The Gravesend Boat (wood-engraving). 1876. 10.7 cm x 13.8 cm. framed (p. 48) — Fred Barnard's description of a steam excursion to the port of Gravesend in the Essex Estuary, Kent, some 21 miles downriver from St. Katherine's Dock, London Bridge, in "The River," the tenth chapter in the "Scenes" of Sketches by Boz. This sketch was not illustrated in the first edition by George Cruikshank, who had provided four other entertainment and recreation scenes in this section, as well as two further illustrations for "The Steam Excursion," written in 1834. Barnard likewise offers two illustrations for the unfortunate adventures of law student Percy Noakes, a round-trip downriver that does not end well either for the hapless youth or for his fellow travellers. According to the present sketch, up-and-coming bourgeois businessmen set their families up for the summer at Gravesend, and then commute back and forth on season tickets. The nature of the characters in the Barnard illustration suggests that this is very much a family outgoing, with little Alick dancing a species of hornpipe to the tune of "Dumbledumbdeary," played by the harpist.

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Passage Illustrated

One of the most amusing places we know is the steam-wharf of the London Bridge, or St. Katharine's Dock Company, on a Saturday morning in summer, when the Gravesend and Margate steamers are usually crowded to excess; and as we have just taken a glance at the river above bridge, we hope our readers will not object to accompany us on board a Gravesend packet.

Coaches are every moment setting down at the entrance to the wharf, and the stare of bewildered astonishment with which the "fares" resign themselves and their luggage into the hands of the porters, who seize all the packages at once as a matter of course, and run away with them, heaven knows where, is laughable in the extreme. A Margate boat lies alongside the wharf, the Gravesend boat (which starts first) lies alongside that again; and as a temporary communication is formed between the two, by means of a plank and hand-rail, the natural confusion of the scene is by no means diminished.

"Gravesend?"​inquires a stout father of a stout family, who follow him, under the guidance of their mother, and a servant, at the no small risk of two or three of them being left behind in the confusion. "Gravesend?"

"Pass on, if you please, sir,"​replies the attendant​— "other boat, sir."

Hereupon the stout father, being rather mystified, and the stout mother rather distracted by maternal anxiety, the whole party deposit themselves in the Margate boat, and after having congratulated himself on having secured very comfortable seats, the stout father sallies to the chimney to look for his luggage, which he has a faint recollection of having given some man, something, to take somewhere. No luggage, however, bearing the most remote resemblance to his own, in shape or form, is to be discovered; on which the stout father calls very loudly for an officer, to whom he states the case, in the presence of another father of another family​— a little thin man​— who entirely concurs with him (the stout father) in thinking that it's high time something was done with these steam companies, and that as the Corporation Bill failed to do it, something else must; for really people's property is not to be sacrificed in this way; and that if the luggage isn't restored without delay, he will take care it shall be put in the papers, for the public is not to be the victim of these great monopolies. To this, the officer, in his turn, replies, that that company, ever since it has been St. Kat'rine's Dock Company, has protected life and property; that if it had been the London Bridge Wharf Company, indeed, he shouldn't have wondered, seeing that the morality of that company (they being the opposition) can't be answered for, by no one; but as it is, he's convinced there must be some mistake, and he wouldn't mind making a solemn oath afore a magistrate that the gentleman'll find his luggage afore he gets to Margate.

Here the stout father, thinking he is making a capital point, replies, that as it happens, he is not going to Margate at all, and that "Passenger to Gravesend" was on the luggage, in letters of full two inches long; on which the officer rapidly explains the mistake, and the stout mother, and the stout children, and the servant, are hurried with all possible despatch on board the Gravesend boat, which they reached just in time to discover that their luggage is there, and that their comfortable seats are not. Then the bell, which is the signal for the Gravesend boat starting, begins to ring most furiously: and people keep time to the bell, by running in and out of our boat at a double-quick pace. The bell stops; the boat starts: people who have been taking leave of their friends on board, are carried away against their will; and people who have been taking leave of their friends on shore, find that they have performed a very needless ceremony, in consequence of their not being carried away at all. The regular passengers, who have season tickets, go below to breakfast; people who have purchased morning papers, compose themselves to read them; and people who have not been down the river before, think that both the shipping and the water, look a great deal better at a distance.

When we get down about as far as Blackwall, and begin to move at a quicker rate, the spirits of the passengers appear to rise in proportion. Old women who have brought large wicker hand-baskets with them, set seriously to work at the demolition of heavy sandwiches, and pass round a wine-glass, which is frequently replenished from a flat bottle like a stomach-warmer, with considerable glee: handing it first to the gentleman in the foraging-cap, who plays the harp — partly as an expression of satisfaction with his previous exertions, and partly to induce him to play "Dumbledumbdeary," for "Alick" to dance to; which being done, Alick, who is a damp earthy child in red worsted socks, takes certain small jumps upon the deck, to the unspeakable satisfaction of his family circle. Girls who have brought the first volume of some new novel in their reticule, become extremely plaintive, and expatiate to Mr. Brown, or young Mr. O'Brien, who has been looking over them, on the blueness of the sky, and brightness of the water; on which Mr. Brown or Mr. O'Brien, as the case may be, remarks in a low voice that he has been quite insensible of late to the beauties of nature, that his whole thoughts and wishes have centred in one object alone​— whereupon the young lady looks up, and failing in her attempt to appear unconscious, looks down again; and turns over the next leaf with great difficulty, in order to afford opportunity for a lengthened pressure of the hand.

Telescopes, sandwiches, and glasses of brandy-and-water cold without, begin to be in great requisition; and bashful men who have been looking down the hatchway at the engine, find, to their great relief, a subject on which they can converse with one another​— and a copious one too — Steam.

