Over the last couple of months at least two people have contacted me via the contact button asking for details of how to send photographs to this site. I have responded to both but my message is bouncing back undeliverable. PLEASE PLEASE when contacting me ensure that the email address you are sending me is totally correct otherwise I cannot respond. To those who may be fuming as they have not had a reply I would say many thanks for your interest but please try again giving me your correct contact details.



Just been back on the site and picture number c226 shows my old man Reg Merchant on the right. Think it would have been about 1947 on-board the SUN XVI going by the fact he has a beret on. He is still with us and will be 92 at the end of March. Regards Peter Merchant

Three great old photos courtesy Mike Houckham
Two pics showing MURIA with Cutty Sark at Falmouth in 1938 prior to towing her to the Thames.
MURIA and other tugs attending the SS Vestard aground on the Goodwins in 1934.
Seven pics kindly sent in by Sharron Williamson featuring her Grandfather Tom Williamson who was a fireman with Sun Tugs. Other people in the pics are unidentified so any names would be gratefully received.
C313 Two unidentified workers at St Johns Wharf. Photo Tom Williamson courtesy Sharron Williamson.
Another unidentified worker at St Johns Wharf. Photo Tom Williamson courtesy Sharron Williamson
SUN VIII.  L. Tom Williamson, fireman. R Unknown. Photo courtesy Sharron Williamson
SUN VIII     L- Unknown; R - Tom Williamson, Fireman. Courtesy Sharron Williamson
SUN VIII. L - unknown. C - unknown; R - Tom Williamson, Fireman. Courtesy Sharron Williamson.
ST JOHNS WHARF, Wapping, HQ of Sun Tugs.
SUN XIX  Photo Tom Williamson, courtesy Sharron Williamson
GONDIA; Engineer George Dyer. Photo courtesy Mike Houckham.
DARING Photo courtesy of Catherine Allcott.
My family has a painting of the Daring, depicted in the English channel which I thought you might like to see. My mum was a Sandford and we are directly descended from William Sandford (1819 - 1895) of Gravesend who owned several of the tugs on your website (he is my 3x great grandfather).
I've also enclosed a transcript of a document written by my 2x great grandfather, Edward Augustus Sandford (1855 - 1938) who was Williams son and who crewed some of Williams tugs along with his brothers. It makes interesting reading and I think you can assume that, when Edward refers to captains that he knew of, he is probably referring to his brothers!- Catherine Allcott.
Reminiscences of Thames Tugs 1875 - 1880
By Edward Augustus Sandford

