I'm researching my family history and reading lots of source material. Every now and then I stumble on something that while not directly relevant to my research is nevertheless interesting to me. Here's another article Until the early nineteenth century the roads in the UK were little more than rutted tracks that were almost impassable when it rained. If you wished to travel any distance it was probably quicker to go by sea, even though that had risks because of the weather or the possibility of being attacked by a French warship. In Edmund Vale’s book “The Harvey’s of Hayle” he tells of a journey by one of Henry Harvey’s associates that took upwards of two weeks to get to London by sea.
He also recounts how Richard Trevithick, a fiery tempered genius, invented the world’s first road vehicle in 1802. The poor roads accounted for its early demise. Along with the first road vehicle, he is also credited with the world’s first recorded instance of wheel spin, as recorded for posterity in the song “Going up Camborne Hill coming down”.
When John MacAdam was appointed Surveyor to the Bristol Turnpike Trust in 1816 things started to improve. He was the first person since the Roman road builders in the first century AD to construct a road using sharp pointed stones rather than round pebbles, and giving the road surface a camber to improve drainage. The Romans built their roads with big irregularly shaped stones at the base, covered with ever smaller stones so that the stones would wedge together rather than slide apart.
All these road improvements came at a cost and Turnpike Trusts were set up. They would build or improve a stretch or road, and charge travellers who wished to use it.
You still see Turnpike or Tollbar houses by the side of our roads. They are characterised by the window bays that allow the occupant to see down the road in both directions.
The Hayle causeway was built in the early 1820s and once opened saved travellers from taking the long detour to St Erth and the 14th century tollbridge over the river. This bridge was widened in the early 19th century, but once the causeway was opened, St Erth became a rural byway. Prior to the opening of the causeway in 1825, travellers would have to brave the sands and the tides and cross from Millwards (now the Royal Standard Inn) in Hayle to Lelant at low tide, but now they paid a toll and crossed in safety, speed and comfort.
Richard Trevithick designed a screw propeller for ships in about 1812 and tried to get the Admiralty interested. This was just a few years after Trafalgar and not surprisingly they gave this giant of a Cornishman short shrift.
He was years ahead of his time.
His road vehicles needed good roads and they weren’t built for twenty or more years.
His steam locomotives broke the cast iron rails. It was to be twenty years before Stephenson developed wrought iron rails for the Stockton and Darlington railway.
His ideas for steam powered boats weren’t new, but the idea of using a screw instead of paddles was. It was to be another 30 years before Brunel built the Great Western in 1845 and incorporated a screw propeller.
Trevithick was indeed a man ahead of his time.
Having said that, his ideas didn’t go unnoticed. It was clear that steam propulsion was the way forward, even as the Admiralty was planting hundreds of thousands of oak trees to provide wood for the ships of the future. (Wood that is today being harvested and used in house building, oak furniture, etc)
The first steam powered ships called into Hayle in 1824 and no doubt Henry Harvey and his associates watched with interest because in 1831 regular steamship services between Hayle and Bristol began. The ship, owned by Harvey, was the “Herald” and the service proved successful. So much so that when the Great Western Railway between Bristol and London opened in 1841 trade increased to the extent that Harvey’s decided to add a second ship.
Much has been written about the rivalry between Harvey & Co who were based at Foundry, and Sandys Carne & Vivian (aka The Cornish Copper Company) based at Copperhouse. The companies had fought long and hard, both literally on the riverbed that divided the parishes of Phillack and St Erth, and through the courts.
Harvey’s new paddle steamer “Cornwall” was delivered in May 1842.
The West Briton reported in their May 6th edition:
“STEAM COMMUNICATIONS WITH BRISTOL. In a recent visit to Hayle, we had the pleasure of inspecting the new steamer just about to start on the station between Hayle and Bristol. We have seen many beautifully fitted up vessels, but in elegance and chasteness of design, combining every comfort, we think the "Cornwall" will be allowed to be the most complete. The saloon is spacious, the panels are of papier mache, painted with groups of flowers, every one containing different flowers. The berths are commodious and airy, and the arrangements altogether quite unique. She has had her sailing qualities tried, and has answered the most sanguine expectations of Messrs. Harvey and Co., by whom the engines were manufactured. She leaves Hayle on Tuesday next on her first voyage, and we trust that the shareholders will be amply remunerated for their spirited undertaking. (From a correspondent)”
She entered service in June 1842, and not to be outdone, Sandys Carne & Vivian introduced their own paddleship the Brilliant a few weeks later. At 246 tons she was smaller than the Cornwall. There was great rivalry between the two companies. Each considered their ship to be superior and faster and to a certain extent they were egged on by bystanders and the newspapers.