"Wonderful thing steam, sir." "Ah! (a deep-drawn sigh) it is indeed, sir." "Great power, sir." "Immense​— immense!"​"Great deal done by steam, sir."​"Ah! (another sigh at the immensity of the subject, and a knowing shake of the head) you may say that, sir." "Still in its infancy, they say, sir." Novel remarks of this kind, are generally the commencement of a conversation which is prolonged until the conclusion of the trip, and, perhaps, lays the foundation of a speaking acquaintance between half-a-dozen gentlemen, who, having their families at Gravesend, take season tickets for the boat, and dine on board regularly every afternoon. — "Scenes," Chapter 10, "The River," p. 47-48.


Barnard's The Gravesend Boat contains a dozen characters out for a twenty-mile team-excursion, their journey rendered all the more pleasant by the musical accompaniment of a harpist (left of centre). The trip downriver will end at Gravesend, Kent, in the Thames Estuary. It also serves as the port of embarcation for Mr. Micawber and the other Australian emigrants in Chapter 57 of David Copperfield, and for Magwitch's escape to the Continent via the Rotterdam Steamer in Great Expectations. As a resort, Gravesend offers hot, dry, cloudless summer weather which is more like that of the Continent, and is less prone to Atlantic storms than other ports on the English side of the Channel. The sketch originally appeared as "Sketches of London No. 13" in the Evening Chronicle on 6 June 1835. Dickens eventually developed a full-blown short story based on such middle-class vacations to the Channel, "The Tuggses at Ramsgate," which became the fourth chapter the "Tales" section of Sketches by Boz, but which was first published on 31 March 1836 in Chapman and Hall's new Library of Fiction. The story is the subject of Barnard's "So exactly the air of a marquis," said the military gentleman (p. 164), set on the deck of the City of London's Ramsgate Steamer. In that story, the Tuggses veto the notion of vacationing in Gravesend as beneath them:

Gravesend?" mildly suggested Mr. Joseph Tuggs. The idea was unanimously scouted. Gravesend was low.

Margate?"insinuated Mrs. Tuggs. Worse and worse — nobody there but tradespeople. [160]

which is precisely what the Tuggses as local retail grocers are, despite their massive windfall of £20,000. Both the story and the sketch are outgrowths of Dickens's early prose farce "The Steam Excursion," first published in The Monthly Magazine in October 1834, and made the subject of two illustrations by Cruikshank, one musical, the other farcical.

Steam Excursions from London to Gravesend and Ramsgate

For the introduction of steam navigation, the public are indebted, among many other improvements, but particularly the Waterloo and Vauxhall bridges, to the skill, spirit, and enterprise at Mr. George Dodd, who, in the summer of 1815, purchased and fitted up a vessel at Glasgow, and brought it to London by the power of steam machinery in one hundred and twenty-one hours. At the present day, steam-packets run daily to Ramsgate, Margate, Gravesend, Southend, Herne Bay, and Sheerness, and at stated periods, to all the ports and principal places on the coast of Great Britain and Ireland, as well as to the Continent, India, and America. Steam-packets, upon a smaller scale, run several times a day from Hungerford Market and London Bridge to Greenwich and Woolwich; and in the summer season, every quarter of an hour from Hungerford Market to Dyer's Hall Wharf, near London Bridge, to Westminster and Vauxhall bridges. The days of departure of the coasting and continental vessels are regularly advertised in the leading newspapers, the columns of the Times, in particular, contains the whole of these announcements. To describe them all would far exceed the limits of this work; but to those who are desirous of acquiring the best information on the subject, as regards England, Scotland, and Ireland, we would recommend Mogg's Map of Steam Navigation, or Water Itinerary of Great Britain and Ireland, with the adjacent parts of the Continent, from Amsterdam to Paris and Brest; which, us addition to other information, exhibits the tracks pursued by the steam-packets in their passage to the several outports and the Continent, with the distances figured thereon; the whole is accompanied by printed observations, and forms altogether a steam-boat companion of peculiar interest to the pleasure tourist. —​Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844, cited in Dirty Old London.

The Three Other "Entertainment & Recreation" Illustrations by Cruikshank

Left: Cruikshank's far more animated and engaging musical entertainment, Greenwich Fair. Centre: Cruikshank's view of the leisured middle classes ar a Sunday tea-garden, London Recreations. Right: Cruikshank's rendition of an concert featuring a Rossini overture, performed for a solidly middle-class audience, in Vauxhall Gardens by Day. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

See also "The Development of Leisure in Britain, 1700-1850, and after:


Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens: A Biography. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1990.

Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. New York and Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1990.

Cunningham, Peter. "Seven Dials." Hand-Book of London. London: J. Murray, 1850. Pp. 445.

Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Checkmark and Facts On File, 1999.

Dickens, Charles. "The River," Chapter 10 in "Scenes," Sketches by Boz. Illustrated by George Cruikshank. London: Chapman and Hall, 1839; rpt., 1890. Pp. 71-76.

Dickens, Charles. "The River," Chapter 10 in "Scenes," Sketches by Boz. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1876. Pp. 45-48.

Dickens, Charles, and Fred Barnard. The Dickens Souvenir Book. London: Chapman & Hall, 1912.

Hawksley, Lucinda Dickens. Chapter 3, "Sketches by Boz." Dickens Bicentenary 1812-2012: Charles Dickens. San Rafael, California: Insight, 2011. Pp. 12-15.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights​(1844​), cited in Dirty Old London New Haven: Yale U. P., 2014. Accessed 29 April 2017.

Slater, Michael. Charles Dickens: A Life Defined by Writing. New Haven and London: Yale U. P., 2009.

Last modified 12 May 2017