A Dip into the Digital Archive: meeting report

Caledonia leaving Largs: CRSC’s Digital Archive has colour photos from the 1960s as well as black-and-white glass slides from the pre-1914 era

Roy Paterson’s Zoom presentation on Wednesday 8 September was attended by 90 CRSC members and friends, including a good number from south of the border and across the Atlantic. Aberdeen-based member Donald Thomas gives his impressions below, and paid-up members can watch the meeting video here, showing all 150 images.

After Donald’s report, you will find Graham Lappin’s insights into the word ‘Frith’, which cropped up in a post-presentation discussion about Ivanhoe’s original owner, the Frith of Clyde Steam Packet Company.

Roy’s ‘dip’ into the Club’s digital archive lasted 46 minutes, an ideal time-span for the Zoom format, but this meant he could only include edited highlights.

Among the rare 1930s colour images shown by Roy Paterson was this one of the LMS turbine Duchess of Montrose, with paintwork at the bow waterline revealing signs of wear after a busy season. Click on image to enlarge

I was particularly taken by the quality of the digitised images of vessels, some from the distant past, including many that are just names to me. Roy showed images before and after restoration, demonstrating the clarity that digitisation can produce, preserving a record of our heritage for years to come. 

One memorable image showed the three ABC car ferries tied up at Gourock during the Seamen’s Strike of 1966. These were some of the only vessels shown on which I have travelled. 

A view of PS Marchioness of Breadalbane at Gourock around 1900 not only showed the impressive vessel but also the magnificent station buildings. Roy traced her history from construction in 1890 to scrapping in 1937, through minesweeper wartime service and finally as an excursion steamer from Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth.

His detailed research brought this and other vessels to life, reminding us that the lifespan of many of these steamers exceeded that of the current CalMac fleet. An intriguing side-track discussed the spelling of the current Argyle rather than ‘Argyll’, comparing ships with one or other spelling of the name over the past 150 years. 

A variety of images of the pioneering turbine steamer King Edward traced her hardworking life from 1901 to 1951. Roy speculated on the fate of her turbine engines. 

There were some rare colour shots from the 1930s. Some of the best views featured Duchess of Montrose, Duchess of Hamilton, Caledonia, Juno, Jupiter, and Talisman at a variety of locations around the Clyde, including many overlooking Rothesay Pier. Roy documented various stages in their careers.

He concluded an excellent presentation with a group of photos without narration. Throughout, there were images showing crowded decks, something that we miss today.

This taster of what the CRSC Digital Archive holds whets our appetite for more to come.

The full video of Roy’s talk, featuring all 150 photos, is now available for viewing by paid-up CRSC members here. If you are experiencing password difficulties when trying to access ‘Members Only’ posts, please email info@crsc.org.uk

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Ivanhoe off Greenock c1885: she was owned by a company calling itself the Frith of Clyde Steam Packet Company

During the post-presentation discussion, some members speculated on the derivation of the word ‘Frith’, as in Frith of Clyde Steam Packet Company, which operated the teetotal boat Ivanhoe from 1880 to 1896.

Graham Lappin, who attended the meeting (and who operates the west coast historical website Dalmadan), has since provided the following insights, for which we are most grateful.

Frith is an archaic form of firth, meaning an arm of the sea or fjord. It became popular in the 1830s and was used by the English poet William Wordsworth in the title of his poem “On the Frith of Clyde — In a Steamboat” (see text below).

There is an old English word frith meaning peace, and this double meaning may have appealed to him.

The term was used by Hugh Macdonald in Days at the Coast in 1857 that has as its sub-title “A series of sketches descriptive of the Frith of Clyde — its watering places, its scenery, and its associations”, that I am sure more than anything popularised the term. Editions were published into the 1880s when Ivanhoe came into being.


On the Frith of Clyde — In a Steamboat

by William Wordsworth (1770–1850)

‘Beneath stern mountains…..’: Captain William Buchanan’s Arran steamer Brodick Castle lies at Brodick Pier in the 1880s, dwarfed by the towering landmark of Goatfell. This George Washington Wilson photograph features in the CRSC glass slide collection

Arran! a single-crested Teneriffe,

A St Helena next,—in shape and hue

Varying her crowded peaks and ridges blue;

Who but must covet a cloud-seat, or skiff

Built for the air, or wingéd Hippogriff,

That he might fly, where no one could pursue,

From this dull monster and her sooty crew;

And, as a god, light on thy topmost cliff?

Impotent wish! which reason would despise

If the mind knew no union of extremes,

No natural bond between the boldest schemes

Ambition frames and heart-humilities.

Beneath stern mountains many a soft vale lies,

And lofty springs give birth to lowly streams.

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Before digitisation: one of the Club’s display card enlargements showing Columba arriving at Rothesay in the early 1880s

After digitisation: a detailed and time-consuming cleaning/restoration process has preserved the image for posterity

Talisman in the Kyles of Bute c1936, heading for the Narrows from Tighnabruaich

Talisman leaving Millport in the early 1960s: this image was of little value in its undigitised state

The same image, minus seagulls, creates a sparkling impression after digital restoration

Before digitisation: Meg Merrilies, Marquis of Bute and Sultan at the Broomielaw c1886

Digitisation has given new life to images like this

One of several beautiful images of King Edward that were shown as part of Roy Paterson’s dip into the CRSC Archive

The LMS paddler Juno of 1937 had barely three years in service before being called up for minesweeping. She was bombed and sunk in Surrey Docks on the Thames during the London Blitz in March 1941. There are relatively few photos of her on the Clyde, making this colour portrait of her leaving Millport in 1939 all the more special

Jupiter, Juno’s sister ship, arriving at Dunoon c1949, apparently to collect a flock of sheep (sheep dog in attendance)

Turbine elegance: the new Duchess of Hamilton at Ayr Harbour in 1932

A John Goss portrait of Duchess of Hamilton canting at Bridge Wharf in 1968 — an image now in the CRSC Digital Archive

‘One memorable image showed the three ABC car ferries tied up at Gourock during the Seamen’s Strike of 1966’

Another John Goss photograph, this time showing Caledonia at Gourock at the start of her CRSC charter to Ardrishaig on 4 May 1968. The steamer has just arrived from Craigendoran. Standing on the paddle box platform between the lights with their backs to us are Purser Jimmy Gibson and CRSC Cruise Convener Ian McCrorie. Past President Douglas Brown (in overcoat and spectacles) stands on the pier to the right. In the foreground next to the ship’s lifebelt is the young Richard Orr (left) with his friend Brian Jamieson

Caledonia heads off from Dunoon in the direction of Gourock in 1969, her last summer in service

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Paid-up members can click here for the full video of Roy’s talk, showing all 150 archive gems.

Published on 11 September 2021