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A Review of Clyde Steamer Operations and new ships built in the 1930s by Gordon Stewart

In the 1930s, despite the economic problems of the times, there had been a spurt in construction of new ships for the Clyde - 11 steamers, seven paddlers and four turbines - the last significant use of steam technology for new estuarine vessels anywhere in Europe.

Amongst them was the well-loved paddle steamer Jeanie Deans (seen above in a photo by Alexander Bain) : nothing if not a conservatively designed ship, but powerful and fast, designed to get LNER railway passengers to Dunoon ahead of their rivals despite having a longer sea crossing from Craigendoran. 
May 1945. The days were getting longer. A warm summer was expected. Europe was, once again, at peace. British holidaymakers could once again dream of a day at the coast without fear of enemy attack or for family members at the front line. Not since 1939, with the ominous threat of war casting a shadow over what might otherwise have been a carefree summer, had vistors to the Firth of Clyde been able to enjoy unrestricted cruising throughout one of Britain's most popular stretches of water. The declaration of war brought that season to a premature end. A submarine protection "boom" was strung across the Firth, the happy tourists enlisted into the forces and the majority of the magnificent steamships which had for over 100 years been a focal point of Clyde holidays, were sent to the local shipyards to be fitted with guns and minesweeping equipment. Leaving the shipyards with new all-over grey paintwork, they went to war as their predecessors had in 1914. For several of the ships it was their second call-up into His Majesty's service.

For five seasons, a very restricted service had been operated on the Clyde, with ferry services to Dunoon and Rothesay, the Holy Loch and Arran piers, providing a lifeline for those resorts and the chance for at least some people to enjoy a brief respite from the war.

Despite being on the north-western extremity of Europe and far less affected by the war and its aftermath than central Europe, the west of Scotland had suffered heavy bombing during air raids and the Clyde had become highly militarised as a naval base. The Clyde fleet, like its potential patrons, had suffered heavy losses. The roll of honour for lost vessels read like a departure roster for a busy summer's day at Rothesay: Mercury, Juno, Kylemore, Waverley and Marmion. Duchess of Rothesay, Eagle III and Queen-Empress struggled back from duty but failed to make it back into post-war service on account of their poor condition.

Clearly no vessels would be available to restore a peace time service that summer : the Admiralty retained many ships for some time after the ending of hostilities and shipyards were busy re-converting others for their civilian role. Only in 1946 was the Firth recognisable from ten years earlier, but it had also gained a large American naval presence as the World War was increasingly turning into a Cold War with the former partner in victory, the Soviet Union.

Like the Great War before it, the effects of the Second World War were such that life could never return to how it had been beforehand. The same applied to Clyde cruising. Whilst there was a brief surge in cruising popularity in the immediate post-war years, changes in economics, technology and personal circumstances resulted in the long term decline of cruising. This was not immediately apparent and attention turned to what new ships would be needed for the restored services. The London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) suffered the largest proportionate losses. They had lost two of their five vessels (Marmion and Waverley, the latter having been laid up for the 1939 season) and planned two replacements. The larger Caledonian Steam Packet Co (CSP) losses included the modern steamers Juno and Mercury.

The LNER dusted down drawings from it's highly popular Jeanie Deans of 1931 and Inglis' Glasgow yard turned out, for the 1947 season, a new Waverley which looked similar to Jeanie Deans as she reappeared after her post-war rebuild. Waverley's power plant - triple expansion engines - replicated closely those of her older fleet-mate, and the LNER persisted with paddle-wheel vessels on account of low water at their base at Craigendoran on the north bank of the Clyde. The CSP did not immediately add new tonnage. The only other new paddlers built for British waters were the Cardiff Queen and Bristol Queen for the fleet of P & A Campbell on the Bristol Channel.

Of significant importance to the future of the steamer as a cruise vessel was the outcome of the deliberations of the Southern Railway when it came to the two vessels ordered in 1946 to make good the war losses of its Portsmouth - Ryde ferry and Solent cruising fleet. Originally anticipating receiving two vessels similar to the paddle steamer Ryde which they had built ten years earlier, they were persuaded to order two diesel-powered vessels which were launched at Wm Denny 's Dumbarton shipyard as the Brading and Southsea. Denny had a close association with the Caledonian Steam Packet Company and had built a number of ground-breaking vessels for that company. They had traditionally been at the forefront of engineering technology, whether in terms of compounding of steam engines or the steam turbine. Although they had delivered paddlers along traditional lines to the CSP in the 1930s, they were increasingly turning to motors as their preferred power plant and by the end of the war were working closely with the Swiss company, Sulzer, who were leaders in this field.

