15th June 1937 Duke of Devonshire

Duke of Devonshire was scheduled to make her first trip of the 1937 season on Tuesday 15th June with a departure from Torquay at 10.30am for the three and a half hour or so cruise along the Devon coast and round Start Point to Plymouth. Departure from Plymouth was scheduled for 4.15pm, the fare was 5/6 and she as due back at Torquay at 8pm.

That looks to me to be a pretty tight schedule for what was a long cruise of more than 40 nautical miles each way along a pretty exposed bit of coast and which would have needed the Duke to crack on making at least 12 knots over the ground to achieve it. She was capable of that sort of speed through the water so these timings were easily achievable with favourable tides but on days when she was punching a tide running at 2 or so knots against her, it must have been hard particularly if there was any sort of wind. For comparison, when the Princess Elizabeth ran this trip in the 1960 season she often took four and a half hours for the run from Torquay to Plymouth when the tide was against her and she was a ship of broadly similar speed to the Duke.

You will see that the steamer notice advertises “Cold Luncheons may be had on board”.  Note that it says “may be had” rather than “can be had” which is a subtle but intentional choice of words. Like all the other excursion paddle steamers of yesteryear Duke of Devonshire had woefully inadequate dining saloon facilities to service the inner needs of all but a relatively small percentage of the ship’s full capacity. And her galley, which was in the sponson on the port side just aft of the paddle wheel, was tiny. So on these long day trips to Plymouth passengers “may” have been able to take lunch aboard if they were amongst the lucky minority who could be fitted into the dining saloon and it would have to have been a cold dinner.

On her return to Torquay that day the Duke was rostered for an “Evening Cruise in Torbay” leaving at 8.15pm, back at 10pm and priced at 1/-

Duke of Devonshire steamer notice 1937.

Duke of Devonshire steamer notice 1937.

Built in 1896 the Duke of Devonshire and her sister the Duchess of Devonshire of 1894 were the mainstay of paddle steamer excursions along the Devon Coast from Exmouth and Torquay from the mid 1890s up to the 1930s when competition from smaller and more economical motor launches running local trips and the general economic depression dented their trade. This difficult commercial situation was not helped by both Cosens of Weymouth and  P & A Campbell trying to muscle in on their market from Torquay at various times. The Duchess was first withdrawn in 1930 leaving the Duke to carry on alone until 1932 when she too was withdrawn and sold first to P & A Campbell who then resold her for service from in Cork in Ireland. The Duchess re-appeared on her old routes in 1933 in private ownership but survived for just two seasons eventually coming to grief on the beach at Sidmouth in August 1934.

For 1935 there were no paddle steamer trips from Torquay so it was good news when the Duke was brought back to revive her old excursions by Mr Alexander Taylor in 1936. The following year the Duke was re-registered in Southampton, given a red, instead of buff funnel and was run “under the personal supervision of Capt J R Radley” according to the steamer notices. This operation was not a success and in 1938 the Duke was sold to Cosens of Weymouth.

On the trip to Plymouth on 15th June 1937 all that lay ahead and none of the passengers aboard that day could have foreseen that Duke of Devonshire would be given a new lease of life and renamed the Consul would remain in operational condition based at Weymouth for a further twenty seven years right up to 1964.

John Megoran

John Megoran

December 2021