Paddleboat Memories On The Dorset Coast - Benjamin Pond - Longshoreman

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Paddleboat Memories On The Dorset Coast

Published Articles

Poole Herald, 27th October 1965
A reproduction of the original article by Benjamin Pond

During the past hundred years the paddle steamers have cruised along the Dorset Coast. They’ve gone to all the resorts between Brighton and Dartmouth, including the Isle Of Wight, also as far as Cherbourg and Alderney.

Now, in 1965, we have been limited to only one paddler, the “Embassy,” yet just before the first world war no less than 10 boats were running from Bournemouth, four of which tied up at Poole for the night.

Before the start of this century Cosen’s steamers used to spend the nights alongside the old goods pier at Swanage, there being no available berths at Poole, due to the large numbers of sailing ships at that time. The second pier was not built until 1896.

Bournemouth it’s first pier in 1860. Ten years later it was destroyed in a gale, but another pier followed. This one has been increased in length, and also in recent years has been greatly improved.

Probably the first paddler to visit Bournemouth was the “Ursa Major” which went from Poole in 1865.

Then the next 12 years saw several small paddlers in and out of Poole, making trips to Swanage, Weymouth, and the Isle Of Wight.

The “Empress” appeared in 1879. She was a larger boat than any of the earlier ones, being of 173 tons.

She was followed by “Victoria” in 1884, similar build but of 228 tons.

Two Funnels

Four years later the “Monarch” came to Poole, she was to become a regular feature, being in and out of the port for over 60 years, her length was 210 feet and her tonnage 315 and had two funnels.

Another steamer was the “Lord Elgin” which ran from Bournemouth, Swanage and Poole from 1881 to 1914.

We must miss out the names of many other paddlers. Older residents will recall them, especially the trips to Spithead in 1912 and again in 1914 for the Naval Reviews.

“Bournemouth Queen” came into local service in 1908. She was to be seen at Poole for over 40 years, finally going to the ship-breakers yard in 1957.

Another old timer was “Emperor Of India” which was with us from about 1909 to 1955. She was 482 tons, and like the “Bournemouth Queen,” made many long trips to Dartmouth, Torquay, and as far east as Brighton.

Ran 94 Years

Mention must be made of “Premier” which sometimes came round to Swanage from Weymouth. She was in service for 94 years. No other paddler lasted so long, the nearest approach to this long spell being that of “Empress” which had a life of 76 years.

Locally, we are now left with but one paddler, “Embassy,” and we don’t even know if she will run next season. Everyone goes by bus or motor-car today, so the steamers do not pay to run. Yet I believe that if a few local people could put up the money they could bring back more boats, because people are getting fed up with our congested roads.

If you want to see the cliffs of Dorset it is of little use getting on top of them, you have to cruise off the coastline to see all their grandeur.

Looking back again, many of those early paddlers were very slow, they carried a sail too, as engines sometimes broke down. Anyway, they never came to grief in heavy weather, nor in all of the past 100 years was a single life lost at sea from them.

I recall one storm in 1912 when I boarded the “Empress” at Bournemouth to make the single trip to Poole, via Boscombe and Swanage. Somehow we backed out from the pier and got to Boscombe. Seas were breaking right over the pier-head and we couldn’t get alongside, so we headed for Swanage, took two hours to get there and green seas were running through the alleyways. Passengers were ordered into the after saloon.

We got into Poole three hours late, and took 50 minutes to tie up, due to wind force and congested quay space.

Passengers who had to return to the Bournemouth area found that the last tram and train had gone, so they had to walk. I was more fortunate, as I lived near the quay.

Cheap Trips

It seems we had our money’s worth that hectic night. The fare was a shilling.

I recall going from Poole on a long day trip round the Isle Of Wight and back (100 miles). The fare was three shillings and sixpence.

Cherbourg was six shillings return, which included French landing tax of one shilling.

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