By on Dec 20, 2017 in Clyde River and Firth, Ormidale, Sir Colin Campbell | 2 comments

In 1854, the laird of the estate of Ormidale, at the head of Loch Riddon in the Kyles of Bute, took steps to emulate his neighbours and begin feuing property for the construction of villas and summer homes for the wealthy residents of Glasgow and the industrial belt. His initial acts were the construction of a pier and hotel at the relatively remote location, and the following year, efforts to attract summer residents began in earnest. The pier was officially opened in July, 1856.

Glasgow Herald, May 8, 1854

Glasgow Herald, June 12, 1854

Ormidale Pier (Spencer)

Ormidale Pier

Loch Riddon is a typical west coast estuarine loch fed by the river Ruel. About two-thirds of the way up the loch, it becomes very shallow and so the pier was constructed close to the point where it could be navigated by the steamships of the day. It was at the end of 1855, that the Glasgow and Lochfyne Steam Packet Company announced that its steamers would make a weekly call at the new pier.

Glasgow Herald, December 12, 1855

The steamers Mary Jane and Inverary Castle alternated on a daily service from Glasgow to Loch Fyne for the company. This was a leisurely trip carrying provisions and livestock and some passengers and much slower than Messrs Hutcheson’s swift steamers on the Ardrishaig passage. However, a slow weekly service would not be an encouragement for attracting feuars. For that, a daily service was required.

In 1855, the Paisley shipbuilder John Barr, constructed an unusual craft, presumably hoping to sell the steamer at a profit. Named after the hero of the “Thin Red Line” at Balaclava, the Sir Colin Campbell was double bowed and could be reversed without turning. The details supplied by the Artizan are the best record of the vessel that is available.

“The new iron double-bowed river paddle-steamer Sir Colin Campbell, No 772 Built and fitted by Mr John Barr, engineer and iron shipbuilder, Glasgow 1855.

“Dimensions: Length extreme over stems, 166 ft 7 in; Breadth of beam, 17 ft 5 in; Breadth of beam including paddle boxes, 33 ft 11 in, Depth of hold amidships, 7 ft 1 in, Length of engine room, 43 ft 0 in. Tonnage (British): Hull 119.75 tons; Engine-room 33.95 tons; Register 184.81 tons

“One steeple-engine (has four piston-rods, on Mr. David Napier’s patent principle), of 71 horse (nominal ) power; diameter of cylinder, 47 inches; length of stroke, 3 feet 6 inches; diameter of air-pump, 26 inches; length of stroke, 1 foot 10 inches. Paddle-wheels—diameter, extreme, 17 feet 8 inches; effective, 17 feet 2 inches: 16 floats—6 feet 4 inches by 1 foot 6 inches: four floats in water—average draft of water, 3 feet 9 inches.

“One tubular boiler (vertical)—diameter, 11 feet 3 inches; depth, 12 feet 6 inches. No steam-chest. 544 composition tubes: diameter, 2 inches; depth, 4 feet: four furnaces, fired fore and aft; chimney diameter, 3 feet 2 inches by 21 feet long; consumes 12 cwt. of coals per hour; engine making 33 revolutions per minute; steam-pressure, 25 lbs. per square inch.

“Scantling of hull, &c.: stem and keel, 4 by 7/8 inches; frames, 3 by 3 by 3/8 inches, and 18 inches apart at mid-ships, and 2 feet fore and aft: all the others in proportion.

“Is licensed, when clear of cargo, to carry 654 passengers above Dunoon and Skipness; and 349 passengers, when plying below the above places. The steerage is 18 feet 4 inches in length. Fore cabin, 13 feet 6 inches; commodious and comfortably fitted up. The cabin saloon is 31 feet long, the seats are of crimson velvet; and has a large lady’s cabin: both tastefully fitted with the usual requisites, &c.

“The vessel is steered upon the hurricane-deck, by the ordinary steering-wheel; the connexion between the two rudders is simple and efficient. This is the first steamer that has been fitted with the double rudder to ply on the Clyde, for which purpose it is well adapted, having no necessity for putting about, as the other steamers have to do. Description: No figure-head, galleries, or bowsprit; two masts; schooner-rigged; one deck (flush); clinch-built vessel. Registered: Port of Glasgow. Commander, Mr. Alexander Maclean. Plying on the station between Glasgow, Greenock, Gourock, Inverkip, Largs, Fairlie, and Milport.”—Artizan

She was brought out to sail on the Largs and Millport station where she would be in competition with the M‘Kellar boats. The only record I have for the service in this first year is a plea for the owners of some luggage to collect it at Millport Pier.