There was of course a fine fleet of powerful tugs on the Mersey and a great many on the Tyne not so powerful.
On the Thames at this date they were all paddle tugs, about 35 run by Gravesend owners and probably a greater number run by London Firms of which Messrs H Watkins were pioneers and the most powerful concern. The size of these tugs varied from 90 feet long, 20 feet beam, 10 feet depth to 110 by 22 by 11 feet. The Gravesend fleet were mostly built by Messrs Hepple and Messrs Redhead of North and South Shields respectively.
There were other smaller tugs working above Gravesend, docking and dry docking ships in the Port of London.
But my theme is about the Seekers as they were called because they had to seek their employment by meeting homeward bound wind jammers from all parts of the world in the English Channel and towing them to London.
They were splendid sea boats and could face the worst storms almost with impunity, due to having just the right amount of free board and a measure of power. The crew comprised the Captain, the engineer, 1 mate, 1 second mate, and 2 firemen and the boy usually about 16 years of age who acted as cook, did what scrubbing was done, cleaned the Captains boots and was generally Lackie. Wages roughly Captain 50 to 60 shillings per week, Engineer 40 to 50, mates 35 and 30 respectively and the fireman about 27/ to 25/ the boy 10/ to 17/. And I will say they earned and deserved every shilling they got. They were a fine type of men, keen fearless and willing. Of course there was always the hope of salvage on ?hooks as they called them when they rescued vessels that had got into difficulties. The crews portion of the compensation for salvage was 20 per cent. The food was not found by the owners. So usually the whole of the crew formed a mess and had meals at one table, the Captain being Carver, the two mates and two firemen serving alternately as Caterers unless one of them developed special facility in this line. He would then be asked to continue the good work and probably the others would pay him 1/ per week for doing so. You will realise what an unthankful office this might be with 5 hungry men to cater for. The expenditure limited to 8/ or 8/6 per head for 7 days per week and often 7 nights as well to say nothing of good food being spoiled by the amateur cook boy.
It was usual to purchase 3 or 4 days food at one time when leaving port. If they did not get back to Gravesend before the provisions ran short they would chance replenishing at Dover or some other South Coast Town as weather and circumstances might permit.
There was always the chance of excitement and uncertainty in the life of a Tuggy in those days. Some days you might leave Gravesend at high water, fall in with a vessel off Margate or in the downs and tow her to London within 24 hours. Other times you might be a fortnight or three weeks before finding a vessel that required towing to London. I have known times when very big fleets of vessels come up the Channel in a glut as it was called and one of these tugs to tow from say Margate or Deal 5 ships in one week to London Docks.
Think of the exhaustion of the crew. The Captain and Engineer would be on duty all the time as they have no one to relieve them. The two mates and two firemen would have done in three hour watches nearly 2 weeks work in one but would be ready and cheerful to commence again after one night at home.
While ships are coming up Channel in quantities the Tuggies life is all plain sailing. But when they are scarce and the winds light or blowing down the Channel the ships are difficult to find. The Tug Captain has to use all his knowledge, perseverance and cunning to get to the ships first. For then some ships may be close to the English side and some near France and if they are tacking it is more difficult to locate them. The necessity of economy in the using of his coal supply is a great anxiety. The coal capacity of these Tugs would be from 30 to 40 tonnes. When running light consumption 4 to 6 cwt per hour and 8 or 10 cwt when towing. So after leaving port in 2 or 3 days, coal becomes the bug bear as it would be futile when the ship is found if there is not sufficient coal left to tow her to London.
The principle help the Captain has in above conditions is by studying Lloyds Gazette. If he is a capable Skipper he can ascertain the date when ships are due to arrive. Also those signalled at the various Signal Stations from the Lands End to Downs are notified in the Gazette and thus work out the probable position of the incoming ships. The following is an illustration. When the china Clippers were due great excitement would prevail among the Tug crews. There would be bets and a sweepstake on the race and also on the Tug which was lucky enough to tow the winning Clipper.
The tug I have in mind left London seeking. The Captain had news that some of the Racers had passed the Lizard and were coming up the Channel with light west wind. He steamed full speed to Dover, went on shore, interviewed Lloyds agent to get the latest news and by working out probable speed of the Clipper according to prevailing wind and allowing for tides etc, he calculated that the ship he wanted to find would be off Beachy Head at dawn the following morning.
He then steamed to Dungeness arriving just before night set in and finding there 3 other tugs at anchor, 2 of them faster boats than his own, concerned that they would follow him if he proceeded as they would guess he had the latest news, he turned back a mile or two and anchored.
Now his problem was to get past these other tugs unobserved. The first thing was to extinguish all the lights and then three hours before dawn, heave up the anchor without a sound. To effect this rags and old rope was inserted in the cogs of the windlass. Next he set a small sail called a stay sail and the tide being favourable half-drifted and half-sailed noiselessly past his watchful competitors. When out of their hearing set the engines full speed ahead and arrived off Beachy Head just before dawn.
As the morning broke, by the aid of a telescope could be seen a full rigged ship hull down to the South Westwards, for which he made all speed, specially as on looking round could be seen one of the three tugs left at Dungeness, who evidently smelt a rat and who was 'L' for leather after them. But he got there first and after the usual great amount of bargaining agreed to tow her to dock for 65.0.0. The ships name was Cutty Sark.
