Copied HOME      UNITED S. T. CO. LTD.




Page last updated 20-9-2012

A Brief history of the company very kindly compiled and supplied by Kevin Haydon.
The concern was started by a group of watermen/pilots, Trinity House pilots and local businessmen, the watermen being mainly concerned with berthing, docking and other river related ship-handling activity.The Gravesend riverside was a small place in those days, so these people would have been neighbours and friends and would have family as well as business connections. Fred Pattison, one of the people involved in the early days of the syndicate, was a waterman and river pilot for the British India Company. His family had worked on the river for many years. Other members of the family were involved in the business.
As Fred became known on the river and in business circles, he started to act as a name, in the purchase of tugs on behalf of syndicates of investors and also investing his own money. Sometimes these transactions were of a short term nature as when one syndicate got into financial difficulties and wished to transfer boats to other names before they were sold off; sometimes the tugs were acquired and run in the normal way. Tugs such as the George Peabody and the small screw tug Pilot of which Fred was the nominal owner, were not held long enough to be particularly associated with him. The George Peabody (named after the American philanthropist) and the Lord Warden were iron paddle tugs of very similar specifications built by Readhead Softley for people connected with the Black Ball syndicate. The George Peabody came to the Thames in 1867 for a syndicate headed by Mr Homewood, the auctioneer of Harmer Street, Gravesend. In 1871 she went to Joseph Martin, pilot and managing partner of Black Ball Tugs and when that group got into difficulties she went in 1879 to Thomas Bank, a channel pilot, before coming to Fred ad being sold away from the Thames in 1885. The Lord Warden was acquired by Joseph Martin in 1868, went to Homewood in 1874, to Banks in 1879 and to Fred in 1886 under whose name she ran until 1895 when she too was sold.
The Prince of 1859 was a double engined wooden paddle tug built at Rye, originally acquired by the Spicer family of Bermondsey and later Gravesend and was like many of their boats run as part of the fleet of Barkers of Wapping. Spicers kept her until 1874 when she went to Hull for a short time before returning to Gravesend in the hands of S.H.Oates and members of his family until 1882 when Ebenezer Edwards and a group of friends, including Fred, got her and ran her until 1895. (Albert Pattison, b1862 was apprenticed as a waterman to Ebenezer Edwards). Mr Edwards later gave up his interest in the tug to take over the Ship Inn in Bath Street. Her captains include Fred Spicer, Richard Holland senior of the well known river family, in 1868, Edwards himself and Burrell. In view of Fred’s interest she did a lot of work for British India boats. She was once run down at her moorings at Blackwall, but survived to work another day and was generally considered fortunate in the way of salvage and other work coming her way. She  kept going until 1912. All three paddle tugs mentioned were sold to owners in the north-east for further service.
Although paddle tugs continued to be used on the Thames, owners were looking at more economical screw vessels and one group, at the time mostly made up of pilots, decided to act in concert, taking their business name from the first tug they acquired in 1880, the Gamecock, which bore the familiar light blue funnel with black top. George Smith, the pilot for the Dundee Perth and London shipping line, had been acting in a similar way to Fred and he seems to have been the prime mover in persuading other syndicate members to follow the lead of the Gamecock people. In this case they chose to paint their tugs in the colours of an important customer, which were already known on the river, so the black funnel with two white rings of British India gave the fleet its familiar appellation of “Ring Tugs”. The first tug to be so regarded was the screw tug Dorunda of 1890, George Smith being one of the registered owners. The first master of the Dorunda was Captain Hayward who had been with the Black Ball tugs. He invested money in the new concern, but did not stay long before moving into the pilotage service. Nicknamed “the Dutchman’s Shoe” the Dorunda was not a large tug, but even so, was not very handy, to judge from her unenviable record of knocks. The most serious of which, a collision with the Australia of Watkins fleet which seems to have had an equally bad reputation for knocks, led to her being beached. When new she towed the clipper Salamis from Portland to Gravesend in twenty seven and a half hours and during her time she worked around the coast on salvage and cable laying jobs. In 1893, towing a ship to Dunkirk in heavy seas she shed her propeller off the Isle of Wight. The master Captain Holland, and three crew rowed to St. Catherine’s point to telegraph for assistance. The Dunera came down, found her and towed her back to Gravesend.
