Victorian London - Transport - River - Steamers - Character of 

see also George Cruikshank in the Comic Almanack (Aug. 1838) - click here

     One of the most amusing places we know is the steam-wharf of the London Bridge, or St. Katharine's Dock Company, on a Saturday morning in summer, when the Gravesend and Margate steamers are usually crowded to excess; and as we have just taken a glance at the river above bridge, we hope our readers will not object to accompany us on board a Gravesend packet. Coaches are every moment setting down at the entrance to the wharf, and the stare of bewildered astonishment with which the 'fares' resign themselves and their luggage into the hands of the porters, who seize all the packages at once as a matter of course, and run away with them, heaven knows where, is laughable in the extreme. A Margate boat lies alongside the wharf, the Gravesend boat (which starts first) lies alongside that again; and as a temporary communication is formed between the two, by means of a plank and hand-rail, the natural confusion of the scene is by no means diminished.
    'Gravesend?' inquires a stout father of a stout family, who follow him, under the guidance of their mother, and a servant, at the no small risk of two or three of them being left behind in the confusion. 'Gravesend?' 'Pass on, if you please, sir,' replies the attendant - 'other boat, sir.' Hereupon the stout father, being rather mystified, and the stout mother rather distracted by maternal anxiety, the whole party deposit themselves in the Margate boat, and after having congratulated himself on having secured very comfortable seats, the stout father sallies to the chimney to look for his luggage, which he has a faint recollection of having given some man, something, to take somewhere. No luggage, however, bearing the most remote resemblance to his own, in shape or form, is to be discovered; on which the stout father calls very loudly for an officer, to whom he states the case, in the presence of another father of another family - a little thin man - who entirely concurs with him (the stout father) in thinking that it's high time something was done with these steam companies, and that as the Corporation Bill failed to do it, something else must; for really people's property is not to be sacrificed in this way; and that if the luggage isn't restored without delay, he will take care it shall be put in the papers, for the public is not to be the victim of these great monopolies. To this, the officer, in his turn, replies, that that company, ever since it has been St. Kat'rine's Dock Company, has protected life and property; that if it had been the London Bridge Wharf Company, indeed, he shouldn't have wondered, seeing that the morality of that company (they being the opposition) can't be answered for, by no one; but as it is, he's convinced there must be some mistake, and he wouldn't mind making a solemn oath afore a magistrate that the gentleman'll find his luggage afore he gets to Margate.
    Here the stout father, thinking he is making a capital point, replies, that as it happens, he is not going to Margate at all, and that 'Passenger to Gravesend' was on the luggage, in letters of full two inches long; on which the officer rapidly explains the mistake, and the stout mother, and the stout children, and the servant, are hurried with all possible despatch on board the Gravesend boat, which they reached just in time to discover that their luggage is there, and that their comfortable seats are not. Then the bell, which is the signal for the  Gravesend boat starting, begins to ring most furiously: and people keep time to the bell, by running in and out of our boat at a double-quick pace. The bell stops; the boat starts: people who have been taking leave of their friends on board, are carried away against their will; and people who have been taking leave of their friends on shore, find that they have performed a very needless ceremony, in consequence of their not being carried away at all. The regular passengers, who have season tickets, go below to breakfast; people who have purchased morning papers, compose themselves to read them; and people who have not been down the river before, think that both the shipping and the water, look a great deal better at a distance. 
    When we get down about as far as Blackwall, and begin to move at a quicker rate, the spirits of the passengers appear to rise in proportion. Old women who have brought large wicker hand-baskets with them, set seriously to work at the demolition of heavy sandwiches, and pass round a wine-glass, which is frequently replenished from a flat bottle like a stomach-warmer, with considerable glee: handing it first to the gentleman in the foraging-cap, who plays the harp - partly as an expression of satisfaction with his previous exertions, and partly to induce him to play 'Dumbledumbdeary,' for 'Alick' to dance to; which being done, Alick, who is a damp earthy child in red worsted socks, takes certain small jumps upon the deck, to the unspeakable satisfaction of his family circle. Girls who have brought the first volume of some new novel in their reticule, become extremely plaintive, and expatiate to Mr. Brown, or young Mr. O'Brien, who has been looking over them, on the blueness of the sky, and brightness of the water; on which Mr. Brown or Mr. O'Brien, as the case may be, remarks in a low voice that he has been quite insensible of late to the beauties of nature, that his whole thoughts and wishes have centred in one object alone - whereupon the young lady looks up, and failing in her attempt to appear unconscious, looks down again; and turns over the next leaf with great difficulty, in order to afford opportunity for a lengthened pressure of the hand.     
    Telescopes, sandwiches, and glasses of brandy-and-water cold without, begin to be in great requisition; and bashful men who have been looking down the hatchway at the engine, find, to their great relief, a subject on which they can converse with one another - and a copious one too - Steam. 'Wonderful thing steam, sir.' 'Ah! (a deep-drawn sigh) it is indeed, sir.' 'Great power, sir.' 'Immense - immense!' 'Great deal done by steam, sir.' 'Ah! (another sigh at the  immensity of the subject, and a knowing shake of the head) you may say that,  sir.' 'Still in its infancy, they say, sir.' Novel remarks of this kind, are generally the commencement of a conversation which is prolonged until the conclusion of the trip, and, perhaps, lays the foundation of a speaking acquaintance between half-a-dozen gentlemen, who, having their families at Gravesend, take season tickets for the boat, and dine on board regularly every afternoon.

Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz, 1836


IT is - according to Malthus, and to a higher authority, Alderman Lucas,- to the over population of this country that we are indebted for its present depressed condition. Of the numerous remedies applicable to the evil, none have been found so effectual as Steam-boats; and, although their superiority over the small-pox and rail-roads has been disputed, yet, from the increased favour in which, every succeeding season, they are held, as engines of destruction, it is clear that the highest opinion is entertained of their efficacy.
    In proof of this, the stranger has only to trust himself on board a six-penny Gravesend boat on a fine Whit-Sunday. The deck crammed, and no standing-room on the paddle-boxes, he will be wedged in by the crowd so tightly as to preclude the use of his limbs when the accident, which is sure to occur, takes place. Exactly at the moment of the start, an opposition boat will also set off, so that the speed will be deliciously exhilarating. In trying to give "Bugsby hole" as narrow a berth as possible, each captain will foul his adversary, and a few passengers will to make an additional hole or two be missed from the paddle-boxes, in the water. As they will very likely amount to a dozen, - quite enough to help one another, - it would be nonsense to stop either vessel, so the speed is doubled. 

    In furtherance of the praiseworthy object for which these vessels were originally started, (the reduction of the population,) they are ordered to "go on" at the precise moment a passenger is stepping off.
    If the stranger get a sight of the cabin, it will be a mistake to imagine that its occupants are confined there as a punishment for some misdemeanour, however much their imprisoned and crowded condition might warrant the supposition. The error will be corrected when he hears them giving vent to bottled porter, and to songs of a comic character; the latter are "volunteers," but the former a compulsory employment, the heat of the "saloon" being so intense that the malt would open itself in spite of the corks.
    As the number of passengers gradually decreases at the various stopping-places, - by means of "easing her," and then suddenly going on just in time to send the debarkers into the water instead of into the wherry waiting to receive them - several of the tappers of stout escape from their confinement to the deck and commence a series of pleasing practical jokes, in the course of which numerous hats, (with a wearer sometimes attached,) find their way either to the bottom, or to the Nore. So you are sure to get to Gravesend, either in due course, or by means of a cold bath in the Thames.
    For a full account of the Above-bridge Steamer Fleet, we must refer the inquisitive stranger to "Punch, Vol. 1., page 35," and to "A Sentimental Journey along the Coasts of the Thames," published in recent Numbers.

