puffers & vics



The history of the puffer - page 3

The cargoes carried by the puffers were varied. From the very beginning they were transporting large volumes of coal and iron ore to Glasgow's iron and later steel furnaces, and coal onwards to the bunkers of the sea-going ships using the docks at Glasgow and further down river at Port Glasgow and Greenock. Coal and building materials were also carried to the estuarial islands of Arran, Cumbrae and Bute, as were more general cargoes.

The same essential supplies started to be carried to remoter west coast communities and the islands when the "outside" boats came into service in the late 1870s. Until then, supplies for these places had been carried by the sail-powered gabbarts. The use of steam puffers allowed more regular dependable services and soon these vessels were a common sight along Scotland's rugged west coast. 

Most of the destinations served didn't have any cargo handling gear, many didn't even have a jetty alongside which the puffers could berth and so discharging was often a backbreaking manual job of filling large buckets for lifting from a beached puffer onto horse drawn carts.  Fortunately the puffers did have a steam powered winch.   The picture on the left shows a puffer aground at the mouth of the Black Water at Blackwaterfoot on the Isle of Arran unloading a cargo of coal into horse-drawn carts. The picture is undated but it's probably around 1900 and the vessel is possibly either the "Maisie" or the quaintly named ex-Carron "Number 10" which were regulars there at that time. In the hard manual work involved in unloading little will have changed by the time the picture on the right was taken, probably 70 or more years later, of the crew of the "Glenfyne" assisted by locals (probably members of the island's "coal club") filling one ton buckets of coal for discharge at Uig pier on Skye. Coal clubs were a feature of the west highland and island communities which allowed groups of locals to band together to enable the purchase of a full puffer-load of coal. Coal was considered to be a bit of a luxury which on special occasions would replace the lower-calorific value peat normally used. It would be common for the men of the club, and sometimes even their schoolboy sons, to assist with the unloading. 

The provenance of this photograph is unknown

 The photograph below is from the Dan McDonald collection courtesy of the Ballast Trust and is reproduced under a Creative Commons License



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