Here’s an account in the West Briton of December 23rd 1842
“QUICK PASSAGE. On Tuesday last, the "Brilliant" steamer, accomplished the passage from St. Ives to Bristol in 14 hours and two minutes - the shortest passage which has hitherto been made by any vessel.”
It was now possible to travel from London to Cornwall in just over a day, rather than the ten days of just a generation ago. For the next 18 years and the opening of the Albert Bridge over the Tamar at Saltash which gave a through route from Penzance to Paddington and a journey time of less than ten hours, this was the fastest way to travel.
The rivalry whether real or imagined between the Cornwall and the Brilliant continued into 1843. The West Briton even tried to concoct a story about a race between the two ships.
26 MAY 1843, Friday
STEAM-BOAT CONTEST. The merits of the great rival steam-boats of Hayle, was tested last Tuesday, by a bet of five pounds which would land their passengers first at Bristol. Every available means was used to facilitate their speed, and all parties betrayed great anxiety for the result. After an interesting run of about fourteen hours, the contest terminated in favour of the "Brilliant," which boat preceded the "Cornwall" into the lock exactly twenty-seven minutes.”
A week later that ran a retraction. It seems that Harveys must have called foul
2 JUNE 1843, Friday
“STEAM BOAT CONTEST. Under this heading, we last week inserted a paragraph stating that a bet had taken place on the relative merits of the "Cornwall" and "Brilliant" steamers, and that it had been decided in favour of the "Brilliant" which boat preceded the "Cornwall" into the lock at Bristol exactly 27 minutes. We received the paragraph from a most respectable correspondent, on whose accuracy we thought we could rely; now we are assured that at the time "Brilliant" started, the "Cornwall" was taking on goods and passengers at St. Ives, and that neither the master, engineer, or any of the officers knew of such a bet having been made. We, therefore, regret that we should have been made the unconscious instrument of misleading the public.”
There now followed a curious number of events. In Leicester in 1840 a man named Thomas Cook hired a train and filled it with passengers who paid him for the privilege of a day trip to Loughborough and the modern tourist industry was born.
While scanning the pages of the West Briton I came across this article
23 JUNE 1843, Friday
“HAYLE. On Saturday last, the peace of our pillows was disturbed at an early hour by the rumbling of carriages and the clattering of voices. The morning was beautifully serene, all nature smiled, and who could subdue the inward transports of joy to behold the merry faces of the thousands who thronged the wharfs to see the departure of the steamers for the Channel Islands, their decks being one impact mass of living beings. The "Brilliant" took the lead, and entered the pier at St. Ives; the "Cornwall" followed, and lay to outside. Having taken in their passengers, they started for Penzance, the "Cornwall" being five minutes in advance of the "Brilliant." Both kept their distance going round land, as if they were chained together, and within seven minutes after the "Cornwall" the "Brilliant" anchored 400 yards nearer to Penzance pier head, after a fine run of three hours. They remained there nearly two hours, and at noon, they sailed for the Islands, the "Cornwall" being again five minutes in advance of the "Brilliant," amidst the firing of guns, the waving of flags, the strains of music, and the sight of thousands of spectators. From a correspondent.”
