Early Mersey Steam Ferry Losses

A curiosity: The Elizabeth, built 1813 by John Wood of Port Glasgow; 40 tons burthen, 60' x 12', was the first steam powered ferry on the Mersey - serving the Liverpool-Runcorn route from 1815. She was a wooden paddle steamer with a 9hp engine built by John Thompson of Glasgow. Presumably after many engine problems she was sold in 1816 and subsequently converted to a more reliable form of propulsion, and renamed "Safety" to emphasize this; compounded by the widely publicised boiler explosion of a steam boat at Norwich in 1817.
  In 1818, her new propulsion was of 4 hp: provided by 4 cart-horses on a treadmill driving the paddles.[More details]. This form of propulsion was sometimes used in the USA on inland lakes and rivers at that time. However, it was reported that the horses got seasick on the Mersey, so she was sold again and registered as a sailing boat.

After the Elizabeth to Runcorn from 1815 [and her replacements Prince Regent and Duke of Wellington (both built Runcorn) from mid 1816], the next two steam-powered Mersey Ferries were the Countess of Bridgewater [ex-Greenock] to Ellesmere Port from 1816 and the Princess Charlotte [built 1816 Mottershead, Liverpool] to Eastham also from 1816.
  The earliest Mersey steam ferries to Birkenhead (from 1817) were in competition with each other to Tranmere: the Etna [an experimental design built by Dawson, Liverpool, 1817, with two hulls and one central paddle] and the Regulator. The Regulator was advertised from 1817 as providing a service from Liverpool to Tranmere, with linking coach to Parkgate and then by steam packet Ancient Briton (later renamed Union when serving Runcorn from 1819) from Parkgate to Bagillt [in Flintshire].
  As well as links to coaches, newspaper advertisements emphasized links from Liverpool using existing canals: so steam ferry to Ellesmere Port then canal boat to Chester; steam ferry to Runcorn then canal boat to Manchester on the Bridgewater Canal. These canal boats were called packet-boats, they had precedence over other boats; passengers could be pulled along by horses at speeds up to about 6mph.
  Ferry terminals on the West (Cheshire/Wirral) shore - from S to N: Ellesmere Port, Eastham, Job's Ferry, New Ferry, Rock Ferry, Tranmere Ferry, Birkenhead Ferry, Monks Ferry, Woodside, Seacombe, Egremont, New Brighton [in operation at different dates]. Only the floating berths at Seacombe and Woodside and the stone slip at Monks (also called Priory Wharf) are in operation now (2000s).
  More details of early mersey steamships 1815-20.
  A comprehensive list of Mersey Ferries to 1850.

Painting by Samuel Walters of the New Brighton wooden paddle steamer Sir John Moore [built 1826 Dumbarton; 3 views] off New Brighton, after this service was inaugurated in 1834.


Wooden Paddle steamer Regulator built 1817, no more detail known.
Liverpool - Tranmere service, advertised 13th June 1817; operated by J. Ball & Son, who owned the Tranmere Royal Hotel. Names of ferry services were sometimes taken from the name of the coach service that they linked to.
12 January 1818, sank during a gale at Liverpool Pierhead - the earliest recorded loss of a steam Mersey Ferry. There was no one on board at the time.

[from Chester Chronicle - Friday 13 June 1817]:
  TRANMERE ROYAL HOTEL. J. BALL EMBRACES the present opportunity to give his most sincere thanks to his friends, and the public in general, for the very liberal encouragement he has received since his commencement on the service and begs leave to inform them, for their better accommodation, a new STEAM PACKET, called the REGULATOR, will commence sailing, on Saturday where she will meet the Liverpool, Chester, and Parkgate Coaches. Likewise, Mr. [illegible]'s Steam Packet, the TRUE BRITON [sic: Ancient Briton in other reports], from Parkgate to Bagillt, and Flint Ferry. In order that passengers are not to be detained, the Regulator will only wait ten minutes on either side. The Hotel is comfortably provided with good beds, and well adapted for the accommodation of private families; during the Bathing Season, bathing machines are kept. - N. B. the public will observe, that J.Ball has no concern in the Etna Packet, which is currently reported.

From Liverpool Mercury - Friday 23 January 1818:
  On Monday night week, during a gale of wind, the Regulator, steam packet, employed between the Cheshire shore and Liverpool, was sunk near the pier head, and, we are sorry to say, has sustained great injury. Happily, no one was on board at the time.

