In 1815, a new and interesting mode of traveling commenced on the Thames in steam packets. These vessels are provided with steam-engines and wheels, called paddles, to propel the vessel with greater rapidity, even against wind and tide, and over stormy seas. From the costliness of these vessels, their extensive accommodations, and splendid decorations, they are now universally designated "STEAM YACHTS."
The present improved state of shipping, in particular, is the work of ages, to which the inventive skill of many nations has greatly contributed. But the steam-engine is a native of England, and invented by the marquis of Worcester. It is little more than 100 years old, and all essential improvements it has since received have been made by Englishmen.
It is not the least of the national benefits of steam-engines, that they are in many cases an efficient substitute for horses; for if it be assumed, and it cannot be an over statement, that there are 10,000 engines at this time at work in Great Britain, and averaging them at 15 horse power each, working only twelve hours daily, then these engines would be equal to the labours of 225,000 brewers' healthful horses, requiring 1,237,500 acres of land for subsistence; which, land, by the use of steam-engines, is left available, and fully capable of feeding 2,475,000 of our fellow-creatures and countrymen, being about one-seventh part of the whole population of Great Britain, and equal to all the men in the country who acquire their livelihood by manual labour. But the most novel and useful application of steam-engines has been to propel navigable vessels. It enables us to traverse the waters with nearly as much certainty as mail-coaches travel on land. The distinguishing merit of steam-engine packets is, that they proceed both against wind and tide with munch velocity, but when these are favourable, they use sails also, and then the speed of these vessels is astonishing. While other vessels think it fortunate just to keep off a lee shore, steam boats proudly dart forward into the wind's eye. The traveler experiences neither delay nor inconvenience; no waiting for relays of horses, nor stopping to dine or sleep. The passage from or to London and Margate, which is about 88 miles by water, is often performed in eight and nine hours, but the average time is eleven hours.
The first vessel propelled by steam that appeared on the river Thames, was brought by Mr. G. Dodd, who went to Glasgow, expressly for the purpose of fitting out a vessel purchased there and bringing it to London. This vessel was named the Thames, and it was the first of the kind that any one had ever dared to venture in on the tempestuous sea that terminates St. George's Channel, in doubling Cape Lizard. In this vessel Mr. Dodd safely sailed round the northern points of our island, along the Irish Channel, doubled Land's End, passed along the British Channel and thence to London; and during this voyage, according to an interesting account of it, by Isaac Weld, Esq., in the Journal des Mines for September, 1815, the vessel traversed in spite of contending seas and opposing winds 758 miles in 121 hours. This voyage having established the utility of vessels so propelled, and the reliance that may he placed in them when controlled by skillful persons, the Thames was immediately and successfully used as a Margate packet. It frequently conveyed 240 and near 300 persons. Since then several other vessels, on similar principles, have been built and employed in conveying persons to Richmond, Sheerness, Southend, and Gravesend, as well as to Margate from London; and vessels with steam engines have been adopted in various other parts of England.
The construction of the STEAM YACHTS is most commodious. The deck of every steam-packet affords a pleasant walk, being free of most of the rigging and impediments of sailing vessels. They have two cabins, the inferior one is extremely good and comfortable, and the superior one is fitted up with much taste and elegance, besides others to breakfast, dine, or take refreshments in. There are accommodations distinct and appropriate for ladies, and a female servant to attend them, and others equally distinct and set apart for gentlemen. The best cabin is furnished with a tolerable library of excellent works, magazines, and the daily newspapers, for those who choose to read, and draft boards and backgammon tables for those who please to play. They add to those comforts bands of music.
Of these Yachts, one always, and frequently two daily, leave the King's Moorings, off the Tower, at 8 o'clock in the morning for Margate. Others of them daily, at the same time, quit Margate for London.
Source: Leigh's New Picture of London. Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand;
by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819