The economics of cruise ship and ferry operation after the war changed in favour of motor vessels and the introduction of four such ships on the Clyde in 1953 sealed their ascendancy, much to the dismay of the traditionalists. One year later, three motor powered ships were put into service, specially designed to carry cars and heralding an even more fundamental change to the future of Clyde cruising.

Twenty-five years earlier, steam was still "king" and tourists in their thousands flocked to the Clyde. New ships were needed and the spate of new construction produced twelve new steamers : seven paddlers and five turbines, including several classics of their time

King George V : A New Class of Steamer
The revolutionary King Edward, built in 1901 for Clyde service was the world's first steam turbine powered passenger ship, using a form of propulsion first demonstrated by the engineer Charles Parsons on the launch Turbinia in 1896. A more efficient user of steam, the turbine was to replace the reciprocating engine as the main power source for screw steamers and the speed and economy of King Edward soon made the turbine the chosen method of propulsion for Clyde steamers on the long-haul cruise routes such as to Campbeltown and Inveraray.

King Edward was followed on the Clyde by Queen Alexandra in 1902 and the CSP's Duchess of Argyll in 1906. Queen Alexandra was seriously damaged by fire and replaced by a similar vessel of the same name in 1912. After a long hiatus during which very few steamers were built for the Clyde, the CSP replaced their ageing and expensive to run paddler Glen Sannox with a new "Sannox" in 1925. This vessel was little different to her half-sisters built 20 years earlier and indicated that the CSP had lost the pioneering spirit which had led it to embrace technological advances in the 1890s and early 1900s.

King Edward and Queen Alexandra were run by Turbine Steamers Ltd, a company established in association with John Williamson, a Clyde captain and steamboat owner and younger brother of James and Alexander, respectively marine Superintendents of the Caledonian and Glasgow & South Western Railway fleets. In 1926, Turbine Steamers teamed up with the Parsons company who had become well established as leaders in the manufacture of turbines, Yarrow Boilers and the William Denny shipyard at Dumbarton to produce King George V, a genuine development on the vessel introduced a quarter of a century earlier.

In outward appearance, King George V was a striking looking ship, her promenade deck saloon was extended the full width of the hull and ran for half the length of the vessel amidships, allowing an extended observation deck above and giving the impression of a mini-liner. The increased passenger accommodation allowed the restaurant to be moved to the main deck aft where large observation windows enabled diners to enjoy the passing scenery. The design was repeated in two later tubines which were to become among the most loved of all Clyde steamers.

In terms of machinery, the main development was the the use of higher pressure in the turbine, linked by gears to twin propellors. The experiment with high pressure had disastrous effects and the boiler had to be replaced twice after tubes burst. The first incidence occurred off Irvine as the ship approached the port for her winter lay-up after the 1927 season. Two firemen were killed as a result of burns following the explosion. A second, in Kilbrannan Sound, thankfully caused no loss of life, but no further risks could be taken.

King George V continued in operation and was to give almost 50 years loyal service. Although transferred to David MacBrayne's fleet in 1936 as a result of the break up of the Turbine Steamers and Williamson - Buchanan Steamers companies, she was still seen on her new owners' Gourock - Ardrishaig mail service from time to time. Normally based at Oban and cruising around Mull, she was reunited with one of her surviving ex-fleetmates when the Caledonian and MacBrayne operations were merged from January 1973. She sailed for a further two summers before being sold for potential use as a pub on the River Thames at London. Whilst under conversion at Cardiff in 1981 a serious fire broke out and the remains of the hull were finally scrapped in 1984.

Clyde Cruising Fleets at the end of the 1920s
The Caledonian Steam Packet Company, the marine subsidiary of the former Caledonian Railway maintained its base at Gourock, serving Dunoon and the Holy Loch piers and operated the Wemyss Bay to Rothesay and the link from Ardrossan to the Arran piers as well as a wide range of cruises.

Whilst the Caledonian had been incorporated into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) in 1923, it maintained its independence and the vessels of the former Glasgow and South Western Railway, based at Greenock, became owned directly by the new LMS. These two former bitter commercial competitors still retained strong rivalries despite timetable coordination and other cooperation. As a result of earlier legislation, the LMS vessels remained limited in the scope of their cruise services.

