It’s fairly well-known that the first steam trawler was a converted tug – and that North Shields can claim to be her home. The tug, Messenger, was owned by William Purdy, and in 1877 he decided to fit his tug out as a trawler – with resounding success. Messenger cost £19.10s to outfit as a beam trawler and on her first fishing trip made £7.10s on her catch, with a further £5 for towing another ship back into to harbour. In today’s money thats about £1000 to outfit her and around £600 takings on her first day. Not too shabby… Needless to say, it didn’t take too long for everybody else to catch on, with 53 trawler-tugs registered by 1878. The value of tugs peaked in the decade following Purdy’s actions, becoming quite valuable for their fishing potential. They had a limited reach due to their coal consumption, making them near-shore trawlers.
But tugs as trawlers were the gateway to the first purpose built steam trawlers. in 1880 the first steam-assisted sailing smack was built, followed in 1881 by the aptly named Pioneer in 1881. Pioneer was built in Hull at was has then a ground+breaking 28.6meters. Pioneer was not alone for long, as within months the Aries and the Zodiac were launched from Grimsby, built for the newly formed North Sea Steam Trawling Company. It was less than a decade later that otter trawls became the next technological leap to drastically alter the fishing fleet once again – but that’s a subject for another bog entry.
The last of the trawler-tugs was the Constance, who ran aground and was wrecked in 1910 near Hartlepool. Built in 1882 by Jos. T. Eltringham & Co., South Shields, her last owner was George A. Smith of Scarborough. The first, Messenger, was the tip of the iceberg for William Purdy, who built up a fleet of steam trawlers which operated until the 1960’s.
On a cherrful note, the port of Hamburg conducts a tugboat ballet every year, to celebrate the anniversary of the port. It lasts for around an hour, while several tugboats perform a choreographed routine to some waltzes.