Editor's Note: Hudson River Maritime Museum is pleased to feature this post by William Stewart Lindsay. He describes his introduction to the museum: "Having listened to your Museum’s interesting podcast interview with the Mariner’s Mirror (https://snr.org.uk/the-mariners-mirror-podcast/) , I am writing to you with details of a journey up the Hudson River, from New York to Albany, in October 1860, by my ancestor William Schaw Lindsay MP." Thank you, Mr. Lindsay, for accepting the museum's invitation to share this article.
Lindsay was on a tour of the Northern States to discuss potential improvements to the Navigation Laws. Born in Ayrshire, Scotland, and brought up in relative poverty, he spent nine years at sea. He became a successful ship’s broker in London, and owned one of the largest shipping companies in the UK at the time. He was elected MP for Sunderland, and advised the government on Maritime matters. He wrote extensively, and twenty or so of his journals are now housed in the National Maritime Museum in London.
He was greatly impressed with his trip up the Hudson River. He wrote to his brother-in-law Robert Stewart…
I think that the sail from New York to Albany is one of the finest of its kind in the world; and it is greatly enhanced by the size and beauty of the boats on which you make the trip, and the conveniences, and luxury, of their apartments. The view of the great city on a fine bright morning is in itself, with its domes and spires and busy hum of life, a sight of considerable interest.
Then with Jersey City on the opposite shore and Staten Island in the distance, studded with beautiful villas, it forms altogether a most attractive scene. Sailing rapidly past the almost interminable streets, and wherein there lay moored fleets of great ships, towering steamers, and river craft of various kinds, we soon reach the “Palisades”, precipices which rise in some places 500 feet above the river in an almost straight line from their base, richly wooded on their summits, and extending full 20 miles along the Southern shore of the Hudson.
From thence to Sing Sing which is 33 miles from New York, there is a succession of charming country residences. Here the river Croton joins the Hudson, and 2 miles further on the aqueduct which carries its clear water to the Metropole, commences. Perhaps no city in the world has a better or longer supply of water than New York, and should it ever reach London in size the Croton River will be far more than sufficient for all its wants.
Lindsay then continues, praising the building of the aqueduct. He says that it reminds him of the great work that his bother-in-law Robert carried out, bringing water to the City of Glasgow in Scotland, from Loch Katrine. Robert was Lord Provost of Glasgow at the time, and had to overcome many objections from his colleagues to enable the project to go ahead.
Lindsay explains to Robert that the rough weather has prevented him from writing more on this part of the journey. He proceeded up the river on the Persia, one of the Cunard Line ships. He continues…
There is no easing in the Cunard line. They have got their works to do in a given time and they go to it full steam ahead right against any gale and clean through the waves so that the green seas in a solid body wash right on the forecastle head when the ship is driving against a gale of wind and are only prevented from washing right aft by the “driving boards” – strait planks stretching across the ship on the fore part of the main deck.
As the gale still blows from the Westward and the ocean swell is coming from the Eastward the sea is consequently very confused, and even the Persia is rolling and pitching and at times bobbing up and down with heavy thumps or swaying like a great Yankee rocking chair. I hope we are not going to have a gale from the East for though an old sailor I hate a gale of wind at sea especially when it is right ahead. Everybody in the shape of a passenger is sick and even the sailors look like drenched scarecrows. Then, as the water in sheets of spray flys [sic] over the deck, there is no chance of breathing fresh air unless at the expense of a ducking. So I cannot get out, and here I sit jammed between the sofa and the table with a portfolio before me and an ink stand that every now and again makes a start as if it was determined to fly to the other side of the ship. It is most unpleasant and the only consolation that one gets is the announcement from one of the mates to one of the stewards “that we are going have a regular sneezer* right ahead.” [*A sneezer was an ancient sea term for a gale of wind]. I hate “sneezers right ahead” for they not only disturb one’s equilibrium and stomach and temper but they set everything cracking and jaunting and splashing, so that I took the liberty of telling the mate that if he’d no better news to give us he would better hold his tongue.
However I shall endeavour to banish all these unpleasant feelings, by going back in imagination to the South waters of the Hudson and endeavour to make more progress with my log of an idle hour than I did yesterday, in spite of the increasing gale.
Conspicuous from the river, and within a mile of Sing Sing, where the waters of Croton commence their artificial course to New York, may be seen the great prison of the State. I was told that the building for the male prisoners was about 500 feet in length with accommodation for 1000 persons, and that for the females three fourths as large. The whole, with outbuildings and yards (for there are no walls round the ground) within the circle of the sentry’s march, occupying about 130 acres.
