Ramsgate tug

From SpottingWorld, the Hub for the SpottingWorld network...

The Ramsgate tugs were a series of tugboats used at Ramsgate harbour since the 19th century. The harbour's development coincided with the growing use of the steam tugs that were then being built for the shipping industry.

During this era a considerable amount of the work undertaken by the local boatmen was carried out by these tugs. The benefits of this in regard to the heavier ships in distress was inestimable, but nevertheless the salvage of wrecks soon became an intense and contested undertaking, offering substantial monetary rewards to the boatmen and the tugmen, who were otherwise ill-paid.

Ramsgate's tugs became a regular feature in the harbour; unlike the lifeboats they were able haul ships out into open waters against an unfavourable wind or in dead calm conditions. In the 19th century the tugs were kept with "crew on board and steam up, ready to put to sea at a moment's notice".[1]

The first Ramsgate tug, built of wood and measuring 90 tons (91 t), with a 50 horsepower (37 kW) engine, was built at South Shields by Woodhouse in 1843, and named the Samson.[2]

The Samson and her successors—Aide, a wooden paddle steamer of 112 gross tons (114 t) built at Blackwall[3] on the Thames and in use by 1855,[4] Vulcan, an iron steam paddle tug of 140 tons (142 t), also built at Blackwall and delivered to Ramsgate in 1858, and Fabia, which was in service in World War II[5]—participated in many rescues alongside the local lifeboatmen, receiving several rewards from the RNLI and grateful foreign governments. Another Ramsgate tug was Sun Swale.[6]

In January 1881 the Ramsgate tugs Vulcan and Aide participated with the lifeboat Bradford in the rescue of the Indian Chief, in response to which the Ramsgate harbour-master, Captain Braine, wrote the commendation, "Of all the meritorious services performed by the Ramsgate Tug and Life-boat, I consider this one of the best. The decision the coxswain and crew arrived at to remain till daylight, which was in effect to continue for fourteen hours cruising about with the sea continually breaking over them in a heavy gale and tremendous sea, proves, I consider, their gallantry and determination to do their duty."[7]

Cultural references

In Wilkie Collins's novel The Fallen Leaves a Broadstairs boatman laments that the advent of the Ramsgate tug destroyed the rich pickings to be made by salvaging cargo from wrecks on the Goodwin Sands.[8]

William Broome painted two pictures featuring the Ramsgate tugs: The Ramsgate pulling and sailing lifeboat being towed by the tug 'Aide' through the harbour entrance in a fierce storm, going to the rescue of the 'Indian Chief' on the Goodwin Sands, held by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution Heritage Trust, and The tug 'Vulcan' towing a stricken vessel into Ramsgate with a lifeboat, held by the Maritime Museum in Ramsgate. Thomas H. Willoughby Beddowes painted 'And waited for dawn'; the Ramsgate lifeboat 'Bradford and the tug 'Vulcan' going to the rescue of the 'Indian Chief' off Long Sands, in the Royal National Lifeboat Institution Heritage Trust collection. George Mears painted The tug 'Vulcan' with the Ramsgate pulling and sailing lifeboat going to the wreck of the 'Indian Chief' and The return of the tug 'Vulcan' with the Ramsgate pulling and sailing lifeboat, returning to harbour with the rescued crew from the 'Indian Chief' both with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution Heritage Trust.[9]


  1. "Wreck Report for 'Nymphaea' and 'Indian Chief', 1881". Board of Trade. 1881. http://www.plimsoll.org/resources/SCCLibraries/WreckReports/14448.asp. Retrieved 24 September 2009. 
  2. Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (Great Britain) (1858). Penny cyclopaedia of the Society for the diffusion of useful knowledge: Second supplement. Knight & co.. p. 632. OCLC 2046242. 
  3. March, Edgar J. (1953). Sailing trawlers: the story of deep-sea fishing with long line and trawl. P. Marshall. p. 229. OCLC 747936. 
  4. Chapman, Thomas (1856). "Meetings of the committee". Life-boat (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) 2 (1): 204–206. 
  5. Foynes, Julian P. (2005) [1994]. "Magnetic mine menace". in Ian Hawkins, Len Deighton. Destroyer: an anthology of first-hand accounts of the war at sea, 1939-1945. Anova Books. p. 33. ISBN 9781844860081. 
  6. Ship & boat international. Pax Marine Press AB. 1986. p. 16. 
  7. Macaulay, James (1884). True tales of travel and adventure, valour and virtue. Hodder and Stoughton. p. 198. OCLC 29928482. 
  8. Collins, Wilkie (2007) [1879]. The Fallen Leaves. BiblioBazaar. p. 20. ISBN 9781434616814. "We saved the cargo, Master! and got salvage!! Hundreds of pounds, I tell you, divided amongst us by law!!! Ah, those times are gone. A parcel of sneaks get together, and subscribe to build a Steam-Tug. When a ship gets on the sands now, out goes the Tug, night and day alike, and brings her safe into harbour, and takes the bread out of our mouths. Shameful—that's what I call it—shameful." 
  9. Wright, Christopher; Catherine May Gordon, Mary Peskett Smith (2006). British and Irish paintings in public collections. Yale University Press. pp. 93, 220, 559. ISBN 9780300117301.