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

To go to the Home Page          To go to the A-Z Contents Page



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 and the story of the one operated in 1868-1870 by the Devonport Steamboat Company Limited can be found in Millbrook Ferry (Pedestrian), 1868-1870.

Mr John Parson, the owner of the tidal mill at Insworke, Millbrook, did indeed start the second steam ferry service between Millbrook and Devonport in 1885.

The "Last Boat Home From Millbrook".
"Lady Ernestine" takes on passengers at the Higher Pier,
Millbrook, but the boat looks full enough already.
From a postcard.

The legend goes that Mr John Parson (1852-1934) returned to Mutton Cove, Devonport, very late one night and had to pay a waterman 5s 6d to take him across the Hamoaze to Millbrook.  That was a lot of money in those days and Mr Parson vowed he would not being doing that a second time.  He would start his own ferry service.

But it was not a case of simply buying a boat and getting started: first he had to seek permission from the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, who held the ferry rights on the river.  The Earl declined a suggestion that he extend his own Cremyll Ferry to Millbrook but gave permission to Mr John Parson (1852-1934) to start his own service.  He acquired his first steamer in 1885, appropriately named "Millbrook" and started to run it between North Corner, Devonport, and Millbrook.  Two other vessels followed in quick succession: the "Iolanthe" and the "Lady of the Lake".  When the new landing stage at Mutton Cove was opened in 1891, the service was moved to there.

On January 19th 1892 Mr John Parson (1852-1934) joined with another boat owner, Mr William Gilbert, Saltash, to form the Saltash, Three Towns and District Steamboat Company Ltd, which took over the running of the Millbrook Ferry in addition to operating river excursions.  But hardly had the new venture started than Mr Gilbert died and his shares passed to Mr E P Gilbert. 

Almost immediately the relationship between him and John Parson seems to have started to deteriorate.  On November 13th 1894 Parson bought the Mutton Cove to Cremyll ferry service operated by the Oreston and Turnchapel Steamboat Company, along with their vessel "Despatch".  He extended the service to run up to Millbrook in direct competition with the Saltash Company, in spite of the fact that he still owned shares in it.  For the next fifteen years he continued what became known as the "Steamer War".

One such "skirmish" took place on Millbrook Lake during the afternoon of Friday September 14th 1906.  The white-funnelled steamer "Lady Ernestine, owned by the Saltash and District Steamboat Company, had landed her passengers at Anderton and was reversing off the quay to continue its journey back to Devonport when it was struck by the red-funnelled "Britannia" (Millbrook Steamboat Company) which was approaching the quay.  There was 'a violent collision' about 50 yards off the quay, which caused tremendous panic amongst the passengers on both vessels.  The press reported that 'Some of the passengers rushed up and down the decks in a state of alarm'.  Both vessels continued on their services but the stern of the "Lady Ernestine" had suffered severe damage and one side had been badly scraped.  The opinion was expressed that if the "Lady Ernestine" had been built of wood she would surely have been 'utterly crushed'.

The "Britannia" had another collision while returning from Devonport to Anderton at 4pm on the same afternoon.  She hit a sailing yacht belonging to the Royal Naval Engineering College and which was moored off Pottery Quay.  To hit a moving vessel was careless but to hit a moored one ... well!

Both companies suffered financially as a result of this battle but as he was the sole proprietor of his vessels, Mr John Parson (1852-1934) was probably damaged the most.  On March 28th 1929 he formed a limited company, the Millbrook Steamboat and Trading Company Limited, to protect his interests.  They continued the Millbrook Ferry and in 1933 started through fares by boat and motor bus to Whitsands Beach for 1s 6d.

Paddle steamer "Britannia" loading at Millbrook for North Corner, Devonport.
Author's collection.

Mr John Parson (1852-1934) died in 1934, at the age of 81 years and in 1935 the last paddle steamer, the "Britannia", was put on the Ferry but by the start of the Second World War she had been laid up. 

In 1942 the service to Millbrook commenced at 8.40am from North Corner with the following departures at 10am, 11am, 12.15pm, 1.30pm, 2.45pm,4.15pm, 5.15pm, 6.30pm,7.30pm and 8.30pm.  On Fridays the 4.15pm and 5.15pm services ran 15-minutes earlier.

The motor vessel "Lady Elizabeth" and "Devon Belle" continued to provide the service right up until the 1970s.  With the increase in private car ownership, the need for a ferry between Millbrook and Devonport was reduced to a morning and an evening service for Dockyard workers.  Later that decade the service just petered out and it is not known exactly when the last boat ran.