Victorian London - Transport - Steamers / Steamboats - Steam Launches

Steam Launches are the curse of the river. Driving along at an excessive rate of speed, with an utter disregard to the comfort or even necessities of anglers, oarsmen, and boating-parties, the average steam-launch engineer is an unmitigated nuisance. There are some owners who show some consideration for other people, but their number, unfortunately, is very limited, and for the most part the launches are navigated with a recklessness which is simply shameful. Perhaps the worst offenders are the people who pay their 5 5s. a day for the hire of a launch, and whose idea of a holiday is the truly British notion of getting over as much ground as possible in a given time. Parties of this kind, especially after the copious lunch which is one of the features of the day's outing, stimulate the engineer to fresh exertions, and appear to enjoy themselves considerably as they contemplate the anxiety and discomfort of the occupants of the punts and rowing-boats which are left floundering helplessly in their wash. Should there be ladies on board a boat in difficulties, their terror proportionately enhances the amusement of these steam-launch 'Arries. Unfortunately these excursionists are not alone in their offences against courtesy and good behaviour. Too many people who ought to know very much better keep them in countenance by their selfish example. A bye-law of the Thames Conservancy provides that steam-vessels above Teddington Lock are not to be worked at such a speed as shall endanger other vessels, or cause injury to the river banks. The breach of this bye-law is punishable by the wholly inadequate penalty of 5. Such as the penalty is, however, it is very desirable that the Conservancy should make up their minds to enforce it, and to take steps themselves to proceed against the offending parties. At present all the trouble and inconvenience of getting up and proving a case is left to the public, and offenders escape the consequences of their acts, and naturally get bolder by impunity.

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