In 1861, the Glasgow Publisher, John Cameron, produced a five-part serialization of Hugh Macdonald’s “Days at the Coast.” The parts were entitled “The Frith of Clyde, Descriptive Sketches of its Watering Places, Scenery, and Associations” and were illustrated with a number of engravings not found in earlier or indeed subsequent editions. One of the engravings illustrates an odd-looking craft sailing down the Gareloch off the village of Row, unmistakable because of its church spire.
The odd looking craft is undoubtedly the Alliance, and a she was a complete departure from the sleek, fast greyhounds that comprised the usual craft on the Clyde.
The origins of the Alliance come from the jaundiced eyes of some who had discovered the luxurious amenities available in many of the steamboats that sailed on the rivers of America. The idea of offering such craft on the Clyde dates to 1854 when Mr. George Mills put forward a patent describing how these might be adapted for sailings on the Clyde. In the “Glasgow Herald” of Monday August 14, 1854, an article appeared praising the concept:
“A New Description of Steamer for the Clyde
“A new description of steamer has just been invented and patented by Mr. George Mills of this city; and having seen a model of it and had its merits described and explained to us, we have been so struck with the novelties and modifications thereof, that we think a description of it will be found interesting to our readers. We must preface, however, that what Mr. Mills proposes to introduce, although a perfectly new and unique invention, is not of a problematic nature, it being nothing more nor less than an ingenious combination of a number of well-known and well-tried principles in every day use, so as to obtain locomotion on the water with something more of stability and control than what as yet has been the case with ordinary vessels. With this view, Mr. Mills has thrown aside all conventional rules in the shaping of his vessel that hitherto have guided the naval architecture, and he has sought to complete a structure that will depend entirely upon its capabilities of conveying persons and property with security, comfort, and economy, though that should not, strictly speaking, be done on what may be considered a thorough ship-shape fashion. The day, however, has gone by for people to question the propriety of dispensing with old fashions, particularly if thereby an advantage is to be gained; and, therefore, it signifies nothing, if in building a vessel, all such conventional ornaments as cutwaters, figure-heads, quarter galleries, counters, transoms, and even flying kites overhead, should be entirely thrown aside. The vessel in question which Mr. Mills has patented, essentially requires indeed, that such should be the ordeal; for she is so designed that it is equally the same which of her ends goes first; nay so constructed is a portion of her machinery, that she may be made to go laterally or sideways, like a crab, to back, to go a-head, to whirl round in her own length like a pivot, and, in a word, to perform every description of manœuvre or gyration that possibly could be desired on the water. The advantage of such qualifications will at once be seen, for by their means the most tortuous navigations may be overcome; any nook, hole, or cranny of a coast may be poked into that possesses sufficient water wherewith to float the vessel, and this without the necessity of running out ropes or boat, or even hoisting supplemental canvas to bring her into position.
“To enable our readers, however, to understand the nature of this invention, we will at once proceed to describe the model which we have inspected. It is of a vessel adapted to ply on the Clyde as a passage steamer, and in dimensions will extend to something like 150 feet long by 32 feet in extreme breadth, including breast of propelling float. The shape of this vessel is as follows:—Let an ordinary Clyde steamer of the length stated above, and say of 16 feet breadth of beam, be taken, but with both ends alike, i.e., with the stern part shaped same as the bow, and be cut from end to end along the middle, in a line with the keel, each portion having then its one side built straight, so that it shall form, as it were, half of a vessel. Let these two halves then be placed at a suitable distance from each other, so as to allow a paddle to work in the trough that is formed betwixt them, and through which the water will pass in an unbroken stream as the vessel propels, and then we see at one view the primary element that constitutes the shape of the fabric. The structure is then a twin vessel, or rather a quasi twin vessel; for although divided, as we have described, it must be kept in mind that a principal part of the invention consists of binding the two arts again—first, with horizontal stays or braces, below water, at or near the line of the keel, and so shaped that these will offer very little resistance to the fluid through which they cut, while making the vessel as stable and strong as though built solid; and again, at the deck, by means of beams, knees, &c., over which a flooring will be placed, and the whole constituting the fabric into a broad, flat platform, with nothing protruding above it excepting the propelling paddle, for the machinery, boilers, &c., will be placed in the hulls, and of course below the deck. Upon this platform, which will now extend to 150 feet in length, and including the breadth of the two hulls and that of the paddle space to 30 or 32 feet in width, large saloons, principally composed, on their sides of plate glass, may be placed; these again being decked over, and forming an extensive promenade overhead, which, owing to the great breadth and bearance of the vessel, will in no way render her crank or top-heavy, even though she should be crowded with passengers both above and below.