Glasgow Herald, October 17, 1855

What became of the parrot, I have no record, but the advertisement is an amusing reflection on what might be carried on a steamboat in those days.

When the Sir Colin Campbell appeared on the river the following year, she was announced as a new vessel with some suggestions as to how her novel design might be used to competitive advantage. The little news article had an effect and she was placed on a new service to the Kyles of Bute, serving the newly opened piers at Kames and Ormidale.

“A new iron steamer, called Sir Colin Campbell, has been placed on the river, and her peculiarity of model attracts considerable attention from Steamboat Quay loungers and coast visitors. She has two bows, each of which is fitted with a rudder which forms part of the cutwater and is rendered a fixture or made moveable according to the direction in which the boat is steaming. This mode of construction, which is similar to that of the steam ferry boats on the Mersey and that on the Tay in connection with the Northern Railway, entirely does away with the necessity turning the steamer, and would prove of immense advantage in this river if more generally adopted. At some piers, that of Helensburgh for instance, considerable loss of time is incurred by the distance which a steamer has to be backed before she can be turned either towards Greenock or Gareloch, and in some narrow harbours, such Tarbert, Lochfine, the steamers have no room to turn at all, but must canted by means of hawsers. In such stations, and for running up narrow lochs, like Loch Ridden in Kyles of Bute, the advantages of this new model are so obvious as to be discovered at glance, and the wonder is that it has not been tried an earlier date. The Sir Colin Campbell is the property of Mr Barr, of Glasgow, the enterprising builder of some of our fastest river steamers.”—Greenock Advertiser, July 17, 1856

At the same time, the benefits of feuing at Ormidale were touted. However, the weekly call of the Lochfine steamer was withdrawn.

Glasgow Herald, June 2, 1856

Glasgow Herald, July 28, 1856

Glasgow Herald, August 1, 1856

“Ormidale, Kyles of Bute.—We are well pleased learn that a new watering place is about to be created on, or rather in connection with, the Frith of Clyde, and this upon one of the most beautiful sites along our western shores. The spot to which we refer is Ormidale, not far from the head of Loch Riddan, on the Kyles of Bute. The magnificence and beauty of the Kyle scenery is universally known, but few are aware that close upon it, and in connection with it, there is fairy nook of surpassing lovliness, and embracing all the advantages of perfect retirement. This latter is no small inducement, for it is not easy now to go to any part of the coast and keep out of a little town composed of sea-bathing folks. We are not so thin-skinned have to have any objections to numbers at a watering place; but others are of a different opinion, and prize partial seclusion as the principal element of enjoyment when absent from the city. The shores of Loch Riddan, Ormidale, is the place for them. Colonel Campbell, the lord of the manor, has consented to give off feus for villas but under such restrictions as that the place can never become crowded. As a preliminary element in meeting the public convenience, he has built an excellent stone pier, and very handsome and convenient hotel, at an expense, we should think, little short £4000. We regard this conduct highly liberal; for every landlord who opens up a new reach of the Clyde to our population should be considered a public benefactor. Steamboat accommodation fits, and we accordingly advise our citizens at least to pay visit to this charming spot, now that they can depend on “the welcome of an inn.” The villas will soon follow.”—Paisley Herald, August 9, 1856

Ormidale (Spencer)

Perhaps some residual enmity of Sir Colin Campbell’s time on the Largs and Millport station the previous season figured into the following incident:—

“Steamboat Collision—On the 17th ult., whilst the steamers Venus and Sir Colin Campbell were sailing between Greenock and Gourock, in opposite directions a collision occurred between the two vessels, but happily with no injury to person or property. The case was called on Tuesday the Clyde Police Court, but neither party appeared, and a warrant was granted to bring them into court.”—Paisley Herald, August 2 1856

“The late collision at Greenock.—At the Clyde Police Court, on Monday, John M‘Kellar, of master of the Venus, and Alex. M‘Lean, master of the Sir Colin Campbell, were each fined in one guinea for mismanagement of their vessels in the month of July last between Greenock and Gourock.”—Caledonian Mercury, August 6, 1856

“The master of the steamer Venus, and the master of the steamer Sir Colin Campbell, were each fined in one guinea for reckless sailing, on Thursday the 17th ult., having on that day twice brought the vessels under their change into contact or collision.”—Glasgow Herald, August 6, 1856

The Sir Colin Campbell did not remain long on the Clyde.

