Port Penrhyn Steam Coasters

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group

The First Steam Coaster[edit]

Emilius Young was appointed by Lord Penrhyn as Penrhyn Quarry's agent and he was the innovator who was behind the purchase of the first steam coaster to be based at Port Penrhyn.[1] Young's background was as a London accountant. Lord Penrhyn had no part in the company formed to operate Anglesea which was delivered in 1891 by a firm that had hitherto only built iron schooners - Paul Rodgers & Co. of Carrickfergus. A low price had been agreed and Rodgers fitted a smaller boiler than his consulting engineers advised and as a result Anglesea could not achieve its contracted speed. She was 117 gross tons and 92 feet long. A second larger ship built also by Rodgers was not a steam ship but a three masted schooner the Mary B Mitchell which has a fascinating history - but it does not belong here. (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_B_Mitchell_(schooner) ) The Anglesea and the Mary B Mitchell were owned by The Anglesea Shipping Company with a number of investors including Owen Thomas Thomas Jones who managed the ships. The ships were based at Port Penrhyn.

A Growing Fleet[edit]

The Anglesea was sold in 1893 to a London ship dealer Charles Pile from whom was bought the Harrier. She was said to have been built as a fish carrier and had a turn of speed. She was larger than the Anglesea at 219 tons gross and a length of 120 feet. She proved very successful in the slate trade. Harrier was built by Scott & Co. and so was the next ship the Bangor delivered in 1894 of 359 gross tons and 145 feet long. A sister to the Bangor was the Penrhyn, completed in 1895. From the same builder came the larger Pennant of 677 tons gross and 180 feet long completed in 1897. She was purchased for the continental trade taking slates to ports such as Hamburg.

Cargo Handling and Types[edit]

Much of the slate went to Irish Sea ports including Dublin, Belfast, the Mersey and elsewhere in Lancashire but it also went to east coast ports and especially London. At Port Penrhyn the laboursome task of hand loading slates was done by specialist gangs of workmen. The unloading of the cargo of two or three hundred tons of slates at the destination generally had to be done by the ship's crew for which each man received three shillings and sixpence from the slate merchant. It must have been an incentive not to carry too small a crew. A return cargo to Port Penrhyn would be sought but was often not available. The Mary B Mitchell almost always took slates to London and returned with cargoes of cement. The small steamers Harrier and Bangor often returned with coal from the Mersey or Point of Ayr colliery. Steam coal was needed for the locomotives and stationary engines at the quarry and household coal was required by local coal merchants. Port Penrhyn had a dedicated coal wharf. Port Penrhyn needed dredging from time to time and this was done in a rather primitive manner with an old hulk and a scraper attached which was dragged up and down the dock. The spoil was loaded into barges and dumped at sea after being towed out by the locally based tugs Sylph or Sea Nymph.

Independence & Commercial Ruthlessness[edit]

Occasionally the ships of the Anglesea Shipping Company would show their independence by carrying loads which were not connected with Penrhyn Quarry. The Harrier was one of the first ships to enter the Machester Ship Canal when it opened in 1894 but it was carrying Dinorwic Slates to Newton Brothers of Manchester. In 1898 two thirds of the shares of Anglesea Shipping Company were bought by Lord Penrhyn for £24,000 and the remander by his agent Emilius Young. The Anglesea Shipping Company kept its name and operated with some independence from Penrhyn Quarry. During the Big Strike at the quarry of 1900 which lasted three years the five ships operated from Port Dinorwic. They carried Dinorwic Slate while the Dinorwic ships were transferred to carry Nantlle Valley slate from Caernarfon. The two agents Emilius Young at Penrhyn and Walter Vivian of Dinorwic were close friends and they seem to have hatched the above strategy as a way of squeezing the independent slate ships out of the local trade. The slate remained the property of the quarry while on the narrow gauge railway waggons but once they were unloaded they became the property of the slate merchants. The labour at the port was employed by the quarry not the port. The labour on the quays and the facilities were often inadequate. The masters of waiting empty ships would use any ruse to get their ships loaded before their rivals - including theft and bribery. Devious means were also used to prevent ships berthing and sailing. This all frustrated the quarry managers. The tactics during the Big Strike and some of the whole purpose of building up the fleets of quarry owned ships was to get more complete control of the trade and to squeeze out the independent merchants and shippers.