The Dunera was the second Ring Tug, known as the “Switch-back Railway” because of her tendency to lift her stern and was usually run heavily ballasted to counteract this. A small tug, intended for river work, she had a heavy job of it after the First World War when employed towing coal lighters from the north-east to France. One of these lighters, sadly, was the stripped down hull of the Anglia.
The Dilwara was the third Ring tug, slightly larger, and regarded as a good sea boat if rather underpowered (she had the same triple expansion engine as Dick & Page’s Warrior of 1895) and she did quite a lot of work in the Channel, salving the baroque Fulda on her maiden trip. The tug was sold to Italy during a lull in business in 1906, becoming the Pietro Micca.
In 1894 Robert Edwards, a waterman and pilot and his brother-in-law George Parkinson acquired, with other investors, the screw tug Premier and she was run on the Thames until 1917. The owners described themselves rather  grandly as the Premier Towing Company and when George Braine the pilot was involved she carried colours reflecting his interests, but Mr Parkinson had close connections with the Gravesend United people and did a lot of work with them so the tug is best remembered carrying two white rings on her funnel. She was one of the few thus left on the Thames in 1914 after the navy requisitioned so many others, so did an enormous amount of work in her last three years before being sold, again to the north-east.
The Britannia was a small tug built for A. J. Walker in 1887 and then laid-up. George Smith saw an opportunity to get her for a good price and she proved very useful to the business. Sadly she was run down by the sludge carrier Bazalgette in Northfleet Hope in 1909 (it is thought that the tide caught the bow of the vessel as she came downstream and carried her into the path of the tug going upstream) with the loss of five crew, George Jeffrey, Ernest Towe, Ben Thomas, William Pridmore and Henry Livett, just the captain, James Curtis, and the young mate, Frank Box, being saved. The tug was salvaged, later coming into the ownership of Etheridge under whose colours she ran for a good number of years.
The Florida was similar in size and power to the tugs Empire and Commonwealth of the Empire Towing Company and like the Dorunda could show a fair turn of speed. She did a lot of sailing ship work as well as some salvage jobs. In addition she acted as a yacht tender, for some years attending races not only round the British coast but on occasion venturing over to Germany for the big meetings organized for the Kaiser. For this work her funnel would be painted yellow to give a more yacht like appearance. In later life on the Mersey she was, like many tugs of her age, fitted with a larger funnel.
The Doralia, named after Doris and Alice, daughter and wife of one of the owners, was built at the outbreak of the First World War, so had little chance to establish a name for herself before being taken into government service. She spent a good deal of the war at Le Havre before returning to the Thames, where by this time her owners interests mainly lay.
The Commonwealth had been built for the Empire Towing Company in 1902, transferred to the Gamecock company in 1907 who ran her pre and post war until they acquired the New Stormcock in 1921 when she went into Gravesend United colours, although her captains, Miller and Cole, ran her pretty much independently. When she was in the hands of the Empire Towing Company she did work for Tilbury Dredging and Harry Jewiss was one of her skippers before he transferred to Tilbury Dredging’s own fleet, becoming senior master of the Danube tugs in 1930.
The Tamesa was the first post war tug of the fleet and Albert Pattison had a hand in her design. I suspect he was influenced by the design and impact of the Empire Towing’s Dominion in choosing her lines aft and oval funnel. In the event the Tamesa did not match the speed of the Dominion, but impressed by her handiness and the ability to get the best out of her compound engines and the tug was used as the basis for the Dilwara and the Dongara. Like a number of tugs built for pilot syndicates the master’s accommodation was forward and included a large saloon that was appreciated by pilots going out to, or waiting for ships and led to some contract work such as standing in for the Trinity House pilot boat at Harwich when it was off for re-fit.
The economic depression at the end of the 1920’s was a blow to tug owners, but lower prices encouraged them to order new boats and Ring Tugs joined in with the Dilwara in  1930 and the Dongara in 1932. These were improved versions of the Tamesa, their triple expansion engines rating them between the much larger Gondia and Challenge types. Accommodation for the crew aft was somewhat cramped, but as compensation they were regarded as the easiest tugs to fire and the tugs were not expected to work away.