Passing various pretty towns and villages we next reach Caldwell’s landing at the foot of the Dunderberg mountains a very fine and extreme range from which I was informed the view is truly grand and also beautiful. Amidst these mountain ranges the river Hudson forces its course smooth and placid in some parts and at others writhing and rushing in abrupt courses, as if struggling to be released from its iron bound limits.
The Hudson here in my opinion far exceeds in grandeur and in beauty any part of the Rhine, Though there are no views of Feudal castles to diversify the scene, there are the modern villas of the merchants of a great and free country – objects to my taste much more interesting that the emblems of a dark and barbaric age which only remind us of the despots who were once their lords and by their reminiscences cast a gloom over earths finest regions.
Here Lindsay discusses his impressions of American River Steamboats. He was very impressed with them as he explained…
In the midst of this mountain range stands West Point the celebrated military school or college. Here the Daniel Drew stopped to land and embark passengers, the first berthing place since we started from New York from which it is distant 54 miles. We arrived there at 8.20am and had performed the journey in 2 hours and 12 minutes, for I timed it, or at the rate of 25 miles an hour with the wind somewhat ahead of us and a slack tide neither for or against the steamer. I never was in a boat that steamed at anything like her speed and I afterwards learned that the Daniel Drew, American built and engines, was the fastest vessel in the world.
I had no idea of her fame when I stepped on board and indeed I had not previously heard of her. She was very much in appearance like the other ordinary passage boats on the Hudson. Her saloon on deck was light, roomy, and elegant – and her form was graceful with a very fine wedge like bow and remarkable clean stern. She moved through the water with great ease and hardly any motion, and her speed, as she passed the various points of land and vessels anchor, more resembled that of an express railway train than a steamer.
Her easy and swift motion attracted my attention and, learning that her builder was on board, I soon made the acquaintance of Mr Thomas Collyer of 43rd Street New York. I found Mr Collyer to be a plain sensible man; and the appearance of the Daniel Drew and her performance sufficiently testified to his abilities as a builder of great skill and knowledge. From Mr Collyer I ascertained her dimensions and follows:
Length over all 250 feet
Breadth without the usual platform 30½ ditto
Depth from main deck to flat of floor 9½ feet
On the main deck there was a saloon of about 100 feet in length, and in midships and forward, houses for the engineers and crew. The engines were direct acting and low pressure with the usual high shafts or cranks. The boilers I saw had been tested up to 57lbs per square inch and she was allowed by her centipede to work up to a pressure of 45lbs per square inch, but at the time she was going at the rate I have named the average pressure had not been more than 35lbs so that she had not been at full steam when she accomplished the extraordinary speed of 25 miles an hour.
She was a paddle wheeled boat but except when she started, the motion of the paddles was not felt, and was barely heard by the passengers in the saloon. A very small wave was raised by their motion and the water from her bows was hardly disturbed as she cut through it like a knife merely sending forth a jet which fell in a graceful curve on either deck of the sharp stern.
I am disposed to ask how it that we have not similar boats in England – We have nothing on our rivers or along our coasts at all approaching the Daniel Drew in beauty, grace, elegance, comfort, and above all in speed. The only vessel with us that I have seen which can bear any comparison with her is the Iona which runs between Glasgow, Rothesay and Tarbert, and the greatest speed got out of her was I think only 18 miles an hour.
But how is it that we have never in any country reached a speed on the ocean much beyond the speed attained by the Daniel Drew on the river. The Persia, the vessel on board of which I now address you is, I understand, the fastest ocean steamer in the world, and yet on the quietest run she can make across the Atlantic, she only managed 13.95 nautical with 16.08 statute miles per hour. Her great American competitor the Vanderbilt on the same voyage fell short of this speed as her average was 13.86 nautical or 15.98 statute miles an hour. So that the highest average speed on the ocean yet reached has been 16 miles an hour, while on the river, 25 miles per hour has been attained.
The Great Eastern was an attempt at great ocean speed and her builders were certain that she would on a voyage to India average at least 20 miles an hour. But her speed has not proved equal to that of the Persia and the reason is evident. There is nothing new about her except her gigantic size which as I predicted long before she was launched would be her ruin. In model she is the same as other steamers and if her engine power is a great deal more, it is not more in proportion than the greater weight which these engines will have to propel through the water.
