Wooden steam ferry Etna (or Aetna) of Liverpool, built Dawson &
Pearson, Liverpool, 1817, owned William Batman and George Lawrence French, used as
Tranmere-Liverpool Ferry, 75 nrt, 63 x 28 ft, twin hulls with one
paddle wheel between, engine 22hp by Fawcett & Littledale of
See also information about Mersey, her sister vessel.
Model of Etna [from Merseyside Maritime Museum].
Most early steam ferries on the Mersey had side paddle wheels (in fact the earliest sea-going steamship, Comet on the Clyde, had two such wheels on each side initially). The side wheel arrangement allowed steam engines to be inserted quite easily into existing wooden hulls. It was, however, difficult to board when alongside, because of the paddle wheels. An alternative was more like a catamaran: two hulls with one paddle wheel between them. This was the plan used for Etna. A similar scheme was used in warships - since the central wheel was better protected - for example Fulton's design for the US navy, Demologos, 1812-16 and Cochrane's Rising Star in 1818-21; and in some river boats: Princes Charlotte 1816 at Pichelsdorf, on the Elbe.
George Lawrence French was described as the designer - although he is shown in Gore's Liverpool Directory for 1823 as a boarding-house keeper at Birkenhead. The Aetna was first employed between Liverpool and Tranmere, the slip or basin excavated for her at Liverpool being known as the Aetna Slip, and the adjoining Aetna Street named accordingly. Etna Street, at Birkenhead, no doubt also derives its name from this early ferry-boat. She continued in the service for some fifteen years, and it is worth noting that her passage across the river occupied no more than five minutes. She was offered for sale at Liverpool 1828.
One interesting survivor is the "Etna Token" - these were metal
tokens, the size of a penny, with ETNA 1817 on one side and a Liver
Bird on the other side, inscribed "Pro bono publico". They are
thought to have been season tickets. [Image from
[from Chester Courant - Tuesday 11 March 1817]:
Improved Steam Boat. On Friday last, a Steam Boat, of new construction, was launched at Dawson and Pearson's yard, Liverpool, amidst a large concourse of spectators; it went off in a good stile[sic], and is intended to carry passengers, coaches, chaises, horses, cattle, etc. between Tranmere Ferry, and Liverpool, every 20 minutes of the day. It is built on the new improved plan of the American Steam Boats, is well adapted for crossing rivers, is in fact the best substitute for a bridge ever invented. It is constructed on two boats, each of 65 feet length, and 10 feet wide, with an interval between them of eight feet wide, which serves for a wheel, and is worked by a steam engine and two boilers, possessing 24 horsepower; it is calculated to cross the River Mersey, one mile in width, in five minutes, against any moderate wind, and will stop only 15 minutes on each side. It has a platform on the top, across the two boats, well connected with beams, 28 feet wide, so that horses, carriages, etc., can go in and out on a perfect level, without abuse or pulling them to pieces - it is expected to commence sailing tomorrow.
[from Liverpool Mercury - Friday 18 April 1817]:
ETNA STEAM-PACKET. In consequence of some additional Improvements to be made in the Engine and Water Wheel of the above Vessel, she will not ply, as stated in the Papers of the 15th and 16th. When completed, notice will be given. BATMAN, FRENCH, and CO. , - Liverpool, 17th April, 1817.
[from Liverpool Mercury - Friday 2 May 1817 and later]:
ETNA TRANMERE FERRY STEAM PACKET. THIS Packet has commenced running from the New Slip, at the West Side of the Queen's Dock Graving Docks, where every convenience will be found for taking on board and discharging Carriages, Carts, Horses, and Cattle of every description going to and from Cheshire, without the trouble that has hitherto been experienced in the Common Sail Boats, and which it is the intention of the Proprietor as much as possible to obviate. This Vessel is peculiarly adapted for Carriages, &c. to drive on board, without the trouble of UNHARNESSING and will be found the most eligible and safe conveyance BETWEEN LIVERPOOL and the CHESHIRE SHORE, as she crosses from Liverpool to Tranmere every half hour, remaining only ten minutes on each side. Performed by BATMAN, FRENCH & Co Liverpool, 1st May, 1817.
