[The following information and quoted passages come from Kennedy's The History of Steam Navigation (1903) — George P. Landow.]

There is not a more fascinating page in history than that which tells of the growth of the Mercantile Steam Navies of the World. It is a record of the triumphs of Science and Art in Marine Architecture ; of bold enterprises not always carried to a successful financial issue ; of deeds of " derring do " as romantic as the older stories of the Vikings. It is a page brightened by stories of true heroism, where men have bravely faced death, not in the lust of battle, but in calm devotion to duty, or in unflinching determination to save the lives of those weaker than themselves.

1690        Papin, Fellow of the Royal Society, “describes, . . . a steam cylinder in which a piston descends by atmospheric pressure, and, as one of its uses, he mentions the propulsion of ships by paddle wheels.”

1705        Thomas Savory and Thomas Newcomen create steam-engine Papin uses to “to propel a steamboat on the Fulda.”

1736         “Jonathan Hulls, of Berwick-on-Tweed, received a patent for the first steamboat of which there is any authentic record from George II.”

1781         In France Abbé Arnal and the Marquis de Jouit'roy test “the practicability of applying steam power to vessels.”

1783         “a Mr. Fitch tried a species of steam boiler on board a small nine-ton vessel on the Delaware River in America, propelling the vessel by paddles.”

1787         Fitch makes trip from “Philadelphia to Burlington at an average rate of " seven miles per hour” in a larger boat.

1788        Patrick Miller, retired banker, with assistance from William Symington, mechanic, and Mr. Taylor, his children's tutor, funds steamboat demonstration on Dalswinton Loch,

1801         William Symington receives patent for steamboat.

1803        Funded by Lord Dundas, Symington builds Lady Dundas for the Forth and Clyde Canal Co. Wash from paddles so harms the canal banks the experiment deemed a failure.

1803        Henry Bell, a Glasgow mason, and Robert Fulton visit the Lady Dundas. “Bell gave to Fulton drawings of the machinery which he (Bell) had obtained, partly from Mr. Miller and partly from Symington.”

1807        Fulton's Clermont, “the first Passenger Steam-boat in the world. . . . [takes passengers] from New York to Albany” on the Hudson River.

1809         “the steamboat Accommodation ran on the St. Lawrence, maintaining a passenger service between Quebec and Montreal.”

1810[?]     David Napier's experiments with “models of vessels in a small tank of water . . . [led to] wedge-like bows by which the vessels built under his superintendence were afterwards so distinguished." Napier's Rob Roy serves as packet between Dover and Calais.

1812         Bell's Comet carries paying passengers between Glasgow and Greenock: “River Clyde is the birthplace of European Steam Navigation.”

1823        300 steamboats in North America.

1815         Michael O'Brien and Christopher Owen begin first steam boat service in Ireland with the City of Cork. London has three steam packets —  Marjory, Defiance, and Thames, — which travel between there and Margate. First steamboat travels between Glasgow and Liverpool.

1816         Hibernia, first steamboat between England and Ireland

1817        First Spanish steamboat, Royal Ferdinand. Siberian Steam-boats. Loss of the Regent (first wreck of a steamboat).

1819        The first steamship crossing of the Atlantic: The Savannah with assistance from her sails voyages from Savannah to Liverpool and thence to St. Petersburg, Russia.

1820        Conde de Patmella “sailed from Liverpool for the Brazils . . . probably the first steamer that ever crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Europe.”

1820        The Snake launched in Bombay. “Her engines were designed and built by a Parsee, and were the first ever manufactured in India. How well they were constructed is evidenced by their lasting power. After a notable career of 60 years, she was broken up in 1880.”

1824         The Lightning “one of the first vessels in the British Navy to be supplied with steam power,” sails from Algiers to Plymouth via Gibraltar and Lisbon.

1825        The Enterprize [sic] becomes the first steamship to sail from England to India (Calcutta). “a paddle-steamer, built of wood, by Messrs. Gordon & Co., Deptford, at a cost of £43,000. Her length of keel was 122 feet, beam 27 feet, and she registered 479 tons. She had a copper boiler in one piece, which weighed 32 tons, and cost £7,000. Her engines were 120 horse power, capable of propelling her in calm weather at the rate of 8 knots per hour.”

1826        “Owners of sailing ships . . . alarmed for their future . . . petition . . . Parliament to protect sailing vessels against the further increase of steamers.”

1834        The Peninsular Steam Navigation Co, founded; later changes name and becomes the famous P. &. O. (Peninsular and Oriental Steamship navigation Co.).

1839        S. S. Archimedes is the world's first screw propeller steam ship.

1840        William Wheelwright receives charter from Peru, Bolivia, and Chile for the Pacific Steam Navigation Company to provide service along the Pacific coast and later as far as Liverpool.

1842        First P. and O. steamer to India. “She was the paddle-steamer Hindustan, of 2,017 tons gross and of 520 horse power. On her arrival at Calcutta she was placed on the service between Calcutta, Madras, Ceylon and Suez.”

1844        P. and O. extends service to Ceylon, Penang, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

1852        P. and O. extends service to Australia by means of a branch line of steamers from Singapore.

1858        Brunel's Great Eastern launched.

1861        S. S. Moulton fitted with compound engines.

1869        Suez Canal opens.

1895        C. A. Parsons invents the marine steam turbine. “The first vessel ever fitted with the new type of engine was appropriately named the Turbinia. This vessel is only 100 feet long by 9 feet beam and of a total displacement of 44 tons, but she is some ten knots faster than any boat afloat of the same dimensions.”

1901        King Edward — the first steam turbine mercantile ship built by Denny Brothers, Dumbarton.

1902        Queen Alexandra — the first steam turbine passenger ship built by Denny Brothers, Dumbarton.

Related Material


Kennedy, John. The History of Steam Navigation. London: Charles Birchall, 1903. Internet Archive version of a copy in the University of Toronto Library. Web. 16 January 2013.

Last modified 17 January 2013