The vessels of the London and North East Railway (LNER) remained totally independent and continued their rivalry with their bigger cousins across the Clyde. Based on the north bank of the estuary at Craigendoran, a specially built railhead close to Helensburgh, they maintained a service to Dunoon and Rothesay, but due to the location of their home port, always ran at a disadvantage on these routes. They did, however, concentrate on services up Loch Long to Arrochar and one of the most popular of tourist outings was to combine this cruise with a return via the steamers on Loch Lomond as that loch's pier at Tarbet lay only a brisk walk or short coach ride from Arrochar.

Although the three main railway companies came to dominate services very quickly after 1890, the Clyde had a long tradition of independent steamboat operators, often owner-captains with one vessel to their name. By 1930, apart from the Turbine Steamers Company, only two independent names remained on the main sailing rosters - those of Williamson and Buchanan, whose operations had come together as Williamson-Buchanan Steamers Ltd. Williamson, as earlier indicated, had continued the operations of his father whilst his elder brothers had been the driving forces behind two of the three railway fleets. The Buchanan name was associated with Clyde shipowning from 1853 and remained as the name of a limited company from 1905 and as part of the Williamson operation from 1919. Independent owners had traditionally been associated with the so-called "All the Way" runs from central Glasgow, the starting point of most services prior to the railways reaching the coast on the Firth. After the 1880s, "All the Way" services became associated with tourists either not in a hurry to reach the coastal resorts or those wishing to take advantage of the cheaper fares on offer. The vessels used were often of utilitarian design and sometimes second-hand vessels purchased from the railway companies.

David MacBrayne was a well known steamer operator from the nineteenth century and his company had quickly grown to dominate services in the West Highlands, where railway companies were not active and the market not as lucrative as the Clyde. The company continued for many years after the death of MacBrayne as a limited company and was reconstituted as David MacBrayne (1928) limited with joint owners being the LMS Railway and Coast Lines Ltd. The Clyde leg of the so-called "Royal Route" to the Highlands, popularised after a visit by Queen Victoria, was operated by MacBraynes, with passengers from Glasgow being conveyed through the Kyles of Bute to Ardrishaig and onwards,with change of vessel, via the Crinan Canal and the Sound of Jura to Oban. The well appointed but ageing steamers Iona and Columba were the mainstays of the route, with Columba taking the main summer season, and although remaining entirely on the one route, becoming possibly the best loved of all Clyde steamers.

The fleets comprised the following vessels (click on Company for details and vessel histories):

Caledonian Steam Packet Company

Caledonia (1889)
Marchioness of Bredalbane (1890)
Duchess of Rothesay (1895)
Duchess of Fife (1903)
Duchess of Argyll (turbine steamer, 1906)


Mercury (1892)
Glen Rosa (1893)
Jupiter (1896)
Juno (1898)
Atalanta (turbine steamer, 1912)
Glen Sannox (turbine steamer, 1925)


Lucy Ashton (1888)
Talisman (1896)
Kenilworth (1898)
Waverley (1899)
Marmion (1906)

Turbine Steamers

King Edward (1901)
Queen Alexandra (1912)
King George V (1926)

Williamson-Buchanan Steamers

Isle of Arran (1892)
Kylemore (1897)
Eagle III (1910)
Queen Empress (1912)

David MacBrayne (1928) Ltd : Clyde services

Iona (1864)
Columba (1878)

By 1929, the fleets of the various ferry and cruise operators were becoming decidedly old and new investment badly needed, and although services were never lucrative in themselves, they were important for the revenue which they brought to the connecting railway services. The Caledonia were the first to make a move as the new decade approached.

1930 : TS Duchess of Montrose joins the Caledonian fleet.
At the end of 1929, the Caledonian Steam Packet Company became increasingly concerned at the success of the Turbine Steamers' domination of longer-distance cruising, especially after the introduction of the King George V released the equally fast King Edward for work on the upper Clyde. They placed an order with Wm. Denny and Co of Dumbarton for a new turbine steamer.

At 806 Gross Registered Tons and 273 feet in overall length, Duchess of Montrose shared the basic dimensions and, with minor differences, the outward appearance of the highly-successful King George V . Internally, improvements could be made as she was the first Clyde Steamer to be a one-class vessel, thus not having to duplicate facilities for the exclusive use of passengers holding the two differing ticket types.

Her double-ended coal-fired Scotch boiler operated at a more traditional pressure (180 lbs / square inch) than those trialled on the "King" and the screws were driven directly, thus eliminating the gear equipment of the earlier vessel. Three screws were used - a centre screw driven by the centrally-aligned high-pressure turbine and two screws driven by the two low pressure turbines into which the steam from the high pressure unit exhausted. The two low pressure turbines incorporated "astern turbines" for reversing.

