AN INTERESTING SNIPPET OF THE EARLY STEAMBOATS
Featured in the May 2009 handbook.
Despite what may be read elsewhere in other supposedly authoritative sources, the inception of a service of steamboats between London and Margate took place in the summer of 1815, not 1814. The earlier date, which has gone remarkably unchallenged for decades, was simply due to a slip of the pen by the engineer Sir Marc BruneI - father
of the illustriously named Isambard Kingdom - recalling his earlier life from memory in a letter written in his old age. He was recounting the hostility shown by the Margate hoteliers and publicans towards the arrival of the first paddle steamer, 'THAMES', in the town on July the 3rd, 1815, the greatly improved efficiency of which over the old
sailing hoys was seen as a great threat to many long established business interests in the town, with the same owners having investments in both hoys and hotels. This was, of course, total nonsense, but such was the fear of change and inevitable progress.
Written evidence in the form of a Georgian family journal, now sadly lost from local view to a location somewhere in Australia, confirmed what the writer had already gleaned over long years of research - that despite the accepted records informing us that only two paddlers had operated here in that first year - the 'THAMES' and 'DEFIANCE', the latter also being the first steam vessel to run from here
across to the Low Countries to Veere, in Holland, following the cessation of hostilities in the Napoleonic Wars - that there had in fact been a third, 'MARJORY', usually written-off by the 'experts' as being far too small and too slow. So there the matter rested until my very good friend and research colleague of many years standing, Alf Beeching, uncovered a most interesting letter at the Whitfield
Archive, and this letter confirmed that total of three vessels running in that first year of 1815 wonderfully! It was a letter written to Messrs, Cobb & Co. at Margate by a shipbuilder, Mr, John Reedhead, and was dated the 26th of December, 1815.
"Gentlemen, I take the liberty to offer you my opinion and service respecting a steam vessel to run from your port to London, such a one as I could construct completely adapted for the trade I am certain would cut out the whole of the other steam vessels that was in the trade last summer between London and Margate. I am certain that I could construct one that would go at least one fourth faster
than-any of the three steam vessels, by which means she would be able to command the principal part of the passengers - and you and your friends at Margate have been so long in possession of the trade I think it would be a pity for you to lose it and it fall into the hands of certain strangers, particularly a trade that will pay so well, and the vessel I would construct I would have a Patent for, which would instantly prevent any other set of people from attempting to oppose the trade. There is more than sufficient time to get one all fully completed before the commencement of the next season and such a one as I would recommend ought to carry about three hundred passengers and cost when all complete for say about three thousand pounds - have the goodness to mention this to some of your friends and let me hear from you as soon as is convenient and in the meantime I shall not engage myself with any other company should you be inclined to take my opinion. I could very conveniently come down to Margate and let you see the plan I would construct the vessel on and explain every thing quite fully to your satisfaction. Botham's Coffee House, Cornhill, London. I am
Gentlemen Respectfully, your most Obedient and Humble Servant, John Reedhead”.
So there we have it - proof positive that the three vessels named, 'THAMES', 'DEFIANCE' and 'MARJORY' did run to Margate in 1815, despite those rumours to the contrary.