Steam Paddle Tug John H. Amos

Background and History

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Perhaps one of the most famous steam paddle tugs in history was the 'Monarch', depicted in JMW Turner's painting 'The Fighting Temeraire', first exhibited at The Royal Academy in 1839.



The last-but-one steam paddle tug in the UK, 'Reliant', launched 1907, was controversially scrapped after being on display in the Neptune Hall at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Only one engine and half a paddle wheel remain at Greenwich. The steering engine and chains have been preserved at the Markham Grange Steam Museum, Brodsworth.


It is thought that the only other British built paddle tug in the world is the 'Eppleton Hall', launched 1914, currently berthed at the Hyde Street Pier, San Francisco.


Some diesel-electric paddle tugs were built latterly for the Royal Navy, but the last one, 'Forceful', was scrapped after being used as a missile target.

John Hetherington Amos

History of the John H. Amos

The John H. Amos was the last paddle tug built in Great Britain for civilian owners. The initial design for the vessel was said to have been draughted in 1888, and when she appeared in 1931 she was something of an anachronism.

The tug was built for the Tees Conservancy Commissioners in a Clyde shipyard by Bow McLachlan & Co Ltd. of Paisley, Scotland, and named to honour an octogenarian Secretary to the Commissioners, John Hetherington Amos who died in 1934.


Extra steam container


Before completion of the vessel, Bow McLachlan & Co. Ltd. were declared bankrupt. The liquidators finished the work by using materials that were already available in the yard. As a result some aspects of the vessel were better than the original specification. Unfortunately other components turned out to be unsuitable.

It was soon discovered that the boilers they used could not supply enough steam for the large diagonal compound engines. A maximum of only 11 knots was achieved instead of the intended 13 knots.

Among other modifications that were made was an extra steam container added to each boiler. This may have had the effect of supplying "drier" steam, but would not necessarily have solved the problem of providing more steam.

The tug was completed in February 1931 but the Tees Conservancy Commissioners would not accept her due to the speed not being up to specification. It was to be two years before she was formally accepted.

View of the engine room



Clutch and turning gear

The hull was constructed from riveted steel plate and some other details are as follows: -

Official Number : 160734
Yard Number : 497
Previous Port of Registry : Middlesbrough
Present Port of Registry : London
Length : 110 feet
Breadth : 22.5 feet
Moulded Depth : 11.5 feet
Overall Width (paddle to paddle) 43 feet
Gross Tonnage : 202 tons
Actual Weight, approx. : 300 tons
Registered Tonnage : nil
Two compound diagonal engines with Bremme valve gear
Nominal Horsepower : 126
Indicated Horsepower : 500
Length of Stroke : 44 inches
Diameter of H.P. Cylinders : 17¼ inches
Diameter of L.P. Cylinders : 34½ inches
Engines can be worked separately or joined by a dog clutch.
Boilers : Two coal fired twin furnace Scotch type
Working Pressure : 125 p.s.i.

The estimated cost, delivered complete, was believed to be £18,500 but it cost less than the estimated price because of the problems with specification.

Please click here for the General Arrangement Plan




Working Life 1931 to 1967

During research done by Martin Stevens and Chris Jones in February 2004 in connection with the HLF Project Planning Grant, many of the myths relating to the John H Amos were laid to rest. It had been understood that she was a failure as a tug. This is not true.

For 27 years between 1940 and 1967, the period covered by the Daily Towage Records at Teesside Archives, she worked an almost monotonous daily routine doing exactly the work she was built for. She took barges to dredgers and the dumping grounds, towed the dredgers as they had no propulsion of their own, and transferred the crews.


This was confirmed by the last Chief Engineer of the John H Amos, Ron Young.

Ron told of minor problems such as the Sissons generator being difficult to regulate. The only shortcoming concerning the boilers was the reluctance of the management to provide a second stoker. This meant that one man had to stoke four furnaces during a full day's work all by himself.

Ironically the story of the tug's difficulties during building did in fact give it an advantage. It seems that the John H Amos was not expected to be a success, so she was given a certificate for 144 passengers to make her more useful.

She was said to have been used to take the Tees Commissioners and their official guests on excursions. After careful study of the ship's log, a few cryptic entries were found when a very odd excursion took place.




There was a long wooden structure in the mouth of the River Tees known as the Fifth Buoy Light with a light at each end. When approaching ships had the two lights in line they knew they were on the right course. In the middle of this structure was a building described as a dancehall or café. This could only be reached by boat, and belonged to the Tees Commissioners. Perhaps it is best left to the imagination as to why the Commissioners felt this was the place where they would spend their leisure time.

Ron Young told of an incident in 1959 when the vessel was arrested for smuggling. She was involved in towing barges to ships anchored offshore and illicit trading in alcohol was taking place. There is no mention of this incident in the ship's log, although it is noted that the skipper changed for a while during the critical period.