Launched on May 10th, 1930, she was ready for trials on June 27th, and her performance on the Skelmorlie Measured Mile did not disappoint; she recorded a speed of slightly over 20 knots.

Her career got off to an inauspicious start. Her first scheduled cruise on July 1 was aborted before she had even reached Dunoon from Gourock and she was taken back to Denny's for attention to her machinery.She came back into service for an evening cruise on July 7th, and on the following day left Gourock at 9 am for a cruise round Arran which passed off without mishap. Her programme included cruises round Bute, Arran, Ailsa Craig and on Thursdays, the long expedition to Stranraer via one of three Arran piers. The new Duchess did not cruise to Campbeltown or Inveraray, territory still controlled by Turbine Steamers Ltd, but her popularity won a significant amount of business for the CSP and her season was extended to include the September Glasgow holiday rather than conclude at the end of August as originally scheduled. Additionally, CSP decided that, in future, the vessel's season would commence in June.

With this new vessel, the CSP made major inroads into the cruise market. For the time being, the Williamson-Buchanan position was secure, but the LNER was being increasingly consigned to the margins despite it's long tradition , dating back to 1866, and its dedicated band of "supporters".

1931 : A new Jeanie Deans for the LNER

The LNER's newest boat, Marmion, was 24 years old as the new decade opened. Although a fine ship, she was outclassed in all respects by the CSP's turbines. She returned from the First World War with the plating of her main deck extended to the bow and whilst this improved her passenger accomodation, it had a serious effect on speed and maneovrability. The plating was soon cut back to remedy the problem. Waverley of 1889 was, however, regarded as a flier but the other fleet members, whilst having a reasonable turn of speed were no match for the competition.

The LNER and the North British Railway before them always had a tenuous grip on services and on many occasions, their continued presence on the Clyde was hotly debated by managers and shareholders. Their railway line hugged the north bank of the Clyde estuary, reaching the popular resort and commuter town of Helensburgh, before turning north towards the West Highlands. Helensburgh pier was originally the main departure point, but being a few minutes walk from the railway station and being more distant from the main resorts of Dunoon and Rothesay than the south bank railheads at Greenock and Gourock, the LNER was always at a disadvantage in the race for the coast with her CSP and GSWR rivals.

To remedy this problem, a new railhead had been opened in 1882 at Craigendoran, where a new pier with four faces was built and the trains were run directly to the pierhead. Precious minutes were saved in getting passengers to the boats at the pier. Although it involved a half-mile longer sea journey to the coastal resorts, this was offset by a reduction of around one mile in the rail journey from Glasgow - so long as the North British and then the LNER had a speedy vessel on station.

The North British had eschewed purchasing vessels of the expense of those ordered by the CSP and GSWR and attempted to maintain a service with as little loss to the railway company as possible. The utilitarian vessels did, however, have to have a turn of speed and good fuel economy at low initial capital cost. Expensive turbine steamers would not be considered by the LNER and in any case, the low water at Craigendoran meant that a shallow-draught paddler was essential. The Inglis yard at Pointhouse, Glasgow had built the last six ships for the north bank fleet, including Fair Maid which went straight into Admiralty service in 1915 and never returned to her intended role. It was some surprise, therefore, that the order for Jeanie Deans was placed with the Fairfield yard - builders more commonly associated with sea-going ships than the smaller Clyde excursion vessel.

The new Jeanie Deans was launched on April 7th, 1931, taking the name of an earlier fleet member and continuing the tradition of the North British Railway using characters from Sir Walter Scott's novels for their vessels. On May 7th, she reached the contracted speed of 18.5 knots on her trials on the Skelmorlie Mile , powered by her three-crank, triple expansion engine - relatively old technology, but a first for a Clyde steamer.

At just over 250 feet in length, she was significantly larger than any of her fleet mates and not much shorter than the Duchess of Montrose. She was, however of much more traditional design, but designed to have her main deck enclosed to the bow, giving her very sleek lines. Two small deckhouses were provided, the forward one supporting the open navigation bridge and a slightly larger one aft of the twin funnels protecting the companionway. This left her accomodation far inferior to the new Caledonian turbine, but the accomodation provided for first and second class passengers on the main and lower decks was more spacious than on older LNER vessels.