Dungeness was a favourite rendezvous for Thames Tugs as all homeward bound vessels tried to make it. Because the Pilot cutters were stationed there and the ships would signal for Pilots either for London or the Continental ports at night as well as day.
Dover was another favourite place on account of getting the latest shipping news and to replenish the larder. But during a prevailing south west gale, then the Downs was the place for business for in those days you would find two or three hundred sail of vessels great and small sheltering there. And very often an outward bound ship after buffeting for two or three weeks down channel would return to the Downs, would be confronted with the difficulty of bringing her to anchor. Perhaps the cable would snap and then she would foul some of the numerous craft there. Then the Tuggies harvest would be reaped.
This brings me to the salvage part of the business. Generally the recompense for salvage was settled by the Admiralty Court. So the tug Captains usually sent the report in writing.
I give her some extracts taken at random:
No1    Anchored off Deal     Wind SW Strong.
Deal boat and 4 hands come alongside.
Reported vessel ashore East Goodwin sands.
While getting anchor up saw another Tug with Deal boat astern, making for South Sand Light ship. Only one chance of getting there just is to cross the Sand by the Scotch way. The Deal Coxswain assures me he had been through it many times. Consult chart and state of tides I decide to risk the passage.
By careful navigation succeed in getting through. Find a Schooner ashore head on bumping heavily and leaking badly. The Captain anxious to take our assistance, also the 4 Deal boatmen. They get onboard, help at the pump and getting our tow rope fastened. We then towed her off the Sands and proceeded toward south Goodwin Lightship. The other Tug met us and offered assistance but was too late. We docked the Schooner safely in Dover Harbour. She was loaded with Cochineals and other valuable cargo.
No2             Anchored in Eat Bay, Dungeness.
        Gale of wind SW with rain and squalls.
A French Barque also at anchor in the outer roadstead making very heavy weather of it. So much so I decided to hold on for a time to see what happened, and just before dark saw she hoisted a signal for assistance. We got under way immediately. But the ship had parted from her anchors and while they tried to      the ship under fore and aft canvas to get her head up channel she refused to answer to her helm and headed straight for the ?Road Sand and very nearly collided with us and struck the ground before we could help. We approached her with difficulty as the great waves were breaking over her badly and pounding to such an extent that I expected the Master and tackle to go by the board. At the third attempt we managed to throw our small line on board. They hauled our hawser in and made fast (110 fathom of steel wire and ten fathom of Bass rope). By manoeuvering carefully we went ahead drew it taught without breaking it. Then under full head of steam went full speed ahead and as the tide was rising, in about one hour we pulled her off and started up channel. The Captain of the ship wished to get to London for new anchors and windlass. We had got past Dover and making toward the N.E. Buoy of Margate when the wind shifted to the north with a blizzard of hail and howling storm of wind causing the rope to part at the ships bows and she went drifting down channel again under base poles.
    We were left with 120 fathom of rope hanging behind and a heavy sea running and only three men available to get it on board which took a lot of time. It was very dark but we could just see the ships flares. We raced after her and got to her off Folkestone. She was getting near the Varne Sand. But we got one hawser made fast again and after many hours hard towing we got under the lea of the Admiralty Pier Dover and held her there the rest of the night. The next day the weather moderated somewhat and we succeeded in towing her safely to Gravesend. The Captains wife and child were on board. The Captain was very grateful for our service.
No3             Cruising in the Downs.
        Wind SW strong to a gale.
    Many ships returning for shelter here. About midday one of the China Clippers in doing so got into trouble as she came round head to wind. Her anchor dragged and when it held her stern was foul of a brig lying there, carrying away the brigs bow sprit.
We went to the ship and offered our assistance, found that her Windlass was badly damaged. Ultimately agreed to pull her clear and tow her to London. But unfortunately in manoeuvering out tug to get the tow rope aboard in the heaving sea running her jib boom caught in the stays of our funnels and ripped them overboard. We were now in trouble also. Another tug was soon on the spot, and had his hawser fast. But so soon as he pulled the Clipper to the westward we found that the brigs cable was entangled with the ships rudder. I consulted our engineer. He reported it possible for us to make steam enough for half speed without the funnels. I then hailed the brig and advised the Captain to slip his anchor and cable and let me tow him to Dover.
    He soon agreed to this and we succeeded in docking her safely in Dover Harbour. It was an uncanny job. The smoke and flare form the boilers smothering us all the time. We were all as black as niggers by when we got there.
The Captain of the tug added this typical P Script to his owners. Will you send a Tug to tow us home or shall I order new funnels at Dover. Consider it too risky to steam back. Weather still wild.
For the No1 salvage the owners were awarded 400.0.0 For the No2 salvage 2500.0.0 For No3 150.0.0
There are many details and thrilling accounts of the interesting and adventurous life of the old time Tug men who went seeking for their livelihood I have had to leave unmentioned.
But I must close with the thought Do we build such a fine type of Sailor man these days. And regrets that they and those splendid Paddle Tugs like the white winged Windjammers are but a sweet memory of the past.
Above text courtesy of Catherine Allcott which will find a permanent home on the EARLY OWNERS heading page as an explanation of seeking.