“We now come to the other qualifications of the vessel which we have already alluded to, for manœuvering and steering her; for although she will have rudders placed in her deadwoods, which will also enable her to be steered like other vessels, the elements she will possess in the way we speak of, will, it is expected, be quite sufficient of themselves to direct her motions, if so desired. These will consist of two little supplemental paddles, placed one at each end or bow, at the extremities of the trough, and which paddles are in no way impeding her course, their unmoved floats being vertical with the fluid, will work at right angles to the length of the vessel, so as to impel her ends to one side or the other of her course, according as they are turned to port or to starboard. They will simply be worked by donkey engines, situated wither in the vicinity of the main propulsive machinery, and having shafts running up to them along the centre of the troughs; or they may be placed nearer to the paddles, though it is expected for workable purposes that the former method will be found the best. The engines of these paddles may be supplied with steam from the main boiler; and as they principally will be in use when the propelling engines are thrown out of gear, and the vessel requiring control, it will be seen that for their motion, that which is now being blown in the air, and, indeed, thrown away, will be taken advantage of for a most useful supplemental purpose. For instance, on approaching a pier, such as that of Greenock, where the accommodation is limited, and where, perhaps, several vessels may be lying, to twist amongst which into the spare birth that may be available, is no easy matter, they will be put in effective operation. Instead of a rope or ropes, being thrown out (the only available method at present in use), the two paddles will be set a-playing, wither to twish her fore end or her after end into position; the one will propel to port and the other to starboard, so as to turn her half round; or they will propel in the same direction, so as to propel her laterally, and thus they will bring her into her allotted berth without loss of time or violent straining of ropes, or poking of poles. Of course it will, upon the first view of the matter, appear possible that so many adaptations of steam power, to so many different purposes, will of themselves lead to confusion—a large wheel, in the first place, is working in the very centre of the vessel; two paddle, in the second, are playing at the extremities; while around all are massy and gorgeous saloons, covered with passengers. How is all this to be managed by one head-piece? This, however, as explained, can all be done in the simplest and easiest manner; the triumphs of modern invention are so many, that nothing is to be desiderated towards such an attainment, and the mere moving of a lever or the twisting of a handle on the face of a dial solves the fancied difficulty! It is easy to conceive the many advantages and comforts for the travelling public that will be attainable by means of such a vessel as we have described, if all that is said as to her capabilities turn out true. To start, in the very first instance, from the Broomielaw quay, without the appalling strain which the captain puts upon the after rope, to twist her stern in, making people rush from the spot, to save their legs when it breaks; and the no less fearful pole forward, to shove her bow out, is of itself something. To get quit, however, of like ordeals at Renfrew, at Bowling, at Port-Glasgow, at Greenock, and we do not know how many other places besides, would be almost all that could be desired. To attain, however, something approaching to the luxuries of what we learn from Dr. Lardner’s late publications, are on board of the American steamers—large square saloons, the command of beautiful vistas through plate glass windows, spacious promenade platforms, and above all, plenty of fresh air, and this, too, in our own little, narrow Clyde, where the excuse for the want of these has heretofore been its limits, is greatly to be desired; and if by means of this new description of steamer we are likely to acquire such, the sooner she is put into practical operation the better.”
