the mail be attempted to be forwarded secretly by the ' Monarch.' The man who carries the mails to and from the packets discovered this when sent to inform the Postmaster that the mail packet would not sail before the evening, and gave information at the Packet Office, the Agent of which, being a bit of a wag, the idea at once occurred to him to hoax the 'Opposition': and the mail carrier by some means smuggled a box into the Post Office, and was seen with it by the scouts on his shoulder, leaving the office. Off they started with the news—bang goes the door of the office of the ' Opposition'—and down to the 'Monarch' run the Agent, Directors, Proprietors, etc., etc., to seize the mail; but great was the consternation of the party when, after considerable search, the luckless leather bag could not be discovered.

" A gentlemanly passenger was strongly suspected of lending his trunk to contain the forbidden bag, and on the party wishing to examine it, a warm altercation took place.

" One of the knowing Directors being informed that the whole was a hoax, replied that he knew better, and that the mail would be discovered at Liverpool, the Agent was therefore actually dispatched on this quixotic errand, but on his application at the Post Office there, no mail had arrived The clerks being subsequently informed of the joke, enjoyed it heartily. It is not necessary to state the disappointment felt by the parties here when they discovered the mail going on board the 'Queen of the Isle' in the evening!"

At the end of 1837, the " Monarch " Company collapsed, and their vessel was sold. The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company was now left in undisturbed possession of the Douglas and Liverpool Station for a period of fifty years, though for a few years, from 1853 and 1854, there were two little Steam Packet Companies, one in Ramsey and the other in Castletown, which competed for the insular traffic. it must be remembered, however, that, since they were not on the same Station (except the Castletown Company for a brief period), they could scarcely be called opponents. The Ramsey Company sailed between Ramsey and Liverpool, and the Castletown Company between Castletown and Liverpool, but they found frequent opportunities of bringing their courses into a direction similar to that between Douglas and Liverpool. Occasionally, too, on one  pretext or another, they called at Douglas, and would start from thence at the same time as the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company's boats, and, as we shall see, the Castletown Company for a short time ran between Liverpool and Castletown via Douglas. Believing that there are still many Manx people who remember the great interest that was taken in the rivalry between the three Companies, we propose to give a brief account of the Ramsey and Castletown steamers, though their careers are not, strictly speaking, part of our subject.

The Ramsey boat, called the " Manx Fairy," was built by Laird, of Birkenhead. Her arrival at Ramsey at the end of August, 1853, was the signal for a great display of enthusiasm. We append a copy of the verses which were printed and sung on that occasion

Oh! Mannin veg veen, ta my three sthill lhiat bene,
As bwooishal dbyt mie son dy tiraa ;
As tra hedym baase, as my annym goit voym,
Bee'm bwooishal sthill mie da Rumsaa.

Ta'n " Ferish" er roshtyn dy bieau voish shenn Hostyn,
Ny queelyn eck tappee chyndaa ;
As laadit dy sleih va shin fakin dy v'ee,
Ooilley bwooishal aigh-vie da Rumsaa.

Oh! Mona, my darling, my heart is still thine,
My blessing upon thee, I pray ;
And when I am dead, and my spirit is fled,
Success unto Ramsey, I say.

The "Fairy" has come, and swiftly has run,
Her paddles go quickly round;
Well loaded she is with passengers rare,
All wishing success to the Town.

By special request of the shareholders, Captain William Gill took command of her during her first trip between Liverpool and Douglas, "in order that her sailing and steaming qualifications might be fairly tried under the direction of a commander of such great experience in coasting steam navigation " (13). Starting from Liverpool at the same time as the Clyde-built " Mona's Queen," she defeated her by eight minutes, doing the passage in five hours and thirty-two minutes. The " Mona's Queen " shortly afterwards reversed this result, doing the passage in five hours and thirty minutes, while the " Manx Fairy" took five hours and forty minutes. The " Mona's Queen " seems to have been rather the faster boat of the two. The "Manx Fairy," which was under the command of Captain Isaac Dixon,, formerly a mate in the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company's service, was a vessel of 400 tons register and zoo horse-power. The Manx Sun describes her as being "a beautiful little craft, ornamented with blue and gold, with the arms of Man on her paddle-boxes," and it also notes that her " cabin is green and gold, ornamented with oval paintings of Peel Castle, Ramsey, Lezayre Church, Liverpool, Castle Rushen, and Bishop's Court." Drawing too much water, having too little cargo space, and burning too much coal, she was not a successful boat from a pecuniary point of view. In August, 1857, she was unfortunate enough to run down and sink the Birkenhead ferryboat " Fanny " in the Mersey, and for this her owners had to pay 1,775.