At this date A. A. Tadhunter was acting as manager of the syndicate. In his time he had been pilot for C P R, Elder Dempster, Port Line and United States Lines and on his death in 1945 he was senior river pilot. As the new boats became available the Dorunda and Florida were sold to Lamey of Liverpool and the Commonwealth to Roberts of Bristol, ending up with Reynolds of Torpoint, Cornwall. Ring Tugs still had a reasonable business and were able to make a return to investors, but the general outlook in the 1930’s was not good. A major customer, Atlantic Transport, disposed of its fleet in 1934 (at one time Mr Lardner was I think pilot for the National Line and the Atlantic Transport ships. He had the reputation of the most reckless man on the river. Bearing in mind the competition he must have been quite scary to work with) and although British India ordered two new motor ships in 1936 (the Dilwara changed her name to Dendera to release the name for one of the ships, the other being the Dunera) the good news was tempered by the fact that the ships were built as passenger/troopships in the light of the deteriorating international situation. In view of this, together with the decision of British India and P&O to further consolidate their interests in June 1937, following the original merger in 1914, the owners were persuaded that they had no future as an independent concern and their tugs were taken over by William Watkins (who had the P&O business and worked with Ring Tugs to a degree). Ring Tugs continued to run in their own colours until 1938 when both the tug names and colours were changed.
My father joined the Dongara in January 1938 when the crew included Harry Aldrich as captain, Fred Morgan deck-hand, (he later became a skipper) Charles Connelly, engineer, (his brother Tom, who had been on the Doralia, was engineer of the Dilwara) and my father’s cousin, Stan Merton, fireman (he started on the Tamesa and later became an engineer). One of the last jobs carried out in Ring Colours by the Dongara was attending the Cutty Sark, taking visitors to and from the famous clipper when the Muria under captain James Walker brought her round from Falmouth in June 1938. My father was still on the Dongara then and by coincidence Tom Connelly’s son, Bill, who had started on the Dongara a couple of years before, was on the Muria.
The Second World War was momentous for Thames tugs and the former Ring Tugs and that story has been written elsewhere, but the loss by mine with all hands of the Doralia (as the Napia) on 17th December 1939 and burning-out of the Dongara (as the Persia) on the 9th April 1941, again with the loss of all hands should be mentioned. The Doralia was crewed by Charles Blake(captain), Fred Girling (mate), C Gwalton(2nd mate), R J Bradbrooke (engineer), C P Jones (2nd engineer), T W Connelly and W Tillman (firemen) and W Bird (cook), while the Dongara was crewed by H Aldrich (captain), H Waters (mate), C Connelly (engineer), K Lynds (cook), and J May and J Body. The young “Ginger” Lynds had always wanted to go to sea. Sadly, his first step was to join the Dongara from school on the 9th April, so his career lasted less than one day. T W Connelly was the son of Tom Connelly. Another son, Kenneth, died when the Security sank in December 1946. The Dongara was put back in service in 1943, being renamed Muria in 1946. The Tamesa as the Cervia was sold in 1946 to help pay for new tugs. The Dilwara and the Dongara as the Racia and Muria continued until 1967 when both were scrapped.
Please note that the history above kindly supplied by Kevin Haydon should not be reproduced in any form without his permission. 
Photog unknown

Built 1887 by Harvey & Co Ltd., Hayle, Cornwall. Iron Screw Tug. L80.0'. B17.1'. D9.6'. 76grt. 90nhp 2cyl compound steam engine by builder. Acquired 1896. Disposed 1929. Scrapped 1951. ON94289.
1887 Delivered to Andrew James Walker,  Wapping, London. 1895 owner  Andrew John Walker,  Wapping. 1896 Sold to Gravesend United Steam Tug Co. Ltd.,  Gravesend. 29-8-1909  Sunk following collision in Long Reach with London County Council sludge steamer Bazalgette. Five crew lost. Salved and returned to service.  1929 Sold to C. & A. Etheredge Ltd., Limehouse. 1936 Owners Etheredge's Transport & Shipping Agency Ltd., London. 1941 Owners  Greenhithe Lighterage Co Ltd., Greenhithe, Kent.  1951 Scrapped.
See COMMONWEALTH in Gamecock S. T. Co. List.
Photo Gould colln/TT
 Built 1895 by J.P. Rennoldson & Sons Ltd., South Shields. YN 166. Steel screw tug. L95.4'. B20.2'. D11.2'. 134grt. 26nrt. 450ihp 3cyl TE 13.5"x22"x36"x24"s steam engine by builder. Acquired 1895. Disposed 1905.
