©  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: March 16, 2016
Webpage major revision: March 09, 2021

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The long-held legend that Mr John Parson (1852-1934), of Millbrook, was the first man to put a steamboat on a ferry service between Millbrook and Devonport has turned out to be untrue.  The following announcement appeared in the Western Morning News on Thursday July 15th 1869: 'Steam Ferries – Mr Vincent Bird, of Devonport, with the view of forming a company to establish steam communication between Millbrook and Devonport, has issued a circular, in which he says:- “A steam ferry from Cremyll to the Hard, at Stonehouse, would in all probability divert the present traffic from Millbrook to Mutton Cove, and thus inflict a permanent injury to the already languishing trade of Devonport; whereas a steam launch starting from Mutton Cove at the hours, and Millbrook, Anderton, or Southdown at the half-hours, according to the tide, would preserve and increase the trade between these two points.  I have reason to think that a capital of £200 would be sufficient to start the boat, and judging from the success of the “Little Pet”, between Plymouth and Oreston, would speedily repay itself.  It is therefore proposed to divide the scheme into 200 shares of £1 each, so as to have as large a number of interested persons as possible to patronise the scheme”.  The subject of the circular was to have been laid before a meeting held last evening at Devonport, but as many persons who had expressed themselves favourable to the scheme were unable to attend, the proceedings were adjourned until Friday, at 8pm.

 'Mr Mansfield, of Teignmouth, has built two large steam launches, one of them belonging to Mr Goad, of Plymouth, which are intended to run every half-hour between Oreston and Plymouth.  On their arrival the “Little Pet”, which is now conveying the traffic between these two points, will be docked and overhauled, and when ready will resume her former work.  One of the new launches will then seek traffic from other parts of the harbour’.

It was quickly followed on Saturday July 17th 1869 by another announcement: ‘The proposal to run a steamboat between Devonport and Millbrook is beginning to assume a tangible form.  An adjourned meeting of promoters was held last evening in Devonport, and it was the unanimous opinion of those present that it is highly desirable to have steam accommodation between Devonport and Millbrook, and that £300 should be the capital of the company, in £1 shares.  The following comprise the committee:- Messrs Filmer, Bird, Justain, Collier, and Philp, and as these gentlemen are in possession of information respecting qualities and prices of different steam ferry-boats, it seems probable that the desired accommodation will be speedily granted to the public.  £50 was subscribed in the room last evening, and Millbrook will not be backward in supporting this enterprise.’

Originally called the Devonport and Millbrook Steamboat Company Limited the name was abbreviated to the Devonport Steamboat Company Limited by the time the service was due to start.  This was announced in the Western Morning News on Tuesday September 7th 1869: ‘Public Notices: Devonport Steamboat Company Limited.  In Wednesday next the Steam Launch “Elfin” will commence running from Mutton Cove to Cremyll.  On Thursday next she will leave Mutton Cove punctually at each hour during the day for Millbrook, according to tide, calling at the intermediate landing places.  Fare – 1d to Cremyll; 2d to South Down; 3d to Millbrook.  Goods and Parcels maybe left at the Waiting Room at Mutton Cove for Kingsand, Cawsand and Millbrook.’  The Company had purchased a steam launch called "Elfin" but only two days later, on September 9th 1869 , the Company secretary announced that the boat would be unable to run for a few days.  No reason was given.

Not surprisingly the Mutton Cove watermen did not appreciate their services being displaced by a steam boat.  First they blocked the steps of the Quay so that it could neither pick up nor drop any passengers.  Then one of the watermen took the Company to Court under the Boats and Wherries Act.  The Magistrate was a bit brighter than the waterman, though, and asked him if the boat was powered by oars or paddles.  As it was a screw vessel the answer was neither, at which point the Magistrate dismissed the case as such a vessel was not covered by the Boats and Wherries Act.

In the Western Morning News dated Thursday September 30th 1869 appeared a Public Notice confirming that 'The "Elfin" will leave Mutton Cove for Millbrook or Anderton on Wednesday at 9am, 10am, 10.30am, and 11.30am returning from Millbrook or Anderton at 9.45am, 10.45am, 11.15am and 12.15pm.  For the remainder of the day the vessel would ply between Mutton Cove and Cremyll 'at the discretion of the Captain'

On Friday October 22nd 1869 a correspondent, possibly Mr Vincent Bird, the Company secretary, wrote to the Western Morning News to explain the problems the Company were having and that they had decided not to formally comment in the hope that the bother would die down.  He explained that the Company did intend to run the service and not only to Cremyll and Millbrook but to Cawsand and Kingsand also.

The Company made a huge loss over the winter period and in January 1870 issued a further 100 shares to raise capital.  Unfortunately there is no evidence that the boats did actually operate.  Then on Saturday June 4th 1870 came the Notice that Mr T Hainsellin, of 1 Saint Aubyn Street, Devonport, had been authorised to sell by auction the "Elfin" at Mr Hingston's Yard, Richmond Walk, at 3pm on Thursday June 9th 1870.  From this notice we gather that the screw steam boat was about 45 feet in length, displaced 17 tonnes, was licensed to carry 53 passengers, and had a canopy aft.  It transpired from the report of the auction that the boat was in fact built by Mr Ridley, at the Frank's Quarry shipbuilding yard, Mount Edgcumbe, and had engines supplied by the Plymouth Foundry Company.  It originally cost £300 but was sold at the auction for £145 to Mr George Cox of the Manor Office, East Stonehouse.  Interestingly, the auctioneer gave the reason for the failure of the ferry service as the vessel's 'non adaptation for passenger traffic, there not being sufficient protection from the smoke and dirt caused by the machinery'.  The auction report does refer to the "Elfin" as 'lately running between Mutton Cove, Devonport, Cremyll, and Millbrook' so it looks like she did provide a ferry service for a short while.  The sale was followed on Thursday June 16th 1870 by a Public Notice calling for those people with claims against the Company to contact Mr W C Walker.  Clearly the Devonport Steamboat Company was being legally wound-up.

CONTINUE TO Millbrook Ferry (Pedestrian), 1885-1970s), the service started by Mr John Parson (1852-1934).