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Dover: Lock and Key of the Kingdom

Early Cross-Channel Steamers

Until the early nineteenth century fast sailing vessels had  conveyed the mails and any passengers wanting to cross the  Channel.   Six years after the Battle of Waterloo the first vessel powered  by steam arrived at Dover. The paddle steamer ‘Rob Roy’  entered Dover Harbour on Sunday, 10 June 1821. She set out  on her first cross-Channel run to Calais on the morning of  Friday 15 June, but with very few passengers. The ‘Kentish  Chronicle’ reported with some glee that “those in the town  preferred the regular (sailing) packets”. Nor was the Post  Office convinced, and for some time continued to send the mail  by sailing ships. Five of these were employed at the time, three for Calais and two for Holland.   But very soon the ‘Rob Roy’ had won over the sceptics. In  August 1821 the ‘Kentish Chronicle’ swallowed its pride and  wrote:  “The ‘Rob Roy’ steam vessel continues to sail daily for France,  with a number of passengers and carriages far exceeding any  vessel in the employ”. The pages of the paper for the same  month also tell the story that “The ‘Rob Roy’ on her passage to Calais met the ‘Lord Duncan’ (Post Office sailing packet), Capt.  Hamilton, and the ‘Prince Leopold’, Capt. Rogers, and after  landing her freight at Calais, and taking on board passengers,  she came out again, and passed those vessels and reached  Dover long before them.” The superiority of steam soon wrought profound changes in the  mail packet fleet and the Post Office ordered two steam  packets of their own. The ‘Dasher’ was delivered in October  1821 and the ‘Arrow’ in January 1822.   Other owners followed suit and placed orders for steam ships.  By the end of 1826 the Post office had switched entirely to  steam power. For a good number of years yet sailing ships  continued to work across the Channel in association with steam ships but the writing was on the wall for sail.
Back to Ferries and Shipping Index The Sailing Packet 'King George'.  This ship was in service between Dover and Calais from 1813-1823 until she was out-paced by the steamships. An early paddle-steamer prepares to depart c.1830.  The large building on the quayside is the Customs House. The arrival of Prince Albert in 1840 for his marriage to Queen Victoria.  The Admiralty Steam Packet 'Ariel' was built as the Post Office Steam Packet 'Arrow' in 1822.