Belief in Steamers: Making Trustworthy the Iron Steamship

  • Ben Marsden
  • Crosbie Smith


Carnot’s optimistic appraisal of the civilising and enlightening power of steamships serves as an appropriate epigraph for a chapter on steam at sea in an age of Victorian empire. Thirty years on, however, his faith that steam-powered vessels ‘lessened the dangers of voyages’ would have rung hollow. The year 1854 was a disastrous one both for transatlantic steamships and for iron sailing ships out of Liverpool. On 1 March the iron screw steamer City of Glasgow, constructed on the River Clyde by Tod & Macgregor four years earlier to their own account and now owned by the ambitious Inman Line of Liverpool, left her home port with some 480 passengers and crew bound for Philadelphia. She never arrived. No trace was ever found of a vessel much admired as the exemplar of progress and economy compared to the generously subsidised wooden paddle steamers of the Collins and Cunard lines. Six months later, her larger consort, City of Philadelphia, ran ashore near Cape Race, Newfoundland, on her maiden voyage from Liverpool, leaving Inman with just one ship. Then, on 27 September as the BAAS was in full session in the fresh neoclassical splendour of St George’s Hall, Liverpool, the Collins Line steamship Arctic foundered with the loss of perhaps as many as 350 passengers and crew after colliding with a small French steamer near the same cape.2


Heat Engine Steam Engine East India Company Naval Architect Sailing Ship 
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Copyright information

© Ben Marsden and Crosbie Smith 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ben Marsden
    • 1
  • Crosbie Smith
    • 2
  1. 1.University of AberdeenUK
  2. 2.University of KentUK

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