In considering the question of ocean navigation it appears to me that we want a form which, while it gives safety and stability at sea, will combine the qualities of the Daniel Drew and the steamers which the Americans employ on their lake navigation. I have before me the particulars of some of these boats. They are from 1000 to 2000 tons register and I see their average working speed is about 20 statute miles per hour. Now though these vessels would be adapted to the navigation of the Atlantic Ocean, they encounter at times very rough seas and make their voyages with great regularity. Michigan lake is more like a sea than a lake, for in some parts there is a range of from 200 to 300 miles of water on which in a gale there are waves in size and fares not much short of those on the Atlantic, and yet we have no more instances of these vessels floundering than we have of our own vessels employed between England and the Mediterranean.
Lindsay then continues with his description of his journey…
I have I fear detained you too long at West Point but the performance of the Daniel Drew induced me to make the remarks I have done in regard to the speed and comfort of our sea going steamers. I must now ask you to accompany me to Albany.
Leaving West Point, which in scenery and in its association is one of the most attractive spots on the Hudson, we pass Crescent, one of the finest of the mountain groups and reach Storm King the last of the range of these Highlands.
We then meet scenery if not as grand, quite as beautiful, and from the numerous villages and well-kept lawns, and magnificent clusters of trees, interspersed with rocks of sparkling granite, more picturesque. From thence we see the pretty town of Undercliff, pass swiftly on the Island of Pollepel and thereafter the bay of Newburgh around which are the graceful villages of New Windsor, Cornwall, Fishkill and Newburgh.
A few miles further on we come to the Town or “City" of Poughkeepsie, entertaining a population of 15000 and situated 75 miles from New York. Five miles further on we reach the village of “Hyde Park” on the Eastside of the river, and in the midst of a country of great fertility studied with handsome villas, and apparently thriving homesteads.
From this point to the base of the lofty range of hills known as the Catskills, the scenery is exceedingly beautiful and very interesting. Nor is it much less so from thence to Albany, as we pass a member of thriving towns and pretty villages amongst which may be noted Athens and Stockport, and various other places the names of which I now forget.
Albany is situated 145 miles from New York and the rapidity of the Daniel Drew’s passage gave me close upon five hours to spare before the train started for Niagara. I employed the spare time at my disposal in strolling through the Town or rather “City” as that is the name given to any place in America containing more than 10,000 inhabitants. I think they are all either villages or corporate cities.
Albany is an old and somewhat aristocratic city containing 65,000 inhabitants, and it is the capital of the State of New York. It is pleasantly situated on high ground rising from the Hudson and carries on a considerable trade with the West and North by means of the Erie and also the Chaplain canals: and it is besides, the point from which many important lines of railway diverge. The streets are wide and in many cases lined with trees, and the houses are well built, and to all natured appearances very clean. In the vicinity of the State Capital, which is an imposing building, there are many very handsome mansions.
Here, Lindsay ended his description of his journey on the Hudson River. Many years later, in 1876, he published a comprehensive reference entitled ‘The History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce’ in four volumes. For many years it was a reference that many interested in shipping, turned to. In this work, he praises Robert Fulton, whose early steamer, the Clermont, on the Hudson River, paved the way for passenger steamers. He devoted several pages to Fulton. (see History of Merchant Shipping, Lindsay, Vol 4 pages 48-59). He felt that Fulton’s innovation had been overlooked.
His comments were also published in The Pall Mall Gazette, 26 December 1874…
Mr. Lindsay is deliberately of opinion that the Marquis of Worcester is the first person who ever constructed a steam engine; and that though Papin, Savery, Jonathan Hulls, the Marquis de Jouffroy, Bramah, and others, helped forward very materially the knowledge of steam as a motive power, to Fulton is due the credit of having put former discoveries and his own improvements to practical use by running a steam-boat regularly for purposes of trade. This pioneer vessel, destined to have myriads of followers, was the Clermont, which as the year 1807, only two years after Nelson had fallen at Trafalgar, plied regularly between New York and Albany, and made an average speed of five miles an hour.
We agree with Mr Lindsay in his strong reprobation of Rennie and other engineers who have not scrupled to call Fulton a charlatan and a quack because he made use of other men’s discoveries.
Lord Worcester was the first man to make a steam-engine; Watt was the first man to show how such an engine could be used to propel ships; Fulton was the first man to propel ships with steam-engines. Surely, when we reflect what steam has done for the commerce, the civilization, the happiness of the world, we can do equal homage to that triumvirate of genius without disparagement to either.
Poor Fulton was neither so prosperous nor so happy that we need grudge him his fair share of fame. Persecuted by jealous rivals, oppressed by the State which he had benefited, he died poor and broken hearted; but he has left behind him an enduring fame and an everlasting stigma on those who nicknamed his undertaking “Fulton’s Folly”.
