The 1829 River Steamer Eclipse

On Thursday 16th March 2023 I was delighted to give an illustrated talk in Ballyhack on the Paddle Steamers’ service that ran from New Ross and Duncannon to Waterford from 1836/7 to 1917.  The steamers carried passengers and freight, provided day trips on summer Sundays, and were involved in numerous other activities including towage and salvage.  However, in researching the talk I discovered a much earlier steamer on the New Ross run, by almost 10 years, the paddle steamer Eclipse.

The story starts in May of 1829, when the Waterford Mail newspaper carried an article that outlined a public meeting held at the local courthouse in the port of New Ross on Thursday 14th May.  The meeting acknowledged that the new river service to run from the town to Waterford was a “…measure of great public utility…” and those attending resolved to “…pledge ourselves to give all the support and encouragement in our power towards promoting the success of this establishment.”  The service was to commence with daily sailings at 8 am, returning to the town at 4 pm. 

Waterford Mail – Saturday 16 May 1829; page 1

A number of ships and steamers of the era shared this name including a regular on the Belfast to Glasgow run.  The first mention of the Eclipse in this area was reported at Passage East on 10th May 1829 having arrived in ballast from Bristol.  There the master was recorded as Dando, elsewhere as Captain William Dando.  Presumably, this was the arrival of the vessel to service the new route. An internet search strongly suggests that the Eclipse was a newly built ship in 1828 by William Scott shipbuilders, was 31 tons, powered by side paddle wheels, and rigged for sail as a schooner. Any other details post-publication appreciated.

A local advertisement stated that fares were 1 shilling 6d for a cabin one way, and 1 shilling for the deck.  Passengers could apply on board or via the ship’s agent Anthony Jackson.  Interestingly, the ship was also open to responding to signals from the shore to call in and collect passengers from “…any suitable place…”.  Passengers could expect the “…utmost possible accommodation…” aboard.  Jackson was an agent based in Waterford.  Patrick Magee acted on her behalf in New Ross. 

A report in the Waterford Mail of mid-May was effusive in praise for this new venture, seemingly a private enterprise by an Englishman, possibly Captain Dando himself.  The article records perhaps the first sailing of the Eclipse stating that the “…beautiful little steamer…arrived at the quay at ten o’clock…from Ross with between twenty and thirty passengers, performing the voyage which is eighteen miles, in two hours. This vessel is quite new and has been brought over from Bristol to see if she can made to answer on our river.”  The steamer was warmly greeted as apparently “…The present road is quite abominable —rough, and all up and down hill, so much so that the nominal riders per car are very frequently in the predicament of our countryman in the bottomless sedan-chair, who said, if it war’n’t for the honour of the thing, he’d as live walk…”   The scribe states that another benefit is that the steamer is quick in comparison, has “plenty of room for stowage… a snug cabin” and to top it off the  “…scenery up the Nore and Barrow, though little known, is really some of the most picturesque and beautiful in Ireland…”  

An image used in advertisements, however this is most probably a generic image. It would certainly fit the bill in terms of standard design, two side wheels, a belching funnel, and sails in case of breakdown.

I could find no details on the freight types or the costs.  Of interest to me was to find that already what became a crucial financial earner to the later paddle steamers was also a feature of the Eclipse – the Sunday excursions or special events trips.  On Sunday 31st of May 1829, residents of Waterford and the harbour were advised that the Eclipse would depart the city at 10 am en route to Dunmore East for the day, returning at 4 pm. Later in August a four-day regatta at Dunmore East had a daily connection via the Eclipse.   The fare seems rather expensive however, 5 shillings each way from Waterford to Dunmore, and 1 shilling each way to Ross = 12 shillings minimum.  

Worryingly, by late September 1829, a front-page advert in the Waterford Mail was advising the public of route curtailment and a fare increase!  The “…intercourse between Ross and Waterford being more limited than originally intended.”  And although cabin rates stayed as was, the deck passengers now went from 1s to 1s 6d.  Children were half-price – a detail that I had not seen recorded before.  The steamer had an earlier return sailing to Ross at 3.30 pm – the changes to come into effect on Oct 1st.

