The River Dart Paddle Steamers

Mr Hayne was a local man with a large inheritance from his father. Charles Seale Hayne also had a keen eye for making money. It was 1854 and the train had come to Dartmouth, but only to the opposite side of the river. Hayne wanted a bridge. Parliament said no. Thus the line ended at Kingswear and a ferry linked to Dartmouth station on the other side, maybe the only railway terminus without a railway line. The ferry needed a new paddle-steamer. So Mr Hayne built his first paddler,and named her Louisa . Other businessmen also saw opportunities. Four locals clubbed together and paddle steamer Dartmouth was born. Then in 1858 along came Pilot and Mary but they soon left the river. James Watt engines powered the 108 ft long Newcomin in 1864. Another year on and a sea-going paddler of 180 ft in length arrives. She is Eclair and her owners have grand plans for trips to Guernsey and Jersey and France. But the demand is not there and she soon leaves the river for service elsewhere; while in the same year Louisa is broken up at only 12 years of age.

Then for several years there are no new paddle steamers.

In 1880 along comes a rather special steamer, the first built on the Dart, and launched at Kingswear, opposite Dartmouth. At 108 ft long she set the style for her successors. She also set the pattern for future names. Here was the first steamer named after a nearby landmark. Berry Castle had arrived.

Dartmouth was broken up in 1881. Then in July 1884 Newcomin was sold.

For a time Berry Castle was the only Dart paddler, that is until 1885 when a new boat built in Hayle goes into commission. And Dartmouth Castle is born. It's now 1894 and local boat builders Philip of Dartmouth are completing their first paddle-steamer, Totnes Castle.

10 years pass. This time it's the turn of a Falmouth company Cox and Co who also manufacture the engines of Kingswear Castle. Now the owners of the steamships decide to give their company a more appropriate name and they decide on The River Dart Steamboat Company. In 1907 Cox are building again. Dartmouth Castle is only 22 years old but the owners see an opportunity to update and they have a buyer in Ireland. So she is sold and the name kept for a brand new Dartmouth Castle.

In 1912 Totnes Castle's tenure of the Dart comes to a close. She moves to Poole and is renamed Wareham Queen. Cox will again make another paddle steamer in 1914 but this will be the last one to come out of Falmouth. Was it the best? It certainly seemed that way if length of service is a yardstick . She is named Compton Castle. Built in 1914, she stayed on the Dart for the next 50 years.Two more paddle steamers follow her.

In 1923 Phillips are again given an opportunity to build another 108 ft steel paddler using Compton Castle as the model. As the old Totnes Castle was renamed when sold, they are able to bring back this name for the new boat.

One year later the Dartís last paddle-steamer was built. They stripped the engines out of the 1904 Kingswear Castle and transferred them and the name to the new boat. Then they towed the old steamer to an out of way spot in Dartmouth harbour where for a while she became an isolation hospital. When she was of no further use they set fire to her to prevent contamination, and dragged her hulk to Fleet Mill Quay near Totnes. It is said at times her outline can be detected through the mud of the river bank.