Although the case was taken to court, nobody was disciplined or sacked. According to Ron this source of alcohol was common practise and a widely used perk.

Ron told us about races between the paddle tug John H Amos and a TID tug named Lackenby (ex TID 182) in the same fleet. The paddle tug always won.

The last skipper of the John H.Amos, Archie Taylor, had told of his four years experience with the tug. "We used to tow barges to the dredgers, then we would take the superintendent round and then pick up the men again, and take water to ships that needed it."

"She was good, but was a bit hard on the steering." (no steam steering engine)
"The man feeding the boilers had to work hard to keep up steam. We would get through about three tons of coal in a full eight hour day."

When towing barges, they were always lashed alongside. In this configuration it was normal to use only one paddle. With the width of the barge added to the 43 feet of the tug this would have been a significant obstacle to meet in the narrower reaches of the Tees.



Ron confirmed the archive entries that the tug operated with the following crew: - Skipper, Mate, Two engineers, Fireman and Ships Boy (known as 6th hand) One engineer was responsible for the port engine and the other for the starboard engine.

The Tees has been referred to disparagingly as a muddy ditch. The raison d'être of the John H Amos was to be a key part of the continuous dredging team. Her relatively shallow draught compared with a propeller driven screw tug enabled her to work in the shallow waters as far up river as Stockton.

A listing Swiss paddle boat DS Unterwalden


Unlike all passenger carrying paddle steamers, the John H. Amos was able to work each engine independently. This gave the manoeuvrability necessary for a tug. It was found that on passenger vessels, when approaching port, the passengers went to one side of the boat to disembark. If the engines were then worked independently the uneven distribution of weight could capsize the vessel. The John H Amos invariably worked with the clutch disengaged.



1967 to 1976

The John H. Amos was withdrawn from service in 1967, and two years later was presented by the Tees and Hartlepool Ports Authority to the County Borough of Teesside for "The People of Cleveland"


In December 1971 she was moved from Middlesbrough to Stockton Corporation Quay. A team of eight young people working under the Community Industrial Scheme, organised by the Youth Employment Service were part of a plan to convert the tug into a floating museum.



In 1973 when Martin Stevens and Michael List Brain from the Medway Maritime Museum visited the vessel in Stockton there was supervised work in progress, mainly concerned with the bilges and the interior of the hull.


In June 1973, the John H. Amos was dry docked. It is said that £19,000 was spent on replating part of the hull. This was done by welding the new plates and not by traditional riveting. The work was done at Smiths Dock, Middlesborough.




1976 to 2001

When the government of the day re-organised local councils the Youth Training Scheme was discontinued by the new council. This left them in an embarrassing position of having spent rate-payers money on a "white elephant" which was now destined for the scrap yard.

Martin Stevens and Michael List Brain heard of the predicament and negotiated to buy the John H. Amos for £3,500 thus allowing the council to save face.

During February 1976 Martin Stevens on the steam tug Cervia had towed four trawlers from Grimsby to Blyth in Northumberland for scrap. (They were Northern Prince, Northern Sea, Northern Sun, and Northern Chief). He then diverted to Stockton to collect the John H.Amos.


There was controversy among local politicians right up to the point of hand over.
Cleveland County Archives Department refused to release papers relating to the vessel. Councillor Tony Ellwood is quoted as saying that the incident was the "last straw in a bloody-minded attitude adopted by the County towards Stockton." The Archives Department agreed to release the documents only half an hour before the John H.Amos was due to depart.

Stockton's Mayor, Councillor Norman Duff, headed a civic party on the bridge of the John H.Amos to accept a cheque and perform a re-naming ceremony by breaking a bottle of champagne on the deck.


Watched by a crowd of 400, and to the accompaniment of "Rule Britannia" played by a local brass band, the strangely "time-warped" tow set of down the Tees late in the afternoon of March 4th 1976.

For a while the tug was re-named Hero, and was owned and managed by a company called ITL International Towing Ltd. These name changes were part of a strategy employed by the Medway Maritime Museum to give confidence to customers who may have had doubts about a Museum tug being used to tow their vessels.


It was known from the outset that the John H.Amos was in a different league to the other three working tugs. The policy of the Museum was that the best way to preserve vessels was to work them. But they acquired the John H.Amos knowing that the most they could do was to prevent her from being scrapped because of the enormous costs involved in total restoration.


Later in 1976 the Medway Maritime Museum fleet was divided and Martin Stevens took on responsibility for the steam tug T.I.D. 164 and the John H.Amos.

When Lloyds Insurance bought Gun Wharf, Chatham, the John H.Amos was no longer welcome and was moved to Milton Creek and then Faversham Creek, towed by T.I.D. 164.