In November an article praised the work of the Eclipse both in terms of the connection with passengers and freight but also in towage.  A large brig the 400-ton Agenoria had been towed up to the city from the harbour that week and another, the brig Drake had been towed from “…Ross to Waterford against wind and tide, at a rate of 5 miles an hour.” You can’t fault the editor and staff of the Waterford Mail for not trying to give assistance to the venture in fairness.

 Alas it was not to last, and I would think at the rates charged, it was proving very difficult for the ship.  In mid-November, an advert stated the ship was for sale, including all her machinery and stores.  Elsewhere an appeal was made for a local buyer to sustain the service which was considered crucial to the area.  The appeal was that the loss might not be easily replaced.   I’m open to correction but those words seem apt, as I am not aware of any other regular steamer on the route until the coming of the PS Shamrock.  Again as part of my research for the recent talk I found information that the Shamrock commenced in the summer of 1836, and not 1837 as I had believed for several years now. That service would run uninterrupted up to the last sailing of the Ida in July 1905.  A story we have delved into previously.    

Its been a busy time of events, and I look forward to my first talk in Dublin next week as a guest of Cormac Lowth and the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Assoc. The talk will also be available live on Zoom at 8 p.m at
Meeting ID: 819 2821 0833
Passcode: 062219

I have a number of events planned for the coming year, please visit the Talks & Walks section of my website for details and booking. Our next event is fully booked up, this coming Sunday – a gentle stroll through the Faithlegg estate. However other dates are available. If you would like to subscribe to my monthly maritime blog, please complete the details below

Paddle Steamer excursion

The Waterford Steamship Navigation Company river service commenced in 1837.  It ran daily return trips between New Ross-Waterford and Duncannon-Waterford, Monday to Saturday. In the Summer season Sunday trips were also offered. During the week the ships departed the Wexford towns around 8am arriving into Waterford in under two hours.  The return leg was in late afternoon.  In the time between, the ships were available for hire or were given over to other uses.

The ships preferred on the routes were iron built, shallow draught paddle steamers.  And they were versatile craft.  They were regularly used to tow sailing ships into port, or to attend rescues or act as  salvage vessels to damaged ships. But they also provided tours, special event trips and outings to harbour events such as regattas, horse racing in Duncannon or religious and political gatherings.

One event of July of 1864(1) gives a unique insight into their employment as a river tour vessel.

“The annual summer excursion of the pupils attending the Sunday-school Institute, took place on Wednesday last.  At ten o’clock the scholars, with their respective teachers, formed in their classes at the Protestant Hall (a distinctive, red bricked, building still to be seen in Catherine St. opposite the court house), and proceeded towards the magnificent little river steamer the Tintern, which, through the accustomed generosity of William Malcomson Esq., was kindly placed at the disposal of the committee of the Sunday School Institute for this joyous occasion.

A contemporary scene of Ballyhack with a paddle steamer heading down the harbour
accessed from

Soon the Tintern received its large and living freight, and the deck presented a scene most animating, there being about 400 children formed into little knots, including their respective teachers who, no doubt, felt much pleasure and delight at the sound of their youthful voices and merry laughter, as they spoke of the pleasure they anticipated enjoying during the day.

At half-past eleven o’clock the Tintern steamed away from the Adelphi Wharf, where she had been lying, looking gaily, with her flags flying, and an awning suspended over the after deck, a circumstance which gave those going on board the option of being entirely protected from the sun, or of enjoying its invigorating rays, and the stronger breeze which a person, generally speaking, placed on the forecastle deck, always enjoys.

A close up excerpt of the George Victor Du Noyer painting, showing clearly a paddle steamer off Ballyhack in the harbour

Her course was directed to New Ross, and indeed, the scenery, along the banks of the river was most attractive and pleasing. The well cultivated gardens, fields, and plantations exhibited ample proof of fertility our land; and showed the natural advantages which this country posses as an agricultural country, which, however, are too frequently disregarded. —causes monetary and political tending to -operate against the increase and fuller development of those resources which a bountiful Providence has placed at our disposal for our own profit and good.

