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40 years ago this year, in December 1967, the much-loved Clyde paddle steamer
Jeanie Deans was towed away from the River Thames to ship breakers at Antwerp,
Belgium. She had been withdrawn from service on the Clyde by her owners the
Caledonian Steam Packet Company, at the end of the 1964 season as the company
began to reduce its fleet size to stem escalating finacial losses. Jeanie Deans
was only 33 years old. It was around this time that it was becoming clear to
enthusiasts that paddle steamers would soon disappear entirely from the British
coastal cruising scene, despite having been a fixture for over 150 years as
the 1960s saw an end to the old certainties of life and new financial pressures
on steamer operators.
In Britain, the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society was founded in 1959, but as a small enthusiast group it could only look on in despair as more and more vessels were taken out of service and sold for scrap. Even in 1974, when the Society were unexpectedly offered ownership of the Clyde's last paddler, PS Waverley, a former L&NER and Caledonian Steam Packet fleet mate of Jeanie Deans, it was not seriously thought that she could be retained in operational service, although the drive and commitment of several members, notably Douglas McGowan, Terry Sylvester and later David Neill eventually brought this about.
Back in 1964, enthusiasts could only hope for a miracle as no other coastal cruise operators would have been willing to buy a large and expensive to operate and maintain ship with obsolete technology. Preservationism, now almost taken for granted, was still in its extreme infancy in the 1960s as society looked forward to a brave new world of modernism and technological advancement. Fortunately, salvation was to come in the shape of a Mr D Rose who took it upon himself to operate the ship privately on the River Thames. London had seen a rapid decline in its excursion steamer fleet, with vessels having succumbed to the same financial pressures which existed elsewhere. The last paddler in the area was the PS Medway Queen which was withdrawn after the end of the 1963 season and the remaining motor vessels of the General Steam Navigation Company were taken out of service after the 1966 season. With such a large poulation in the London area, there did appear to be room for at least one vessel, but Mr Rose's enterprise with the "Jeanie", which he renamed "Queen of the South", came to a unfortunate end, primarily due to the unreliability of the old paddler, and clearly illustrating the enormous difficulties in attempting to operate such a large steamer on an individual's own account.
The Paddle Steamer Preservation Society clearly remembered these experiences when they found themselves in control of Waverley, which they initially put back into service with great trepidation, but, thankfully, with the support of large numbers of well-wishers and sponsors.
The unfortunate fate of Jeanie Deans perhaps, in some way, helped the later success in saving "Waverley", but had she been able to sail on for a few more years, perhaps she would have survived into an era where the loss of any paddle steamer is regarded as an avoidable tragedy, rather than an inevitable concession to modernisation.
Here are a few views of Jeanie Deans in her Clyde days to remind us of happier times ....................
In 1936, the LNER adopted a new
colour scheme, a less intricate design, with grey hulls with white
upper-works and deckhouses which lasted until World War II. The traditional funnel colours remained
Valentine's Post card posted from Dunoon in April 1938 kindly supplied by Michael Brown from his collection
A Judges photo of Jeanie Deans at Arrochar issued as a post card kindly supplied by Michael Brown from his collection
Jeanie Deans, photo by Jimmy Reid, kindly supplied by Ronnie McLeod
Photo by Alexander Bain, kindly supplied by Donald Bain