A paddle tug is not the easiest vessel to find a home for. In the South East of England there are many tidal mud berths where working vessels can sit on the mud at the edge of a river or creek when the tide goes out. A paddle tug cannot use such a berth because, where a conventional vessel would normally sit, she has a paddle. The hull would sit on the slope to the centre of the creek or river.

Every time the tide went out the tug slithered to the centre of the creek. A local tug had to be chartered when other vessels wanted to get past, and in an effort to hold the tug on her mooring she was tied to a small building. When the tide went out the wire rope demolished the building!


When T.I.D. 164 was taking part in the welcome home of Endurance, after the Falklands War, the Royal Navy was about to leave Chatham Dockyard. Hearing of the plight of the John H. Amos in Faversham the Royal Navy allocated two buoys for the use of Medway Maritime Museum. They were to await the formation of the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust


When the Trust was formed the two steam tugs were moved to Anchor Wharf in the Historic Dockyard. This was just down river from the original berth at Gun Wharf and with the addition of twenty tons of chalk was a good berth.

When the Historic Dockyard Trust acquired the submarine Ocelot, which was built there in Number Seven Slip, they required the John H. Amos to move from her prepared berth. On the new berth she sat on a lump of concrete and sank.



English Partnership, who were developing the neighbouring part of the dockyard, were asked for help and the two tugs were allowed to occupy a disused slipway, free of charge, with the opportunity to do repairs to the hull of the John H. Amos.

In November 1999 the National Historic Ships Committee included the John H. Amos in their "Core Collection" as a vessel of "Pre-eminent National Significance" and among the most worthy vessels for preservation.



2001 to 2006

In 2001 the ownership of the John H. Amos was transferred to a Charitable Trust, the Medway Maritime Trust.
The first funding came from the PRISM Fund at the Science Museum and Martin Stevens on the transfer of ownership.

Further grant aid has since been received from The Heritage Lottery Fund (project planning grant), National Historic Ships and Rochester Bridge Trust. G.P.S. Marine have helped in kind.




Among the first Trustees of the Medway Maritime Trust were Martin Stevens and Dr Robert Prescott.

Martin Stevens, Chairman of theTrust, is the proprietor of a family business in Kent selling woodstoves and gardening machinery.

He ran the last fleet of working steam tugs in the UK and has been instrumental in the saving of several vessels, including the steam tug TID 164, steam coaster VIC 96 and more recently the 1902 Customs Cruiser VIGILANT.

Dr. Robert Prescott, formerly Project Director of the National Historic Ships Committee, head of the Scottish Institute of Maritime Studies at St. Andrews University, and holder of a Caird Senior Fellowship at The National Maritime Museum at Greenwich.

He is now Chairman of the Advisory Committee of National Historic Ships, reporting to the Secretary of State at the Department of Culture Media and Sport.





The John H Amos was due to be slipped in early April 2004. This was to be done in No.7 slip at Chatham Historic Dockyard.

However, due to a delay concerning the lawyers of the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust and those of Turk's Shipyard, (the proposed tenant), the date for slipping came and went. This turned out to be a very expensive episode for the Medway Maritime Trust as contractors had to be paid cancellation fees.






2006 - 2008

The Pontoon PORTAL NARVIK and the floating crane ATLAS

The Medway Maritime Trust had acquired the services of a giant pontoon named Portal Narvik. Its dimensions are 60 x 16 metres, (200 x 50 feet). That's nearly a quarter of an acre!

After the diversion of the Number Seven Slip episode the pontoon idea had to be resurrected, and by chance Martin was telephoned by Kier Plant who said they had had a change of management. It evolved that the man who originally showed him round the pontoon and was very supportive towards the John H Amos project, had become the new Managing Director. He made an offer which could not be refused and the pontoon had new owners.


The pontoon Portal Narvik is an historic ship in her own right. She is all that is left of HMS Narvik, a Tank Landing Ship, launched on the 29th July 1945 as LST 3044. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine.

She was the flagship of the British Task Force for the atomic bomb tests in the Monte Bello Islands in 1956 and again served as the mother ship for Dr. Penny's team at the Christmas Island hydrogen bomb tests. She later served as a depot ship in Malta. Records say that she was scrapped in 1965.............. Not quite.

The Trust is saving up for a Geiger counter!

(Click here for an article about HMS Narvik from 'Old Glory' magazine, March 2007).


Until Christmas 2004 the pontoon had a crane mounted on it and was earning money for the Trust on a contract at the Isle of Grain in Kent erecting a jetty. The money was to help pay for lifting the John H Amos onto the pontoon.


The crane which was to be used for the lift is one of the largest in Europe, the GPS Atlas, formerly Smit Tak's Taklift 3.


Jaco Sluijmers, director of operations with the specialist Dutch team who operate the Atlas, visited the John H Amos twice to plan the lift.


Meanwhile final preparations were underway on the John H Amos and Portal Narvik.

That's the story so far. For up-to-date news go to THE BIG LIFT

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