March 2011:
Paddle Steamer Twins?

March 2011:
Paddle Steamer Twins?

Paddle steamer twins? Well they were not born on exactly the same day of exactly the same month in exactly the same place but these two paddle steamers were built in the same year, 1879, and share a number of common features which must entitle them to be, at the very least, honorary twins.

This is the oscillating engine, built by John Penn, taken from one of them and on display at the excellent Maritime Museum just opposite the Red Funnel Terminal in Southampton

This is the oscillating engine, built By Rustons, for the other and still in commission sailing regularly up and down the River Elbe from Dresden.

So what paddle steamers are they?

I expect that you will have guessed already that I am talking about Cosens’s Empress of 1879 pictured here at Weymouth in September 1950.

And the Stadt Wehlen also of 1879 pictured here arriving at Dresden.

Not only did these two lovely paddlers have virtually identical oscillating engines but also they had a similar layout with the saloons below deck forward and aft of the engine and a short promenade deck on top. In addition they were just about the same size with the Stadt Wehlen’s slightly greater length being balanced by the Empress’s slightly greater draft. They were each a sort of sea-going and river version of each other.

To get the lay of the land in this picture of the Empress’s engine, the large wheel is for ahead and astern and the steam into each cylinder is controlled by the small levers on either side of the gauges. The large cylinder in the middle, which, at first glance, makes these engines look as though they have three piston rods, is for the air pump.

Empress’s engine remained simple expansion with the two cylinders of equal size throughout but Stadt Wehlen’s was compounded in 1915.

The Empress finished her career on the Dorset Coast in September 1955 and was scrapped soon after. How fortunate that students from the University of Southampton grabbed hold of her engine and restored it so we can still see it today in the Maritime Museum at Southampton.

The Stadt Wehlen and her consorts remain very much alive and kicking today running a comprehensive service on the Elbe from Dresden for much of each year. In order to keep the operating costs down, the steamers combine wonderful original steam technology with more modern kit. Looking into the aft end of the Stadt Wehlen’s wheelhouse you can see an array of modern bits and pieces including electric steering and telegraph and bow thrust controls.

So there we are. Two paddle steamers built in the same year and honorary twins, sort of anyway, one running from Weymouth and one from Dresden, hundreds of miles apart but with a common aim: to give passengers a nice paddle steamer ride.

And if that thought is not cheering enough, cast a glance at the little sticker (on the left of the picture) the captain of the Stadt Wehlen has posted in his window. It says in English: “My ship is my castle. I love my ship”

Now there is a sentiment I heartily endorse!

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.

John Megoran

John Megoran