March 2004:
Bournemouth Steamer Trips August 1899

March 2004:
Bournemouth Steamer Trips August 1899

How to spend a week at Bournemouth in August 1899 on a variety of paddle steamer trips to admire various military installations. On Tuesday you could have paddled along the Dorset Coast to Weymouth “Passing through the Fleet of Warships just returned from summer manoeuvres”. On Wednesday there was “An afternoon Excursion Passing through the Channel Fleet assembled in the Portland Roads”. On Thursday an excursion Round the Isle of Wight offered a call at Ryde for three hours to see a “Review of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Volunteers (over 400) by Her Majesty The Queen”. On Friday you could have sailed for a Grand Cruise around Portsmouth Harbour to witness the attractions of this “Important Naval Port, Nelson’s famous Flagship Victory and the Terrible, the largest and most powerful cruiser in the world”. And if all this sightseeing of the instruments of war was not enough then, on Saturday, it was all aboard for a Cross Channel trip to see what our foreign cousins were up to in “The French Port and Arsenal”, note the word Arsenal, of Cherbourg. It is perhaps small wonder that the previous Saturday offered lighter fare with a Twilight Cruise accompanied by the Bournemouth Black and White Minstrels, a concert party style which would have to wait another eighty years before its tune-full whimsy would be banned by a less military minded but more proscriptive society.

The armaments build up and the presence of the large Channel Fleet proved to be both a headache to manage and a godsend for the finances of Cosens & Co, owners of the Monarch, Victoria and Empress. Under the terms of their agreement with the Admiralty they were obliged to provide liberty vessels for the Navy at Portland and, with so many warships needing so many liberty boats right at the height of the season when the paddlers could be profitably employed elsewhere, they were a bit strapped for ships so this is why the paddle steamer Cynthia appeared on the scene for the latter part of the 1899 season. Built in 1892 by J T Eltringham & Co at South Shields she had previously operated summer season excursions from Margate and had the benefit of a Cross Channel Passenger Certificate. The sixth vessel mentioned, the Alert, was a twin screw steamer 116ft long, owned by a local Poole company which had been operating in competition with Cosens. The fact that she appears on this steamer notice suggests that she was integrated into the regular Swanage Service at this time anyway.

Some of the fares were rather on the steep side particularly given the worrying competition which P & A Campbell had been providing with their much superior paddle steamer Cambria at Bournemouth. The Friday Cherbourg trip, for example, is priced at 7/- which is more than double the price that the Southern Railway were charging for a trip round the Isle of Wight on the Southsea or Whippingham thirty five years later. And despite rampant inflation you could still take a Cosens paddle steamer trip, albeit a much shorter one, for half that price more than sixty years later. The 1961 fare for the Cruise from Weymouth “Round HM Ships and Merchant Shipping in Portland Harbour” was just 3/6.

The five paddlers advertised in this steamer notice are Monarch


Lord Elgin

Cynthia (left) and…


The first three are pictured at Bournemouth, the Cynthia off Hastings, probably in 1905 when she ran regularly on the Sussex Coast, and the last one, Empress, alongside at Swanage. Several of these pictures are from Jill Harvey’s collection.

Pictures of the Alert in service in the Bournemouth area are very rare. Capt Mike Ledger has sent me this one of a very similar SS Alert in Sark Harbour and wonders if it is the same vessel. E C B Thornton records in South Coast Pleasure Steamers that she was sold away from Poole in 1901 for service at Newhaven. Did she move to the Channel Islands at a later date? Does anyone out there have any further information?