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The first steam ship to reach Exeter

Back to historic events in Exeter

On the 20 September 1840, the steamship Alert became the first to travel up the Exeter ship canal and dock in the canal basin. Steam ships were still very uncommon at this time, so a large crowd turned out to watch the event. Trewman's Exeter Flying Post reported on the event thus:

"THE ARRIVAL OF A STEAMER AT EXETER QUAY.-On Sunday evening last, the Alert steam vessel, worked through our Canal, and came to the Quay. As her progress was observed, so did numbers increase to witness so novel a sight; and the assemblage of persons became at length very great. She is built of iron, and a fine vessel of her class. She is 90 feet in length, about 23 feet in width, and of 30 horse power. She is 22 tons burthen, and draws 2½ feet of water. Numerous have been the persons who have visited her since her arrival, and we understand she is intended to run between this city, Starcross, and Exmouth; which will not only offer a means of pleasure to all, but in other respects prove a great public accommodation.  We hear this vessel leaves the Quay to-morrow (Thursday) morning, at 9 o'clock, for Exmouth, and we wish the spirited proprietor a large company of passengers, and otherwise a full freight."

There was also a long editorial in the same issue about the spread of steam for powering ships and the railways. This is a small extract which illustrates how the Victorians viewed the wonder of the age, much as we view digital technology and the internet.

"And who will say where this shall cease? Regarded as affecting the material condition of man, the steam-engine has no rival. By its means an extension of commercial relations will be produced - a community of interests will be generated - channels will be opened, thriough which information and knowledge will pass - a stimulus will be given to civilization - morals will be elevated, and taste cultivated."
The author obviously expected a lot from the steam engine!

Sources - Trewmans Exeter Flying Post from 1840.

The modern canal basin The modern canal basin where the Alert docked.

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