Punch, Jan.-Jun. 1842


Sir, - That the public as well as the official parties should know what are the laws relating to steamers, I take the liberty of requesting you to insert the following fines levied by the Courts of Watermen and Aldermen, which I propose be printed and placarded at the different piers in the place of the form in your column of this day, which gives  the public no idea of when the steam-boat companies or their servants do their duty. A fine of 5l. is levied for each of the following offences, which apply to all steamers plying between Gravesend and Richmond:-
    1st, for not having the number of the boat painted on the outside of each paddle-box or quarter 12 inches longs at least and broad in proportion; and inside on the paddle-box, or other conspicuous place on deck, the number of the boat and number of passengers it is licensed to carry, two inches long at least. 2d. No other person than the captain, except the crew, be allowed on the paddle-box or bridge; the captain not to the leave the paddle-box or bridge till the journey be performed, and one man always to be forward at the bow on the look out. 3d. In foggy weather the vessel not to proceed on her journey, and in thick weather after sunset, or before daylight, unless she have two red lights going up the river, and two blue lights going down, viz., one at the mast or funnel, the other at the bow. 4th. Taking in or discharging passengers while under weigh. 5th. Going at the rate of more than nine miles the hour with the tide, or seven miles against the tide, between Deptford and Richmond. 6th. In default of being navigated in a careful and proper manner. 7th. 40s. fine for each passenger over the number licensed to be carried.
    So much for the public's guide. But what are the Thames Police doing? Why should not they exercise the same authority on the river as the police on land with omnibuses, cabs, &c.? It is not what they have to do during the day, night being the only time that robberies are generally committed on the river. I do not lay any blame to the police, they not having received any orders; but the Courts of Waterman and Aldermen I do think are highly censurable for allowing their authority to lie in such a dormant state.
    I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,
April 16          A LIGHTERMAN

letter to The Times, April 17, 1846

Paddle Steamer, 1847 [ILN Picture Library]


WE have no objection to bow to circumstances, like all the rest of the world, but we must say, that there is something rather unpleasant in being obliged to bow under such a very disagreeable circumstance as the lowering of a steamboat funnel on to your head, in passing through a bridge. We have frequently found ourselves under the painful necessity of nursing in our lap a large iron chimney, suddenly thrown upon our knees, or we have been exposed to the reception in our face of a tremendous volume of smoke discharged from the mouth of a steamboat funnel, brought unexpectedly flush with our eyes, nose, and mouth, as we were admiring the architecture of one of the Metropolitan bridges.

Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1850

see also London by Day and Night (1) - click here

see also London by Day and Night (2) - click here

    AGAIN we have reached the foot of London Bridge, the first of those mighty arched and pillared bulwarks, which oppose the onward progress of ocean ships into the heart of the country. The river at this point is nothing but a large settlement of steamers and boats of every description. On our first tour up the river, we saw many groups of small steamers and fishing-boats, with sails of a dusky red; but the masts of the boats were lowered, and the steamers were of a lilliputian kind— undergrown, low-funnelled, small-engined and paddle-wheeled. They were passenger-boats, plying between the bridges. The class of vessels we see here have a more important appearance. You see at once that these are no water penny omnibuses, coasting it between the City and Putney Bridge. Here are broad black hulls, double funnels and capacious ones, high masts, and boats hauled up at the sides ; all tell us that these are hardy customers, that can stand a stiff breeze in the Channel and elsewhere. Some of them swing lazily on their moorings ; they have just come in from a voyage, and are taking their ease at home. Others blow vast clouds of steam and black smoke; flags are being hoisted on them, hundreds of people cross and re-cross on the planks which communicate with the wharf or with other vessels. They are just starting—whither? I, for one, know nothing about it. A sailor could tell you all about them; he reads the character of a ship in the cut of its jib ; but we continentals, who are scarcely at home in our country, are perfectly lost in this Babel of foreign vessels and seamen. Even for one short trip to Greenwich—we are starting for Greenwich, you know—we had better ask some porter or policeman to direct us to the boat we want, lest by some mistake we might chance to go to Hamburg, Boulogne, or Antwerp. Such things have happened.
    Here we are ! On a small steamer, next to a black Scotch coaster, crowded to suffocation, and just casting off. The boy at the hatch is waiting for the captain’s signal ; and the captain, walking his paddle-box, moves his hand; the boy calls out, the engineer makes a corresponding movement, and the steam enters the large cylinders. The machinery is in motion, and the vessel has left the shore. “Dont be in a hurry, miss You can’t leap that distance. You’ve missed the boat, as a thousand respectable girls do daily, amidst these vast comings and goings of London. There will be another Greenwich steamer in five minutes ; so the misfortune, after all, is not very great!”
    What an astounding spectacle the Thames presents at this very point below London Bridge! In autumn, when the great merchantmen, heavily laden, coming in from all parts of the world, cast their bales and casks on the shore, from whence a thousand channels of trade convey them to and distribute them over the whole of the earth — in autumn, I say, this part of the river presents a spectacle of a mighty, astounding activity, with which no other river can vie. The vessels are crowded together by fifties and hundreds on either side. Colossal steamers, running between the coast-towns of France, Germany, and Scotland, have here dropped their anchors, waiting until the days of their return for passengers and merchandise. Their little boats dance on the waves, their funnels are cold and smokeless, their furnaces extinct. Sailors walk to and fro on the decks, looking wistfully at the varying panorama of London life. In a semi-circle round those steamers are the black ships of the North. They are black all over ; the decks, the bows, the sides, the rigging, and the crew, have all the same dusky hue. These vessels carry the dark diamond of England—they are colliers from Newcastle.
   … Our boat has just passed the Custom-house. It is a splendid building; it has been burnt down six times, and six times rebuilt on the same site. Radical Free-traders dislike the building where it stands; they would gladly convert it into a hospital, a poorhouse, or a commercial academy. It will take a long time to realise these liberal intentions; for at this present day duties to the amount £12,000,000 are paid in the port of London alone. Nevertheless, the English swear by Free-trade ! The vessels which come to London must all appear at the forum of this Custom-house, unless they prefer leaving their cargo in the docks or the bonded warehouses. What crowds of sailing-ships and steamers from all the harbours of the world! What goings and comings ; what loadings and unloadings; what a bewildering movement this Custom-house presents! It is actually painful to the eye. And now, thank goodness, we have left all this turmoil behind us.