I can’t end mentioning Fulton without this cutting. It was among Lindsay’s papers:-
ADVENTURES, NATIONAL CUSTOMS, AND CURIOUS FACTS.
FULTON'S FIRST STEAM VOYAGE,
BY R. W. HASKINS.
Some years since, I formed a travelling acquaintance, upon a steamboat on the Hudson River, with a gentleman, who, on that occasion, related to me some incidents of the first voyage of Fulton, to Albany, in his steamboat, the Clermont, which I never met with elsewhere. The gentleman’s name I have now lost, but I urged him, at the time, to publish what he related; which, however, so far as I knew, he had never done. -
"I chanced," said my narrator, "to be at Albany on business, when Fulton arrived there in his unheard-of craft, which everybody felt so much interest in seeing. Being ready to leave, and hearing that this craft was to return to New York, I repaired on board and inquired for Mr. Fulton. I was referred to the cabin, and there found a plain, gentlemanly man, wholly alone, and engaged in writing.
'Mr. Fulton, I presume?’
‘Do you return to New York with this boat?’
'We shall try to get back, Sir.'
`Can I have a passage down?’
‘You can take your chance with us, Sir.'
"I inquired the amount to be paid; and, after a moment's hesitation, a sum, I think six dollars, was named. The amount, in coin, I laid in his open hand; and, with an eye fixed upon it, he remained so long motionless that I supposed there might be a miscount, and said to him, 'Is that right Sir?
This roused him, as from a kind of reverie; and, as he looked up at me, a tear was trembling in his eye and his voice faltered, as he said, 'Excuse me, Sir, but memory was busy, as I contemplated this, the first pecuniary reward I have ever received for all my exertions in adapting steam to navigation. I would gladly commemorate the occasion over a bottle of wine with you, but really I am too poor, even for that, just now; yet I trust we may meet again when this will not be so.’
"Some four years after this, when the Clermont had been greatly improved, and two new boats made – making Fulton's fleet three boats regularly plying between New York and Albany - I took passage in one of these, for the latter city. The cabin in that day was below; and as I walked its length to and fro, I saw I was closely observed by one I supposed a stranger. Soon, however, I recalled the features of Mr Fulton; but without disclosing this, I continued my walk, and waited the result. At length, in passing his seat our eyes met, when he sprang to his feet, and eagerly seizing my hand, exclaimed, ‘I knew it must be you, for your features have never escaped me; and although I am still far from rich, yet I may venture that bottle now.’ – It was ordered; and during its discussion Mr Fulton ran rapidly but vividly over his experience of the world’s coldness and sneers, and of the hopes, fears and appointments, and difficulties that were scattered through the whole career of discovery, up to that very point of his final, crowning triumph, at which he so fully felt he had at last arrived.
‘And in reviewing these,’ said he, ‘I have again and again recalled the occasion and the incident of our first interview, at Albany; and never have I done so without its renewing in my mind the vivid emotion it originally caused. That seemed, and still does seem, to me, the turning point in my destiny – the dividing line between light and darkness, in my career upon earth; for it was the first actual recognition of my usefulness to my fellow men.’
Such, then, were the events coupled with the very dawn of steam navigation – a dawn so recent as to be still recollected by many; and such as Fulton here related them, were causing a revolution in navigation, which has almost literally brought the ends of the earth into contact.
Having read this, all I can say is how lucky you are that your Museum is associated with such a fine pioneer. I am sure that you serve him well. He deserves it.
W S Lindsay’s journals: National Maritime Museum, London. (Reference NMM:LND).
Hudson Journey: LND-7
W S Lindsay Wikipedia : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Schaw_Lindsay
Fulton; Lindsay, History of Merchant Shipping, Vol 4 pages 48-59, also The Pall Mall Gazette, 26 December 1874, also LND-2-12
William Stewart Lindsay FCIM DipMa is a great-great-grandson of William Schaw Lindsay. In retirement he joined the Society for Nautical Research and the Navy Records Society and is pursuing his lifelong interest in maritime matters. He has published several articles on Victorian Shipping.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to support more history blog content, please make a donation to the Hudson River Maritime Museum or become a member today!
This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
The Hudson River Maritime Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the maritime history of the Hudson River, its tributaries, and related industries.
Become a member and receive benefits like unlimited free museum admission, discounts on classes, programs, and in the museum store, plus invitations to members-only events.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum receives no federal, state, or municipal funding except through competitive, project-based grants. Your donation helps support our mission of education and preservation.