Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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The Sirius

From the records of the builders, Menzies and Co[1]: "Leith, 1835.-Dimensions of the Steamship Seahorse, building for the St. George Steam Packet Company, Dublin, November, 1835: - Length of keel, 172ft.; rake of stem, 9ft.; breadth of beam 28ft.; depth of hold, 17ft.; will register about 690 tons. Name changed to Sirius."

1838 Sirius, of 703 tons, completed a pioneering transatlantic voyage by a steamship; she was built by Menzies and Co, powered by an engine by Wingate [2]

Sirius was one of the first steamships built with a condenser that enabled her to use fresh water, avoiding the need to periodically shut down her boilers at sea for cleaning. Unfortunately, this also resulted in high coal consumption.[3]

Robert Napier subscribed towards the trial voyage of the Sirius from Britain to North America.

Because construction of British and American Steam Navigation Co's first ship had been delayed, the company chartered Sirius to beat SS Great Western to New York. Sirius was a 700 GRT Irish Sea steam packet on the London - Cork route; part of her passenger accommodation was removed to make room for extra coal bunkers. She left London three days before Great Western, refuelled at Cork, and departed for New York on 4 April. Great Western was delayed in Bristol because of a fire and did not depart until 8 April.

Even with a four-day head start, Sirius only narrowly beat Great Western, arriving on 22 April. When coal ran low, the crew burned cabin furniture, spare yards and one mast, inspiring the similar sequence in Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days. Great Western arrived the following day, with 200 tons of coal still aboard. Sirius is often credited with establishing the first speed record across the Atlantic, of 8.03 knots. However, she only held the record for a day because Great Western's voyage was faster at 8.66 knots.

In late 1840 Sirius was sent to Gibson's Dry Dock at Hull for new boilers, but remained there over two years as the dry dock had to be specially lengthened. In the face of financial difficulties, the St George company was refinanced in 1844 and took the style City of Cork Steam Ship Company, with which Sirius continued her regular employment on the Irish Sea.[4]

Sirius was wrecked in 1847. On 16 January, on a voyage to Cork from Glasgow via Dublin with cargo and passengers, she struck rocks in dense fog in Ballycotton Bay, Ireland. Despite being refloated, she was found to be leaking badly and, in steaming for the shore, was wrecked on Smith's Rocks, half a mile from Ballycotton. The only lifeboat launched was heavily overloaded; swamped by heavy seas, the twelve passengers and two crew were drowned. Most of the 91 on board were rescued by rope passed to the shore, though twenty lives in all were lost.[5]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1866/08/10
  2. A Short History of Naval and Marine Engineering by E. C. Smith. Published 1937
  3. Wikipedia
  4. Wikipedia
  5. Wikipedia