PortCities London

The port in 1901


Glimpses of the future

The 1901 census for the docks at Tilbury gives an indication of the prosperous future to come in the 20th century, but the docks were far less crowded than those of inner London.

There were only 29 vessels of all descriptions in Tilbury - far fewer than at the Millwall or West India Docks. Of these, only six were large merchant ships.

Even so, several notable ships were berthed at Tilbury in March 1901. They included some of the finest ships around at that time, ships representing new technologies and ships belonging to the United States and Japan - the economic and maritime superpowers of the future. 

The ocean liners

As the Tilbury Docks were the most spacious on the Thames, it is no surprise that the largest vessel in any of the London docks in 1901 was berthed here.

The 'Minneapolis' (1900).
View full size imageThe Minneapolis (1900). © NMM
This was the liner Minneapolis (1900, 13,443 GRT). She was built in Belfast for the American-owned Atlantic Transport Line, and was one of the few great liners crossing the Atlantic from London.

The 'Ormuz' (1886).
View full size imageThe Ormuz (1886). © NMM
Other liners at Tilbury included the Orient Line's Ormuz (1886), which ran a regular route to Australia via the Mediterranean. She had accommodation for nearly 400 passengers.



Also present were the Western Steam Ship Company's Oronsay (1900), and the Clan Line's Clan Mackinnon (1891) and Clan Stuart (1900), all of which ran routes to Madras or Calcutta.


A sign of things to come

The 'Kanagawa Maru' (1896).
View full size imageThe Kanagawa Maru (1896). © NMM
Another visitor to Tilbury suggested the shape of things to come. The Japanese passenger and cargo liner Kanagawa Maru was built at Glasgow in 1896. This was a period when Japan, eager to modernize, was investing heavily in Western equipment. Half a century later, Japanese shipbuilders were to become the world leaders.


The Silvertown

The 'Silvertown' (1873).
View full size imageThe Silvertown (1873). © NMM
Another distinguished vessel at Tilbury was the cable-laying ship Silvertown (1871). Formerly the Hooper, she was the first purpose-built cable layer. She enjoyed a long career, laying cables in Central and South America, Africa and the Atlantic.


Smaller vessels

The 'Saphir' (1897).
View full size imageThe Saphir (1897). © NMM
There were several short sea steamers in Tilbury. Most of these would have continued their journey upriver to the inner London docks. The General Steam Navigation Company's Ptarmigan (1891) served the North Sea routes. She was torpedoed and sunk in 1915. The Cockerell Company's Saphir (1897) made regular trips from Antwerp.

The tug Sirdar.
View full size imageThe tug Sirdar, by W.L. Wyllie. © NMM

The smallest craft of all included the pleasure steamer Marguerite, several Thames barges, some small schooners, a dredger, and the tug Sirdar, immortalized in Wyllie's drawing from the 1880s.



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