Bristol to Waterford by steamer 1837 – a ladies view

In June of 1837 Charlotte Elizabeth arrived at Bristol from London with her two sons, freshly released from their boarding school. They were to journey to Wexford via Waterford city and New Ross. To get there they needed to board a paddle steamer. They had already secured passage aboard the regular steamer Nora Creina. However, the boy’s mother spotted a bargain, a rival ship new to the route, however like many bargains, sometimes there’s a good reason the price is lower.  The blog this month gives a firsthand account of their journey.

“…My route hither was from London, via Bristol and Waterford: my travelling companions two blithesome boys, in all the exuberance of joyous freedom from school restraints…

We had been advised to take our passage on board the Nora Creina, Waterford steamer; but while waiting her arrival from Bristol, we were attracted by the handsome, spacious appearance of a rival vessel, the St. Patrick, lying just below us. We strolled on board, and finding everything within answerable to the exterior, with the prospect of a rapid passage, and the unconscionably low fare of half a guinea each, instead of the £1. 17s. that was demanded before a lively competition reduced it, we shipped our luggage, secured our berths, and became the staunch partizans of St. Patrick against all the world. It is marvellous how the selfish principle operates in these matters; …Whatever vessel you may make choice of for a trip, where choice is allowed, becomes immediately the safest, the fleetest, the best navigated in the service…

A stagecoach which ran between London and Bristol up to the 1840s. Accessed from Historic UK

What marvel then that we, being fairly established on board the St. Patrick, laughed to scorn the idea of the Nora Creina or any other boat bound for Waterford coming within the influence of the mighty swell that we should leave in our track? It really was an exceedingly fine vessel; and as I sat upon deck, luxuriating in the consciousness that I was fairly embarked for Ireland, I know not with whom I would have exchanged situations.

An amusing scene passed before us: the agent was receiving passage-money and distributing tickets and when the steerage passengers advanced in their turn, it was quite a foretaste of Ireland. The lounging gait, the easy unembarrassed air, the arch expression of countenance, and rich nationality of phrase and accent, all gave such a zest to the humorous remark and quick retort, bandied between the parties engaged, that my English youth was quite amazed at the freedom of the poor people, and playfulness of their superiors; while the naturally high spirits of his Irish friend were wound to a pitch of enjoyment that enhanced my own.

Adverts for both vessels at the time Bristol Mercury – Saturday 08 April 1837, page 1 BNA Public Domain

At length all was settled, and we cleared away in capital style from the land, holding our majestic course towards the mouth of the Avon, not forgetting to bestow a few farewell jokes on the Nora Creina, whose bright red chimney top was peeping from the other side of the lock, and of whom we had got the start so completely as to leave her no reasonable chance of enjoying more than a distant sight of us during the voyage.

But alas for all sublunary glory! In our anxiety to anticipate Nora, we had also a little anticipated the tide; and though no boat could be better worked, yet as we were obliged to leave sea room for the numerous vessels passing inwards to the basin, we brought our gallant steamer too near shore for the present depth of water; and with one bold plunge the mighty St. Patrick stuck so fast in the mud that all the machinery on board would not affect his extrication.

Nora Creina from Leahy’s map of Waterford 1834

Nothing could be more interesting, more animated, more picturesque, or more provoking, than our situation. Not a shadow of danger, to rouse any deeper feeling; and only for one circumstance it would have been delightful.

Here rose perpendicularly above us the splendid rocks of St. Vincent, exactly at the foot of which, in their loftiest and most magnificent point of view, we lay: across the water, dancing and sparkling from the continual agitation of passing ships, were spread the beautiful wooded heights of Leigh.

I do not think that any river can afford a more strikingly imposing coup d’oeil than we had then full leisure to contemplate: but that annoying red chimney-top marred all our gratification. The Nora Creina had cleared the lock, had put on her steam; and while our men were straining every nerve in ineffectual efforts to float St. Patrick, his fair rival paddled by in triumph, bestowing on us a merry cheer-whether of condolence or exultation is best known to those who uttered it.

By means of a rope we were at length hauled into deep water again, and had the satisfaction of following Nora, but at as respectful a distance in the rear as we had intended her to keep. We passed into the Bristol channel, and without further adventure held on our way. An excellent dinner was provided, and the afternoon passed pleasantly on deck, a bright sky above, and a wide outspread of tranquil water around us.

This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art.
Accessed via Wikimedia

Towards evening, as I watched the sun’s westward progress, that splendid reflexion which renders a sun-set at sea so glorious, suddenly appeared; a stream of light seemed to descend perpendicularly from the flaming orb, still high above the horizon, and to settle on the wave beneath in a body of effulgence —it was like a carpet of silver tissue interspersed with diamonds, a little larger than the sun’s apparent diameter. At that moment my young Hibernian friend approached, ‘Do you see that, Robert?’ I asked, pointing to the brilliant object before us. ‘Yes,’ he replied; and Ireland is just under it.’…

…and that by five o’clock the next morning I was at my post, in eager expectation of the first glimpse of Erin. It appeared at last; and after swallowing a hasty breakfast from the abundance of good cheer provided on board the St. Patrick, we again seated ourselves on deck, to mark the bold outline of the Wexford mountains, and the fine approach to Waterford.