On June 15th, Jeanie took the company's flagship Lochgoilhead and Arrochar via Dunoon roster as the new season opened, but also provided an early morning run to Dunoon and evening service to Rothesay, matching her against her competitors on the key commuter runs. On Sundays she was employed on cruises down the Firth as the LNER tried to make inroads into that market. With the CSP and LMS companies by now operating in conjunction with each other, it was the LNER boat which could engage in a spot of steamboat racing - a regular feature of the earlier century as competitors jostled for trade (and pride). From time to time on a Sunday, Jeanie would come up against King Edward, and although thirty years younger, the odd occasion on which she outstripped the turbine steamer along the Cowal coast was regarded with glee by paddle traditionalists and supporters of the north-bank boats.

The LNER could be pleased with their new boat, but changes were made for the 1932 season. A large observation saloon for first class passengers was built forward on the promenade deck improving her accommodation, being especially useful in poor weather. Two new funnels were fitted - narrower and taller than the originals, six feet in the case of the forward funnel and four feet in the case of the after smokestack in an attempt to ensure that cinders did not fall on the decks. The changes were to alter her profile significantly, but she was ready to take the fight further into Caledonian territory.

1932 : TS Duchess of Hamilton - a new sister for the Montrose
As a result of their extreme satisfaction with Duchess of Montrose, the CSP management ordered a virtually identical sister from the Govan yard of Harland and Wolff and placed her at Ayr, a large holiday resort on the Scottish mainland at the lower end of the Firth. As well as a destination for cruises from the upper Firth, there was a reasoanble market for cruises across exposed waters to the Isle of Arran and further to Campbeltown on the Kintyre peninsula. The CSP hoped that the "Hamilton" would be equally as popular as the "Montrose", and at Ayr she replaced the ageing and somewhat coal-hungry Juno. There was also the added advantage that the Duchess was registered in the CSP name, whilst Juno had remained a LMS boat, with the cruising restrictions that that had entailed, dating back to the establishment of the GSWR fleet in the early 1890s. Cruises to Campbeltown and around Arran would now be in scope for the Ayr-based ship.

The 1932 season saw the LNER put Jeanie Deans on a varied programme of cruises down to the lower Firth, visiting Ayr on Tuesdays and Thursdays and offering onward cruises around Ailsa Craig. The Ayr trips did not clash with the CSP's schedule of cruises from Gourock, but put the "Jeanie" into direct contact with the Duchess of Hamilton.

The Duchess was a resounding success and the LNER activities in the lower Firth detracted little from the more confident feeling at the CSP headquarters. Indeed, a new "Golden Era" was being entered, with cruising opportunities for the general public the best for many years. Things were to improve even further in 1933 when Williamson-Buchanan Steamers introduced their own new vessel.

1933 : TS Queen Mary sets new standards in cruising comfort
When the turbine steamer Queen Mary, launched in 1933 from Denny's Dumbarton yard, entered service, she even improved upon the standards of comfort and spaciousness introduced by the two Duchesses. Slightly shorter at 263 feet, but beamier, the new vessel, owed much of her external appearance to her two fore-runners. Comfort was achieved with little sacrifice of speed but speed was not traditionally the main factor for "all the way" cruises from which she relegated King Edward from the 10.00 am to the 11.00 am departure slot held for 20 years by Eagle III.

As previously indicated, the fleets of John Williamson and Buchanan Steamers, the two remaining "independents" were merged in 1919. The Turbine Steamers company, set up in 1901 to operate the then experimental King Edward, remained separate, but with John Williamson the original manager and driving force, its independence from Williamson's own operation was only financial.

Both the Williamson and Buchanan fleets had traditionally purchased second hand vessels, generally from the railway fleets, but Eagle III (Buchanan, 1910) and Queen Empress (Williamson, 1912) had been newly built at a time when the railway fleets were no longer in the market for new tonnage. These vessels were therefore relatively young, but utilitarian in design and no match whatsoever for most other vessels on the Clyde. "Isle of Arran", dating from 1892 was sold for further service at London, leaving the Williamson-Buchanan-Turbine Steamers group with the most modern fleet on the Clyde, including four turbines and three paddlers.

The new "Queen" became a regular visitor to Arran and King Edward to the Kyles of Bute and the Cumbraes, whilst King George V and Queen Alexandra continued to serve the furthest-flung destinations - Campbeltown and Inveraray. Investing in such a vessel was a bold move by a company relying totally on it's steamer revenue for survival. The CSP, having improved its cruise fleet, did not stop its investments at that - the following year was to see the introduction of two remarkable new vessels.

