Cygnet, the town and S. S. Cygnet, the ship

In June 2011 - I received the following email:-
I am researching a family of boat builders here in Abingdon, England that built a steam ship called Cygnet, launched 1885. The newspaper report says she was intended for Tasmania.

I am wondering if she was for Cygnet, Tasmania. She was 120 ft. long with a 17ft 3 in. beam and intended to carry up to 400 passengers as well as cargo. Is there anyone who might know of a boat like this?

The firm of Messrs. Davis and Clow, boat builders and engineers, St. Helen's wharf, built "Cygnet". She launched from their works in the presence of a large number of spectators, congregated on both sides of the river. The gaily decorated boat was consigned to her element in a most successful manner, gliding smoothly into the stream, amidst hearty cheers as soon as the stocks were removed.

As I did not know of this vessel I searched the on-line
National Library of Australia's newspaper records, and located the following:-
Announcement of her arrival in Hobart ARRIVAL OF THE STEAMSHIP - CYGNET
Published in The Mercury, Hobart, Tasmania
Monday 9th of August 1886.

This handsome little steamship, the property of the proprietary (of which Messrs. Watchorn Bros, are the agents, in addition to being members of the firm), put in an appearance, at last, in the waters of the Cove at 9 p.m. yesterday.

The Cygnet is a magnificent boat of her class, and it is to be hoped the day is not far distant when several of her class will steam over our waters. The trade of the Huon and Channel ports which has been on the increase for some years past, and the splendid facilities which offer in the way of cheap and expeditious water carriage, particularly with steam, induced the proprietary to send home an order to the firm of Messrs. Davis and Clow, boat builders and engineers, of St. Helen's Wharf, Abingdon, England to build them a suitable and swift boat, fitted with all the latest improvements to meet the increased traffic.

A model of the class of boat demanded was submitted, and the upshot of the negotiations was that the Cygnet was launched in the month of September last, receiving her christening at the hands of Mrs. Clow, in the presence of a large number of spectators, and was sent gliding smoothly into the element in which the new craft was destined to meet with some rough times before reaching her destination.

The Cygnet is a flush-decked vessel, with a hurricane deck over the engine space, about 30ft. long. There is 6ft. 6in. of head room under this deck, and the sides are opened up 6ft so as to give an unobstructed view from the main deck. The deck cabin for the captain and engineer are situate on the main deck, under the fore end of the hurricane deck. A galley capable of cooking for 50 people, is also fitted under this deck. The hurricane deck is reached by a teak ladder with brass treads and handrails, and affords ample space for promenade purposes. The lamp and store-room is under the main deck forward, the companions and skylights being of teak neatly paneled.

The saloon in right aft, and access is obtained by a straight and not steep stairway. The salon table is of polished mahogany and will seat 26 people. Seats are with reversible backs and seats upholstered in crimson velvet are provided to place around the saloon. The other fittings of this apartment are a swing tray for ornamental glass over the table, a marble-topped sideboard with a plated rail, two umbrella stands, a neat stove with brass funnel and fire-irons, a clock, and rubber mates at foot of stairs. The lighting is supplied in the daytime by a flat-topped skylight (which can be utilised for sitting on) and side-sliding windows of embossed glass, protected by wire screens, and at night by neat swinging oil lamps.

On one side of the stairs is the ladies' saloon and lavatory. This is also a handsome little apartment, and will be provided with seats upholstered in crimson velvet, and is fitted with a large mirror and a neat fold up lavatory basin. On the opposite side of the stairs is a pantry fitted up with all the necessary requisites, and furnished with hot water which is heated by the steam from the boiler. The crew are housed in a forecastle forward which is fitted in the best manner possible, and between this and the boat's straight stem is a collision bulkhead down through the flooring, which again, as a double bottom, forms an additional compartment, 'giving safety in the event of hitting a rock.

The Cygnet has a forehold and an after one. The former has a measured space of 40 tons, and the latter a space of 20 tons. The fore hatchway is 10ft. by 6ft., and the after one 4ft. by 4ft. A permanent awning deck extends flush with the bridge to the taffrail, and sparred seats are fitted all round the decks.

The steering wheel, which is of mahogany, is on the forepart of the hurricane deck, near which is the standard compass and the engine-room telegraph. The engines are compound surface condensing direct acting ones, with boiler 11ft, by 9ft. The cylinders are 16in. and 32in., and the length of stroke 18in. These, which have been fitted in by Messrs. Penn, McLachlan and Co., of Paisley, are estimated to drive the vessel at a speed of 11 knots. The engine-room is nicely fitted and roomy, and measures 26ft. by 8ft. For doing away with the chafe which the sides of the vessels are subjected to in taking them alongside wharves, a strong sponson of elm extends for 100ft. amidships. This is faced with converse iron, and well secured to vessel's sides with countersunk through bolts. The coal bunkers are ample enough to contain coal for 150 miles steaming at full 10 knots.