Mills was the son of a former Lord Provost of Glasgow and in the mid-1830s had been the partner of John Wood in the shipyard of Wood and Mills at Littlemill, Bowling. He clearly had some credibility with his new concept in naval architecture. However, it was not until 1856, two years after the project was broached, that the idea evolved from the drawing board to something resembling a working vessel when Mills engaged the shipbuilding firm of Tod & M’Gregor in the enterprise. The “Scotsman” of 17th September 1856 reported an article from the “Glasgow Citizen.”
“New steamer for the Clyde
“A great treat awaits the curious in marine architecture at the building-yard of Messrs Tod & McGregor, Meadowside, Partick. A steamer on principles entirely novel is being fitted up by these eminent engineers for the river passenger traffic, to be launched in a fortnight. Our ingenious and enterprising contemporary of the Advertiser, Mr George Mills, is the inventor and patentee. The vessel, which is 140 feet long by 30 in breadth, is built upon two boats, each 9 feet broad and 12 feet apart. In the water, a paddle of 18 feet diameter, with 12 feet floats, is propelled by two very compact engines of 60 horse-power, worked from the deck above, between the cabin and steerage. In the front, between the bows, a small paddle is placed transversely, called ‘the manœuvrer,’ to be worked by a small engine behind, for the purpose of moving the vessel sideways, alongside, or from quays or boats. This must facilitate immensely the management of the vessel, and supersede the necessity of employing deckhands with ropes, poles, &c., to bring the vessel to and fend off, &c. Her main cabin is placed forward, in front of the two funnels. It is flush with the main deck, of commodious proportions, capable of dining 200 persons, and glazed and ventilated all round—so that, in wet or cold weather, passengers may sit comfortably under cover, and see all that is passing before and on either side. From the right and left of this magnificent saloon, stairs descend, one to the gentlemen’s refreshment-room, and the other to the ladies’. These are necessarily narrow, but they are long. Aft, separated from the cabin saloon by the engines, boiler, and paddle, a commodious steerage is placed, lighted and ventilated like the cabin, having also refreshment-rooms, &c., below. Overhead of the cabin and steerage saloons, passengers in fine weather will have the advantage of a spacious railed deck for promenading—the cabin end, in front, being separated from the steerage by the funnels. Embracing the funnels, a still higher deck is placed—so that this novel craft may be called a four-decker—where the pilot is to be placed, and the engineer to slow, stop, back, or propel the engine. On this top deck, which is sufficiently commodious for the purpose, a band of music will on holiday occasions be placed. As the vessel will carry with ease and comfort 1000 passengers, we have no doubt, although in rough weather she may not make such rapid way as steamers offering less obstruction to the wind and water, that she will prove the crack boat of the time for all pleasure-seekers and holiday people on the Clyde.— Glasgow Citizen.”
There was also a comment from the “Dundee Advertiser” on the “Glasgow Citizen” article.
“We may inform our contemporary that there has been such a steamer for several years on the Tay ferries. The only real novelty in the Clyde steamer is that of a small, paddle placed transversely between the bows called the ‘manoeuverer’ to be worked by a small engine behind, for the purpose of moving the vessel sideways, alongside, or, from quays or boats. The experience of the Tay steamer shows that such a manœuvrer is quite unnecessary, and it is very doubtful how it will be found to work.”
The Dundee boat was the product of Mr Peter Borrie who had produced a number of iron steamers for the Tay crossing in the 1840s. He later experimented with a rotatory steam engine and built the Gemini of 1850. This craft was put on the Thames to coincide with the influx of visitors for the Great Exhibition of 1851. Unfortunately she was unable to make head-way against the tide and was a great disappointment.
The new ship was named the Alliance, and it seems clear that Mr. Mills was intent in tinkering with the vessel before it was put into service. On her trials over the winter she had been reported to have achieved a speed of twelve miles an hour, and on April 4th 1857 made a trial trip to Garelochhead in a respectable three and a quarter hours in each direction. A month later she was advertised:
“The improved steamer Alliance will through the course of the summer be let by the day to excursion parties not exceeding in number 500, from which quantity her magnificent saloon and extensive deck space afford ample shelter and accommodation in any weather. For terms, address to Mr. Mills, 104 Union Street.”
