The India (pictured above) was built by Westwood and Baillie in 1876 as a sea-going paddle tug with two independent side lever engines, one for each paddle wheel, for Wm Watkins of the Thames. She had their characteristic and rather bizarre arrangement of two funnels athwartships and, in common with a number of tugs of that era, found some seasonal employment as an excursion steamer running regular trips from Margate from 1890 to 1893.
In 1894 India was sold to the Tees Tug and Lighter Company for further service on the Tees but she returned south on charter to Mr J Taylor of Portsmouth for about seven weeks in July and most of August 1896. He ran her on an extensive programme of sailings in competition with the local steamers of Samuel Wheeler’s Southsea, Ventnor, Shanklin and Sandown Steamship Company. Billed by Mr Taylor as “The Large Channel Passenger Steamer of 218 tons” India was advertised to sail to Bournemouth, Round the Isle of Wight and, unlike her main competitor the former Clyde paddler Dandie Dinmont of 1866, across the channel to Cherbourg going out one day and coming back the next.
Quite how large a “Large Channel Passenger Steamer” India’s intending passengers found her to be is not recorded nor is the level of enjoyment they experienced on their foreign going trip. Doubtless an absence of wind on a flat calm day with plenty of sunshine would have helped to keep their spirits up as they sailed across the Channel aboard a steamer not much longer than our own Kingswear Castle.
From mid July to early September 1897 India was on charter to the famous South Coast paddle steamer operators Cosens of Weymouth who based her at Weymouth, under the command of Capt Boutell, from where she is reported to have run five or six cross channel trips to Cherbourg as well as operating on other Cosens’ services. This picture is a rare shot of her entering Weymouth Harbour with Cosens’ Premier of 1846 behind her.
In those days Cosens’ funnels were all black with bell tops and it was not until after the turn of the century that they adopted their more familiar buff funnels with black tops after a brief period experimenting with a shade of duck egg blue. Spending only that season with Cosens, India is probably the most forgotten of the many wonderful paddle steamers which sailed in this magnificent fleet. Returning to the Tees she continued to operate until around 1904 when she was hulked.
Kingswear Castle returned to service in 2023 after the first part of a major rebuild which is designed to set her up for the next 25 years running on the River Dart. The Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle Trust is now fund raising for the second phase of the rebuild. You can read more about the rebuilds and how you can help if you can here.