[Chester Chronicle - Friday 20 June 1817]:
ETNA, Tranmere Ferry Double Steam Packet. The proprietors of the above Establishment, beg leave most respectfully to offer their sincere thanks to the public, for their very liberal support, and decided preference which has been given to the ETNA, since she commenced plying between Liverpool and Tranmere; and from which, she continues to run from morning till night, affording the most safe and convenient conveyance ever yet established on the River Mersey. Every convenience necessary for taking onboard, and discharging, Carriages, Horses, Cattle, &c. &c. will be found attached to the Packet and the Slip, West side Queen's Dock, from which place she starts, remaining at each side only 10 minutes.
N. B. On the Packet's arrival at Tranmere, for the last time, a gun will be fired, ten minutes before she leaves there for Liverpool, in order to give notice to those who may be at a distance from the Slip, and without an opportunity of seeing the Packet on her arrival. BATMAN, FRENCH, & Co. Liverpool, 18th June, 1817.
[from Liverpool Mercury - Friday 30 March 1821]:
Birkenhead Hotel and Ferry. ... The ETNA STEAM-BOAT, having just undergone a complete repair with new Boilers, &c. will ply regularly between the Etna-slip, Queen's Dock, and Birkenhead. The MERSEY STEAM-BOAT is constantly plying till dark from Birkenhead to the Parade-slip.
[from Liverpool Mercury - Friday 03 May 1822]:
CHESTER RACES. MESSRS. FRENCH and Co. respectfully inform the Public, that the Etna Slip is now in complete order, being built of Stone, and is decidedly the most convenient landing-place on the Liverpool side of the river (where a person is in constant attendance to give every information) and is equal to the Birkenhead Slip on the other shore. The ETNA and MERSEY Steam-boats will be in constant attendance for the Conveyance of Passengers, Horses, and Carriages during the Race week. The ABBEY, a beautiful new Steam-boat, also plies daily between the Parade Slip and Birkenhead. The ROYAL MAIL COACH, together with other conveyances at Birkenhead, will proceed with the Passengers forward to Chester.
[from Gore's Liverpool General Advertiser - Thursday 02 October 1823]:
On Friday night last, the Etna steam-boat, belonging to Mr. Mears, at Birkenhead, was discovered to be on fire, but the flames were fortunately extinguished by the exertions of the Captain and a few individuals, though not before considerable damage had been done in the vessel.
[from Gore's Liverpool General Advertiser - Thursday 15 May 1828]:
The Steam-packet ETNA, which may be viewed where she now lies alongside the above vessel [Vesuvius at Tranmere], and further particulars known by applying to Melling and Chell, brokers, Duke's Dock.
The wooden paddle steamer Mersey joined the Etna in service with the same owners. She was stated [article about "Fossets" in LNRS, Dec 2009, p35] to have been built in 1819 by Dawson & Pearson, 80 tons, also with twin hulls and an engine of 24 hp by Fawcett & Littledale.
SALE: BY JAMES TROTTER, Peremptorily. - On Tuesday next, the 7th
instant, at one o'clock in the afternoon, at the House of Henry Cross,
corner of Bonny's-place, Key-street. ONE QUARTER SHARE of the Steam
Boat MERSEY, nearly new and ONE SIXTH SHARE of the Steam Boat ETNA, both
plying between Liverpool and Tranmere. Further particulars may be had
on application to Jas. Trotter, Whitechapel. [from Liverpool Mercury -
Friday 03 December 1819]
THE ETNA AND MERSEY. Steam or Sailing Boats, are constantly plying for the accommodation of Passengers, &c. and are always in attendance at a quarter before eight o'clock, at the Etna Slip, Queen's Dock, and at the Stairs, west end of No. 2 and 3, Graving Docks, Nova Scotia, and the west side of George's Dock, to convey Passengers to the above Coach. [from Chester Courant Tuesday 25 April 1820]
[from Gore's Liverpool General Advertiser - Thursday 20 March 1823]:
VALUABLE STEAM-BOAT. Peremptorily, to close a concern, On Saturday, the 29th instant, at six o'clock in the evening, at the Neptune Hotel, Clayton-square, Liverpool. ALL that very valuable STEAM-BOAT, called the Mersey, lately plying on the River Mersey, between Birkenhead and Liverpool. It has lately undergone a thorough repair, is in excellent condition, and a very convenient Boat for the conveyance of Passengers, Horses, Carriages, &c. The Engine is of Sixteen horse Power. For particulars apply to Captain French, who will show the Boat, or to Messrs. Statham and Foster, or Messrs. Lace, Miller and Lace, Solicitors, Liverpool.