In the following week’s edition we read this
30 JUNE 1843, Friday
“HAYLE. On Thursday, the 22nd inst., our snug little port presented a glowing sight, in consequence of the return of the steamers from the Channel Islands. Both vessels landed their passengers at Guernsey on Sunday morning, soon after sun-rise, and on Monday at noon, they started for Jersey, where they arrived about 3pm. On Wednesday, at noon, they left for Guernsey, on their return, and the same afternoon sailed for Penzance, which place they reached after a beautiful journey then proceeded to their destination here. Nothing untoward occurred, except a few drops of rain and the limited shelter of the steamers, to mar for a moment the pleasures of this enchanting excursion, or the enjoyment of the natural and artificial luxuries of those picturesque gardens of the ocean, the Norman Isles. We believe that the steamers, at the expressed desire of the public, intend to visit the Islands and Havre, again in August, when every bough teems with golden fruit, and golden waves undulate across the corn fields. At Midnight, the boats left for home laden with goods and passengers, awakening the sleep of the night with the noise of their cannon. (from a correspondent)”
Was this the first ever tourist excursion by sea? Given that the two Steam Ship Companies were in competition and a fierce rivalry existed between Harveys and Sandys Carne & Vivian- who organised the trip?
Who chartered the two ships and sold the tickets? Who organised the accommodation on Guernsey and Jersey? According to the account, the ships arrived at Guernsey on the morning of Sunday 18th June, stopped overnight then left for Jersey on the Monday. On the Wednesday they returned via Guernsey arriving back at Penzance after an uneventful journey. From the account it seems that the ships didn’t arrive back at Hayle until close on midnight. It does not recount how many passengers there were, only that the decks were “One impact mass of human beings”
More questions. While the two ships were away from Saturday until the following Thursday- which ships covered the regular Packet Sailings?
In August the Cornwall made another trip, taking 260 passengers to Penzance, stopping overnight before taking some 90 passengers on to the Channel Islands and Le Havre in France. Was this the first organised tourist trip to a foreign country? Did the passengers require passports?
The trips must have been made regularly because in the September 8th edition of the West Briton we read:
“SMUGGLING. On Monday last, on the arrival of the "Brilliant" steamer, at Penzance, from the Channel Islands, &c., a considerable number of passengers landed among whom was a gentleman who had in his pockets a bottle of brandy and two or three bottles of claret, which being discovered by one of the Custom-house officers, were, of course, immediately seized. The seizure having been reported to the Collector, an examination took place, the articles were declared to be forfeited, and the gentleman was obliged to leave his brandy and claret behind him, and to pay a fine and expenses.”
Was he the first tourist to be caught at customs with contraband?
Whatever rivalries existed between the companies that owned these ships, there was a trust and cooperation between the captains and their crew. Both ships were moored at Scilly (Hughtown?) in May 1844, as the West Briton recounts:
“THE RIVAL STEAMERS. On Sunday last, Capt. PENTREATH, who had just set the watches for the night, and was about to go below on board the "Brilliant," steamer, which vessel was lying along side the jetty, at Scilly, heard a monstrous splashing and cries of distress proceeding from near the jetty stairs. Quick as thought, he leaped onto the bulwark of his vessel into his boat, and was as quickly followed by one of his men. They pulled towards the noise, and to their astonishment saw a boat capsized, and several persons struggling in the water. After great exertion, they hauled the drowning persons into the boat, and found them to be CAPTAIN VIVIAN, and some of the crew of the "Cornwall" in a very exhausted and helpless state. CAPT. Pentreath afforded them every assistance in his power, and ordered his boat's crew to put them on board the "Cornwall" which vessel was at anchor off the jetty. It was fortunate that the "Brilliant" was alongside the jetty, otherwise, as no other assistance was near, the party must have met with a watery grave.”
The two ships continued to work the Hayle to Bristol route for many years.
In 1852 the Brilliant’s engines were removed at she was converted to sail. The Herald was broken up in 1849 after she was replaced by the Express. The Cornwall, at 343 tons the biggest of the three vessels, was converted to sail soon after the Saltash Bridge was opened in 1859.
The heyday of steam services between Hayle and Bristol was over. Other ships came and went, the last being a coaster called M J Hedley which carried passengers on a triangular route between Hayle Liverpool and Bristol. This service ended in 1917.
“The Harveys of Hayle” by Edmund Vale
“The History of the Cornish Copper Company” by W H Pascoe
“Cornish Steam Ships and Owners: the View from England” by Roy Fenton
TRANSCRIPTIONS OF THE ORIGINAL NEWSPAPER, 1836 - 1887
A Project created by Julia Symons Mosman and Rita Bone Kopp