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Henry Bell's “Comet” was the precursor of river steam navigation in Great Britain. One season's experience proved that it was capable of being made a commercially profitable undertaking; and the trade thus inaugurated was rapidly developed. But the capability of the steam-boat for ocean navigation was still an unsolved problem. The credit of this further step in the history of steam navigation is due to Mr. David Napier, whom à committee of the House of Commons, of which the late Sir Henry Parnell was chairman, decided to be the first that proved the practicability of successfully navigating the open sea by the power of steam. But this is anticipating.

There has been of recent date a considerable amount of friendly disputation as to the first steam-boat that ever appeared in English waters. But the priority claimed on the one side, and denied on the other, is only a priority of a few months, and cannot lessen the interest with which all must look back at these early efforts in steam navigation. The engineer of the “Comet”—the practical mechanic who made and fitted up the engine in the “Comet,” now upwards of 50 years ago—was John Robertson, a man of genius and enterprise, who is still living in Glasgow, but in an indigent condition. In 1814 he had spirit enough, and sufficient faith in this new application of steam power, to get two vessels built at Dundee, by Mr. Smart, shipbuilder, which he fitted up with engines and paddles, and conveyed, by carefully threading his way along the coast, from the Tay to the Humber. One vessel was named the “Caledonia, and arrived in the Humber in Sept. 1814, where it was at once seized by the Custom-house authorities, the unfortunate owner having 'set out from Dundee without obtaining a register or certificate. A delay of a fortnight enabled him to procure this necessary document from the port whence he had sailed in ballast, and then he formally applied to the Board of Customs for the release of his vessel. In this application he stated “that the ‘Caledonia' was built at Dundee for a passenger boat in any river where employment could be found," and further, “that the vessel was intended to ply for passengers in the Humber and adjacent rivers.” The application was successful, and by an order dated 25th October, 1814, the customs authorities decided that the vessel should be given up on the owner obtaining a license to trade, as stated in his application for the release of his vessel. The oversight which led to this delay and unpleasantness in the case of the “Caledonia," was avoided in the case of the other vessel, which was named the “Humber,” and which the enterprising owner successfully navigated, in a similar manner, from the Tay to the Humber about three months after. The two steamers thus taken from Dundee into English waters, plied for some time on the Humber, the one between Hull and Selby and the other between Hull and Gainsborough, and enjoyed a fair share of patronage and success.

But the priority in the navigation of English waters by steam-boats, which I have thus accorded to the “Caledonia” and the “Humber," built on the Tay, is also claimed for the “Margery,” built on the Clyde. This was a vessel built by the late Mr. W. Denny, who carried on business as a shipbuilder at Dumbarton, where his sons have now a large establishment, of world-wide celebrity ; and the owners were Messrs. W. Anderson and John McCubbin, merchants, of Glasgow. The vessel was named the “Margery,” in honour of Mr. Anderson's eldest daughter, who performed the ceremony at the launching, which is somewhat profanely termed christening. It was in the spring of 1814 that this vessel was launched, and after plying on the Clyde between Glasgow and Greenock for a month or two, negociations were entered into and successfully concluded for the transference of the new steamer from the Clyde to the Thames. The agents in thus altering the original destination of the “Margery” were Captain Anthony Cortis, of the parish of Mary-le-bone, and Mr. John Cathcart, merchant, London, who were associated with Mr. Thomas Hall, of Kennington Cross, Kennington, and Mr. James Hartley, solicitor, London, under the designation of “The London Steam Engine Packet Company.” The two first named gentlemen proceeded to Glasgow, and on behalf of the

company,” bargained with Messrs. Anderson and McCubbin for three-fifths of the “Margery;" and further bargained that the vessel should be taken to London for the purpose of plying on the Thames.

The formal agreement, to be found in the records of the sheriff court at Glasgow, between the partners—the four gentlemen forming "The London Steam Engine Packet Company," and the two original owners of the vessel,—stipulates “that the said steam engine vessel, or packet, belonging to them, shall be

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immediately navigated from the river Clyde, where she presently lies, to the river Thames, and there be employed in carrying passengers at a reasonable fare, to and from such place or places on the said river Thames as may be judged by the parties most suitable and advantageous for their interests." The agreement further contains many stipulations for the management of the vessel, for the auditing of the accounts weekly, and the deposit of the monies with some responsible banking company;" and also, “it is agreed that in the event it shall be found unsuitable or disadvantageous to the parties to employ the said packet for the purpose aforesaid in the river Thames, the same shall be navigated therefrom to, and employed in, any other navigable river that may be agreed on.