1934 : Caledonia and Mercury : paddlers that didn't look like paddlers........

It was not before time that the CSP turned their attention to modernising their up-river fleet. As the dominant railway company, the LMS, owners of the CSP, relied on a venerable fleet of much-loved paddlers to maintain connections from its main railheads at Gourock and Wemyss Bay to the piers at Dunoon and the Cowal Coast and at Rothesay and Craigmore on the Isle of Bute. As well as excursion traffic in the main summer season, there was a year-round demand for a regular and reliable service for commuters up to Glasgow and for the carriage of goods, including food to the remoter parts of the Firth. Historically this had been the CSP's "bread and butter", with specially designed ships taking the strain once the more opulent cruise vessels had retired to their lay-up berths after what was always a relatively short summer season.

1933 saw the demise of two Clyde stalwarts - Caledonia of 1889 which had been the CSP's first new ship and Mercury of 1892, one of the earliest GSWR steamers. They were replaced by vessels of the same name and registration of the new ships was in the CSP and LMS names respectively. Built by Denny and Fairfield, the two ships were launched in early 1934 and were of similar design although had slight differences which made them distinguishable to the trained eye. To the general public, however, they presented a most remarkable appearance. They were paddle steamers, but rather than have decorated paddle boxes and vents, plating was carried around the sponsons in such a way that they looked like screw steamers from a broadside view. Shorter and broader than the sleek turbines, they nevertheless were thoroughly modern in appearance with spacious promenade deck saloons fore and aft, and observation decks above each, linked and extended to the front of the forward saloon. The navigation bridge was raised above observation deck level and was placed forward of the single large elliptical funnel. Triple expansion three-crank engines were provided, giving a maximum speed of just over 17 knots, three less than the fastest turbines but more than adequate for most upper Clyde services.

The manoevrability of the paddler and the advantage over the turbines in terms of acceleration and deceleration made this type of vessel suitable for serving the numerous closely-placed piers on the upper Firth. Caledonia entered service on March 31st, a Glasgow holiday weekend, when her passenger capacity was most useful, and settled into a regular programme of connections from Gourock and Wemyss Bay to Dunoon and Rothesay, extending the afternoon Rothesay run into the Kyles of Bute and offering short cruises from Largs and Millport.

Both ships caused some concern in their first season - Caledonia with mechanical breakdowns and Mercury with handling problems, but both received attention to correct the problems. The CSP/LMS now had two extremely versatile new vessels - suitable for ferry connections or shorter cruises and providing excellent covered accommodation and deck space to suit.

1935 : Talisman, a truly revolutionary ship, and Marchioness of Lorne, another paddle workhorse

The LNER's forerunners, the North British had been noted for their conservatism when ordering new vessels, but with Jeanie Deans, which did not appear until eight years after the formation of the LNER, they had specified the most up to date paddle machinery available. Although tied to paddle propulsion on account of the draught restrictions at Craigendoran, the company took a great leap into the unknown when looking to replace their Talisman which had completed 39 seasons, if wartime service was included. Talisman had been a rather old-fashioned ship when built in 1896 but her low capital cost and reasonable economy had served her owners well. The new "Talisman" was to take the next leap forward in economical operation, but by using the untried method of using direct acting electrical engines powered by diesels - the first time a motor had been used for a Clyde Steamer and the first time that this exact method of propulsion had been attempted anywhere in the world.

MacBrayne had earlier become wedded to diesel power plant for their West Highland steamers and MV Lochfyne of 1931, which in later years became MacBrayne's Clyde boat, had diesel-electric drives for her propellors. The Paddle Steamer Geneve on Lake Geneva in Switzerland had her ageing steam unit replaced for the 1934 season with geared diesel electric drives. Talisman was the first vessel of her general type built new with direct drive diesel electric units.

The LNER had invited quotes for both the diesel-electric ship and a more conventional steam paddler and although the quotes received for steam power were between 10 and 20 percent lower, the promise of significantly reduced operating costs both in terms of fuel consumption and reduced personnel costs convinced the management to make the bold move.

Fairfield, builders of the Jeanie Deans and Inglis, the North British Company's traditional yard were the two bidders called into the final round of negotiations and the contract went to the latter, who launched the ground-breaking ship from their Pointhouse yard on April 10th. As this was no "off the shelf" ship, there were numerous investigations and deliberations between the LNER, the builders and engineers regarding the new Talisman, best researched and presented by Alan Brown in his book "Talisman - The Solitary Crusader", named not so much for her revolutionary new power plant as for the fact that it was never repeated.