Manx Fairy Ramsey Steamer built 1853
"Manx Fairy" Ramsey Steamer built 1853

In the following November, she was sold by the Coroner under a decree of the Admiralty Court for 7,000, her original cost having been 16,000. She was bought by Ramsey people, and was kept on the Station for four years more. During this period she had three captains-M'Leish, Elliot, and Robert Brown (14). Towards the end of 1861, after her owners had vainly endeavoured to dispose of her to the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, she was sold to Canard, Wilson & Co., for 6,000, and went to Sicily, an island to which the " three legs " on her paddle-boxes was appropriate, since it had a similar emblem.

Now that Ramsey had acquired a steamer, Castletown was anxious for the same distinction. " Castletown," says a writer in the Manx Sara, " is the seat of Government, and is the metropolis of the Isle of Man, and why should the metropolitans condescend to go to Douglas or Ramsey when they want to cross the herring pond? Moreover, Castletown is the Oxford of Mannin, and as it is the most learned, of course it is the most genteel, and why should you depend on the will of the plebeians of Douglas or Ramsey for the days and hours whereon you may ` leave the sod ' ?'' (15), Why, indeed ! A steamer was promptly ordered from Laird, and was launched in June, 1854, being called the " Ellan Vannin." Her dimensions were: Length, 172 feet; breadth, 20 feet 2 inches; she was of 350 tons register and 100 horse-power, and drew only 7 feet of water. She had two white funnels and a " very smart. rakish appearance " (15), being built very much on the same lines as the " Countess of Ellesmere," which was said to be the fastest smooth-water steamer then afloat. In her saloon were " splendid views in glass of Castletown and Birkenhead," and her bow was decorated with a, "full-length figure-head of a female sitting on a rock " (15). The local " poet," Thomas-Shimmin (16), describes these charms in many stanzas, but space will only permit of a specimen

'Twas in August, fifty-four, she arrived upon our shore,
When many thousands ran, sir, her beauty to adore.
In her beauty is no gammon, she's the lovely " Ellan Vannin,"
And far excels them all in her sailing.
...
Like a swallow through the skies, so speedily she flies,
And is bound to the metropolis of Mona.

Ellan Vannin - Castletown steamer built 1854
"Ellan Vannin" Castletown steamer built 1854

The " Ellan Vannin " had several races with the " Countess of Ellesmere," generally defeating her. In smooth water she was a faster boat than either the " Mona's Queen " or " Manx Fairy." Her fastest passage between Douglas and Liverpool was five hours and twenty minutes. She was not a satisfactory cargo boat. Apropos of this, one of the jokes of the day in Douglas was to shout to her carpenter, Jerry Coole, who had been in the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company's service, " Well, Jerry, we hope you have left your tool box behind!" The idea was, of course, that Jerry's box might prove too much for the speed of the vessel:

In September, 1856, the financial position of the Company having become almost desperate, the " Ellan Vannin " ran via Douglas, taking passengers at one shilling each. This led to an indignant outburst from a Douglas man, who wrote : " Our town has consequently been over-run by all descriptions of vagrants, halt, lame and blind, singers and fiddlers." During this period she raced with the " Mona's Queen." Mr. Ellison, the present Secretary and Manager, tells the writer that one of his earliest recollections is of seeing the " Ellan Vannin " blackleaded in Douglas harbour in order to increase her speed

In October, 1856, she was let on charter, and the Castletown Company arranged that the " Manx Fairy " should run between Castletown and Liverpool twice a month during the winter. In the summer of 1857, she again ran via Douglas, and in December of that year she was offered for sale, but without success. Finally, in June, 1858, she was bought by Cunard, Wilson & Co. for 4,070, on behalf of the Sardinian Government, her name being changed to the " Archimedes."

We must now return to the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.

In 1885 came a threat, for it resulted in nothing more, of opposition. A Company was registered and prospectuses issued as the " Liverpool and Isle of "Man Steam Ship Company." Its capital was 500,000, and it had a registered office in London. A Mr. Sporrocks was the promoter of it.

At last, in 1887, the Manx Company was subjected to a very formidable opposition. A Company, designated the "Isle of Man, Liverpool and Manchester Company," though generally known as the " Manx Line;" was formed, and it bought two fine and very fast steamers, the " Queen Victoria " and the " Prince of Wales," from the Fairfield Shipbuilding Company. These vessels were almost half-an-hour faster than any vessel belonging to the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company-one of them, the " Prince of Wales," having, it is said, on one occasion actually accomplished the passage to Douglas from the "Rock" at Liverpool in two hours and fifty-nine minutes. The Directors of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company met this opposition by a very considerable reduction of fares (17). The " Manx Line " did not follow their example at first, but, by August, finding that it was only getting a small share of the passenger traffic, it was compelled to do so. These reductions, notwithstanding the unprecedented increase in the number of visitors, resulted in a small loss for the Old Company, both in 1887 and 1888, while the " Manx Line " lost 5,300 in 1887 and £3,500 in 1888 (18) We need not, then, be surprised to find that, by the end of the second season, it became apparent to the managers of the two Companies that they could not both co-exist as paying concerns. 'Negotiations were therefore entered into, and they eventuated in the purchase of the " Queen Victoria " and " Prince of Wales " by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.