10-1895 Delivered to United Steam Tug Co Ltd,  London. 30-4-1898 Towed disabled ketch barge Lord Beresford into Dover Harbour. 10-12-1899 £800 salvage award for assistance to collision damaged SS Lisa near Varne light vessel. 1905 Owners Impresa Gius. Fogliotti,  Naples,  renamed Pietro Micca. 191? Requisitioned as auxiliary minesweeper. 193? Owner  Giuseppe Merlino, Naples. 12-10-1943 Req by UK Admiralty for Mediterranean service as auxiliary minesweeper. 16-1-1946 Returned to owners. 1952 Converted to oil-fired boiler.  196?  Owner Francesco Merlino, Naples. 197? Owners Societa Armamento Gestione Navi Agenzia Marittima Srl.,  Naples. 1993 Preserved by a group of volunteers. 1996 Owners Associazione Amici delle navi a vapore Gianluca Spinelli, and  restored by Tecnomar,  Fiumicino. 2006 For sale. 2012 Preserved in Italy.

For details see Racia [2] in Watkins fleet list.
Photo STL colln
Photog unknown
For details see Persia [2] in Watkins fleet list.
For details see Napia [1] in Watkins fleet list.
Built 1890 by Steward and Latham Ltd., Blackwall. Iron screw tug, L85'2". B19'1".  D10'2". 102grt. 70nhp 2cyl 17"x32"x24"s compound steam engine by Ross and Duncan Ltd., Glasgow.  Acquired 1890. Disposed 1929. Scrapped 1948. ON98096. Callsign LSKJ later MQFZ.

5-1890 Delivered to Gravesend United Towing Co Ltd., Gravesend. 27-12-1891. Damaged in collision with SS Manora off Gravesend. 6-6-1895 Damaged and beached in sinking condition off Royal Albert Dock after collision with tug Australia. 21-6-1896 Damaged in collision with Lord of the Isles off Gravesend. 5-11-1896 Damaged in collision with SS Massachusetts, Gravesend Reach. 9-2-1900 Collided with SS Hurona in Long Reach. 21-5-1900 Damaged after colliding with tug W R Cunis at Gravesend. 19-6-1901 Bow damaged following collision with SS Artois, off Gravesend. 15-8-1914 Hired by Army. 15-8-1919 Returned to owners. 4-1929 Sold to S.A. Portus, Garston. 10-1933 Sold to J.H. Lamey Ltd., Liverpool. 1944 Converted to coal barge. 1948 Scrapped by V. Sellars, Tranmere.
Photo Gould colln/TT
Built 1892 by Hepple and Co., North Shields. Iron screw tug. L86'. B19.1'. D9.9'. 91grt. 80nhp 2cyl compound 17"x32"x24"s steam engine by builder. Acquired 1892. Disposed 1922. Scrapped 1937. ON99078.
24-5-1892 Running acceptance trials from West Pier, Gravesend with Captain Mason plus 60 guests. 5-1892 Delivered to Gravesend United S. T. Co., Gravesend. 1922 Sold to Coulson Tug Co. Ltd., Newcastle. 3-1926 Sold for £2000 to Blyth Tug Co Ltd. 1937  Renamed Dunera II. 12-1937 Sold for £300 to Clayton and Davies Ltd, Dunston, for scrap.
Photog A Duncan
Built 1902 by Hepple & Co Ltd., South Shields. YN 534. Iron Screw Tug.  L95'6". B19'7". D10'9". 114grt. 4 nrt.
 98nhp 2cyl 18"x38"x25"s compound steam engine by builder. Acquired 1902. Disposed 1933. Scrapped 1956. ON115929. Callsign TSDW later MFTN.

20-9-1902 Launched. 11-1902 Delivered to United Steam Tug Co. Ltd.,  London. 8-1905 Attending Channel swimmers at Dover. 15-8-1914 Req for  War Office service at Boulogne. 12-8-1919 Returned to owner.  17-10-1932 Sustained damage after cable ship Monarch collided with her near Tripcock Point. 1933 Sold to J. H. Lamey Ltd., Liverpool. 1948 Rebuilt and modernised. 19-10-1956 Scrapped by Thomas W. Ward Ltd.,  Barrow.
For details see Cervia [1] in Watkins fleet list.