Launching a dream – SS Neptune

Waterford’s Neptune Shipyard opened in February
1843 as a repair yard for the growing number  of iron hulled steamers of the
Malcomson fleet. The quaker family had started out in the milling business in
Clonmel before branching out into textiles in Portlaw and shipping.  By 1846 the skill and the confidence of the
fledgling business had grown, despite the existence of famine in the country.  In August
of that year they launched what was at the time Ireland’s largest screw
propulsion ship, the SS Neptune at 172ft in length and 326 tons[i].  The ship would go on to create quite a stir
before an untimely end. As such it’s a perfect metaphor for the family itself.
The scene of the launch was captured in the local
papers of the time.[ii]
“On Saturday the city was all bustle and
anxiety, preparing for the gay and rare event, viz: the launch of an iron
steamer (on the screw principal), the first built in our port and the largest
yet constructed in Ireland. The vessel presents the very beau ideal of
perfection …the thousands who came in from Tramore, Dunmore, Ross etc and
indeed from the entire adjacent districts, proved the deep interest felt by all
classes…and evinced most  emphatically
that our citizens are neither wanting in capital, enterprise or judgement. Long
before six o clock vast crowds of people began to assemble, some betaking
themselves of short excursions on the river, some taking up a select position
on Cromwells Rock, (Ferrybank side) and others resorting to the extensive yards
of the Foundry…
Our river, never surpassed in beauty, was
thickly covered in shipping of all sorts, and from her majesty’s steam ship
Lucifer[iii]  down to the humble cot all bedecked on their
gayest colours, which were fluttering in the breeze and the delightful
panoramic scene on the opposite shore can only be appreciated by those who had
the happiness of witnessing it…
SS Neptune. Illustrated London News.
Andy Kelly collection

At six o clock all was intense anxiety, and a
few minutes after, the fatal daggers were withdrawn, and while being christened
Neptune…by the lady of John Malcomson[iv]
…this beautiful monument of Irish industry glided magnificently into her
‘native element’ amid the most enthusiastic cheers, waving of handkerchiefs
etc. “
While the crowds then dispersed peacefully a
“…splendid dejeuner a la fourchette
was given by the worthy proprietors to a select party of friends and in the
evening upwards of one hundred of our citizens assembled at supper.  Mr Anderson[v]
the eminent engineer of the company presided…The workmen of the establishment
were not forgotten they being put in possession of ample means to be joyful and
the long for another launch.”
Once fitted out the SS Neptune would go into service on
the London -St Petersburg run.  One her maiden
voyage to Russia her entry to port created quite a stir.  At her arrival on the coast the Mayor of St
Petersburg came onboard at Krondstadt and sailed aboard her up the River Neva .  Russian naval
vessels and forts along the route fired welcome salvos and merchantmen were
dressed in flags and bunting.  The royal
barge of Tsar Nicholas came down to meet her and he was so impressed with the
ship he announced that she would be waived of all pilot and port fees in
The Neptune was lengthened in 1852 to just over 204 feet
but on the 24th May 1853 having sailed from Krondstadt for London
she grounded on Neckeman’s Ground (or Dagroot) at the entrance to the Gulf of Finland and
was wrecked.[vii]*
SS Neptune was the first
of a series of launches of fine ships that would be to the forefront of maritime
design and innovation and would turn heads in the ports of the world.   In effect the launch that beautiful August evening was not just a launch of a ship, it was the launch of a dream, a vision and mission to put Waterford and her ships on a worldwide map.  It was a dream that was realised, but for so too short a duration.  
My thanks to David Carroll and Andy Kelly in preparing this piece

Community notes
On the 10th of October 1918 the RMS Leinster was torpedoed and over 500 people were drowned.  Amongst those drowned were a number of Waterford people and their story has not previously been told in detail.
Author and former county librarian Donald Brady has been researching the subject and the Waterford casualties.  To mark the 100th anniversary we are delighted that he will deliver a public talk titled: ‘The Sinking of RMS Leinster 10th October 1918: The Waterford Victims’ on Wednesday the 3rd of October 2018 at 8pm in the Dungarvan Harbour Sailing Club, Davitt’s Quay, Dungarvan. Admission is €5 and all are welcome.

Irish Bill. Shipbuilding in Waterford 1820-1882. 2001. Wordwell. Wicklow
Waterford Chronicle. 26th August 1846. Page 3
From other research and a forthcoming blog on the Waterford Green Ensign it
would appear the Lucifer was involved in survey work at the time
[v] DR
Anderson was headhunted in England and was brought to Waterford as the
company’s first engineer.  He would later
be replaced in 1849 by a man whose name became synonymous with the shipyard
John Horn.  Anderson however laid the
Decies #38 Summer 1988. Frank P Murphy. P 29
McRonald. M. The Irish Boats vol II. 2006. Tempus. Gloucestershire

* According to the papers of the time, the ship grounded, holed and filled with water becoming a total wreck.  The Captain, crew and 22 passengers made it to safety, being rescued by the steamer Emperor.  The Neptune was well insured according to one account. 

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