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Gloucester Docks &
the Sharpness Canal


Steam Launch Sabrina

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MC Risga

The steam launch Sabrina was built in 1870 for the use of the Canal Company's engineer and directors. She continued in service on the canal until 1942, since when she has been looked after by a number of private owners and been given a new steam engine. She is a member of the National Historic Fleet (the former 'Core Collection' of the National Register of Historic Vessels), and she is now based at Saul Junction.

Sabrina was built in 1870 by the local engineering company Fielding & Platt. The cabin, entered from the fore-deck, had black buttoned leather seating each side of a long central table, and the chairman of the company sat on a flip down seat facing the bow. The Scotch marine boiler was installed centrally immediately behind the bulkhead separating the main cabin, galley and toilet from the engine room. The coal bunkers were situated either side of the boiler and loaded via dummy windows. The fireman stood between the boiler and the engine, and the captain operated her from the top deck behind the funnel.

Sabrina was much used by the Canal Company's engineer, W B Clegram, for travelling from his base at Saul Lodge - initially to oversee the construction of the new dock at Sharpness and later to supervise other construction and maintenance work along the line of the canal. She was also used by the directors for their annual surveys of the canal, and she was hired out for private parties. For the first 15 years, she usually made between 180 and 220 trips a year and travelled 3200 to 3800 miles.

Clegram's successor as engineer, F A Jones, was not so keen on using Sabrina for supervising maintenance work along the canal, and he persuaded the directors to pay for a horse instead. She was, however, occasionally pressed into service for moving workmen and materials when emergency repairs were needed. Under Jones's successor, A J Cullis, Sabrina was used for a weekly trip from Gloucester to Sharpness to discuss business with the Harbour Master there. On the way down the canal Sabrina's skipper threw a pay-packet to each of the bridgeman, and the bridgeman at the Junction often had a bouquet of flowers or some fruit for the Cullis family.

In spite of occasional concerns about the expense of replacing her boiler, Sabrina continued in service up to the beginning of the Second World War, but following a Civil Defence exercise, the directors reluctantly agreed to replace her in 1942 with a diesel-powered boat that could be more quickly available when needed.

For her first twelve years in private ownership, Sabrina remained on the River Severn, but then her steam plant was replaced by a paraffin engine and she was taken to the Thames and the Grand Union Canal. During the early 1970s, she was restored and fitted with a Sissons steam engine made in Gloucester and a boiler built by Historic Steam at the Kew Bridge Steam Museum. In May 2019, she returned to the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal and is based at Saul Junction. She is on the National Register of Historic Vessels as a fine example of a canal inspection launch.

Sources: Canal Co minutes at Kew, Glos R O D2460 Maintenance Book, memories of Bert Fredericks and Miss D B Cullis, info from Carol Steggles. Old Photo: NWM 0804.

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