Saturday, 25 August 2012


"To the Editor of the Western Times,  November 26th 1836.

Sir - If further proof now is wanting of the necessity of a steamer to tow up vessels from Exmouth Bar,  the fact of seven vessels now detained in the bight- in consequence of the present northerly winds is quite sufficient.  The whole of those vessels would have been at Exeter Quay discharging their cargoes, if a steam tug had been ready to assist them - why it is calculated that every trading vessel would make an additional trip, if taken in tow by a steamer immediately as she arrived at the bar -  the necessity of this accommodation to your post,  will be apparent to the most incredulous.   I hear the Exeter Steam Navigation list is rapidly filling,  to which I most cordially wish success,  and I do not doubt it will be a very profitable investment."

The Estuary was behind the times.  Steam tugs with paddle wheels had been operating elsewhere and making a profit since 1802. The year before this letter was written a Kent farmer had invented the screw propeller, which invention would greatly improve the performance of steamboats. Only two years after, in 1838,  Brunel's steam ocean liner,  the Great Western,  crossed the Atlantic in a mere 15 days.   A new age was dawning  and there was money to be made.

One suspects that the writer of this curiously composed letter, whose name is not given in the paper, had no small interest in subscribers being found to the Exeter Steam Navigation.

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