The Ida, a later and larger ship of the company, but gives a sense of their popularity 

Coming to the Bridge at New Ross the steamer was turned about, and her course was then directed towards Duncannon Fort, past which she steamed most gaily and gallantly, all on board having an opportunity of seeing the outlines of that Fort, which is said to have been much shaken and loosened in its foundations, owing to the practice of the heavy guns used by the Waterford and Tipperary Artillery Militia regiments, during the past few years.

Having arrived at Broom Hill our little vessel was again turned about, this time with her head bearing towards the Quay of Waterford, where she arrived about half-past three o’clock, and proceeded up a good portion of the river before she turned into her berth at Adelphi landing stage.

It is indeed most satisfactory to be able to say that the utmost order prevailed during the day amongst the children, who amused themselves in various ways. The pleasure derived by the ‘ excursionists’ was greatly enhanced by the presence of the members of the Young Men’s Christian Association,
who, under the direction of Mr. Zinkant, performed a beautiful selection of music during the day.

About one o’clock refreshments which were prepared for the children were partaken of, and the members of the band were provided with a luncheon which was laid out for them in the captain’s cabin. Indeed, a more pleasing scene could scarcely be witnessed than that presented on Wednesday last when so many of the rising generation, professing the true faith of Protestantism, assembled to enjoy a day’s recreation, beholding the beauties of nature in association with those whose exertions have been ever to instruct them in heavenly things, and point them from “nature to nature’s God”

I’d imagine, the boat and her crew had barely time to have a cup of tea before the passengers for the 4pm sailing to Duncannon trooped aboard.  PS Tintern was built in the Neptune Ironworks by John Horn and was launched on Aug 21st 1861. She would serve the good people of Duncannon and the SW Wexford area from 1861 to circa 1875 when she was replaced by the PS Vandeleur.  The Tintern was used thereafter as a relief ship by the company and was contracted out for other duties after this time.  She was eventually broken up and her hull used as a landing stage in 1897.(2)

(1) Nenagh Guardian July 20th 1864 page 1
(2) Malcolm McRonald. The Irish Boats Vol II. 2006. Tempus. Stroud, Gloucestershire.

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The New Ross river pilots 1854

In my recent book on growing up in Cheekpoint I devoted a chapter to my uncle Sonny and his operation of the Cheekpoint pilot boat.  His role was to embark and disembark pilots coming to and from New Ross.  The role of pilot or river guide is probably as old as people have sailed into foreign waters. Its a topic I remember well stories of competing crews of hobblers rowing down the harbour attempting to engage a ship with a pilot and a crew to tie up their vessel.  A fascinating story in itself, but for another day.
SS Pembrook at Cheekpoint Feb 1899, note Pilot House sq building on left
AH Poole Collection NLI
The pilots were divided in two separate and distinct groups. The Waterford pilots took ships upand down river to the city. As part of their duties they took New Ross destined ships as far as Cheekpoint, at which point pilots for the competing port of took charge. The actual extent of the New Ross pilots role was “To pilot vessels within the limits from the junction of the River Barrow with the River Suir, up to the entrance of of the canal at St Mullins on the River Barrow, and to the lock quay of Inistioge, on the River Nore”
In the year 1854 New Ross Pilots were expected to abide by the following instructions;
“…to lose no time in boarding such vessels as may be ordered…and to behave in strict propriety…hoisting your distinguishing colour (white, with his number in black) immediately on going aboard a vessel…”  A rule I was never aware of and certainly not used in my days of viewing the pilots comings and goings.
“You are to suffer no boat to take any vessel in your charge in tow, except you have orders…or except in cases of of sudden emergency or danger.” Presumably this was to avoid any claims of salvage and unnecessary expense.
“You are in no case whatever to interfere with the duties of the Revenue Officers, but on the contrary are to afford them every assistance…any pilot found so engaged in … shipping contraband…will be immediately suspended…” we have seen before the issues of smuggling and what a serious challenge it was in the ports.
To encourage “…zeal, activity and good conduct…” pilots are allowed to share in money for “…meritorious services…” however severe penalties are threatened for “…disobediance of oders, irregularity of conduct, or wilful neglect…” Drunkenness is considered the highest order of misconduct!