Soon after the end of the Big Strike in 1903 another ship the Pandora (210 tons gross and 116 feet long) was bought. Even with this extra ship Lord Penrhyn's vessels were not sufficient to carry away all the quarry's shipments of slate and independent steam vessels or sailing vessels were tolerated. The quarry favoured ships where the master owned a share of the ship which was common with sailing vessels. Because they were dependent on the quarry's gang at the port to load the ship they could be pressured. After part loading the operation could be delayed or the ship could even be blacklisted.

Linda Blanche[edit]

Young died in 1910 and the ships became fully owned by Lord Penrhyn. He ordered another steamer the Linda Blanche which was delivered by Scott & Sons just after the outbreak of the war. She was 530 tons gross and 170 feet long with a bridge amidships and her size would have made her ideal for the continental trade. She only lasted six months and was the first U-boat sinking in the Irish Sea. The crew were well treated by the U-boat captain, Leutnant Hersing, being given ten minutes to leave their vessel and cigars! Bombs were used to sink the captured ship. The U-boat captain apologised for sinking such a new ship. During the war Lord Penrhyn allowed Port Penrhyn to be used as a naval base for minesweeping and anti-submarine operations.

After World War One[edit]

Once the war ended ships were bought to replace the war losses of the Linda Blanche and the Mary B Mitchell. The new Pamela (403 tons gross and 150 feet long) came in 1923 from Scott & Sons and the smaller Sybill-Mary (270 tons gross and 130 feet long) from the same builder in 1921. A general depression set in during the 1920s and 1930s and mass produced tiles became cheaper than slate. For inland destinations railway carriage became cheaper than by sea although the breakages were higher. The ships were not fully employed by the reduced slate trade and they had to take their turn in general coasting. The Pennant for example was taking general cargo out of London to Boulogne when she collided with another ship off Southend Pier. The master and his wife were lost too. For example the Penrhyn in 1930 carried the following cargoes: Medway - Newcastle - cement; Blyth to Ramsgate - coal; St Sampsons, Guernsey to Woolich - roadstone: Keadby - Middlesborough - basic slag; Greenhithe - Arbroath - chalk; Methill to Morlaix - coal; Grangemouth to Aberdour - coal; Aberdour to Whitstable - granite; Greehithe to Tyne Dock - chalk; Montrose to Plymouth - potatoes; Tyne to Devonport - coal; Fowey to Rouen - chinal clay; Fowey to Antwerp - china clay; Portland to Belfast - stone; Ipswich to Annan - fertiliser; Ayr to Bangor - coal; Glasgow to Dublin - coal; Birkenhead to Dublin- coal and finally Liverpool to Dundalk - maize.

World War Two[edit]

Only three ships were left by the outbreak of World War two. They were the Pandora, the Sybil-Mary and the Pamela.

The Pandora was the first to be called up when she was requisitioned for anti-submarine duties. It is not known if she was actually used in this role. Then in 1943 the Admiralty used her as an air target for which role she took the name H.M.S. Icewhale. After being idle from the end of the war she was purchased by the Admiralty in 1947 but was soon sold on for commercial use. She foundered with all hands lost soon after.

The Sybil-Mary was used by the Ministry of War Transport and the Royal Navy from October 1942 to August 1945. The Pamela was never requisitioned but came to a sudden end in the Irish Sea in 1944. Her master had just retired and some considered the mate too self regarding as a hard case and he may have taken a risk too many. It is also possible she hit a mine. Some attributed the loss of this ship to the fact she was carrying a cargo of grain and may have capsized because she was too light.

The Peace[edit]

When the peace came only the Sybil-Mary was left with her wartime grey painted hull in place of the black with a yellow stripe that had been the smart pre-war livery. Although there was some demand for slate to replace war damage, most of it went by rail so even the single ship was not fully employed carrying slate. Only in 1951 did the Sybil-Mary start to trade under the name of Penrhyn Slate Quarries Ltd in place of Anglesea Shipping. Sybil-Mary still took the occasional cargo to Dublin but most of her time was spent in the general coasting trade. In 1951 Pilkingtons the glass manufacturer of St Helens chartered her to take sea sand to land for for glass manufacturing. A temporary post war shipping boom which gave the Sybil-Mary a new lease of life ran out in the mid 1950s. She was sold for scrap in 1954. The last cargo of slate despatched from Port Penrhyn was carried by a dutch motor coaster in May 1962.


  1. ^ Fenton R S (1989) Cambrian Coasters, World Ship Society pp 138 - 151.