The First Steamers Between London and Margate - Overview

The first Margate steamers were referred to as Steam Yachts and the are two songs called The Margate Steam Yacht. The first Margate Steam Yacht was launched on the Clyde as The Duke of Argyle; she was brought to London in 1815 by George Dodd and renamed The Thames. Below is Dodd's drawing of the Thames/Argyle in a gale off Port Patrick.

According to the London Times, of 8th July, 1815

"The THAMES, steam yacht, from London to Margate, starts from Wool Quay, near the Custom House, Thames Street, every Tuesday and Saturday at 8 o'clock a.m., precisely, and leaves Margate on her return to London every Monday and Thursday at the same hour. This rapid, capacious and splendid vessel lately accomplished a voyage of 1,500 miles, has twice crossed St. George's Channel, and came round the Land's End with a rapidity unknown before in naval history, and is the first steam vessel that ever traversed those seas. She has the peculiar advantage of proceeding" either by sails or steam, separated or united, by which means the public have the pleasing certainty of never being detained on the water after dark, much less one or two nights, which has frequently occurred with the old packets. Against the wind, the tide, or in the most perfect calm, the passage is alike certain, and has always been achieved in one day. Her cabins are spacious, and are fitted up with all that elegance could suggest, or personal comfort require ; presenting a choice library, backgammon boards, draught tables, and other means of amusement. For the express purpose of combining delicacy with comfort a female servant attends upon the ladies. The fares (which include Pier Duty) are in the Chief Cabin 15s., and in the Fore Cabin 11s., children half price. No articles or goods will be taken, except the luggage accompanying passengers ; and the proprietors will not be answerable for any of the above, unless delivered into the care of the Steward, nor to the amount of more than 5 value, except entered and paid for as such."

A picture titled "A View of London Bridge and the Custom House with the Margate Steam Yachts"  shows the London engineer built in 1818 so we can be sure that the habit of calling these boats yachts persisted at least until then. The earliest song that we can date with any certainty is bar242~Margate Steam Yacht, written between 1815 and 1820.

Among the vessels mentioned by name in these pieces are, Majestic (1816), Eclipse (1816) Favourite (1817) London Engineer (1818), and Victory (1818)

The first steamboat songs reflect the social status of the passengers. In 1820 the return fare from London to Margate was 15 shillings; more than a week's wages for most people [Dix, Frank L. Royal River Highway p52]. Despite the prices, plenty of people were willing to pay to enjoy this way of travelling, and their adventures are the subject of many of these songs notably bar413~Steam Packet.

By 1825 the service was well established and the ballad 'Shop Windows, or; Amusements of London' (bar006) printed in the late 1820s speaks of "Steam boats to Margate at nine every day" Regency London was notorious for gambling and the headlong pursuit of pleasure.  Princess Lieven (wife of the Russian ambassador between 1812 and 1834) was, like many other foreigners, shocked by the blatant immorality and sexual promiscuity of English society. Foreign tourists visiting London were amazed by the corpulence of many of the inhabitants. Rich Londoners grown fat on the wealth of empire and the industrial revolution were a tourist attraction. Guidebooks said "a passage to Margate....is frequently so replete with whim incident and character, that it may be considered a dramatic entertainment'. The decadence of late Regency London is captured in several of the songs in this section.

. For passengers who were happy to make the voyage itself the highlight of the excursion, a day-trip to Margate was now a practical proposition. A new jetty was built at Margate in 1824 to accommodate the steamer trade and the town expanded as a resort. Thus the steamers established transport links that paved the way for the mass tourism of the later 19th century.