River Boats after 1850

The Songs

This category is dominated by Music Hall songs published in London. By 1850 the steamboat was part of everyday life for people living beside major rivers and the boats are the setting of the song rather than the subject. Most of the songs are set on the Thames.

Main Themes and Motifs

  • Amorous incidents aboard steamers
  • The threat to steamer trade posed by the railways


1850-59    426; 738
1860-69    008; 105; 584, 634; 754

Historical Background

As more Bridges were built across the Thames to replace the ferries - cab, coach and omnibus competition was gradually increasing. From 1851 onwards it was no longer quicker and safer to go by water. As the railways spread, they captured the commuter traffic which the steamboats had created and nurtured. Steamers were still packed on summer holidays and at weekends, (see Ships & Boats>Holidays and Excursions by Boat) but the money earned was not sufficient to maintain the large number of vessels. The mid-week and out-of-season services began to run at a loss. [i] The same fate befell steamers on the River Shannon (see bar105~Elwy Steamer) and the impact of railways had been seen before 1850 on the Tyne (see bar564~ Newcastle & North Shields Railway)

References and Notes

[i] Dix, Frank L. - Royal River Highway: A History of the passenger boats and services on the river Thames (London, David & Charles, 1985) p86