[The following passage comes from Ramsay Muir's Bygone Liverpool (1913) — George P. Landow.]

It was on sea that the new giant, steam, first made himself felt; and, as if to mark the beginning of a new era, the first steamboat appeared in the Mersey in the year 1815, . . . [the] beginning our new period. But although an American ship using steam crossed the Atlantic to Liverpool as early as 1819, the new power did not at first materially affect the ocean-going traffic of the port. During the first twenty years steamboats were used mainly as tugs, or for river-traffic. Even as late as 1850 there were 1750 sailing-vessels registered in the port of Liverpool against 93 steamboats; and it was actually not until 1900 that the number of steamboats registered in the port surpassed the number of sailing-vessels. Steam-power was not regularly employed for oceanic, or even for coasting traffic until the 'thirties. But long before that date the puffing tug-boat had come to the aid of the queenly sailing ships by making it possible for them to get out of the river against adverse winds; and tug-boat and ferry-boat, with their absurdly tall and slender funnels had begun to transform the aspect of the river, as may be seen in Tytler's view of 1825. Tytler, excited by the new type of vessel, probably exaggerated its relative prominence; for the steamboat does not appear at all in the interesting view of 1825; even in Walters' view of 1836 there is only one small tug- or ferry-boat in the back- ground, and big sailing-vessels of the old types still dominate the scene. The development of the early types of seagoing steamboats may be studied in an interesting series of pictures included in the present volume [begin here and click on next]. It is worth noting that none of these vessels yet depends on steam alone. They are shown either with a full spread of canvas, or with rigging ready for it when the wind becomes favourable.

The steamboat was to exercise a profound effect upon the character of the population of the port, as well as upon the dock-system and the aspect of the river. On the one hand it was to introduce, in the ship's engineers and their colleagues ashore, a substantial element whose profession made demands of a scientific order, and who were therefore a real enrichment of the community. On the other hand it was to degrade the qualities demanded from the mass of seafaring men, and to add to the strain and rush of the business of loading and unloading at the docks. But these effects were only beginning to display themselves towards the end of the period.

Not less important than the appearance of the steamboat was the appearance of the railway. It came none too soon, for it is difficult to imagine how the yearly increasing volume of goods from all parts of the world which were landed upon the wharves of Liverpool could have been handled at all if this relief had not come when it did. [xli]


Muir, Ramsay. Bygone Liverpool illustrated by ninety-seven plates reproduced from original paintings, drawings, manuscripts, and prints with historical descriptions by Henry S. and Harold E. Young. Liverpool: Henry Young and Sons, 1913. Internet Archive version of a copy in the University of Toronto Library

Last modified 14 January 2013