    The further we go down the river, the more closely packed are the vessels on either side. For above two miles the broad Thames is wofully narrow ; and the steamers, which run up and down must just pick their way through as best they can. Accidents will happen; and the man at the wheel must keep a sharp look out. Those who never sailed on the Thames, have no idea of the number of black funnelled monsters, yclept steamers, which continually whisk past one another. There is one just now steering right down upon us; within another second our sides must lie stove in. Well done She has turned aside, and rushes past. But scarcely is the danger over, when another monster of the deep comes paddling on; and a large schooner is wedging its way between us and the said monster of the deep; and on our right there is an awkward Dutchman, swinging round on her anchor ; and on our left, there is a lubber of a collier, with her gun-wales just sticking out of the water ; and there, goodness gracious ! there it is—a very nut-shell of a boat, and two women in it, passing close under our bows. I really dont know why we did not upset them, and why the others did not run into us. That nut-shell of a boat had a narrow escape among the steamers, and those women were fully aware of it; and there is no end of accidents, and yet those people will row across the river.
    It is a perfect blessing that the English know better than anybody else how to steer a boat under difficulties. Look at that man at the wheel ! Immoveable, with his head bent forward, his eyes directed to the ship’s course, his hands ready to turn the wheel that fellow knows what steering on the Thames is! To all appearance, it is not near so difficult as rope-dancing, but I say it’s worse than rope-dancing; it requires the most consummate address. And then there’s the responsibility ! The sailors of all nations stand in great awe of the London Thames. They navigate their vessels to the East Indies ; they weather the storms of the Cape, and think nothing of its blowing “big guns ;“ but none of them would undertake to steer a vessel from Blackwall to London-bridge. “It’s too crowded for us,” they say; “and the little nutshells of steamers are enough to make an honest sailor giddy; and the river is so narrow. If you fancy you are clear of all difficulties and can go on, there’s sure to be some impertinent boat in your way. Turn to the right! Why there’s not room for a starved herring to float !“
    And the old steersman descends from his high place, anti resigns his functions to the Thames pilot. If he is a conceited blockhead, let him try—that’s all. But if the vessel comes to harm, the insurance is lost; for the under-writers at Lloyd’s will not be responsible for any damage done in the pool, unless the wheel is in the hands of a regular pilot. And they are right, for with all the difficulties and dangers there are few accidents.
    Let us then, trusting to the skill of that particular steersman who guides our own destinies and those of our boat, look at the scenery around. A forest of masts looms through the perennial fog ; the banks of the river are lined with warehouses; some old and dilapidated, while others are new, solid, and strong. A stray flag fluttering in the evening breeze, a sailor hanging on the spars amid chewing tobacco, a monkey of a boy sky-harking on the topmost cross-trees of an Indiaman—these are some of the sights of the lower Thames. Let us now look at the party on board our own vessel; for, after all, we ought to know the people who are in the same boat with us, and who, in case of an accident would share our watery grave.
    ..... The sun, O fairer and frailer portion of humanity, will shine when we are out of London, but not till then.
   Why should he? What is an excursion on the Thames without the mystic fog of Romanticism? Without the garish light of day, without the depth of perspective, the objects on shore and on the water grow—so to say—out of the colourless mist, presenting fantastic outlines suddenly, mightily, and with a magic grandeur. On our left we fancied we saw hundreds and hundreds of masts rising nip behind the houses, from the very midst of dry land. We thought it was an optical delusion ; but, as we advanced, the masts and the outline of the rigging came out strong, substantial, and well-defined, against the lurid sky: and just here there is an Indiaman, deeply laden, turning out of the river, and proceeding inland, floating on locks. What we saw were the basins of the various docks which, hidden behind store-houses of fabulous size and number, extend deep into the heart of the country. The river, broad as it is, cannot afford space for the hundreds and hundreds of vessels which lie snugly in those docks.
    ... Besides the steamers, there are Greenwich omnibuses, and there is an extra railroad running its trains every quarter of ann hour from London to Greenwich—and yet, look at the crowd which surrounds us on all sides ! London, too, has its tides, and its high and low water-mark ; its thousands and hundreds of thousands rush into the country and back again at regular periods from one twelve hours to another. The majority of London merchants live in the country, and yet they are able to pass their days in the city. Various means and modes of conveyance, and these quick, ready, and cheap, enable them to accomplish that feat.
    As we go down the river, the banks recede, and the vessels lie in smaller groups. In their place, we see the very insignificant looking yards of the London shipbuilders, which extend almost to Woolwich, the seat of the government dockyard. Woolwich is the second depot of the country; Portsmouth is the first. 
    ... That inevitable personage who haunts all steamers—the man with the little book who takes the passage-money from those who are without tickets, has at length found us out. 