For a bit of, admittedly poor, modern day footage of a pilot exchange at Cheekpoint here’s a piece I took during the week.  Pilot cutter Crofter, putting a New Ross pilot aboard the inbound MV Arklow Cadet and awaiting the Waterford pilot to disembark.

Pilots are also expected to discourage any master who might “…cause any part of his ballast to be thrown into the river or harbour…” obviously causing any hazard to navigation, or lowering the available depth of water for shipping was a concern then as now.

The Pilots concerned were:
Name                            Age
Stephen Dunn               62
Michael Dunn               60
John Doyle                     60
Daniel Eustace              62
Thomas Kehoe              47
Daniel Carroll                41
Patrick Toole                 49

No apprentices were listed.

A sliding scale or rates for pilotage are given.  These vary with a higher rate for foreign ships and the lowest for ships trading within the then UK waters. Ships between 30-40 tons are 10s for a foreign vessel, 8s for a British ship (this obviously included Irish owned and registered at the time) sailing from overseas and 5s for vessels trading within the UK.  The highest charges went to ships listed at 400 tons and upwards.  Charges range from £4 1s for a foreign vessel, £3 0s 9d for a British ship sailing from overseas and £2 0s 6d for vessels trading within the UK.
In total 261 vessels paid for pilotage that year into the port, and the same number left it.  All but 6 of these ships were British registered.  The income this raised was £190 16s 4d each way.  The total cost for the pilots that year £315 1s 7d. Disappointingly, there was no breakdown of the size of ships entering or leaving. Ships towed up or down must still pay pilotage, as a pilot is required at all times we are told.
Nothing is made of the pilot boat operating at Cheekpoint, no name of the boat or person or persons employed.  However in the costs of running to port, a small sum of £6 19s is expended for the pilot boats, buoys etc, which seems a small sum for the work involved in running a boat, except that the costs are made up elsewhere.  In the photo from 1899 a square box pilot hut is partially seen, this was a base that pilots could await in “comfort” for a return trip back upstream.  Not like today when cars are readily available. 
Of course the pilots had an altogether easier time of it than the later generations as the Barrow Bridge was yet to be built, and it would prove a challenge to pilots in time to come.
In June we will take a look at the rules governing the Waterford Pilots, of which there is some curious and interesting information. If anyone can supply a local image of the 19thC pilots or related photos to complement this piece I would appreciate it.
Much of the information contained is taken from Return of all Bye-Laws, Regulations, Orders or Ordinance, relating to Pilots or Pilotage now in force within the Jurisdiction of the Commissioners of the Port of New Ross; for the year ending 31st Dec 1854.  Accessed from House of Commons Parliamentary Papers.
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Waterford to New Ross by paddle steamer 1842

I recently had some American and English visitors on a tour of the village.  I found it interesting to hear their thoughts on the area and I always get as much from their perspectives and questions as I ever give.  In the same way the perspective of others from years back can be very illustrative and informative about our country or our locality.  I have used the travels of Arthur Young before to illustrate what life was like in Faithlegg and Cheekpoint in the late 18th C. But today we have a German visitor, JG Kohl, who traveled from Waterford to New Ross on a paddle steamer whilst touring Ireland in the autumn of 1842.  

Waterford possesses
two prominent features which are of the greatest advantage to its trade: first,
one of the most wonderful quays in the world; and, secondly, one of the finest
harbours in Ireland. The quay is a mile long, and so broad and convenient
withal, that it must be invaluable to merchants and mariners. It is skirted by
a row of elegant houses; and the scenery on the opposite side of the river,
which is here a mile and a half wide, is extremely picturesque.

