Welcome to the paddlesteamers.info  Clyde Turbine Steamers  Website

In 1901, TS King Edward, the world's first turbine powered passenger ship entered service on the Firth of Clyde in the UK
Sleek, fast, smooth and quiet : the Clyde's turbine steamers set new standards and even today could be regarded as the ultimate in excursion ships

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King Edward (1901-1951)
Queen Alexandra (1902-1911)
Atalanta (1905-1936)
Duchess of Argyll (1906-1951)
Queen Alexandra, later Saint Columba (1912-1958)
Glen Sannox (1925-1953)
King George V (1926-1973)
Duchess of Montrose (1930-1964)
Duchess of Hamilton (1932-1970)
Queen Mary, later Queen Mary II (1933-1977)
Marchioness of Graham (1936-1958)

Left : The only survivor of the fleet : Queen Mary
Seen at Tighnabruaich in 1967 courtesy of Jake Dale

Click on vessel name for more. Dates are first/last main Clyde seasons, not necessarily launch/disposal/scrapping dates.


The turbine principle, whilst understood for many hundreds of years, even going back to Archimedes in the 3rd century BC, had not been applied in any practical use in the Industrial Revolution until Charles Parsons experimented with it for power generation purposes in the 1890s. The fore-sighted engineer appreciated that it might be used for propulsion in a marine environment and built a demonstration ship, the steam yacht "Turbinia" in 1894.  Turbinia achieved unexpectedly high speeds and got the perfect opportunity to show its paces at the Naval Review off Spithead in 1897. In front of all the leading admirals of the Royal Navy she outpaced all other vessels on display. It was not long before the Admiralty and Parsons, having formed the Parsons Marine Steam Turbine Company, signed a contract for a new vessel for the Navy, a 210 foot long torpedo boat which was delivered in late 1899 and caused great satisfaction when she achieved over 37 knots on trial.

News of this reached the famous Clyde shipbuilders, William Denny & Co who were interested in developing a turbine powered merchant ship. The naval torpedo boat "Viper" was similar in size to a large Clyde Steamer and it seemed sensible to use the local excursion fleet as a test-bed. None of the main established operators were prepared to jointly finance a demonstration vessel with Parsons, only Captain John Williamson, an independent operator took the risk and the Turbine Steamers Syndicate was then established for this purpose.

37 knots far exceeded the pace of all other Clyde Steamers : 17 knots was pretty close to the maximum speed that existing vessels could achieve. There was considerable scope for a vessel with extra speed to undertake the long runs to Campbeltown and Inveraray and whilst 37 knots would have made the new vessel untouchable, it was accepted that, to keep the new ship within reasonable capital cost, expectations would be more modest.

King Edward of 1901, the first Clyde Steamer of the new century, was launched on May 16th 1901 at Dumbarton and on trial achieved 18.66 knots and then during a second set of trials on June 24th, achieved a mean speed of 19.7 knots over the Skelmorlie measured mile. This was still a slight disappointment to the ship's sponsors and she was sent to the yard of A&J Inglis at Pointhouse, Glasgow for larger propellers to be fitted. During a further trial on the 28th of June, King Edward achieved 20.5 knots and was declared ready for public service. One of King Edward's turbines was preserved by the city of Glasgow and is displayed at their Riverside Museum (see photo below, with the upper casing lifted off to reveal the turbine blades).

King Edward Turbine KW.JPG

A turbine from the world's first turbine-powered passenger steamer TS King Edward (1901) is displayed at the Riverside Museum, Glasgow.
Photo by kind courtesy of Kenny Whyte

The turbine principle differed from the established method of propulsion in that it exploited a rotary action rather than a reciprocating action to turn the work of heat and expanding steam into propulsive power.  The engine was rather simpler and definitely more compact than a reciprocating engine. Gone were the large pistons, connecting rods, eccentrics and valves. No longer was there the "dead" effort of the return stroke of the piston. No longer did steam have to be piped into a second cylinder to make second use of its residual expansion possibilities. In the turbine, steam passed through a number of rotary blades attached to a central shaft running the length of the cylinder. The force of the passing steam caused the blades to rotate and the shaft to turn.  As the steam expanded it could pass through numerous sets of blades, extracting "work" from the steam at each stage. It was reported that steam went through five stages of expansion in King Edward's High pressure turbine and a further 25 times in each of the two Low Pressure turbines into which the steam was exhausted in turbine equivalent of "compounding". Therefore the engines  offered greater mechanical and thermal efficiency than traditional engines and saved valuable space aboard ship. Not so exciting to look at maybe, but quiet in operation and totally without the pronounced fore-and-aft surging which was noticeable on compound diagonal, but particularly single diagonal paddle steamer engines.

Although turbine engines were well suited to screw propulsion, experiments were done to drive paddle steamers and the Escher, Wyss Company of Zurich delivered one tug, DS Zurich, for service on the Rhine from Basel in 1922. Two other tugs are known to have been converted (Dordrecht in 1922 and Toulon in 1929). In the case of King Edward, three propeller shafts were used, one from each turbine, although it was possible for turbines to be arranged in "tandem" where the work of one of more cylinders was exerted on a common propeller shaft. Unlike reciprocating engines which generally turned the paddle wheel crank at between 40 and 50 revolutions per minute, turbines produced a high speed rotary motion. King Edward's central propeller, powered by the High Pressure turbine turned at 700 RPM and the outer two at 1000 RPM. In many turbine steamers, a gearing mechanism was built into the turbines to reduce the speed as this was found to be more suitable for efficient propeller operation.