The dimensions of the Cygnet are- Length over all, 120ft.: beam, 17ft 3in.; depth of hold, 9ft.; and she will accommodate 400 passengers, besides 80 tons of cargo on a 6ft draft. For a few foot each end the bulwarks of the Cygnet are closed in, but the remainder are opened, formed by wrought iron stanchions, 4ft. apart. Through these are rove two galvanised iron rails, the whole being surmounted with a greenheart rail. Moveable gangways are fitted in where required, and strong galvanised iron wire netting and canvas screens are provided for bad weather. The voyage of the Cygnet has been an unusually lengthy one, and, inclusive of stoppages, which have been numerous, on account of the machinery breaking down at various points of the voyage has occupied 172 days. At times some exceptionally rough weather was met with, but Captain Hortin states that the smart little vessel was fully equal to the occasion, and proved herself an excellent sea boat.

The Cygnet left London on the 17th of February, at 3.30 p.m., calling at Weymouth on the 19th. Gibraltar was reached on the 28th February, a three days' westerly gale having to be buffeted with. Port Said was reached on the 10th of March, and a departure taken on the 11th. Passed through the Canal, and left it on the 13th. Arrived at Aden on the 20th March, leaving on the 22nd for Colombo. On the 25th of March, when off Socotra, the engine stopped dead, owing to the slide valve getting out of order; and the rest of the journey to Colombo had to be made with the single engine. Arrived at Colombo on the 3rd April. And after effecting repairs to the engine, left on the 7th April.

On the 11th of April another disaster occurred to the machinery, the high pressure engine slide valve going, which compelled resort once more to the single engine to get on to Singapore, which was reached on the 16th April. A departure was taken from Singapore on the 28th April, but on the 2nd May the slide valve got once more out of order, which further delayed the voyage. Put into Sourabaya on the 4th May, and stayed there until the 4th of June to effect repairs to the machinery.

Arrived at Port Darwin on the 15th June, and left on 21st for Thursday Island to coal. Thursday Island was bid 'good bye to on the 1st July, and the steamer coasted down inside the Barrier Reefs, reaching Townsville on the 12th July, staying there until the 17th, when a start was made for Newcastle, which was reached after a fairly fine weather passage on the 29th July.

On arrival there the command of the Cygnet was taken by Captain O. Lewis, who was sent over by the agents to pilot her to this port. The Cygnet left Newcastle on the 4th inst., and had strong winds and heavy sea to contend with the greater part of the trip, shipping much 'water at times. Rounded the Pillar at 2 p.m. yesterday, and anchored off Perry's Point at 9 p.m. after a couple of hours dodging about waiting for the health officer to board. A few days will see all the fittings 'of the vessel in their proper places, and the Cygnet will then be well worth a visit to those who wish to inspect a sightly little vessel fitted with all the latest appliances.

The Cygnet will berth alongside today.

The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : Saturday 18 September 1897
SOUTH AUSTRALIA. ADELAIDE, September 1897

Mr. H. N. H. Stuphous, of Port Darwin, has forwarded the following report to the Postmaster-General :- "The S.S. Cygnet left Port Darwin on Monday, September 6, for Wyndham, Cambridge Gulf, and returned on Friday, 10th inst. She reports meeting unusual cyclonic disturbances in the neighbourhood of Cambridge Gulf. Un tho voyage to Wyndham strong south-east gales were experienced from midnight on tho 7th, veering south and south-west. On the following day, outside Laorossc Island, the highlands were visible only two miles distant, on account of the air being full of yellow dust.

A shook of earthquake, with a pronounced rumbling, netted over towards Wyndham on Wednesday, the 8th, at 4 p.m. Towards the 8th the temperature dropped considerably, and for about six boura it blew a hard gale of a cyclonic nature, with continious gusts of wind and drizzly rain. At daylight this settled into a steady gale from the S.S.W., with heavy banks in dull blue clouds to windward. The Water for a long distceanau from the land wau like pea soup. This is unusual weather for September. The baromotor did not appear to be much affected."

Northern Territory Times and Gazette
Friday 22 December 1899

The S.S. Cygnet, which arrived from Wyndham on Friday, had nine passengers for Port Darwin.,

Having finished her charter in these parts the S.S. Cygnet was headed for Sydney on Saturday night last in command of Capt. Munroe. Mr. Moore and Mr. Nicholson (of the Nieman syndicate) are the engineers for the voyage.

