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Firth of Tay
A Review by Gillon Ferguson

Early train ferries were operated between Tayport  and Broughty Ferry  from about 1850 to the collapse of the first Tay bridge in 1879  . A long standing passenger  and vehicle ferry operated from Dundee to Newport until the opening of the Tay road  bridge in 1966

In the 19th century excursions in the Tay were mainly given by paddle tugs  and occasionally by Newport ferries  There were also occasional visits by Forth excursion steamers.  Dedicated  excursion vessels first appeared in 1886 but ceased after 1931

Dundee-Newport Ferry

Scottish Central Rly/ Caledonian Rly /Dundee Harbour Trustees

The Dundee – Newport ferry is of great antiquity and steam vessels were used from 1825  They were taken over by the Scottish Central (later Caledonian) Railway who in 1859 placed  in service the Fifeshire  which  set the pattern for all subsequent ferries  with an open foredeck and a saloon aft . A charge of 1d was made for use of the saloon though it should be said that right up to the end of the ferries this was only increased to 2d . A smaller ship the Forfarshire was obtained in 1861 presumably to act as relief vessel   In 1873 the Dundee Harbour Trustees took over the ferry and shortly added the PS Dundee similar to Fifeshire but slightly larger and with successive vessels there was always a small increase in dimensions . After the opening of the second Tay rail bridge there was a drop in traffic, the Forfarshire being sold in1893 and  it was not until 1910 that a further ship the PS Newport was added by which time vehicular  transport was on the increase 

After the first world war with the continuing increase in road traffic two further paddlers were  built  the William High/ Sir William High  in1924 and the BL Nairn in 1929  The Harbour Trustees showed considerable foresight in fitting these ships with compound diagonal disconnecting engines so that the paddle wheels could be operated independently  leading to a marked  improvement in manoeuvrability. At the same time the services was increased to half-hourly requiring two ships to  be on station at all times   In the meantime the Dundee had been been disposed of in 1917 and the veteran  Fifeshire  finally in 1929  In the thirties after the demise of  the Tay excursion steamers the spare steamer Newport was used to a limited extent for cruising  but was retired in 1939  The last two Tay ferries the Abercraig (1939 ) and Scotscraig  (1951 ) were twin screw diesels but also had an innovative feature that of Voith - Schneider propellers which though highly successful elsewhere did seem to cause spare part and reliability  problems on the Tay with the result that after the withdrawal of Sir William High in 1951 the remaining  steam paddler  B L Nairn nominally  spare boat seemed in fact to take quite a substantial share in the crossings right  up to the opening of the Tay road bridge in 1966.

So long as the ferries lasted the duration of
 each crossing was dependent on the tide. At high water after reversing the ferry could make virtually a straight line for Newport in about ten minutes  but at low tide sandbanks had to be navigated and the journey could take twice as long  The course of the new road bridge lay across this route so for last  two years the sailings were tidal.

P S Fifeshire   ( 1859- 1929 )  built 1858  by R Napier & Sons Glasgow - 134x39 feet

The first ship with a deck saloon .  She acted as  spare vessel form 1924

P S Forfarshire ( 1863- 1893 ) built by Gourlay Bros Dundee 120x20 feet

This was a smaller ship and was sometimes chartered for upriver  excursions
Sold 1893 for service at Queensferry
   Reboilered 1904 receiving a very tall funnel She was disposed of in 1920

P S Dundee  (1875 –1917 )  built by William Simons Renfrew   149x27 feet

Latterly capable of carrying ten cars with the revival in road traffic
Sold 1917 for Tay excursion traffic  then to NBR/LNER for Queensferry service
 Transferred on loan to Messrs Denny  from 1934 as spare for Queensferry   When not in use was laid up in Burntisland harbour .
Finally withdrawn
in 1949 on arrival of DEPV Mary Queen of Scots & scrapped 1952

P S Newport   ( 1910 -1939 )  built by Caledon SB&E Dundee  151x29 feet

Spare vessel from 1929 and used for Cruising 1934-9

P S  William High / Sir William High ( 1924 -1951 ) built by Caledon SB&E Dundee 152x30 feet  

Disconnecting engines   Spare vessel from 1939   Radar fitted 1949  
Last sailing August 1951
Sold 1952 to Nigeria 

P S  B L Nairn  ( 1929 - 1966 ) built by Caledon SB&E Dundee 162x31 feet  

Disconnecting engines   Radar fitted 1948  Lasted till opening of Tay road bridge
According to Sinclair “ the most hard worked and most reliable vessel ever built for passage on the Tay ferry “

Motor vessels:

M V Abercraig (1939-1966 )
M V Scotscraig  ( 1951-1966 )


Steamers of the Tay   -            Ian Brodie        Stenlake  Publishing  2003
A History of the Tay Ferries
  - David Sinclair   David Bradley   1996
Personal recollections

Broughty –Tayport Ferry

After the opening of the Tay rail bridges the North British Railway had an obligation to maintain this crossing which was leased to David Wilson of Bo`ness

