Early Mersey 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.
  In 1818, her new propulsion was of 4 hp: provided by 4 cart-horses on a treadmill driving the paddles. 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 advertized from 1817 as providing a service from Liverpool to Tranmere, with linking coach to Parkgate and then by steam packet True Briton (seems to have been called Ancient Briton later) 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.

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, advertized from June 1817; owned J. Ball & Son.
12 January 1818, sank during a gale at Liverpool Pierhead - the earliest recorded loss of a steam Mersey Ferry.

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
b William Rigby, Runcorn 1816; 69' x 14'; 58 tons.
Initial service was Liverpool - Runcorn from July 1816
Captain Dimond
Lost 6 December 1822 in Mersey Estuary.
23 crew and passengers; 9 lost.

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.

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 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.

PSS Earl of Bridgewater

Wooden Paddle steamer.
Possibly vessel launched for Duke of Bridgewater by James and Seddon, Liverpool, June 1823.
Owned Runcorn Steam Packet Co.
2 August 1824, boiler explosion at Liverpool (en route to Ellesmere Port)
3 people died.

From Liverpool newspapers:
  Sunday afternoon last [2 August 1824], about ha'past three o'clock, while the Earl of Bridgewater, Ellesmere steam-packet, was about to start from George's Quay, her boiler unfortunately burst, with explosion. There were, at the time, a considerable number of passengers on the deck of the vessel; and such was the force of the steam that several of them, including a young woman, were, according to the most correct account we can procure from eyewitnesses, blown a considerable height into the air, and fell in the river. They were fortunately picked up by the boats belonging to the floating-bath, and others from the shore. The female, who was picked up, was dreadfully scalded, as was also a boy. Three men also, named Bickerstaffe, Jones, and Gould, suffered severely. The young woman and the boy, who were instantly conveyed the Infirmary, we regret to say, both died, the former on Monday night, the other on Tuesday. Hopes are entertained of the recovery of the men, though their situation is precarious. Several others were less injured, and not a few stupified by the alarm and force of the explosion. Some of the individuals injured, were, in the first instance, carried to the house of Mrs. Slater, the receiving-house appointed by the Humane Society [set up to aid recovery of drowning victims], and experienced every possible attention from Mrs. Slater and the other inmates the house, as well as from the two men of the floating-bath.
  The name of the unfortunate young woman, who lost her life by this accident was Mary Artingstall. She was going spend with her parents, at Waverham Cheshire, the happy season of the wakes. We have to state, too, that another unknown individual has been lost to society: a boat, in which was Mr. Richard Lea, a tide-surveyor, was a short distance from the vessel at the time of explosion, and, seeing a man in the water, rowed to the spot, and endeavoured save him; but, unfortunately, missing a secure hold of him with a boat-hook, brought up only his hat; the body unhappily sank. The same boat picked up the female.
  A coroner's inquest was held on the bodies on Tuesday, and several witnesses were examined to the circumstances and cause of the accident. The investigation was adjourned Wednesday, and thence, for some important evidence not at hand, for some days longer.
  In the absence, therefore, of official information, we supply the following statement by a scientific gentleman of Manchester, who, we believe, has had considerable experience in the construction of steam-engines. It seems to throw light on the true cause of the accident. Being on board the Lady Stanley steam-packet [which sailed to Eastham], with some friends from Manchester, they had the opportunity of witnessing the accident which occurred on board the Earl of Bridgewater steam-packet Sunday last: The packet was just in the act of starting when the explosion took place. We thus observed that the report was not so loud as we should have, lying close, expected from the bursting of a steam-boiler; and on that account my friends, who were scientific gentlemen, were very desirous to ascertain the cause, examined the safety-valve, and found it in very excellent condition, and not weighing more than four or five pounds upon the square inch [about 0.3 of atmospheric pressure], and we were informed, that no extra load had that day been put on. We examined the boiler, and found that the accident had been occasioned by a defect in the angle-iron, (which is a piece of iron placed inside the boiler, and rivetted to the tops and side plates) it being improperly welded in the manufacture, which was clearly shown by a coat of rust in the seam. The boiler was 10 feet long, and the angle-iron was unsound nearly the whole length. We were much surprised the accident had not occurred before; and, therefore, do not consider that any blame can be attached to the persons who had the management of the engine.
  This the first accident of the kind which has taken place on our river since the introduction of steam-navigation. The engines, indeed, which are employed are the very first quality, faithfully manufactured on the most recent and approved principle, at establishments of the highest respectability; and, though we have here one lamentable instance of failure or neglect, as much is it in the interest of the owners of these useful vessels, to render them secure from all such casualties, that we trust every engine will, in future, be frequently and carefully inspected by scientific men, and any defects immediately supplied. The appointment of an inspector, expressly to examine the packet engines in the port generally, is devoutly to be wished, and it is also suggested, that engine machinery of complicated and fearful power should not be placed under the care of lads or incompetent individuals. In the present case, it is said that the boy, who unfortunately lost his life, was in the act of exhibiting some parts of the engine to strangers, when the catastrophe took place. He was, we learn, ignorant of the nature of the engine; and a boy (aged only 17), who, it appears, was the only engineer of the ship was, at the time, onshore. If such youths are to be trusted with the engines, of which they can have but little experience, we know not how the proprietors can expect the encouragement or confidence of the public.

Later, in 1841, the Earl of Bridgewater was involved in a collision in the Mersey with HM Mail Steamer Merlin.