Hobart River Craft

Page 76 of the book HOBART RIVER CRAFT by Harry O'May
provided the final chapter in the history of this ship in Tasmania.
Published 1973.

The 66-ton steel steamer Cygnet was built in England to the order of W. J. Watchorn for the Channel trade. She cost 99,000, and had a length of 120 feet with a beam of 17 feet 3 ins. and a depth of 8 feet 7 ins. She arrived in 1886 after calling at Gibraltar, Port Said, Aden, Colombo, Singapore, Thursday Island, Townsville and Newcastle.

At the last-named port a representative of the owner wag waiting to take charge of her, as word had been received that she had been running excursions with passengers at the various ports of call for the benefit of the captain and crew. When she reached Hobart many of her cabin fittings were missing. How­ever, she was a fine, well engined and comfortable vessel, and entered the Channel trade under Captain J. Mason, with Tim Brooks as mate.

Except for one trip to Macquarie Harbour she remained in the Hobart Channel-Huon trade until 1904, when she went to Sydney for the Manly Ferry. Later she was sold to New Zealand.

Newspaper clipping

  John Foreman in an email of the 22 June 2011 forwarded a copy of this article:-

Launceston Examiner Newspaper, Tasmania - 18th April 1894 - THE STEAMER CYGNET.

The steamer Cygnet, which was formerly engaged running from Hobart to Channel ports, commenced running in the Manly Beach ferry trade, Sydney, on Saturday last, for which trade she was purchased from her Hobart owners.

A Sydney exchange states: The Cygnet is a screw steamer built of steel throughout, is 120ft long with a beam of 17ft 3in, and draws about 8ft of water. She has lately been purchased by Messrs Lane, of Sussex-street, who have completely transformed her into a modern harbour passenger steamer. She has three air-tight compartments, and a collision bulkhead forward. The engines were built by Davis and Clow, of Abingdon, Bucks, and are compound surface condensing, with 16in and 30in cylinders, with horse power 45 nominal. A new four-bladed propeller has been fitted, with a pitch of 11ft 6in, which gives her a speed of nearly 12 miles per hour. The engine-room is in charge of Mr French.

The electric light machinery is situated in the engine-room, on the starboard side. The dynamo is worked by belting from a small Tangye engine, with a steam pipe to the main boiler. This dynamo regulates about 30 lights, which are distributed over different parts of the vessel. Suitable switches have been arranged for turning the lights on and off. The masthead and side lights have been fitted with duplicate electrical burners, so that in the event of any possible failure of one burner, the other will remain. This part of the additions has been carried out by Messrs Woodhouse and Rawson, under the supervision of their engineer, Mr J. B. Sainton, and it is said to be without doubt one of the finest marine jobs of electric installation.

While the engine-room has been receiving every attention, the deck improvements have been pushed on. Messrs Peterson and Co, the contractors for the deck-house, joinery. etc., have, under the superintendence of Mr H. Behm, carried out their work most expeditiously and satisfactorily, and received many congratulations from those who were present on Friday. Comfortable saloons have been built fore and aft, and have been made replete with every convenience necessary for the comfort of the travelling public. These saloons have been fitted with seating accommodation constructed of kauri, redwood, Oregon, and cedar, and have been tastefully upholstered and cushioned. Off the saloon downstairs are to be found the lavatories and other conveniences.

Access to the promenade deck above is gained by means of spiral staircases fore and aft. On this deck every inch of room has been made use of for the comfort of passengers. On the main deck forward is situated the smoking saloon, which is equally as comfortable and complete as the saloon aft. The company has received many congratulations on having obtained the Cygnet, which will doubtless soon become a favourite in the fleet.

John Foreman also states in his email of the 22 June 2011:-

This states the engines were built by Davis & Clow. In another part publication in the internet written about the Sydney - Manley ferry boats it says the engines were by Bow, McLachlan & Co. of Paisley, Scotland.

I have found reference to her operating out of Littleton, South Island, New Zealand up to 1933, an old lady by then.

June 2011 - Graeme K Andrews of Sydney searched various records and states that A. M. Prescott reports the following that might be of help. "Cygnet was in use as a chartered vessel for the Manly Co-op SS Co. from Dec 1, 1893 to May 15 1896 and went to NZ in Oct. 1896."

In the following segment he also adds that she started on the Manly run about Feb 1894 and went to NZ in 1900.

John Foreman finally advised My biggest interest is naval history. I found a reference to the Davis company having a contract to supply steam engines to the Royal Navy.

