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Tug times

6 September 2010 by stepheng

painting of several sailing and steam boats with a  lighthouse in the background

Image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo

My Liverpool ancestors in the 1700s and 1800s would have doubtless called themselves Dickey Sams rather than Scousers. Dickey Sam was a nickname applied to anyone born within the sound of the bells of St Nicholas’ parish church.

The latter term probably came in later with the popularity of Irish stew or lobscouse among Liverpool seafarers and their families. It was originally a Scandinavian dish and had little or nothing to do with Ireland, where potatoes and buttermilk were the staple diet for many people before the Great Famine. Scouse became popular because it was relatively cheap and easy to make.

Tugs Off New Brighton (pictured) in the Art and the sea gallery at Merseyside Maritime Museum was painted by an unknown Liverpool artist. It shows two early steam tugs towing a dismasted vessel into the Mersey assisted by four small sailing boats known as flats.

The twin-funnelled tugs, John Bull and Robert Burns, were owned by John Watkins Jnr and were active on the Mersey in the 1850s. The damaged ship being towed is traditionally identified as the barque Dickey Sam.

She was built in Liverpool by William Seddon and launched in 1841 and made trading voyages to India and South America. Incidents of vessels losing their masts in rough weather were quite common in the days of sailing ships.

The painting shows a group of passengers in a small boat watching the proceedings. In the background are the familiar landmarks of Perch Rock fort and lighthouse. To the left of the picture is the stern of a sailing ship with the helmsman at the wheel.

The Brocklebank is a modern motor tug dating from 1964 which is a working vessel within the collections of the Merseyside Maritime Museum. She is the only active sea-going ship owned by a British museum. Run by an enthusiastic group of volunteers, Brocklebank acts as a floating ambassador for the museum. When in port she is generally moored in the Albert Dock.

Brocklebank served as a ship-handling tug on the Mersey throughout the 1960s and 70s. She would sometimes work ay Heysham, Larne and Barrow to assist at ship launches. She also towed barges laden with stone from an Anglesey quarry for the construction of the Royal Seaforth Dock (Liverpool Freeport).

Brocklebank’s commercial career came to an end with the advent of huge container ships requiring larger and more powerful tugs to handle them. She was acquired by Merseyside Maritime Museum in 1989.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1 p&p UK).

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