Waterford later in the century, but highlighting how busy it was

The embouchure of the
river Suir, which forms the harbour, is wide and deep, without islands or
sandbanks, and affords all possible security and convenience to ships. I have
already said that Waterford harbour has a great similarity to the bay of Cove,
near Cork. Cleaving the land in a similar manner, it runs from the sea, taking
with it the sea water, for ten or fifteen miles into the country. At its upper
end it divides into two branches, one of which runs west, and the other
northwards, while at New Ross it receives the Barrow and the Nore. All this
extent of land and water, as far as Waterford and New Ross, and then somewhat
farther up the Suir, Barrow, and Nore, is one of the most beautiful and
charming districts in Ireland…

By The original uploader was Thyra at German Wikipedia(Original text: unbekannter Künstler) – Transferred from de.wikipedia to Commons. Transfer was stated to be made by User:CJLippert.(Original text: [1]), Public Domain,

…when I came to the
river, it was exactly low water. Several vessels were lying on their sides in
the mud, as if stranded. Above the beautiful bridge, the Suir seemed almost
entirely drained, and the banks were slimy and muddy. But as the tide rolled
in, the sand-banks were covered, the ships righted themselves and danced upon
the waves, the artery of the river was filled, and the landscape again
reflected in its restored mirror. The sun mounted high in the heavens, and our
steamboat, The Repealer, rushed forth through the waves. What is there to be
found in Ireland that has not some connexion with repeal? I was informed that
the repealers go almost exclusively by this boat, and hence it was also called
the People’s Steamer. On the flag which waved from the quarter-deck were the
words, ‘Hurrah for the Repeal of the Union!’ O’Connell can now, at his
meetings, truly boast that the repeal cause is progressing with the rapidity of
steam. In this corner of the earth, indeed, steam does not go very far—only to
the town of New Ross, fifteen miles distant, whither we were bound. Nor does it
afford any exclusive advantage to the repealers, as the anti-repealers also
employ steam in their cause. Another steamboat, bound to the same place, splashed
alongside of us, in opposition to ours. In England one never gets rid of this
opposition: it follows him every where.

Had I not been in
Scotland, and sailed down the Firth” of Clyde, I would pronounce this trip
on the arms of Waterford Harbour to be the finest in the United Kingdom. Or,
were there not much that is beautiful out of the United Kingdom, I could also
say that it is the most delightful journey I ever made in my life. But it is
sufficient to affirm that the landscape on the shores of these waters is as
picturesque, pleasing, and diversified in its kind as any other in the world.
The waters flow through the deep and convenient bays somewhat more quickly than
through a lake; and as its entrance from the sea is concealed from the
spectator by a very sudden turn, he actually believes he is on an inland-lake,
and is astonished at the large ships which ascend it, seeking harbours hidden
far in the heart of the land. At times the shore is a hill, sloping down to the
water, which, like almost every river-bank in the United Kingdom, is studded
with charming seats and pleasure-grounds; at others, it juts out in steep,
rocky, and wooded headlands, which the Repealer almost grazes as she speeds

An example of the paddle steamer trade, PS IDA
Via Andy Kelly

At no great distance
below United Kingdom are seen, in the background of a bay, the immense ruins of
the far-famed Abbey of Dunbrody, one of the most celebrated and beautiful ruins
of Ireland, which are here held in about the same estimation as the ruins of
Melrose are in Scotland. Alas! they are now, like the times of their grandeur,
in the far distance; and the Repealer has too much to do with the opposition
steamer, which is walking close upon her heels, and forces her to keep her
straightforward way, to turn from her course, and give the traveller a look at
the ruined abbey. In truth, it afforded us no little amusement to see our
rival, as she was about to turn into the mouth of the Barrow, run aground on a
sand-bank, where, as our captain drily observed, she must stick till the tide
would rise somewhat higher, and float her off. As for the Repealer, being
obliged to be at New Ross by a certain time, she soon left Dunbrody far behind,
and splashed away with the flowing tide up the Barrow. The British Islands must
reap important benefits from the double alternating currents, one landwards,
the other seawards, of the navigable rivers. In no other country do the waters
of the sea flow so far inland, bearing ships into the very heart of the

Kohl’s view of the meeting of the three sister rivers,
without the Barrow railway viaduct