Visually, Talisman was of of fairly traditional design, with LNER, unlike their CSP/LMS rivals, retaining vented paddleboxes. She did not have the fine lines of Jeanie Deans, but did have large, if not luxurious, deckhouses fore and aft. Only a single tall funnel amidships gave her an unusual appearance, at least for a Clyde Steamer.

Her trials took place on June 2nd, but were cut short when her machinery failed to achieve full power. Adjustments were made over sea trials during the following nine days, allowing her to record a satisfactory performance on June 12th, when she achieved a fraction over 17 knots. Three days later she entered service, sailing on her intended route from Craigendoran to Dunoon, Rothesay and the Kyles, and her owners were delighted with her performance. Less so, however, were many of her passengers. The surging motion of the old single-crank paddlers of the previous century had caused some patrons to suffer sea-sickness, an effect which had been almost entirely eliminated with the double and especially triple crank engines of more modern paddlers. For those of sterner constitution, the motion of the old Talisman was all part of the sailing adventure. It was quite a shock to many when they took their first cruise on the new ship. The vibrations caused by the diesel units could be felt and heard throughout the ship. The constant drone shattered the peace of sailing across the Firth.The shuddering of the vessel sometimes made it difficult to keep not only a full cup of tea from spilling, but the cup and saucer from dancing off the tearoom tables.

Designed for year round service, her route was cut back to Rothesay after the end of the summer season, and in her first 12 months she had put in 251 days service and her owners calculated that the annual saving in expenditure compared with a steamer of similar size was just over GBP 1000 per year. So pleased were they with the "bottom line", that the LNER appeared to look no further than more of the same for their next project - replacing the Kenilworth.

The CSP were happy enough with their new ship, Marchioness of Lorne, a small paddler of 199 feet in length, built for the Holy Loch service. For many years, this had been provided by the Caledonia of 1889, but since that ship's withdrawal after the main 1933 season, had been provided by the Marchioness of Bredalbane. The Marchioness was only one year younger, so offered little to the residents of Kilmun and Blairmore who never took to her and were delighted to have a new steamer built for them. The CSP sold the "Bredalbane" for scrapping, but she was saved for a short-lived career cruising out of Great Yarmouth on England's east coast.

For differing reasons, both ships were to become problematic to their owners, but for the time being, all parties were happy and confidence continued to build.

1936 : TS Marchioness of Graham - a multi-purpose turbine for the Arran Station
The 1936 season opened with a totally new set of circumstances on the Clyde. The CSP/LMS had, in partnership with MacBraynes, itself half owned by the LMS, agreed the takeover of both the Williamson-Buchanan Steamers and Turbine Steamers operations. The result was that CSP/LMS hegemony on the Clyde was almost complete and any hopes that the LNER had of competing were dashed. Williamson-Buchanan (1936) Ltd was established as a sister company of the CSP, it's ships retaining their white funnels as a gesture of independence, but in reality operating as units of the CSP fleet. Turbine Steamers Ltd was dissolved with King George V and Queen Alexandra being assigned to the MacBrayne fleet, King Edward to the CSP. Sadly, the winter of 1935 saw the withdrawal of the MacBrayne favourites, Iona and Columba which had been popular mainstays on the Clyde for so long, but the new vessels were ideal direct replacements. The goodwill of the Inveraray and Campbeltown routes was vested in the CSP , who were able to assign Duchess of Montrose as well as the older Duchess of Argyll and King Edward to cover the rosters, using Queen Mary, which by this time had been renamed Queen Mary II, to cover for upper Firth cruises.

The name Queen Mary had generously been given to the Cunard company who wanted to use if for their new luxury liner, built at John Brown's Clydebank yard. This new ship, the world's largest, became not only an enormous source of pride for Clydesiders, but also did much to pull the area's large shipbuilding and engineering industry through the troubled economic times of the 1930s. Steamer trips to view her on the stocks and leaving her home river had also provided much needed revenue for "up-river" cruise operators, so the new Queen Mary had indirectly helped the old Queen Mary, and the gesture was recognised by the gifting of a portrait of the monarch by the Cunard company. The portrait was to hang in the upper deck saloon of the Williamson-Buchanan ship.