“We understand that the favourite steamer, Sir Colin Campbell, so well known on the Innellan and Tynabruaich stations, was sold on Friday last to a German company. The Sir Colin Campbell, previous to being placed in her new employment, will undergo a complete overhaul, when she will be despatched to Hamburg, where her new owners reside.—Greenock Herald.”—GH Sept 26, 1856

In fact she did not sail to Hamburg but found gainful employment at Hull on the east coast of England for a number of years.

With the sale of Sir Colin Campbell, Mr. Barr continued service to the piers with other steamers. It was also apparent that the sheltered pier was an excellent spot to lie overnight.

“Storm at Rothesay.—It blew so very hard on Sabbath evening in Rothesay Bay, that Mr Barr’s swift steamer, the Mail, had to abandon that favourite place of shelter, and run up to the new pier at Ormidale, where she lay till early on Monday morning. Till now we had always esteemed Rothesay Bay the most sheltered anchorage on that coast.”—Ardrossan Herald, August 16, 1856

The call by the Lochfyne steamer was curtailed when other steamers provided a regular service.

Glasgow Herald, May 26, 1856

Although a semblance of service in summer was maintained and the weekly call from Messrs Hutcheson’s steamers in winter sufficed for provisions. The pier became a favourite for excursions in the summer.

Glasgow Herald, March 23, 1864

Greenock Advertiser, June 25, 1864

“Pleasure sail on board the steamer Sultan.—This fine steamer was out for the first time this season yesterday. During the winter she was thoroughly overhauled, had new boilers put in, and was in other respects efficiently equipped. She started from Bridge Wharf, Glasgow, yesterday, at 9 a.m., and the Greenock party went on board here about 11 a.m. As she approached the quay it was observed that the vessel was gaily decorated, and the sound of music indicated that an excellent band for dancing was on board. A piper joined her here under the immediate control of Captain Mackinnon Gourock, one the eldest, if not the eldest steamboat captain on the Clyde, a gentleman who sailed in fly-boats on the river before the introduction of steamers.

“The Greenock party were received on board the Sultan by Captain Williamson, her well-known and respected commander, and immediately thereafter the order to move was given, and off the craft started at full speed. A stop was made at Innellan to land a lady, and another at Rothesay to receive on board the ladies and gentlemen who had been invited to join the vessel there. The Sultan then proceeded up Loch Striven, nearly to the top of the loch, and then put about and made for Loch Ridden, where she was placed alongside of Ormidale pier. The party then landed, headed by the piper, and walked about for an hour.

“On returning to the steamer dinner was announced, and when the company had been comfortably seated the vessel was put under way very slowly. The dinner was in every respect excellent one—a sumptuous banquet, and well served. The guests were upwards of sixty in number, and were comfortably accommodated in the cabin. The chair was occupied by our worthy townsman, William Orr, Esq., sugar refiner, and the croupiers were Robert Morison, Esq., of her Majesty’s Customs, and Capt. Williamson, the owner and commander of the Sultan. The chairman proposed the usual loyal and patriotic toasts, and spoke highly of the able and kindly manner in which the Sultan had been hitherto commanded.

“After many friendly toasts had been interchanged, the company adjourned to the quarter-deck, where dancing was resumed—several sets having been danced previously on the cruise from Rothesay up the lochs to Ormidale—and was kept up with vigour, taste, and elegance, until the vessel passed the Cloch, homeward bound.

“The day was bracing, fine, and seasonable. The Sultan went through a considerably heavy sea off Toward, when going out, in excellent style; and altogether, the trip was delightful, and every one on board was highly pleased. Before arriving at Greenock, the Chairman called the company together, and some remarks were made as to the usefulness of the Glasgow and Greenock people, and the residenters of the coast, meeting together such trips. Honest rivalry was not deprecated, but, on the contrary, encouraged, but, it was clearly shown that the interests of all the important towns on the Clyde were identical with those of the city of Glasgow, and that the living on the banks of the Clyde and of its beautiful firth, was of itself a bond of union that could not be too highly cultivated.

“The Sultan arrived at Greenock at seven o’clock, to land part of the company, and when she started again for Glasgow three cheers were heartily given, in a seaman-like manner, and heartily responded to.