On the deck of an
Irish steamer there is seldom a want of entertainment. On the quarter-deck the
company is twice as talkative as on that of an English steamer; and the
forecastle resounds even with music and singing. To the music, which, of
course, was that of the bagpipes, we had dancing. Since Paddy, as I have before
remarked, generally uses only an old door, or a couple of boards laid close
together, for a dancing-floor, he naturally finds it impossible to leave
unoccupied the beautiful space which, on the deck of a steamer, remains vacant,
between butter-firkins, flour-bags, egg-boxes, hen-coops, baskets of turkeys,
tied-up cows, and a confused heap of grunting pigs. He therefore lays aside his
stick, and throws his cares and his sorrows to the winds, with much greater
ease than can be done by the rich man of five thousand a year who is looking at
him; with good-humour in his face, he seizes a struggling maiden, and, in a
merry and lively jig, or Scottish reel, he shakes his rags as if they were the
bell-tipped lappets of a fool’s dress. The splashing paddles of the steamer
beat the time for him, and the lovely banks of the Barrow give to this
spectacle a decoration which the ballet-dancers on the boards of Covent-garden
or Drury-lane cannot boast of.

The evening was
wondrously calm, and even the fishes, though still poorer than Paddy, jumped in
the water for joy. I planted myself beside the captain, on the high platform in
the centre of the vessel, and, while I observed the grave and serious rich on
the quarter-deck, and the merry poor in the forecastle, I could not refrain
from praising the justice of God, who, while he makes man poor, at the same
time renders him more capable of taking delight in the most trifling things.

The beautiful seats of
the Powers, the Asmonds, and other families which lay along the banks, are all
so charming that one would like to take a sketch of each separately. Near
Castle Ennis, in a broad beautiful meadow, stands the largest, most lordly, and
picturesque oak I ever saw. One looks on these mansions with increased
interest, if, as I had, he has an Irish priest as confessant at his side, who,
from being intrusted with the private affairs of the families that reside in
them, can give him a sketch of the history of each. While I listened to my
priestly confessant, I was somewhat amazed at the extra-ordinary things which
happen in the usual every-day life of these families. In one of these mansions
there yet dwells an old lady, the widow of one of the most distinguished of
those rebels who were beheaded by the English during the last rebellion in

As we passed a rock,
our cannon were fired, in memory of a sailor, who, some months previously, had
fallen overboard at this spot, and was drowned. The reports were re-echoed from
the rock, and the manes of the dead were no doubt highly gratified by the
honour thus conferred upon them.
New Ross 1832, a few years before his visit
Public Domain,

We anchored at New
Ross, and as this place is the extreme end of the Barrow navigation, and the
brightest gem in the entire landscape-gallery of the neighbourhood, it would no
doubt have well repaid us to pass this delightful evening here. It is at once
apparent that New Ross is an old town, since it does not present that
picturesque grouping which is peculiar to new regular towns: at the same time it
is also a fallen place, for it is said once to have possessed a great part of
the trade which Waterford has now entirely drawn to itself. It no longer
dispatches a single ship to sea, and merely sends agricultural produce to
Waterford, to be from thence exported. Beyond New Ross the waters, which had
hitherto been broad and deep, seem entirely to lose themselves in a thicket of
woods and rocks. In this thicket there are said to be most beautiful scenery,
splendid landscapes, and waterfalls. Yet it was not granted me to explore these
beauties any further. As I found my travelling companion disposed to avail
himself of the beautiful moonlight night to continue his journey, at eleven
o’clock we troubled an Irish horse and a little jaunting-car to take us over to
Wexford, about twenty miles distant.

Johann Georg Kohl (1808-1878) was a German scholar, cartographer and geographer, who visited Ireland in 1842. His intention was to see it “without any object in view other than to become acquainted with the country, and to see everything that was interesting and remarkable in it” He was a native of Bremen, and he studied and traveled widely and was noted for his unbiased perspective.  As such his views on Waterford and the harbour should be seen and judged in this light. A man after my own heart, you might say!

I’m only speculating that the Repealer was a paddle steamer, but most ships involved in the Waterford New Ross or Waterford Duncannon ferry trade were to my knowledge.  I had not heard of the Repealer before but an online thread suggests she was brought in as a rival to challenge the Waterford New Ross Steam navigation company but only lasted some months.

Extracts taken from J. G. Kohl, Travels in Ireland, translated from the German, (London 1844)
You can read the entire book here

Thanks to Frank Murphy for his kind assistance.

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