Photo Malcolm Cranfield
Photo Malcolm Cranfield

Another biographical gem from Kevin Haydon concerning Robert Andrews, the first skipper of the Conqueror [1897]
Robert Andrews Born Gravesend c 1859 Died Gravesend c 1945
Robert Andrews was the son of Suffolk sea captain George Andrews who was master of the vessel
Greek Slave.  When the ship called at Gravesend during the 1861 Census young Bob, his older sister
Caroline and his mother were among those on board, so his life on the Thames went back to his
earliest days.
His first experience of tugs seems to have been on the Undaunted, a Barker tug.  He moved on to
tugs run by J F Gibb and later to the Gamecock firm, all of which had connections with the Holland
family. Andrews had recently married when Gamecock tugs started in 1880 and he joined the tug
that gave the firm its name in that year as mate under his friend and skipper Edward Martin. When
Captain Martin transferred to the second Gamecock in 1883 Andrews went with him and was soon
given his own chance as skipper in the Bantam Cock. He moved to the Gamecock and in 1886 he
took over from William Mastin as master of the Woodcock of 1884, a tug partly designed by Richard
Holland, one of the owners and an early subscriber to the Gamecock concern.  It was in the
Woodcock that “Peppermint Bob” cemented his reputation as a tug man and made a good deal of
money for the firm and for himself, joining Richard Holland and other river men as an investor. Much
of the towage and salvage work involved sailing ships, but a nice fee was earned from the Harrison
steamer Dictator. Andrews decided to move on when he obtained his master’s certificate in 1893,
fortune favouring him as he sold his share in the Woodcock shortly before the tug sank carrying no
insurance.  The Woodcock was at Gravesend when the 1891 Census was taken and those on board
were: - Robert Andrews (captain), Edward Gale, (mate), George Giles, (seaman), Frank Black,
(engineer), Walter Tolhurstand John Thompson, (firemen) and William Livett (boy).
Andrews joined tugs owned by the family of the pilot William Sandford that were used as tugs and
excursion vessels (the excursion business being run with Dick & Page) taking over first the Conqueror
of 1890 and then, after a brief stint in the Mitchell tug Cleveland of 1894, the replacement
Conqueror of 1897, this being the last paddle tug ordered by Thames owners.  In her first season the
1897 Conqueror attended the fleet review at Spithead that also celebrated Queen Victoria’s Diamond
Jubilee, carrying 22,000 passengers around Spithead and Southampton Water.  Captain Andrews
continued carrying passengers in the ensuing summers and also contrived to get a lot of salvage work
in the winter months before moving to the “Belle” coastal passenger steamers.  During his time with
them he obtained a licence for pilotage, a similar career path to Captain Charles Haill.  The
Conqueror of 1897, known as the” Dungeness Ghost” because of her light grey paintwork and the
frequency with which she worked the area, proved lucky for a number of other masters before she
was sold away from the Thames.
Captain Andrews worked as a pilot during the First World War and on into the 1920’s before retiring.
His son also became a pilot, this time after an apprentice-ship at sea in full-rigged ships, and I believe
one of his daughters married a pilot, a member of the Holland family.  Captain Andrews and his wife
lived for many years at “The Reculvers” in Kent Road where they celebrated their Diamond Wedding
anniversary shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.    