Max Schlesinger, Saunterings in and about London, 1853


    Who's for a cheap ride on what a pleasant writer calls the "silent highway? - silent no longer, since the steamers have taken to plying above Bridge at a charge which has made the surface of the Thames, where it runs through the heart of London, populous with life, and noisy with the clash of paddles and the rush of steam, to say nothing of the incessant chorus of captains, engine-boys, and gangway-men - with their "Ease her," "Stop her," "Back her," "Turn ahead," "Turn astarn," "Now, marm, with the bundle, be alive," "Heave ahead there, will you?" &c., all the day long.
    Come this way, my friend; here we are opposite the Adelphi Theatre, and this is the man who used to be a black man, or else it's another, who does duty as talking finger-post, and shows you, if you are a stranger, how you are to get at the half-penny boat. Come, we must dive down this narrow lane, past the "Fox under the Hill", a rather long and not very sightly, cleanly, smooth, or fragrant thoroughfare; and here, in this shed-looking office, you must pay your half-penny, which guarantees you a passage all the way to London Bridge. Look alive! as the money-taker recommends - the Bee, you see, is already discharging her living cargo, and others are hurrying on board. The boat wont lose time in turning round - she goes backwards and forwards as straight as a saw, and carries a rudder at her nose as well as one at her tail. Never mind these jolting planks, you havn't time to tumble down - on with you! That's it: here, on this floating-pier, manufactured from old barges, we may rest a moment, while the boat discharges her freight, and takes on board the return cargo. You see the landing-stage or pier is divided into two equal portions; the people who are leaving the boat have not yet paid their fare; they will have to disburse their coppers at the office where we paid ours, there being but one paying-place for the two termini.
    Tis a motley company, you see, which comes and goes by the half-penny boat. Here is a Temple barrister, with his red-taped brief under his arm, and at his heels follows a plasterer, and a tiler's labourer with a six-foot chimney-pot upon his shoulders. There goes a foreigner - foreigners like to have things cheap - with a bushy black beard and a pale face, moustached and whiskered to the eyes, and puffing a volume of smoke from his invisible mouth; and there is a washer-woman, with a basket of clothes weighing a hundredweight. Yonder young fellow, with the dripping sack on his back, is staggering under a load of oysters from Billingsgate, and he has got to wash them and sell them for three a penny, and see them swallowed one at a time, before his work will be done for the day - and behind him is a comely lassie, with a monster oil-glazed sarcophagus-looking milliner's basket, carrying home a couple of bonnets to a customer. See ! there is lame Jack, who sweeps the crossing in the borough, followed by a lady with her "six years' darling of a pigmy size," whom she calls "Little Popps," both hurrying home to dinner after a morning's shopping. All these, and a hundred others of equally varied description, go off on the landing-stage, whence they will have to pay their obolus to the Charon of the Thames ere they are swallowed up in the living tide that rolls along the Strand from morn to night.
    Now if we mean to go, we had better get on board, for in another minute the deck will be covered, and we shall not find room to stand. That's right; make sure of a seat while you may! How they swarm on board, and what a choice sample they present of the mixed multitude of London! The deck is literally jammed with every variety of the pedestrian population - red-breasted soldiers from the barracks, glazed-hatted policemen from the station, Irish labourers and their wives, errand-boys with notes and packages, orange-girls with empty baskets, working-men out for a mouthful of air, and idle boys out for a "spree" - men with burdens to carry, and men with hardly a rag to cover them; unctuous Jews, jabbering Frenchmen, and drowsy-looking Germans - on they flock, squeezing through the gangway, or clambering over the bulwarks, while the little vessel rolls and lurches till the water laves the planks on which you stand. In three minutes from her arrival she has discharged her old cargo, and is crammed to overflowing with a new one. " Back, there: overloaded already!" roars the captain. "Let go; turn ahead; go on!"- and fiz! away we go, leaving full half of the intending voyagers to wait for the next boat, which, however, will not be long in coming.
    "Bless me, how we roll about from side to side!" says an anxious old lady. "Is anything the matter with the boat, that it wabbles so?"
    "Only a little krank, marm; it's all right," says the person addressed.
    "It's all right, of course," says another, glancing at the nervous lady, "whether we goes up or whether we goes down, so long as we gets along. The Cricket blowed herself up, and the Ant got tired on it, and laid down to rest herself at the bottom t'other day-. Howasever, a steamer never blows up nor goes to the bottom but once; and, please God, t aint goin' to be this time."
    While the old lady, unsatisfied with this genuine specimen of Cockney philosophy, is vowing that if she once gets safe on shore she will never again set foot in a half-penny boat, we are already at Waterloo Bridge. Duck goes the funnel, and we dart under the noble arch, and catch a passing view of Somerset House. The handsome structure runs away in our rear; the Chinese Junk, with its tawdry flags, scuttles after it; we catch a momentary glimpse of Temple Gardens, lying in the sunlight, where half-a-dozen children are playing on the grass; then comes Whitefriars, the old Alsatia, the sanctuary of blackguard ruffianism in bygone times; then there is a smell of gas, and a vision of enormous gasometers; and then down goes the funnel again, and Blackfriars Bridge jumps over us. On we go, now at the top of our speed, past the dingy brick warehouses that lie under the shadow of St. Paul's, whose black dome looks down upon us as we scud along. Then Southwark Bridge, with its Cyclopean masses of gloomy metal, disdains to return the slightest response to the fussy splashing we make, as we shoot impudently through. Then come more wharfs and warehouses, as we glide past, while our pace slackens, and we stop gently within a stone's throw of London Bridge, at Dyers' Hall, where we are bundled out of the boat with as little ceremony as we were bundled in, and with as little, indeed, as it has ever been the custom to use since ceremony was invented - which, in matters of business, is a very useless thing.
    And now, my friend, you have accomplished a half-penny voyage; and without being a conjuror, you can see how it is that this cheap navigation is so much encouraged. In the first place, it is cheaper than shoe-leather, leaving fatigue out of the question; it saves a good two miles of walking, and that is no trifle, especially under a heavy burden, or in slippery weather. In the second place, it may be said to be often cheaper than dirt, seeing that the soil and injury to clothing, Which it saves by avoiding a two miles' scamper through the muddy ways, would damage the purse of a decent man more than would the cost of several journeys. These are considerations which the humbler classes appreciate, and therefore they flock to the cheap boats, and spend their half-pence to save their pence and their time. This latter consideration of time-saving it is that brings another class of customers to the boats. In order that it may be remunerative to the projectors, every passage must be made with a regular and undeviating rapidity; - and this very necessity becomes in its turn a source of profit, because it is a recommendation to a better class of business men and commercial agents, to whom a saving of time is daily a matter of the utmost importance. Hence the motley mixture of all ranks and orders that crowd the deck.
    Besides these half-penny boats, there are others which run at double and quadruple fares; but they carry a different class of passengers, and run greater distances, stopping at intermediate stations. They are all remunerative speculations; and they may be said to have created the traffic by which they thrive. They have driven the watermen's wherries off the river almost as effectually as the railways have driven the stage-coaches from the road; but, like them, they have multiplied the passengers by the thousand, and have awakened the public to a new sense of the value of the river as a means of transit from place to place. 

