Solway ships in the 1800s

Solway ships and the canal

When the Carlisle Canal was officially opened, on March 12, 1823, a flotilla of eleven ships and several smaller vessels sailed its length into the city.The sight of sailing vessels inland – where previously there had been corn, or grazing cattle – must have been truly something. 

One resident of Caldewgate had reached the age of 97 years without seeing the like. One being told ships had come up to Primrose Bank, he cannily declared he wouldn’t believe it till he saw it for himself.

I say ‘cannily,’ because this led to two of his friends carrying him to the canal basin. Which sounds like a good way, on his part, to make sure he got to see the celebrations he’d otherwise have missed.

But what sort of ships were they?

That first flotilla of Solway ships comprised:

  1. the Robert Burns (which belonged to Messrs J M Head and Son). Smack, 52 tons. She was reportedly wrecked on December 1835, but no details are available.
  2. the Irishman (belonging to Messrs Robert Ferguson and sons); Brigantine, 69.75 tons
  3. the Menai (Messrs Head and son); Sloop, 50.75 tons. Reportedly lost 1833, no details available.
  4. the Crown (Carlisle Shipping Company); Sloop, 50.67 tons. Built Bowness.
  5. the Miss Douglas, of Carlisle; Schooner. 75.2 tons, built at Bowness.
  6. the John, of Carlisle; There’s a brigantine called John for the date, but registered Maryport. 
  7. the Nancy, of Carlisle; Schooner, 73 tons. Built Bowness. Reported as lost in November 1833. Wreckage with ‘Nancy of Liverpool’ was washed up on the Irish coast in December 1833 (as was wreckage of another vessel – both were ‘feared lost’). The Cumberland Paquet confirmed in January 1834 that the Nancy of Carlisle had foundered off the Irish coast.
  8. the Henry Brougham, of Annan: see below 
  9. the Sarah, of Carlisle; likely the sloop, 20 tons. Reported lost at sea, no date or details.
  10. the Rosina, of Carlisle. She was a smack, 56 tons. She was laid up at Port Carlisle from at least 1863, until being broken up seven years later.
  11. the Mary, of Liverpool. 

These Solway ships were followed by coal and peat vessels.  

Solway ships and their cargoes

With those who’d over-indulged during the celebrations still nursing sore heads, the serious work began.

The day after the opening, the canal basin in Carlisle was bustling. For some, if not all the ships in the flotilla hadn’t just been there for the joy of the ceromonies – they had been carrying cargo.

The Carlise Patriot calculated there were perhaps 100 horses employed at the city basin on March 13, unloading vessels and loading them back up again.

The inbound goods were: cotton, linens, salt, sugar, wines and spirits, dye-woods (woods which provide dyes for textiles etc), copperas (iron sulphate), cheese, soap, oranges, oil, coals, peats, stone, paper, staves, and bar iron.

Good-quality coal was now on sale in Carlisle at three and half pence per Carlisle peck. Three years earlier, the price has been six and half pence. 

What weight a ‘Carlisle peck’ was – or how come Carlisle had its own variation of this measurement – isn’t stated.

The sloop Henry Brougham had brought a cargo of cotton from Liverpool. She was then loaded up with a cargo of barley, and set sail again on March 14 for Glasgow.

The Henry Brougham was a sloop, built three years earlier by Walter Neilson, Annan. She was 53ft 2 inches long, and 16ft 11 inches wide. Which gives an idea of what the flotilla that made the maiden voyage along the canal must have looked like to folk in an inland city.

The Henry Brougham was apparently lost in 1849, but I can’t find a report to confirm this.

According to details of a public auction in December 1831 (part-shares in several ships), the Miss Douglas (75 tons), the Nancy, (73 tons) and the Isabella (80 tons) were schooners. And the John (51 tons) and Crown (50 tons) were smacks.

A random ‘arrivals’ list (in the Carlisle Patriot of November 19, 1825) gives an idea of just how busy Port Carlisle was in the short heyday of the canal.

Arrived: Ulysses, from North America, timber; the John; the Eden; the Miss Douglas; the Rosina; the Carlisle; the Crown; the Bridget; the Bella; Prosperity; the Ann; the Allonby; the Breakwater; Lively; the Kitty; the Isabella.

Sailed: the Peggy; the Kitty; the Bridget; the Isabella; the Eden.

Full steam ahead

In 1825, a steam company was set up in Carlisle, in conjunction with one in Liverpool.

In February 1828, the arrivals at Port Carlisle include the steam packet Cumberland, bringing goods and passengers from Liverpool. The Carlisle Patriot listed all the goods she brought in. Too long to detail here, but they included: ‘manufactured goods’; cotton; sugar; tobacco; coffee; wine; nuts; dried fruit; pig iron… And when she steamed back away from  Port Carlisle, she was carrying: manufactured goods; yarn; grates and fenders; flour; bacon; cattle and sheep.

In 1834, a new passenger ship began ferrying people from Carlisle to Port Carlisle and vice versa. She was called the Arrow, and is described thus: 

she is drawn by two horses, one of which is ridden by a boy (the horses are changed halfway). She iss 66 feet long and but 5ft 8 ins wide. There is no deck, for she consists of two cabins, six feet higth inside, the roof of which is about four feet above the edge of the boat. The first holds 25 passengers or more and is very handsomely fitted up, with seats covered with hair cushions, the sides blue damask. The second will contain perhaps 40 passengers and is neatly, though more plainly furnished. A row of windows each side open down from the top and render the cabins extremely light and airy. The boat is made of wrought iron, the upper parts are composed of wood and painted canvas. The time alloted for the passage is an hour and three-quarters. 

The sloop Prosperity and the schooner Isabella belonged to Port Carlisle ship owner Peter Irving. He later owned a brig named the Robert Burns. You can read a lot more about this real Cumbrian Character (and the tragic fate of the Robert Burns) in my book: Port Carlisle a history built on hope

The main image is a list of Solway ships from 1810, so before the canal.