19-7-2018 New message in MESS ROOM 2018 Please help if you can.
All the crew pictures have now been transferred from the Flickr Gallery to this site. The other albums will remain on Flickr until they too are transferred. If a crew photo or comment you submitted have disappeared during the transition my apologies and please feel free to re-submit. Many Thanks.

A couple of pics and a comment kindly supplied by Kevin Haydon
CONTEST 1931 Photo K Haydon colln.
 Contest 1931 - Not quite identical to Challenge. There were operational difficulties when Challenge came under management of Ship Towage as engine-room telegraph repeater moved in opposite direction to all other tugs. Remedied by fitting mirror relief engineer for the use of. I don't know if it is still in place. - Kevin Haydon

Contest [1931] in later life as Italian owned Vesuvius. Photo K Haydon colln.

A couple of interesting Pics kindly sent by Mike Houckham. This first one shows Cervia towing The Bounty out of Ramsgate Harbour.
Pic courtesy Mike Houckham. Photog unknown.
Another view of Ramsgate from Mike H. Simla is against the wall with another Watkins tug astern of her. However the Watkins tug centre right is the intriguing one. I think this is in fact Rumania [1] ex Dreadful. If so this dates the pic 1920-1923. Probably 1923 when she was laid up at Ramsgate pending sale, eventually returning to the West Coast of Canada from whence she came originally. Other opinions gratefully received.

Anyone know anything about these two  piccies.  Ship is Stricks Tangistan, looks to be aground as does tug alongside. Photos from Patsy Davis colln
27-3-2018;  Re: TANGISTAN. Ship grounded off Canvey Island 14th March 1951. Refloated by CONTEST, SUN V. SUN XI and SUN XVI.
Cheers, John Grainger.

30-4-2018 the last photos from patsy davis after ship runs aground of canvey is a man standing aft cabin with cap on and sweat rag round neck is my dad jim cheeseman or chas as they called him fireman very good pic - William Cheeseman

Another photo from the collection of the late Patrick 'Patsy' Davis.
12-02-2018 David Brown advises -  This was a trial single point mooring for BP in the Nore anchorage similar to the SPM on the Humber at Tetney. It wasn’t a success and ended its days at North Woolwich just above the KG entrance. The photo is probably taken from SUN XIX or SUN XX.

Photos K Haydon coll
7--2016 Thorunn Green in Iceland is asking if anyone out there can name any of these guys or even hazard a guess as to which vessel the pic was taken on. She thinks there may be a possibility that the guy second left in the white shirt may be her father, Harry Green. Any thoughts, however vague you may think, would be appreciated.
18-02-2017 - re c247 The man second left is my uncle Fred. No notation on photo, but from his age and the fact that all personnel look roughly same age it was probably taken at end of war or late 40's. Kevin Haydon.

More 1950'ish crew photo's from Kevin Haydon. C246 and C247 possibly taken on Muria or Racia. Any Identities appreciated.


 This is believed to be Captain George Lowe of the Simla. Photo K Haydon colln.

[I know of at least one person out there who should be able to confirm or deny this!]
3-10-2013 hi pete, sadly but most definitely, its not my grandfather george lowe, but a great picture nonetheless , so the question now is, who is it. maybe its georges brother arthur !, but i have never seen a photo of arthur, who died on the bridge of the muria. -  mike houckham
Come on old hands ----I need your help again!!!!!
8-10-2013 C245 2nd left = Fred Morgan i think. - Nolly Harvey
13-10-2013 - Pete, hi looks like the skipper in picture C245 and C244 are the same person??
Cheers, John Grainger.