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