In pursuance of this agreement, which is dated 8th Nov. 1814, the “Margery” left the Clyde, under the command of Captain Cortis, and passing through the Forth and Clyde canal to Grangemouth, proceeded thence along the coast to the Thames, which was reached in about a week froin leaving Grangemouth. It is said, and there is no reason to doubt the statement, that the good people of Berwick, on seeing the smoke-producing, craft pass along their coast, concluded that it was a ship on fire; and the sensation which the appearance of the “Margery” created amongst the seafaring population of the Thames, rendered it a matter of difficulty to procure the services of a pilot-the tendency to superstition on the part of seamen leading the pilots to suspect that she must have something to do

with the powers infernal, seeing that she vomited fire and smoke, and regarded neither wind nor tide. Soon after her arrival in the Thames, the “Margery” commenced "plying for hire” between Gravesend and Wapping Old Stairs, and her owners were permitted for a few months to enjoy in peace the fruits of their enterprise. But the spirit of the old corporations and of the modern trades unions animated the Thames watermen of that day, and excited against the

Margery” and her owners an opposition which was for the time successful. In consequence of an information, dated 25th May, 1815, sworn to by two “overseers and rulers” of the corporation of watermen, Captain Courtenay, who had been placed in charge of the “Margery" after her arrival in the Thames, was summoned to appear at the Thames Police Court on 31st May, and answer to the charge

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of having caused “to be worked a certain boat (to wit) a certain boat called the steam engine packet, upon the said river of Thames, for hire and gain, * he, the said William Courtenay, not having served for the space of seven years to any waterman, wherryman, or lighterman, nor being a Trinity man, fisherman, ballastman, nor a person employed in rowing or anyways navigating western barges, milkboats, chalk hoys, faggot or wood lighters,” &c., whereby he had forfeited the sum of ten pounds. At the hearing of the case, two watermen and the town clerk of Gravesend gave evidence and established the charge to the satisfaction of the justices. Let one passage from the evidence of Wm. Creed, waterman, suffice :

“I paid my fare (two shillings) to the defendant in Galleons Reach, just below Woolwich. He demanded that of me as my fare

to London. All that I saw pay their fares paid the same. The boat is not rowed ; it has sails occasionally. It is worked by a machine which they call a steam engine. The packet was worked in that way on that day. The sail was put up during a part of the time. The machine was not stopped during the passage up. She did not stop to take in passengers; she went on at the same pace. There was a man who attended to the engine. Just before the packet came to Wapping Old Stairs, the defendant called to that man to stop the engine.”

Changed is the state of things on the Thames and many other rivers, since the day of the date of this prosecution; and curious indeed is this evidence as to the modus operandi of navigating the Thames with steam vessels in the

year of Grace 1815.

But the prosecution, as I have said, was successful. The new system of navigation interfered with vested rights, and for a time the ignorance and narrow prejudice that were passing away, triumphed over the dawn of an advancing civilisation. The “Margery” ceased plying on the Thames, and was sold, in June 1815, to a French company, by whom she was taken to the Seine, and was thus the first steamer that crossed the Straits of Dover. She arrived at Paris about the month of August 1815, and was shortly after her arrival visited by Louis XVIII., then recently restored to the throne of his ancestors. How long the “Margery” traded in French waters, and with what profit to her new owners, I know

it is not many years since her timbers disappeared


from the banks of the Seine, where she had been broken up when unfit for further service.

A dispute, similar to that respecting the first steamer in English waters, has also arisen with respect to the first steamer ever seen in Irish waters. The son of Mr. John McCubbin, one of the original owners of the “Margery,” claims that honour for the “Greenock," built by Mr. William Denny, of Dumbarton, for Messrs. Anderson and McCubbin, of Glasgow, the same gentlemen who built and owned the “Margery.” The “Greenock” was launched in the beginning of 1815, and traded between Glasgow, Greenock, and Rothesay, in the Isle of Bute, till some tiine in the year 1816, when she was taken to Belfast, in the hope of being sold to the Harbour Corporation of that port. But en route from the Clyde to Belfast Lough, it was determined to take her on a pleasure trip to Inverary, and the owners and a number of friends, with a good many strangers as passengers, embarked at Glasgow, and proceeded to Greenock, Gourock, and Rothesay, where a large addition was expected to the living freight. But the gloomy prognostications of an old woman of Rothesay, who had the reputation of being a witch, disappointed these anticipations. The “witch” had been loud and vehement in predicting that if the “Greenock” attempted a voyage to so distant a port as Inverary, she would never return; and such was her influence on the credulity of the age and people, that not only were the inhabitants of Rothesay deterred from venturing with the pleasure party, but many of the passengers who had come from Glasgow declined to proceed farther on an excursion which they now believed to be fated to destruction. It is satisfactory to know that, notwithstanding the witch's" prophecy, the trip to Inverary was performed in safety; but when the “Greenock” returned to Rothesay, preparatory to crossing to Belfast, then regarded as a perilous undertaking, she was deserted by all except the "hands” engaged for her navigation, and Mr. McCubbin, one of her owners. Shortly after leaving Rothesay Bay on her adventurous voyage, the “Greenock” encountered a strong south-west wind, which compelled her to take shelter in Loch Ranza, on the north coast of the Island of Arran. Campbeltown Bay was reached on the day following; and on the third day from leaving Rothesay she reached Belfast Lough in safety. The expectation of

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