1851 – Rare Scottish Auction Broadside for Packet Ship Schooner

Rare Auction Broadside
“Stranded Vessel for Sale”

 Packet Ship Schooner
Stranded at Treacherous Beamer Rock
Historic Dalgety Bay in Fife


Glasgow, 1 November 1851. Packet ship broadside for the auction sale of Glasgow schooner called ‘London Packet’ to take place six days after this announcement, on 7 November 1851, in the harbour of the historic seaport village of St. David’s situated very near to Inverkeithing, Fife. 8vo. Single leaf printed document, watermarked, measuring approximately 28 x 20 cm. Slight creasing, one unobtrusive small chip to lower margin, otherwise in Very Good condition, presenting an exceptionally rare example of an in-situ auction for a vessel.

Lovely and rare broadside from Scotland during the Golden Age of Sail to announce the sale of a Scottish packet ship which had then been recently stranded on the notorious Beamer Rock. The public auction was to begin at noon, 7 November 1851, in the harbour where the vessel sat in situ, in the historic village of St. David’s.

The vessel was part of the early sailing fleet of William Sloan & Co., a notable Scottish firm established in 1825 and operating the largest fleet in Glasgow by 1848. The principle owners of the firm were Scottish chemist and industrialist Charles Tennant (1768-1838) who discovered bleaching powder and founded an industrial dynasty in Scotland, and his daughter’s son William Sloan who became a leading shipper.

If one entertains superstition, the name “London Packet” may have carried some misfortune in this fleet. Their first vessel to bear this name was a sloop built in 1825, one of the three original vessels invested in, and was lost at sea in 1835. “London Packet (2)” was the schooner described above, built in 1837 and evidently stranded at Beamer Rock in 1851. It is not known who purchased her at the auction, but in 1854 she was sold to a J. Barrie of Arbroath. Three years later on 27 July 1857 she was abandoned in the North Sea on a fateful passage from Stettin to Ipswich.

The origins of firm William Sloan & Co. date to 1825 when William Sloan, nephew of chemical manufacturer Charles Tennant, began transporting products for his uncle’s company St. Rollox Chemical Works. In 1825 a group of investors had purchased three ships to transport the products from this company to Glasgow to Newcastle, Hull and London. Presumably using the firm’s three vessels, Sloan operated his transport service under the name of St. Rollox Shipping Company. In 1831 William Sloan purchased a number of shares of his first ship, the Glasgow Packet.

In 1848, William Sloan and Charles Tennant joined in partnership and began trading as William Sloan & Co. to augment the fleet and expand cargo and passenger service. They operated a number of schooners and sloops such as London Packet [named here], Glasgow Packet, Hope, St Rollox, Charles Tennant, John Tennant, Ann Gibson, Thames, Christina, Countess of Mar, James Paxton, Mercury, Hull Packet, Gratitude, Sibella, and others. At the beginning of the 1840’s, the company owned and operated 15 vessels, and in 1848 they had the largest fleet in Glasgow, running 19 vessels.

In 1851, the company purchased its first steamship, which sailed between Glasgow and London until 1859. A weekly steamer service was introduced by the company in 1852, and in the same year the WS & Co. purchased the Thames and Clyde Screw Shipping Company. Several steam vessels would be purchased and put into operation in the 1850s and into the following decades. Contemporary to this document, circa 1851/52, William Sloan & Co. also became agents for the Glasgow Screw Steam Ship Company who were offering service between Glasgow and London. In 1858 Sloan added a service from Glasgow to Belfast, Britsol and Swansea. With the increase of steamships, the original fleet of sailing vessels was steadily reduced until the last one was sold in 1866. In 1891 the firm acquired Robert Henderson & Company of Belfast. William Sloan died in 1910, his own nephew George remaining as the last survivor of the original partners. Two ships were lost to enemy action during the Great War and by 1918 only six ships were owned. After the war, vessels were purchased and operations resumed in full force. More than a century after its founding, in 1958, William Sloan & Co. was purchased by Coast Lines Ltd.

Originally spelt “Bimar Rock”, a tower on Beamer Rock was built in 1826 on the small rocky hazardin the Firth of Forth between Lothian and Fife, close to Port Edgar, and guards the entrance to Rosyth dockyard and the inner Forth. Only 6 metres (20 feet) high, it was intended as a day marker as it could not accommodate a light keeper. The tower had a curved wave-washed design which had been used before on the more impressive Eddystone and Bell Rock Lighthouses. A fixed white light would be mounted on the tower in 1892, forty-one years after the above described nautical incident. The light was visible for 9 nautical miles. The tower was removed in 2011.

The development of the industrial harbour of St David’s began in 1752 when Sir Robert Henderson, laird of Fordell, purchased a small piece of ground facing the Firth of Forth where he built a harbour for exporting coal from his Fordell pits. A village subsequently emerged, which was called St Davids. In the late twentieth century, the village would be replaced with a new modernised town called Dalgety Bay. The latter was named for the true original village on the site, preceding the village of St David’s and built on the site of the 12th century St Bridget’s Kirk, and removed by order of the Earls of Moray towards the end of the 18th century. Today Dalgety Bay is a dormitory suburb of Edinburgh.

Less than 3 miles from St David’s [now Dalgety Bay] is Inverkeithing, a town in Fife, Scotland, located on the Firth of Forth.

Packet ships, packet liners, or simply packets, were sailing ships in the early 1800s which departed port on a regular schedule. The typical packet sailed between American and British ports, and the ships themselves were designed for the North Atlantic, where storms and rough seas were common. The first of the packet lines was the Black Ball Line, which began sailing between New York City and Liverpool in 1818. The sail packets were eventually replaced by steamships, and the phrase “steam packet” became common in the mid-1800s. These were the predecessor to the fast and glamorous clipper ships.

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