PSS Prince Regent 1822

Wooden paddle steamer; owned John Wilson, William Rigby and Thomas Parr
built William Rigby, Runcorn 1816; 69' x 14'; 58 tons.
Initial service was Liverpool - Runcorn from July 1816, then Liverpool - Ellesmere Port [also then called Whitby].
Captain Dimond
Lost 6 December 1822 in Mersey Estuary.
23 crew and passengers; 9 lost.

Initial service [from Chester Chronicle - Friday 12 July 1816]:
A new and commodious STEAM PACKET, called PRINCE REGENT, built upon the most improved principle, fitted up in elegant style, and conducted by a careful and experienced Crew. starts from the New Slip on the West side of George's Dock Liverpool, two hours before high water for Runcorn, and (after remaining there near two hours, which is sufficient time for viewing Runcorn) returns to Liverpool.
The distance from Liverpool to Runcorn is twenty-one miles which the Prince Regent Steam Packet performs with perfect safety, and certainty in under two hours. The passengers, with all their luggage, and for the carriage of which no additional charge is made, are conveniently landed at a new and highly commodious landing place lately made, at a considerable expense, exclusively for the use of the Prince Regent Steam Packet, at the entrance of the Canal belonging to the Company of Proprietors of the Mersey and Irwell Navigation; from whence there is a short and excellent road to Wilson's Hotel in the higher and most beautiful part of the romantic village of Runcorn, by which road the passengers will avoid all the personal inconvenience and expense which has been so long generally experienced and complained of in landing at the Stone Wharf at the lower part of Runcorn.
Such of the passengers as are proceeding to Warrington or Manchester, or any of the intermediate places, are commodiously forwarded with luggage in the Company's Packet Boat on the Canal, which sails every morning in the Summer months, at ten o'clock, and in the Winter months, at eight o'clock, from a part of the Canal which lies opposite to and within about ten yards of the above new landing place.
The advantages which the Steam Packet has over a Sailing Vacket, are that the Prince Regent Steam Packet is always in an upright position, has very little motion, is unencumbered with sails, rigging, and oars, which often alarm the passengers, and obstruct their view of the beautiful scenery of the river; at all times proceeds and arrives with the greatest punctuality; and is in many other respects preferable to any other public conveyance for the removal of families, aged and infirm persons and invalids.
For particulars apply at the Prince Regent Steam Packet at the Slip; of T. Parr, no 4, George's Dock Passage; of J. Bolton, Man's Island, in Liverpool; and to Wilson's Hotel, in Runcorn.

LOSS OF THE LIVERPOOL AND ELLESMERE STEAM PACKET. - The following melancholy particulars of the loss of the steam packet are from the Chester Guardian: -
  The packet [Prince Regent] left Liverpool about three o'clock on Thursday afternoon [5 December 1822], having 23 persons on board including her crew. The wind at this period blew fresh, and was a-head of the packet, and there was no appearance in the weather to justify a suspicion of danger. About 5 o'clock, the wind had greatly increased, and at six the packet had reached within a quarter of a mile of Ellesmere port. It now blowing a complete hurricane, the Captain found it impossible to make the port. He then contemplated a return to Liverpool, and steered the vessel round for that purpose, but was soon convinced it was impossible, the tide having so far receded. The vessel then beat about for several hours, it being impossible to steer for any particular point. At nine they cast anchor, but she continued to drift; and about twelve ran foul of a flat, whose cable was also cut, but dragging her anchor. The concussion was tremendous, every person on board expecting she was going down. Several of the passengers were at this time in the cabin, and were violently thrown down by the heaving of the packet, one side of which was under water. The confusion and alarm were now at their height. As the flat remained some time alongside the packet, four of the crew and two of the passengers caught hold of its side and got on board her. There was now one foot of water in the cabin, it was determined to cut the cable and let the vessel drift - the sea dashing over her in all directions. About one o'clock the tide began to flow, and the packet was driven about two miles above Ellesmere port, where she ran against a sandbar; continuing for several times to recede from and approach it. At length she stuck fast in the mud, nearly opposite Stanlow-house, and the feeble glimmering of the moon discovered the shore at about 70 yards distance, most of the intervening, sand or rather mud.
It was now near four in the morning of the 6th Dec 1822. Captain Diamond here pressed as many of the passengers as he could prevail upon to make the shore; when Mr. Whittell, son of Dr. Whittell; Mr. W. Leatherberrow, of the Exchange, Chester; and Mr. Nixon a farmer, near Saltney, leaped into the water, and succeeded in gaining the land. There were now 14 individuals on board, five only of whom got safe on shore. The captain, with his son in his arms, was washed overboard, while in the act of endeavouring to disengage himself of his great coat; Mrs. Deakin, a stone mason's wife of Flookersbrook [now part of Chester], with her infant in her arms, and her niece about ten years of age; the blind fiddler who accompanied the boat; the son of Mr. Burt, a promising youth about ten years of age; Mr. Davis, millwright, of Chester; and an elderly person, all perished in the attempt to gain the land. We are informed that the steam-packet has been got up, is found to have sustained comparatively little damage, and has been taken to Runcorn.
The flat-boat, John, weathered the storm. The safety of this vessel, under all the difficulties of the night, astonishes the most experienced seamen. For several hours, and for a distance of eight or ten miles, she was incessantly driving upon the banks, till she finally took the ground near Weston Point, about four in the morning. From this period till about eight, the waves rushed over the deck, and those on board were obliged to lash themselves to the masts and shrouds. From their quitting the packet, it required the utmost exertions of all hands at the pumps and buckets to prevent her filling. Soon after eight o'clock, the individuals took to the sands, and walked to Weston Point, where their exhausted frames and spirits were recruited by the kindest attention.
There was later discussion that some of the crew had abandoned the steamer and boarded the flat. It was reported that men aboard the flat shouted: "Come aboard, your vessel is sinking". The Captain of the steamer refused to leave, saying he would stay until all aboard were safe.