The CSP had withdrawn their old paddler, Jupiter, and rejigged the rosters of the remaining fleet to allow a new vessel to be placed on the Ardrossan - Arran station alongside Glen Sannox. Marchioness of Graham, built by Fairfields at Govan, was a turbine steamer, but quite different from the two palatial Duchesses. A replacement for the LMS-registered Atalanta of 1906, and at 220 feet, a full 50 feet shorter than the Duchesses, her design reminded of the factors which had resulted in Glen Sannox being built without extensive deck shelters. Arran residents preferred the cosier saloons of the main or lower decks for the comparatively long crossing across the open lower Firth. Outside the main summer season, the weather could be unpredictable, the seas choppy and visibility poor. Large observation saloons may have been suitable for the transient summer tourist, but for the Arran locals, large open decks were required. Essential cargoes were carried on barrows to and from the island by the steamers and increasing numbers of motor cars needed to be conveyed. These had either to be driven along planks on to the promenade deck or hoisted aboard. Either way, top hamper on the vessel would not make these precarious manoeuvres easier and may in fact have posed dangers. As well as these cargoes, Arran had a particular interest in getting it's large population of sheep across to mainland markets. Large open decks were essential for sheep pens, and at certain times of the year, sheep far outnumbered human passengers.

1937 : Jupiter and Juno - further improving CSP/LMS "upper-Firth" Railway Connections

Jupiter and Juno emerged from the Fairfield yard and took their place on the Dunoon, Rothesay and Kyles run in 1937. With fore and aft deck saloons and generous space across their considerable beam amidships, the sisters were excellent utility vessels. They retained the CSP/LMS style of enclosed paddle boxes, but reverted to a twin-funnel design. No provision was made for an observation area above the saloons.

After less than three full seasons, World War II intervened and the two youngest members of the fleet left their home waters in His Majesty's service, hoping for survival, victory and glorious return. For Juno, this was not to be. She was lost in an enemy bombing raid over London in 1941. For Jupiter, the first major steamer to reenter service in 1946, the world she came back to would be one changed for ever................

Review of the final decade before the established operator finally ended steamship operations. By Gordon Stewart 

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Clyde Turbine Steamers (return link to this database from the main index) 

Vessel Name

Original Owner



First Season

Last Season (*)

Scrapped / Lost










Duchess of Montrose

Caledonian Steam Packet







Jeanie Deans


Triple Expansion






Duchess of Hamilton

Caledonian Steam Packet







Queen Mary









Caledonian Steam Packet

Triple Expansion








Triple Expansion














Marchioness of Lorne

Caledonian Steam Packet

Triple Expansion






Marchioness of Graham

Caledonian Steam Packet








Caledonian Steam Packet

Triple Expansion







Caledonian Steam Packet

Triple Expansion






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On the main vessel page in the database, click on "Duchess to Juno : The Ultimate Fleet" to return here
(*) Last main season on the Clyde
Note on owners. Caledonian Steam Packet Company (CSP) was a wholly-owned subsidiary of the LMS (London, Midland and Scottish Railway) and due to legacy legislation had powers to operate vessels over a wider areas of the Clyde than vessels owned directly by the LMS itself. The Williamson-Buchanan fleet remained independent until 1935 when it became a subsidiary of the LMS and operated in close integration with the CSP. The London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) operated in direct competion with the LMS and owned its own steamers. The LMS and LNER later became part of British Railways when the railway companies were taken fully into stste control in 1948.

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Queen mary Tighnabruaich 1967 J Dale s.jpg

The database includes detailed information about the fleet of paddle steamers on the Firth of Clyde in Scotland. However, no analysis of excursion shipping operations is complete without reference to the fleet of magnificent turbine steamers which, from 1901, sailed alongside the paddlers. That year saw the introduction of TS King Edward, the world's first ever turbine powered passenger steamer. Wm Denny and Bros, the Dumbarton shipbuilder produced this fine vessel and went on to deliver many more, especially for short sea ferry operations. One of their most famous was the Clyde Steamer Queen Mary of 1933 (above, in photo taken at Tighnabruaich in 1967 by Jake Dale) which sailed for most of its life as Queen Mary II, having lent its name to the Cunard liner which was launched in 1934.

Turbine steamers dominated the world's seas for many years, but found little success in coastal or lake ferries, and in this respect, the fleet on the Clyde is unique. The website aims to remember these magnificent ships and support anyone who looks after the last survivor, Queen Mary, which was withdrawn from service in 1977 but still survives in preservation, now in Glasgow. Queen Mary is the last of her class worldwide

Go to : Clyde Turbine Steamers