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The magnificently preserved engine room of the Royal Yacht Britannia (1953) now open as a tourist attraction at Leith Docks, Edinburgh

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With no moving parts to see, the engines of a turbine steamer were, unlike many reciprocating engined steamers, not an important on-board feature for passenger interest. Nevertheless, the determined enthusiast could marvel at the array of steam gauges at the chief engineer's station. Those belonging to TS King George V of 1926 are seen to good effect in this photo taken in 1972 and shown by kind courtesy of Frank Gradwell.


Review of British Turbine Excursion Steamers

Away from the Clyde, only three operators ordered turbine steamers and with the exception of the Liverpool and North Wales trade where two large vessels had a reasonable degree of success, the sole vessels bought by Paddle Steamer operators P&A Campbell and the General Steam Navigation Company were notable failures.

P & A Campbell Ltd ,Bristol Channel and South Coast, England
Liverpool and North Wales Steamship Company
General Steam Navigation Company, Thames Estuary and South-East England


A once-common form of propulsion has now all but disappeared from the passenger sector

Steam turbines were adopted quickly for larger vessels : short sea crossings such as from the south of the UK to northern France and from the north-west to the Isle of Man and Ireland as well as for ocean liners and military vessels (where the number of ships surviving, both operational and laid-up, remains considerable). These vessels are out of scope for this website.

The opportunity to sail on a turbine powered passenger ship has, since early 2012 vanished. With the last operational steam turbine ocean liner / cruise ship SS Oceanic sent to Chinese breakers and the laid up SS The Emerald (originally built as Santa Rosa) going to Alang, India, only SS Atlantic Star (originally Fairsky) survived. Built in 1984 in France for Sitmar Cruises, she was the last ever passenger turbine steamer built, but having been laid up for several years and with no chance of being reactivated as a steamer, she left Marseille under tow on March 20th 2013 for demolition at Aliaga, Turkey.
The only known reasonable opportunity for the public to sail on a turbine steamer is the preserved US World War II Victory ship "American Victory", moored as a museum exhibit at Tampa. She offers short cruises - but now only two times per year. More at  

Perhaps the most interesting turbine powered vessel still operational is the El-Horriya, an Egyptian Royal yacht, now owned by the Egyptian Navy and used on occasion by the President of Egypt.  Built in 1865 as a paddle steamer, she was converted to a turbine powered screw steamer in 1905 by A & J Inglis at Glasgow. originally built in London, she therefore has some claim to being a Clyde Turbine Steamer
Wikipedia Reference :

Static preservation

A handful of liners have been saved as hotels (RMS Queen Mary, SS Rotterdam, and, it is hoped, MV Queen Elizabeth II which was originally a steamer). Both Queens were built on the Clyde. A number of military vessels have been preserved as museum ships, as has the former British Royal Yacht, Britannia, which is moored at Leith (Edinburgh)

A survivor : but now with diesel engines

Superyacht Nahlin, now owned by vacuum-cleaner designer and industrial magnate Sir James Dyson, began life in 1930 as a turbine steamer (with 4 Brown Curtis turbines) built on the Clyde by John Brown Engineering (yard number 533), builders of Cunard's "Queen" class liners, for the heiress Lady Yule. In 1937 she was sold to the Romanian royal family and renamed Luceafarul and she became Libertatea in 1948 as she became a museum, then restaurant under the Ministry of Culture of the Romanian peoples' republic. In 1999, in a near derelict condition, she returned to the UK for restoration in Liverpool and was briefly owned by Sir Anthony Bamford as she changed hands more than once. In 2005 she was moved to Rendsburg in Germany under Dyson's ownership and underwent a major restoration, reported to be in the region of GBP 25 million in cost, to become a luxury yacht once more.  The renovation saw diesel-electic engines replacing her turbines. A small steam engine was retained to operate the windlass and winch.  The ship is not open to the public


Turbine Excursion Steamers - A History : by Alistair Deayton and Iain Quinn.  ISBN 10 : 1445619377  -  ISBN 13 : 978-1445619378

All you need to know is in this comprehensive volume published in 2013 and written by two well-known and acknowledged experts on Clyde Steamers 


These links relate to sites covering Clyde Turbine steamers in general

Stuart Cameron's summary history of Clyde Turbine Steamers on the Ships of Calmac Website  (where individual ship histories are also posted)
Turbine Steamers Review on Clydesite


Tramscape and Gordon Stewart.
All photographs displayed are with the permission of the acknowledged photographer but are not to be copied for re-use for any other website or publication without the specific authorisation of the photographer. You are welcome to use the text from this website as a research source and basis for your own work but it should not be copied and republished elsewhere verbatim or only slightly altered.
All material on www.paddlesteamers.info is Tramscape and Gordon Stewart or the individual photographer where acknowledged. Photos not otherwised attributed are by Gordon Stewart

Note : The Clyde Turbine Steamer Foundation was a banner behind which the webmaster and an interested investor sought to progress a deal to buy TS Queen Mary in 2009. This branding of the webmaster's work to draw attention to the ship is now longer used and the pages relating to Queen Mary and other turbine steamers are now branded as a special Clyde Turbine Steamers section of the webmaster's paddlesteamers.info database.



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Gordon Stewart, based in the United Kingdom  : Please e-mail Gordon Stewart on this link

Information presented is from the webmaster's own research or from material submitted to the webmaster for publication. If anything posted is factually incorrect and you are in possession of more accurate information, please let me know and I will make the appropriate corrections / improvements to the text.

The webmaster poses in front of his then favourite ship, Duchess of Hamilton, which called regularly at Fairlie pier, where several happy holidays were spent in the 1960s