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'Celebrity' tugboat taken up the Tyne.

IN 1950, a Hollywood film star visited the Tyne, but she was in pretty bad shape and facing her final days - in fact it was a tugboat going by the name of Sabine.

Sabine was actually the tugboat used in the 1933 MGM smash hit film, Tugboat Annie, starring Marie Dressler, as well as the then very young Robert Young and Maureen O'Sullivan, who were to become big stars in their own right.

After her film career, she was bought by the Royal Navy and, by 1950, was facing her final days.

But her trip to the breakers yard of JJ King and Co, of Gateshead, was to be an adventure in the true Hollywood spirit.

Laid up after war service in Harwich, the old ship, which had been built in Baltimore, USA, in 1917, as the Freeport Sulphur II, was taken in to the Tyne, but ran into heavy seas.

By the time she berthed at Newcastle Quay there was five feet of water in the vessel, which had leaked through holes in the hull.

At the shipbreaking yard, auxiliary pumps had to be put on board and units of the fire service helped to reduce the water, which was estimated at 750 tons.

It was believed a few more hours at sea would have led to her foundering.

But, as fate would have it, this little former film star was broken up only yards from where the first ever steam tug began working.

It's a fact that the Tyne has been the venue for many seaborne innovations which have changed the world of shipping, and it was also on the Tyne that the first ever recorded event of a ship being towed out to sea by a steam boat took place.

When the first steamboat appeared on the river in 1814 there was much interest, but also plenty of scepticism.

It was thought that, although they were happy paddling about in rivers, the big swell of the open sea would be too much for them.

While the mechanics of these small boats excited engineers and ship designers, most were soon in trouble and had frequent breakdowns, and many were left waiting for repair.

It was in 1815 that Gateshead entrepreneur Joseph Price decided to buy into a Tyne steamboat company. It must have seemed a great idea and the company traded for about two years but was making no profit as the boats gradually became unserviceable and were laid up. Being an obvious man of vision, Joseph Price was still convinced these new boats had a future and bought up most of the shares in the company, and had all the boats repaired. He ran them between Newcastle and Shields, but the company was still losing too much money. As with men of drive and ingenuity, he decided to approach the problem from another direction.

Joseph told the story himself: "In July 1818, I conceived good might be done by towing vessels to sea.

"In furtherance to my idea, I applied to the late Mr Robson, Wharfinger, Newcastle, for leave to try an experiment with one of his leaden vessels, which was granted.

"I gave notice to Captain Copeland, of the Friends' Adventure, Hull trade, to have all ready an hour to an hour and a half before high water.

"At the time appointed, I requested them to throw a line on board the steamer. The tide was against us the first three miles.

"Everything answered as well as I could wish, and the vessel was towed two miles over the bar in two hours and 10 minutes - a distance of 13 miles, the wind against us all the way.

"This was the first time a vessel was ever towed by a steamboat."

Local businessmen were so happy they held a dinner on his behalf and presented him with a silver tankard, inscribed: "Presented to Mr Joseph Price by the shippers and manufacturers of lead, and the wharfingers of the goods trade, between Newcastle and London, as a mark of their appreciation for his zeal and spirited exertions in the application of steamboats to the towing of vessels upon the river Tyne. 1818."

It is believed that the first steamboat to carry passengers in English waters was launched from the South Shore, Gateshead, on Monday, February 21, 1814.

It was originally called the Tyne Steam Packet and, on Thursday, May 19, of that year, began a passenger run between Newcastle and Shields.

With its first run being on Ascension Day, this proved a great novelty, especially as it easily passed the procession of barges and other sailing vessels heading in the same direction.

The Newcastle Chronicle said: "The velocity with which it moves through the water, when favoured by the tide, is very great, having run from Shields to this town, we understand, in less than an hour. "It arrived from Newburn about 7pm, when it was made to perform a number of evolutions below the bridge."

The name of the boat later changed to Perseverance and prices for trips on the steamboat included: best cabin 1s (5p), second cabin 6d (2'p).

The Tyne though could never claim to be the first in British waters to run a steamboat as The Comet was plying on the Clyde in 1812. That steamboat had also recorded trials in Scotland as early as 1788.


VISITOR Clockwise from top, poster from the film, the Sabine tugboat in1950 at Gateshead, and Marie Dessler
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 11, 2012
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