Lock and Key of the Kingdom

The Castalia

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Image:  The 'Castalia'.
The 'Castalia'.

The ‘Castalia’ was named after Lady Granville who launched the ship in June 1874. It was designed by Captain Dicey who was convinced of the trustworthiness and stability of the catamaran design, based on his observations of native canoes and catamarans while he was Harbour Master in Calcutta.

The ship was in effect two half hulls joined together by girders and with paddle wheels between the hulls. She was the largest ship yet built for the Channel service, measuring some 290ft by 60ft with a gross tonnage of 1,553. It was her unusually wide beam that Captain Dicey hoped would be the answer to the problems of seasickness that plagued cross-Channel passengers. The ‘Castalia’ was designed to carry 700 passengers and, because manoeuvring in Calais harbour was so difficult, the ship was double ended so that it would be unnecessary to turn round.

Although the ‘Castalia’ was owned by the English Channel Steamship Company, the London, Chatham and Dover Railway encouraged them and were keen to monitor performance. She arrived in Dover in October 1874 but had to return to London the following month to have new boilers and paddles fitted as her speeds on trial were nothing like as high as were expected.

In June 1875 she returned to Dover and her first crossing to Calais was encouraging enough for her to start a regular service in August. Her crossing speeds were still far too slow, which meant that she had to leave Dover or Calais before the arrival of the mail train, causing passengers wishing to travel on the ship considerable inconvenience. She thus carried fewer passengers than she might otherwise have done and was not a financial success. After a short working life she was withdrawn at the end of October 1876 and, after a few years lying idle, she was sold in 1883 and ended her days as a hospital for infectious diseases on the Thames.




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