Her employment that year was mainly in running excursions to Garelochhead. She sailed from the Broomielaw Bridge at a quarter-past ten, for Greenock, Row, Roseneath, and Garelochhead, leaving Garelochhead on the return journey at half-past three in the afternoon. Fares to and from Garelochhead were:—1st class 1s.; 2nd class, 9d, and for the day’s excursion 1s 6d. and 1s.—children under fourteen years, half-price. Advertisements highlighted the splendid and spacious accommodation on board the steamer that enabled passengers to be entirely independent of the weather.
Her virtues were extolled and shortcomings minimized in an article in the “Glasgow Herald” of May 22nd.
“The Alliance Steamer
“This very elegant. vessel commenced her summer’s business yesterday, and, as we think, with every prospect of complete success. We have frequently noticed the various trips which this beautiful vessel has made, and have observed with much pleasure that, on every such occasion, she acquitted herself more and more to the satisfaction of all concerned. On Friday last, for example, she made a run down to Gareloch, leaving the Broomielaw about half-past one and returning about half-past eight. As on all her previous trips the extreme steadiness of the Alliance was often alluded to, but, and above all, the exquisite arrangements of all kinds for the comfort of passengers could not, be enough praised by those on board. The light, and airy character of the saloon has never been equalled, by any ships of any kind in this country, and the ease with which travellers, on and extensive promenade, or in the midst of sun or shower, can, under cover, enjoy the delightful scenery of our noble river and the lochs which run off from it, must make the Alliance a favourite with all tourists. We scarcely know when to stop in speaking of the elegance of this vessel, and we feel assured that no sooner will the public have become accustomed to see her making her regular runs up and down the river than she will find ample encouragement.
“An idea is very current to the effect that the Alliance is a slow vessel. Now we would humbly ask how many of all the thousands who travel by river from Glasgow to Greenock ever do so for purely business purposes? The rail is the business route, and the river is the lounger’s or the pleasure-seeker’s course. What cause of complaint can the latter class or persons have with a boat which, at the very most, is only five or ten minutes longer on her voyage than the very fastest boat on Clyde? It is not so much speed that such travelers want as comfort; and the Alliance is not only the most comfortable, but the most luxuriously-comfortable boat that ever sai1ed on business or pleasure. The public have, we believe, been disappointed that Mr. Mills has not taken a regular hour or hour for his sailings to and from Greenock. Regularity of departure and punctuality at the various calling stations would ensure for the Alliance a large share or public patronage. But there is still another reason why the Alliance is certain to succeed on the river—namely, that because of the economical manner in which the vessel can be worked, and the capacious accommodation for passengers in the glass saloon, which the Board of Trade does not include when reckoning her tonnage, the proprietors are able to sail at much cheaper rates than any other boat on Clyde. Cheapness, comfort, and punctuality are, therefore, the three most sovereign virtues in a vessel meant to carry passengers, and the Alliance must be A1 in all these respects.
“We hope that from and after this week the Alliance will become a regular trader. She does not need to make any more experimental trips. The principle of the new patent has been tested, and is a success. If the company were to put on say six boats, of the same construction, and with such improvements as experience has suggested, there is no doubt that they would be amply remunerated, and that they would add incalculably to the comfort of river traffic; while, as we have said, the public would be accommodated in a floating palace at rates at least one-third less than those at present demanded.
“In conclusion, we have only further to add that the, Alliance makes her run to or from Greenock in two hours, and there are very few boats doing it in less time, taking one week with another throughout the season.”
The last Saturday in May that year was very fine and the river steamers saw good trade. The Alliance sailed on a general excursion with 300 on board. She appears to have garnered some popularity and secured some private parties as this advertisement from June 22nd relates. It should be noted that ownership was now with the Improved Steam-Packet Company Limited so it might be presumed that Mills had secured some financial backing.
