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At the beginning of the nineteenth century, before steamboats were introduced, Jemmy Joneson, whose wherry is immortalized in this song, was a famous local character, well known to all passengers on the River Tyne. At this time a healthy competition existed between the Shields coaches and gigs on land, and the wherries and 'comfortables' (a type of covered wherry) on the river. Despite the notable protestations of Joneson after the onset of steam, the use of wherries and comfortables rapidly died out, replaced by the steamboat.
[Ref: http://www.farnearchive.com/detail.asp?id=N1401402

 

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