Now to acquaint you with English geography, Abingdon is on the river Thames and in the middle of the country about as far from the coast as you can get. How could a company so situated get a naval contract and why was nothing known about them?

The family no longer lived here and there was no evidence when they left and where they went. I like a mystery and started research about ten years ago. Through old fashioned newspaper research and genealogical research I constructed a pretty complete history up to about 1905 when the yard closed and the family moved away, but where too?

A couple of years ago a descendant who was trying to find out about his family contacted the Abingdon archivist and she put them in contact with me. There is a bit of a gap between our two records as the family split and just about all branches lost contact with each other, though now are at least aware of each other.

There were no yard records left, but some boat launches were recorded and other reports sometime mention boats. I should think the Cygnet was the biggest ship they built and 50 workmen was the highest number of employees. I suppose the most famous boats they built were Dragon Fly I & II for a chap called De Sallis who wrote Bradshaw's Guides to the Canals. He used the boats to extensively tour the system in the late 1800s. It could be argued that he invented the canal pleasure boat.

They built a boat called the Thames and set up an operating company that ran it from Oxford to London. This was the first scheduled passenger service between these places. They build boats for the Nile and North America as well as the Caribbean, but all very difficult to find information about. That makes the Cygnet special.

The splendid new steel S.S. Cygnet - 1887 Steam Ship Cygnet

Graeme K Andrews sent further paper work compiled and researched by David Balderstone.
1. A hand-written page about NZ ownership which is listed below.
2. A photo-copy of a page from a old book. It appears to be a register of ship certification. This has been re-typed and appears as the next item.


New Zealand Ownership.
1900Union Bank of Australasia Ltd, London - Mortagee
Wallace Thomas, Christchurch - Ship Agent
1900-1901Pitcaithly Wallace & Co, Christchurch - Ship Agent
1900-1910Pitcaithly Robert & Co, Christchurch - Ship Agent
Pricaithly William, Christchurch - Ship Agent
1910-1915Stewart Doughlas McBean, Christchurch - Agent
Kia Dardenelles 25/4/1915
J/O Stevenson George Lyle, Exectutor, Christchurch
1922Cross Charles Edward, Christchurch - Mearht.
J/O Pidgeon E.W.
1922-1926Cygnet Ltd, Christchurch - Shipowners
(also Kuku 1929-1934)
1926Goodrich Silvertown Tyres Ltd, Christchurch - Mortgagee
1926-1930Pidgeon Ed. Wuller,
J/O C.E. Cross

Register of Ship Certification
CYGNET, 91893. s.s. 124.14//66.06 tons.
Sch.rig; 120 x 17.3 x 8.7 ft.; 2 engs. NHP-43; Built at Abington, Berks, 1885, by Davis & Clow.
Registered No. 1/1886, Port of London. (I.R.)?
Registered No. 2/1886, Port of Hobart.
Registered No. 4/1894, Port of Sydney, N.S.W
Registered No. 1/1900, (10/iii/00), Port of Lyttelton.
Alt. June 1921s 142.06//69.90 tons.
Min. Cas.
21/ix/1901   Std. Tory Chan.Alex Innes Murray.
4/ii/1905Std. Pegasus By.Alex Innes Murray.
30/iii/1905B/sh. Guard's BayAlex Innes Murray.
29/iii/1914B/sh. KaikouraAlex Innes Murray.
19/vii/1917B/sh. Godley HeadAlex Innes Murray.
11/X/1918Coll. 'WAIRAU, LyttnA.I. Murray.
4/v/1922SSO. off Pt. GibsonA.I. Murray.
10/ii/1926D/my. KaikouraW. Williamson.
1/iii/1926Std. KaikouraW. Williamson.
27/ii/1927Std. Motunau ReefLarsen.
21/i/1929Coll. KOHI, WellingtonL. Larsen.
8/xi/1929Coll. CITY OF DELHA, - off Pencarrow HeadA.R. Pryde.
19/ii/1930S/wf. WellingtonA.R. Pryde.
30/vii/1930Leak, WellingtonJ. Hawrick.
Ship not certified as seaworthy and Reg. closed 19/vii/1933.
Ownerships: Pt.2,pp. 3.1,35,53,114,115(3),136(2),145,150.
  • Abreviations
  • Std = Stranded
  • Coll = Collision
  • B/sh = Beached
  • S/wf = Struck wharf
  • D/my = ?
  • SSO = ?
  • Min. Cas = ?

Graeme Andrews them summed up the project, with these few words.

I find it amazing how often a disparate group of bodies from all over can finally create a 'package' of info. worth having.
I've enjoyed the exercise.

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