“On this trip we observed on board the Sultan the following ladies and gentlemen William Young, Esq., and Mrs Young; John Boyle, Esq., and Mrs Boyle, — Herkless, Esq., and Mrs Herkless; J. Fraser, Esq., and Mrs Fraser; John Fergason, Esq.: Archibald Gilchrist, Esq.; William King, Esq.; John Donald, Esq.; Alexander Miller, Esq., and Miss Miller; William Thomson, Esq.; A. Watson, Esq.; John Broadfoot, Esq.; Miss Hamilton, and Miss Black, all of Glasgow; the Rev. J. G. Scoular; Rev. John Scoular; John Lang, Esq., Matthew Turnbull, Esq., and Miss Turnbull; Richard Sanderson, Esq., and Miss Williamson, all from Rothesay; William Orr, Esq., and Mrs Orr; Miss Lang and Miss Boag; Mrs John Hunter, Miss Hunter, and the Misses Dunlop; J. Barr, Esq., and the Misses Barr; P. M. Black, Esq ; Captain Alexander Taylor; Robert Morison, Esq.; John Browne, Esq.; J. S. Maclean, Esq., Archibald Sword, junr., Esq.; Wm. Speirs, Esq.: and Thomas Anderson, Esq., all of Greenock, John M‘Indoe, Esq., and Capt. M‘Kinnon, of Gourock.”—Greenock Advertiser, March 17, 1866

Craig Lodge, Ormidale (Spencer) 

Indeed, it was Captain Williamson and his sons who provided the most reliable service to Ormidale and the Kyles of Bute piers. The morning steamer, having berthed overnight at Ormidale, sailed to in the 15 minute journey to Kames, then called at Auchenlochan, Tighnabruaich and Colintraive to meet the train at Greenock. The evening steamer followed the reverse route.

Greenock Telegraph, July 27, 1877

There were occasional mishaps.

“Vessel sunk.—While the steamer Sultan, which was coming from Glasgow, was nearing Ormidale pier she struck and sank a lime schooner belonging Mr Orkney, Rothesay. The light of the schooner was mistaken for the pier light, and in the darkness the vessel was not seen till she was run into. She sank in five minutes. All were saved. The schooner had about 300 barrels of lime on board.”—Greenock Advertiser, April 10, 1880

The remote location was popular with excursions and Sunday school trips.

Greenock Telegraph, April 22, 1880

Greenock Telegraph, May 21, 1887

“Excursion to Ormidale.—The scholars and friends of the Sabbath schools in connection with St Andrew’s Free Church, numbering between 800 and 900, left Princes Pier shortly after ten o’clock this morning with the fine steamer Adela for Ormidale. They were accompanied by several members of the Rifle Band, under Mr Denney’s direction, who played some pieces of music before leaving the pier. Arriving at their destination, the usual outdoor amusements were heartily engaged in. Greenock Telegraph, July 9, 1878

“Sabbath school.—The children attending the Free St Andrew’s Sabbath School are having their annual excursion to-day. The steamer Lancelot, which has been chartered for the occasion, left Prince’s Pier this forenoon at ten o’clock with the children for Ormidale, and on their arrival at that place, various games and amusements will be engaged in. The steamer leaves Ormidale on the return rum about half-past six in the evening.”—Greenock Advertiser, July 6, 1880

“Free St George’s Sabbath School were Ormidale yesterday, travelling by steamer Victoria, and although the weather was rather unfavourable, an enjoyable day was spent.”—Glasgow Evening Post June 7 1893

The Kyles service devolved to the Glasgow and South Western Railway company’s steamers when they took over the Turkish Fleet from Captain Williamson.

Jupiter at Ormidale (Spencer)

Jupiter at Ormidale (Spencer)

Consolidation of the services before the first world war, reduced the frequency to twice weekly and after the war, a daily call by the Kyles steamer outward from Greenock sufficed. Passenger service ceased in 1939 and the cargo service stopped in 1948.

Waverley on an excursion to Ormidale

Sailing into Loch Riddon without a call at Ormidale has also been popular for excursions over the years. In a fine evening, the scenery and serenity of the loch is sublime.

Galatea sailing up Loch Riddon (Poulton)

Isle of Arran leaving Loch Riddon on a cruise from Rothesay (Spencer)

Queen Mary II sweeping round in Loch Riddon (Spencer)

Looking up Loch Riddon from Bute with Lochfyne returning from Ardrishaig (Spencer)

The Maids of Bute (Spencer)

Monteith, Joy; McCrorie, Ian; “Clyde Piers” Inverclude District Libraries, Greenock, 1982.


  1. James Ross

    December 23, 2017

    Post a Reply

    Very interesting article,by coincidence my wife and I along with friends are heading there on the PSPS festive cruise on the 27th dec on board the Clyde Clipper,first time visit for us and first time call at the pier,weather permitting,by the Clyde Clipper,therefore it’s good to read the history of Ormidale before our trip.

    • valeman

      December 23, 2017

      Post a Reply

      James: A beautiful sail. Hope the weather cooperates. Maybe someday, I’ll get to visit the pier myself.

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