[from Liverpool Mercury 13 Dec 1822]: ... We are informed that the steam-packet has been got up, is found to have sustained comparatively little damage, and has been taken to Runcorn.

[from Chester Chronicle - Friday 13 December 1822] Map of Mersey showing location of: A. Boat dragged anchor; B. Flat took passengers; C. Steam packet sunk; D. Flat stranded.

Newspaper report of Coroner's INQUESTS.- We have been favoured a copy of the depositions upon the Inquests held by F. Thomas, Esq. on the loss of the following persons, who were on board the Ellesmere Steam Packet, the time the unfortunate accident befell her: -

Elizabeth Deakin and her infant, William Davies, James Dimond, sen. and J. Dimond, jun. Two or three witnesses were examined, but we shall only give the account of Martha Patton, the others being exactly similar. She deposed that the Prince Regent Steam Packet left Liverpool, with number of passengers on board, the 5th inst.[5 Dec] for Whitby [now part of Ellesmere Port], at about ten minutes before three o'clock; it was quite calm when they started, but at half-past four o'clock, the wind blew hard against them, and the tide being also unfavourable, they made but little way. It was then becoming very dark, and Captain Dimond, finding that it was impossible to reach Ellesmere Port that night, cast anchor, intending to let the vessel ride on the river all night. A little after eight o'clock, the waves washed over the vessel with great violence, and came through the windows of the cabin so very fast, that they were in a short time up to their middles in water. Captain Dimond came down into the cabin and said, "It's all over with us". All the people then went upon deck; the vessel was filling very fast; the witness saw several persons washed overboard; she had hold of Mrs. Deakin's hand, when a wave coming over the vessel, washed Deakin and her infant overboard; shortly after James Dimond, jun. was swept off the deck; and the violence of the waves carried away Captain Dimond and Patton's husband, who had hold of each other by the hand. The next wave that came forced the witness from her holding, and carried her a considerable way up the shore, but she was too weak to raise herself; another wave drove her still higher, she was carried by two men to a place of safety. The bodies of the unfortunate female and her infant daughter (about three years of age) when found were lying close beside each other; those of the two Dimonds, Davies's, and also that of a man unknown, in different parts of the river. All the bodies were carried to Stanlow House.

There was also confirmation of further bodies found: The body of Mr. Burt's son, who perished in the Ellesmere packet on the fatal night of the 5th inst., was found near the place where the packet sunk, Wednesday, and was interred at Stoke [Stoak, between Chester and Stanlow] on Friday [grave inscribed Nelson Burt, aged 9, drowned in the River Mersey in the hurricane of 5th/6th Dec 1822]. This will at least be some consolation to the disconsolate father and family. We understand that the body of the blind fiddler has also been discovered.
  Mr. Burt (who survived, but his son Nelson was lost) collected pebbles on the seashore at Pargate, where he owned a cottage, and embedded them in the parapet: reading "NELSON" in memory of his lost son. This memorial remained for many years.

More on the 1822 Hurricane.

The steam ferry service from Ellesmere to Liverpool provided a link, via canal, with Chester and was initiated in 1817. This was one of the earlier steam ferries in the Mersey.

Back to early SS.

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