Some idea of the facilities aboard the Nora Creina, the same is not advertised for St Patrick. Bristol Mercury – Saturday 08 April 1837; page 1

On a jutting point of land, conspicuous alike for size and situation, stands the tower of Hook, a round, white building; and several other martello towers are seen along the coast where it stretches off to the north east, forming the bay of Ballyteig. Hook being rounded, we had fairly entered the harbour’s mouth; and shall I try to tell you what I felt when beholding on either side the sweet green shores, like arms outspread to receive, with the national ‘cead-mille-failte,’ the hundred thousand welcomes’ of Irish hospitality…

Du Noyers sketch of the Hook in the 1860s

Nothing could be more lovely than the gradually narrowing banks of Waterford harbour. There is no striking object-no grandeur of any kind, but a character of simple beauty and repose. A gentle acclivity leads the eye to prospects diversified indeed, yet varying without a break upon the uniform placidity of the scene. Here, a nobleman’s or gentleman’s seat, with its fine background of wooded hills, and a spacious lawn in front; there, a less conspicuous abode, or cluster of modest dwellings, with the slight spire of a village church peeping out beyond them.

Again, where the shore flattens, a busy tribe of fishermen, launching or unlading their boats, with their lowly cabins scattered or congregated a little farther inland. The houses in Ireland are, as you know, almost universally white; and you could not but admire the picturesque effect thereby produced, when they are thinly scattered on rising grounds clad with that delicious verdure, the just boast of the Emerald Isle, and relieved by a sufficiency of trees and hedgerows, which is not always the case, though Waterford harbour can display as much as the eye of taste would desire…

… We found ourselves near our friend Nora, whose red chimney-top had discarded its long black pennon of smoke, and whose passengers were already dispersed to their several destinations. St. Patrick was laid alongside his rival, who formed a bridge for us to the pier; and Robert having recommended that, as we had not to seek a public conveyance, and were under no obligation to hasten ashore, we should remain quiet until all the rest were landed, we collected our trunks about us, and sat still, delighted spectators of the lively scene.

For, whatever else an Irish scene may lack, there is never a deficiency of liveliness in it. There is something in the national character always on the qui vive for amusement; and an unsophisticated set of Irish porters, at home, are very different from any fraternity whom you have probably seen exercising that calling. I never was more amused by the contrast than now, that I had so recently experienced the sturdy demands, and witnessed the angry competition, of the London and Bristol professionals.

As I sate guarding my little stores, many a polite offer of service was tendered, more with the air of a gentleman who wishes to oblige you, than of a hungry fellow whose dinner, and supper too, depend on what he may gain by it. ‘I’m just going over there,’ pointing across the Nora; ‘may-be, I’d carry your luggage with me,’ said a fine, broad-faced Paddy, who had strolled up, and stood before us with great composure.

Thank you; but I’m not going ashore yet, and there’s a gentleman managing the luggage for me.’ Paddy responded to the smile with which this was spoken, touched his fragment of a hat, and, wheeling off, saw a large telescope, fixed in its rest, with the broad end about eight inches from an upright board. Not heeding the latter obstruction, Paddy immediately placed himself at the eyeglass, and applying his hands to his knees squatted down till he brought himself, as he thought, in the right line of vision to enjoy an excellent view of the harbour and distant shipping.

A long pry convinced him, I suppose, that the glass was a bad one; for he walked away in search of some other amusement. This, trifling as it was, delighted me beyond measure: I felt myself in Ireland; and when at last permitted to spring ashore, my very feet seemed to rejoice in the privilege of kissing the beloved soil again…”

The party next hire a coach to take them to New Ross and needless to say more adventure. Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna (1790-1846) was a popular Victorian English writer and novelist who wrote under the pseudonym Charlotte Elizabeth. This edited piece concerns the journey to Waterford, the entire piece titled LETTERS FROM IRELAND can be read here.

The lady was fortunate. The St Patrick (1832) was a rival steamer on the Bristol Waterford route, was owned by Sir John Tobin and was the third vessel of that name to ply the route from Bristol. The grounding in the Avon was perhaps a sign of further troubles, for later that year the vessel was lost at Churchtown on the Hook Peninsula. But that as they say is another story…one that I am working on

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4 Replies to “Bristol to Waterford by steamer 1837 – a ladies view”

  1. Andrew loved the article. You struck gold in finding Charlotte Elizabeth’s letters.

    1. Hi Kathlenn, you will enjoy reading the other parts of her journey through Glenmore to New Ross, a facinating lady who overcame so much. My wife was intrigued by it and asked how I found this…I can’t recall. Like so many stories it has been sitting in my pile of blogs to be completed for some time.

  2. Really enjoyed reading this , definitely will gave to investigate the rest.
    Andrew, you’re a star ! Thank you.

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