The schedule for the Glasgow Fair was a little more adventurous with a trip to Lochgoilhead.
Despite some success and her superior appointments for viewing the scenery, it cannot be ignored that the Alliance was considered one of the slower craft on the river, and this was a major consideration for the public. In the following year, 1858, a new operating strategy was worked out. The steamer was based at Greenock, rather than Glasgow and ran cheap excursions to Lochgoilhead in connection with the railway. As the “Glasgow Herald” of July 9th recounts, “Our citizens will thus be enabled to visit some of the richest highland scenery betwixt breakfast and tea times.”
The Alliance appeared popular among a limited set of the traveling public. For the Royal Northern Yacht Club Regatta at Dunoon at the end of August 1858 at Dunoon, the weather was somewhat wet, with a light breeze from the north-west. The Dunoon shore was crowded with spectators interested in the day’s proceedings, and the Alliance was anchored off shore, with the members of the Club and their friends, comprising the elite of Dunoon, on board. The band of the Renfrewshire Militia was present and played music throughout the day. In mid September she served a similar function at the Blairmore and Strone Regatta.
However, all was not well with the Improved Steam-Packet Company Limited which went into liquidation. In January Alliance was offered for sale with the upset price of £4500 and the early part of the year progressed, this was gradually reduced to £1500 at which point Mr. Mills acquired her once again.
Alliance spent the early part of the 1859 season taking trips from Greenock around the warships of the channel fleet that were visiting the Clyde. On Saturday June 4th, she kept up a service plying between the steamboat quay and the H.M.S. Nile.
On 5th June she entered the Sunday trade and sailed from the Broomielaw to Bowling with 500 on board. At the end of that month she was in use again as the Commodore’s barge for the Royal Northern Yacht Club. In October, with the Queen visiting Scotland to open Glasgow’s new water supply at Loch Katrine, the was in readiness at Greenock with steam up to proceed to Arrochar on arrival of the 7:35 train in case the steamers advertised to go from Glasgow could not get down the river because of the fog. It was made clear that the arrangement was entirely to guard against disappointment to the public, as the Alliance would not start if the steamers from Glasgow reached Greenock in time.
Problems persisted, however, and Mr. Mills set about rectifying the speed problem with a more powerful set of engines. In April 1860 her engines were advertised for sale.
The new engines were not completely installed until September so she did not sail the whole season. On September 19th it was intimated that —”The Alliance steamers arrived in Port-Glasgow harbour on Monday evening, in order to lie up there till next spring, as, from unavoidable circumstances connected with the manufacture of her engines, which have been completely renewed, she has been too late to ply this season to any advantage on the Clyde. Her proprietors, therefore, have laid her up, rather than tarnish the new fittings-up which she has received, and which will therefore be available for next season. The saloon of the Alliance has been redecorated, and laid with rich carpeting, which give that magnificent apartment a most comfortable and warm appearance. Her new engines have been made by Messrs. Tod & M‘Gregor, and are much more powerful than her former ones, in consequence of which her speed has been improved considerably. On Monday she came from Messrs. Tod & M‘Gregor’s dockyard at Partick to Port-Glasgow, a distance of sixteen miles, in an hour and twenty minutes.”
The following year, 1861, the Royal Northern Yacht Club regatta was visited by a summer squall that damaged many of the boats and the Commodore was at pains to point out that he had attempted to secure the Alliance as his barge again that year but Mr. Mills had placed her on the Caledonian Canal for the season. However, the experiment on the Caledonian Canal was short-lived however as Alliance was back on the Clyde for the Helensburgh regatta at the end of August.
With her new engines and appointments she was offered for sale once again. Her speed was stated to be 11 miles an hour and so the improvements had not corrected the fundamental problem. With no buyer, she remained laid up until late in 1862 when she was purchased for conversion as a blockade runner for the American Civil War and disappeared from the Clyde. Her subsequent history in America and New Zealand makes fascinating reading but is beyond the scope of the present article.
Ian Bowman “Alliance” Clyde Steamers (1985) 21, 27-35.