PS Dolphin (1893-1920 ) b Port Glasgow 1885  88`x17`

This former workboat was used on the crossing until permission  for abandonment was given in 1920.
After this the ferry was in fact continued by the MV Abertay

Source   Duckworth and Langmuir   Railway and Other Steamers
Shipping Histories Limited Glasgow

Tay Excursion Steamers

Most of the pleasure sailings from Dundee were up firth to relatively calm waters and hence many of the paddle steamers that plied on the Taywere more in the nature of river steamers  The principal ports of call were :

Balmerino just a short distance upstream on the Fife shore, Newburgh, a little further in North Fife and of course Perth

Some of the smaller ships even sailed up the tributary river Earn as far as Bridge of Earn.  For this a shallow draught was essential and hence paddle steamers were favoured. Between1909 and 1914 D & J Nichol operated two much larger steamers the Marchioness of Bute and the Slieve Bearnagh which made possible more extensive sea cruises to Arbroath, the Bell Rock, St Andrews and even further afield. On the outbreak of the first world war the ships and their trade disappeared  and when restarted in 1917 was carried on with smaller ships and mainly to the upper firth .

Various Fleets    

 In the 1890s ships changed owners rapidly

George Martin
D & J Nichol
The Tay Steamboat Co

Princess of Wales  buit 1866 (1886-7)  later PS Albion (1891-1903) then PS Shamrock  (1903-9)  142x20 feet  Aitken & Mansel / J Aitken & Co  Glasgow

The first purely excursion steamer on the Tay served in three different periods with different names and owners. Originally built for Loch Lomond, she sailed on the Forth before coming to the Tay and although built with deck saloons she was flush-decked by 1886.  She spent periods on the Tyne, and was said  to have eventually gone to France

PS Hero (1886-8)  built 1858, 181x19 feet. Wingate/ T Wingate

A Clyde steamer which had also sailed on Belfast Lough  Larger than Princess of Wales. Latterly ran mainly on dancing cruises. Taken over by MacBraynes in 1890. Renamed Mountaineer. Scrapped in 1910

 PS Argyle (1890-1904 ) built 1866  177x17 ft   Barclay Curle & Co

A Clyde steamer latterly on the Wemyss Bay service She was flush-decked but a saloon was fitted in 1902.  Sold to Spain

PS Bonnie Dundee built 1890 (1890-1904) and PS Advance  built 1905 (1905-12 )

wo very small paddlers built for James Tare and exceptionally suitable for low water at Balmerino and trips up the Earn

PS Scotia (1894-7) built 1894 165 feet    Gourlay Bros Dundee

The first excursion steamer built for the Tay.  Flush decked but speedy. Sold to Siberia

George Martin 

T S S Thistle (I)  (1902)

T S S Thistle (II)

PS Shamrock  (1904-9) : see above

PS Carlyle   built 1905 (1909-14*)   139x17 feet : Thames Iron Works

From 1911 - registered with the Tay Steamboat Company, but likely to have been in service from the end of July, 1909, when she arrived on the Tay after the demise of the London County Council riverboat service. Withdrawn on the outbroak of World War 1 (?) and sold in early 1916
Saw war service in Iraq and abandoned in 1916.

Above : Two post card views of Carlyle at Bridge of Earn kindly supplid by Alan Ginn

PS Alleyn  built 1905 (1909-12)  

Was a sister ship to Carlyle and was sold to George Martin alongside Carlyle. She was subject to a mortgage held by a Mr F Waters of Newhaven, Sussex, and it appears she reverted to him when there was a foreclosure in 1912. Also saw war service in Iraq.

D & J Nicholl

TSS Kinfauns Castle  (1906-9)

PS Marchioness of Bute built 1890 (1909-14)  200x22 feet : J Reid & Co / Rankin & Blackmore

Built for Caledonian Steam Packet Co. Largest & finest Tay steamer to date.  Sailed to Arbroath , Bell Rock and Perth.
Became minesweeper 1914.
  Scrapped Inverkeithing 1923

PS Slieve Bearnagh built 1894 (1912-14)  225x26 feet : J & G Thomson, Clydebank

Previously sailed on Belfast Lough.  Largest ever Tay excursion steamer
Ran to Montrose and St Andrews.  Minesweeper 1914. Scrapped at Inverkeithing in 1921

The Tay Steamboat Company

Pre- World War 1 :  Alleyne and Carlyle (see above, under George Martin)

PS Empress  Purchased from Goole to maintain sailings in 1916 and 1917. Sold to Cork

Above : PS Empress early in her carer before moving to the Tay, with mainmast  : A post card view - by kind courtesy of Alan Ginn

PS Dundee   See ferry section  Used for Newburgh sailings in 1917. Sold in 1920

PS Cleopatra   built 1898 ( 1918-31)  120 feet    Thames Iron Works 

Carlyle and Alleyn  she was a shallow draft paddler built for Thames local traffic and hence very suitable for upriver excursions.

Bibliography :

Steamers of the Tay.           Ian Brodie    Stenlake Publishing  2003  ISBN 1840332492

British Pleasure Steamers.   Geoffrey Grimshaw   Richard Tilling  1945

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