Refining the Steam Coaster: Scotland’s contribution
This article explores the origins and development of a small but significant type of merchant ship, the bulk-carrying steam coaster. They were built in considerable numbers, made an important contribution to industrialization, and their design is largely perpetuated in modern motor coasters, but they have not been well served by shipping historians. An analysis is presented of the size, builders and ownership of all known steam coasters built for British owners from 1850 to 1880. From the data gathered it is argued that this type of ship, developed mainly to serve trades on the British west coast, was distinct from the screw collier introduced to the east coast coal trade in the 1850s, although some characteristics were shared. The steam coaster needed to be smaller and hence more efficient than the screw collier, and became economic only following significant technological improvements to engines and hulls. The findings reveal the importance of yards in the west of Scotland in the development of these vessels, and the part played by Scottish ship owners who patronized these yards.