Yet another opposition Company was started in 1887. It was called the " Isle of Man Steam Navigation Company " or the " Lancashire Line." Its only steamer, the " Lancashire Witch," a twin-screw vessel, fifteen feet shorter than the present " Douglas," with about the same beam, did the passage between Liverpool and Douglas in four hours on an average. The history of this Company was a brief and inglorious one, its steamer being sold by order of the mortgagees in May, 1888. She has been plying for some years in Australian waters, under the name of the " Coogee," and was run into and seriously damaged at the beginning of the present year.

In 1894, another Company, entitled the "Douglas, Llandudno and Liverpool Line," with T. & H. Aspinall as managers, was registered. It was announced that three fast steamers were being built for it by the Naval and Armament Construction Company, of Barrow. Nothing more, however, was heard of this Company ; probably no capital was subscribed.

In 1895, arrived the paddle steamer " Lady Tyler," chartered by the " Mutual Line of Manx Steamers Ltd.," Captain P. H. Cowley, manager. The " Lady Tyler,' which was a slow and out-of-date boat, taking about six hours to do the passage between Liverpool and Douglas, ran from May till July, when the Company went into bankruptcy.

Two years later the steamers " Munster " and " Leinster," which formerly plied between Holyhead and Kingstown, were purchased by Higginbottom and others, and advertised by Messrs. H. & C. McIver to commence a service between Douglas and Liver pool at Easter, but they were prevented from so doing by the Manx Company adopting the dubious expedient of buying them and then disposing of them.

In 1898, we hear of a Company called "The Isle of Man Palace Steamers Ltd.," which, however, came to nothing.

In the following year. Mr. Higginbottom originated another opposition, by forming a Company called the " Liverpool and Douglas Steamers Ltd." Its first purchase was the " Ireland," an old Holyhead and Kingstown liner, and a fine large paddle steamer, but hopelessly slow and out-of-date. Quite as hopeless were the " Normandy ' and " Brittany," also bought by this Company. These were paddle steamers of comparatively small size and slow speed, which had formerly been on the Newhaven and Dieppe Station. Somewhat more successful were the "Lily" and the "Violet," previously employed on the Dublin and Holyhead Station by the L. & N.W. Railway Company. But this Company's most, and. in fact, only, successful purchase, was the " Calais-Douvres," which ran between the two ports so named. Her speed is about the same as that of the " Mona's Isle " and " Tynwald." This Company was run at a heavy loss, and came to an end on the death of Mr. Higginbottom, in December, 1902.

 

Footnotes

(1) With the exception of some brief and intermittent attempts to oppose the "Whitehaven Steam Navigation Company," on the Whitehaven, Douglas and Dublin Station.

(2) Mr. Edwards writes: 'Scarcely anybody knows that she was the first steamer ever to reach Australia. She ended her days as a trader there."

(3) The following is a hand-bill announcing her sailings, which was evidently issued before the fares were lowered:

FOR THE ISLE OF MAN AND GREENOCK.

THE BEAUTIFUL AND FAST SAILING STEAM PACKET

"ST. GEORGE"

Sails every Tuesday Morning at Nine o'clock precisely.
Fare to Greenock in the Cabin, including Provisions ... £1 11 6
Fare to Isle of Man ,, ,, ,, ... O 12 O

Apply to JOHN WATSON, Junior.,
St. George Steam Packet Company's Ottice,
No. 47 WATER STREET.

 

(4) The Tourist Vol I pp 16-17

(5) Oh, dear me

(6) The " St. George Steam Packet Company" was ultimately merged in the present "City of Cork Steam Packet Company."

(7) See page 88.

(8) Or, sometimes, " The Douglas, Isle of Man, and Liverpool Shipping Company " (see page 28),

(9) Both these officials were changed in 1837 (see page 118).

(10) Manx Sun

(11) The fares of both Companies were: " Cabin, 2/6; " steerage, 1/- (single fares).

(12) Letters in the Manx Sun (the italics are not ours)

(13) See page 86.

(14) Captain Brown died in Ramsey, in March, 1904

(15) Manx Sun.

(16) Manx Worthies, page 200.

(17) Saloon, return, from 10/6 to 5/-; Saloon, single, from 5/6 to 3/-Fore-cabin, return, from 5/6 to 2/6; fore-cabin, single, from 3/6 to 1/6

(18) It did not provide anything for depreciation.


 

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