"The left paddle-wheel began to reverse"

'Westminster Stairs: Steamers Leaving' (detail)
Public Domain'Westminster Stairs: Steamers Leaving' (detail) - Credit: Gustave Doré


Paddle steamer boats were pioneered in the eighteenth century, becoming widespread in the 1800s. Although often associated with the Mississippi river in the United States, paddle steamers were used across the world on sea-going trips as well as on rivers.

They appeared on the Thames from 1818, slowly forcing out the watermen and their skiffs; by 1844 it was calculated that there were two hundred steamers constantly navigating the river, with frequent collisions. The busiest stretch was between Chelsea and Woolwich, as people commuted from the fringes of the city to the centre.  

The paddle steamer Waverley, the last sea-going paddle steamer left in the world, still operates some pleasure cruises down the Thames.