Reply To: HMS Temeraire's Tugs

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Frank Scott

Tim Nicholson, Take the strain: The Alexandra Towing Company & the British Tugboat Business, 1833-1987 (Liverpool, 1990) is worth a read. The Monarch (1833) was the first Watkins Tug built to their specifications, and was in service for 43 years. In later life the towing hook was just over half way from bow to stern, but it seems that it may originally have been at the stern. The book makes clear that the Turner picture is inaccurate in its depiction of the Monarch, as it places the mast abaft the funnel. I also strongly suspect that unlike Turner’s painting Temeraire only had lower masts standing, no yards or upper masts. David Cobb’s much later picture (done for the company in 1983) is probably less subject to artistic licence. There is a photo of two paddle tugs very similar to Monarch taken in the 1840s, with no sign of towing gear for’rard, on page 13 of the book.

These early tugs were all single engined, with both paddles driving both paddles together, so they were not the highly manoeuvrable vessels that I saw when I first went to sea in the 1960s. One wheeze that Watkins developed to reduce the turning circle was to have an iron box filled with chain cable that ran on rails fitted athwartships. For a tight turn the box was run over to the opposite side to the turn so that the paddle on that side dug in deeper, while that on the other side lost some traction. That system lasted until the coming of de-clutchable wheel-shafts or (better still) separate engines for each paddle.