Pocketts’ Bristol Channel Steam Packet Company
Residents and visitors to the Swansea Marina will be familiar with the area known as Pocketts Wharf, but some may not know that it owes its name to Mr. James Wathen Pockett, who relocated his company’s steam packet business from the North Dock to the South Dock Basin in 1871.
The Pockett family’s business commenced in 1840 when James’ father, Capt. Walter Pockett (1794-1856), began taking passengers from Swansea to Weston-super-Mare and Ilfracombe aboard the smack ‘Elizabeth’ on summer weekends and bank holidays. Due to the enterprising acquisition of three paddle steamers, the ‘Troubadour’, the ‘Lass of Gowrie’ and the ‘Lord Beresford’, the business expanded rapidly and, in 1852, James Wathen Pockett took over from his father as proprietor. At that point he had three paddle steamers under his control, the aforementioned ‘Lord Beresford’, together with two newer vessels, the ‘Princess Royal’ and the ‘Prince of Wales’. (It is interesting to note that the ‘Lord Beresford’ was the first ship to enter the North Dock when it officially opened on the 1st January 1852)
The business was to become known as Pockett’s Bristol Channel Steam Packet Company, and involved James Pockett’s two younger brothers, William (1823-1890) and Henry (1828-1868) as paddle steamer Commanders. The earliest record of William Pockett as Commander is in 1858, aboard the ‘Prince of Wales’ on a voyage from Swansea to Hayle in Cornwall. (William went on to run the company for several years after the death of his elder brother James c.1880) Henry Pockett is recorded as being Commander of the ‘Lord Beresford’ in 1861, sailing between Swansea and Ilfracombe, but there was friction on the horizon as, when he commanded the paddle steamer ‘Henry Southan’ between Swansea and Bristol in 1862, he found himself having to sue his brother James for his wages. Henry Pockett died in 1868 at just 40 years of age.
Pockett’s Steam Packet Company continued to thrive and, in 1865, Swansea’s first steam-driven quayside crane was installed on the company’s wharf near the entrance to the North Dock Basin. The rail-mounted crane, patented by G. Stothert & Co. of Bath, was capable of lifting loads of anything up to 3 tons. That same year a new service between Swansea and London was inaugurated with the s.s. ‘Pioneer’, and in 1868 the paddle steamer ‘Velindra’ was added to the Bristol Channel fleet. The ‘Velindra’ was a modern vessel of 199 gross registered tons, and had been built at Blackwall, London, in 1860.
In 1871 the company relocated to the South Dock Basin and by 1879 had acquired yet another paddle steamer, the ‘Collier’, followed by the ‘Rio Formoso’ in 1887. The ‘Prince of Wales’ was by then obsolete, having been built in Neath in 1842, and was put up for sale. In 1896, after 28 years service, the ‘Velindra’ was also disposed of and was replaced that same year by the paddle steamer ‘Brighton’, built in Govan in 1878. The last vessel known to have been purchased by Pocketts was the paddle steamer ‘Mavis’, acquired in 1909. Built in 1888 at Kinghorn, Fife, the ‘Mavis’ was to prove unreliable and lasted just four years before being withdrawn from service in 1913. She was scrapped two years later at Briton Ferry.
After 19 years of excursions from the South Dock at Swansea, and also from the Mumbles Pier which was built in 1898, Pocketts’ last remaining paddle steamer, the ‘Brighton’, was requisitioned by the War Office in 1915 for naval service in the First World War. After the war she was sold to a Turkish company and spent her remaining years in the Aegean until being broken up in 1927. With the loss of the ‘Brighton’, Pocketts’ role as ship-owners ceased to exist, and the company’s former excursion routes in the Bristol Channel were quickly absorbed by P&A Campbell’s fast-expanding fleet of ‘White Funnel’ paddle steamers. Nevertheless, the company retained its wharf, warehouse and office in the South Dock Basin until the mid 1930’s and today, quite rightly, the famous name of Pockett is preserved for posterity as part of the Swansea Marina.
Above is an early photograph of the paddle steamer ‘Velindra’ on Pockett’s Wharf in the River Tawe, Swansea. On the left of the picture is the tower of the original Pilot House, demolished when the new South Dock Entrance was built in 1903.
The paddle steamer ‘Velindra’ was built by C J Mare of Blackwall, London in 1860 for the Cardiff Steam Navigation Company. She was bought by Pocketts in 1869 and remained the mainstay of the fleet for 28 years until being withdrawn from service in 1896. She was scrapped the following year.
The paddle steamer ‘Brighton’ was built for the London Brighton & South Coast Railway Company in 1878 by John Elder & Co. of Govan. Acquired by Pocketts in 1896, she operated out of Swansea for nineteen years until requisitioned for war service in 1915. After the war she was sold to Turkish owners, serving in the Aegean until being broken up in Turkey in 1927. Dimensions: length 221.3 ft., beam 27.7 ft. Tonnage: 531 GRT, 316 NRT (Photo: Tom Lee of the Paddle Steamer Picture Gallery)
Notes on other Pockett’s ships
Three of Pockett’s earliest iron steamships were built at Neath Abbey – the ‘Prince of Wales’ by the Abbey Iron Company in 1842, the ‘Henry Southan’ (builder unknown) in 1845, and the ‘Princess Royal’ by Edwin & Henry Price in 1850. The use of the ‘Princess Royal’ was quite short-lived, terminating at around 1855, but both the ‘Prince of Wales’ and the ‘Henry Southan’ remained in service with Pockett’s until the late 1870’s.
The ‘Lord Beresford’ was a former Channel Islands steamer operated in the 1830’s by the British & Foreign Steam Navigation Company. From 1844 she worked in the Bristol Channel between Swansea, Bristol and Ilfracombe. Acquired by Pockett’s in 1852, she remained in service until 1861, when she was put up for sale.
Two other ships used by Pockett’s on the Bristol Channel routes out of Swansea were the ‘Collier’ from 1879 to 1888, and the ‘Rio Formoso’ in 1887 and 1888. No further information has yet been found on these two vessels.