Charles Manby Smith, Curiosities of London Life, 1853

The English river Steamboats, like London, its houses, streets and everything in or pertaining to London, are dirty coal-smoked crafts. They possess no saloons, except a little concern between decks, in which a very short man or woman cannot stand upright - and these, bad as they are, are generally filled with common tobacco-smoke. Every body is expected to sit out on deck. The seats are all benches, formed of plain slips from two to three inches broad, and intervening openings the same breadth. Cushions or arm-chairs, or neatly furnished saloons on a steamboat have not yet been thought of. Externally, the boats are painted black, internally a bright green. The upper deck is three feet, never more, above the water; the wheel-houses occupy one third of the room, the wheels are great awkward things - and the consequence is, that everyone on board receives a very inconvenient amount of spray. The engines are old fashioned, small moveable cylinder affairs, built entirely below the water. All, as I said before, must sit out on deck - a very hot day there may be an awning, or there may not, just as the (generally) lazy captain sees proper. On wet days (five days in seven belong to this class) unless well provided with umbrellas, incalculable damage ensues to every article of apparel done up with starch. There's no escape. Altogether, an English steamboat presents a perfect picture of utter wretchedness. I mean this, without a single exception, of every river steamboat in England; the ocean steamers are of course much better.

W. O'Daniel, Ins and Outs of London, 1859

see also James Greenwood in Odd People in Odd Places - click here

see also Edmund Yates in The Business of Pleasure - click here

General Steam Navigation Company, 71, Lombard-st., and Piccadilly-circus. The steamers of the General Steam Navigation Company start from and arrive at Irongate and St. Katherine's Wharf. The Home Stations are Edinburgh, Newcastle, Hull, Yarmouth, Margate, Ramsgate. The Foreign Stations are Stettin, Hamburg, Tonning, Harlingen, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Bordeaux, Ostend, Calais, Boulogne, Havre, Charente, and Oporto. All information as to fares, times of starting, &c. can be obtained at the London offices. Passengers for Stettin and Oporto are advised by the company to take their tickets at least 36 hours before the time of sailing.
    When vessels start at or before 8 a.m., or arrive very late at night, passengers can embark on the previous evening, or postpone their landing until a convenient hour in the morning. Stewards are not allowed to take fees. Passengers embarking or landing at London should note the number on the badge of the porter who carries the baggage. The legal charge for each package carried between cab and ship is 2d. The Company's Official Handbook says: "Comfortable waiting and refreshment rooms have been established, and placed under good and experienced management. The directors hope  that passengers who do not wish to incur hotel expenses, and are desirous of avoiding a stay in London, will find in the refreshment department all they need of good quality and moderate in price."
     Passengers about to embark should proceed direct to Irongate and St. Katharine's Wharf, where the company a steamers start from, or a steam tender conveys passengers and their luggage from the wharf to the ships free of charge. Vessels engaged in the  Yarmouth, Margate, and Ramsgate special summer service start from London Bridge Wharf. The above paragraph does not, therefore, apply to passengers by those vessels. The tender leaves the wharf ten minutes before the advertised time of sailing of the ships. Passengers arriving in the Thames from Hamburg, Rotterdam, Antwerp, and Havre, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., are landed at Irongate and St. Katharine's Wharf by a special tender, free of charge.
    One hundredweight of personal luggage is allowed free of freight. Missing property should be applied for at the chief office. There is a left luggage office at Irongate and St. Katharine's Wharf.
    The nearest Railway Stations to the London Bridge Wharf are Cannon-street and London Bridge (South Eastern), Fenchurch-street (Great Eastern and North London), and Mansion House (District).
    The nearest Railway Stations to Irongate and St. Katharine's Wharf are Fenchurch-street (Great Eastern and North London) and Aldgate (Met).

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames, 1881