PSS Alice

Wooden paddle steam passenger ferry
Built 1824 Mottershead & Hayes, 50 tons
Seacombe Ferry (on Mersey); owned J & R Parry.
Caught fire and sank: 7th March 1825.
Vessel still operating until 1833 at least.

Liverpool Mercury Friday, 11th March, 1825

Steam Boat Incident

On Monday morning [7th March 1825] the steam boat Alice, property of Mr. Parry, of Seacombe Ferry, took fire by some accident, whilst at anchor off that place. As soon as the fire was discovered, the men endeavoured to extinguish the flames; but, finding their efforts unavailing, they determined to scuttle the vessel, as the only chance of saving her from total destruction. She was immediately scuttled, and sank opposite the hotel. As she lay on the edge of the bank, the ebb tide (which was remarkably strong) forced her over into the deep water, where she now lies, and is likely to prove a complete wreck. The Alice was one of the finest steam boats on the river, and sailed very fast. Mr. Parry, we understand, was only half insured: his loss by the accident will, therefore, we regret to state, be very great.


Wooden paddle steamer built Mottershead, Liverpool, 1829
50 grt, 78 x 16 x 6.6 ft, engines 26hp
Owned at Preston then sold to act as a Birkenhead (Woodside) Ferry from 1832.
13 February 1836, on fire, scuttled to put fire out, refloated.

Liverpool Standard and General Commercial Advertiser - Friday 19 February 1836
  FIRE ON BOARD THE RIBBLE STEAMER. On Saturday last, early in the morning, the Ribble, steamer, belonging to the Woodside establishment, caught fire by some means not yet accounted for. Happily she was near the slip on the Cheshire side, and prompt measures were resorted to by scuttling the vessel, and the flames were thereby subdued. She is, we understand, seriously injured by this untoward event.

William Stanley

Wooden paddle steamer, built 1837 by Wilson, Liverpool
Engines 50 hp by Fawcett & Preston.
Liverpool - Eastham ferry, boiler explosion 20-8-1838
Sold to City of Dublin Steam Packet Co. 1845

Liverpool Standard and General Commercial Advertiser, Tuesday 21 August 1838 :

ACCIDENT ON THE RIVER. - The William Stanley, plying between this place and Eastham, had one of her lower boiler-plates burst yesterday [20th August 1838]. No damage was done by the explosion, further than the inconvenience which was experienced by the passengers in having their persons covered with smoke and ashes.

The explosion was reported to have occurred at the Pier at Liverpool.

In the 1830's the steamer Lady Stanley provided the Eastham service, being later replaced by the Lady Bulkeley, William Stanley and Sir Thomas Stanley.

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Monk's Ferry Company

From Liverpool Standard and General Commercial Advertiser - Friday 06 May 1836
  THE MONK'S FERRY COMPANY, A GENERAL MEETING of the SHAREHOLDERS will be held on MONDAY next, the 9th instant, at the Clarendon-rooms at One o'clock in the Afternoon; for purpose of appointing the Directors of the Company, pursuant to the terms of the Prospectus.

This company started in 1837 when wooden paddle steamer MONK was built for them. However, in 1838, a court case was brought by the owners of the ferry service from Woodside to Liverpool, in which they claimed to have the exclusive rights to a ferry service between Birkenhead and Liverpool. Monk's Ferry used a terminal about 500 metres south of Woodside.
  This legal battle involved several court cases, but the eventual ruling was that the Monk's Ferry service was not lawful.

  Further developments were that the Birkenhead and Chester Railway Company (which reached Birkenhead in 1840) bought in 1841 both the Woodside and Monk's Ferries - and used the Monk's Ferry to connect with their rail service from Chester. Somewhat later, in 1842, the Corporation of Birkenhead bought the Woodside Ferry service from the Railway Company. The Railway company built a line to a station at Monk's Ferry which continued in operation until circa 1880.

The Monk's Ferry steamers were offered for sale from April 1840. They seem to have been bought by the Birkenhead and Chester Railway Company. The Monk went on to provide a service to North Wales, and was lost on Caernarfon Bar in 1843. The Dolphin served in N Wales from March 1843 [presumably replacing the Monk] and then from Sligo from 1848 to her loss in 1855. The Abbey remained on the Mersey; note an earlier Mersey ferry called Abbey was lost off Islay in 1839.

From Gore's Liverpool General Advertiser - Advert appearing from April 1840 until May 1842.
  ON SALE Now lying in the Trafalgar Dock
  The following well-known Monk's Ferry Steamers
  MONK, built by W. Seddon, Liverpool, in 1837; engine by Messrs. Johnson and Co. Liverpool, equal to 45 horsepower; 71 tons, old measurement; draft of water 4 feet 9 inches.
  ABBEY, built by Messrs. Humble and Co., Liverpool, in 1838; engine equal to 50 horses, by Vernon and Co. Liverpool; 68 tons, old measurement; draft of water 4 feet 9 inches
  DOLPHIN, built at Dumbarton, in 1834; boilers made by Messrs. Johnson and Co. Liverpool; engine equal to 40 horses; 68 tons, old measurement; draft of water 4 feet 9 inches.
  The above Boats are in excellent condition, and ready for immediate use. For other particulars apply to Mr, H. F. PENNY , Royal Bank-building or to: D TONGE(Broker)
  N.B. Persons having any claims against the above Company are requested to send in their accounts as above.

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