Thames Timeline

Thames Marine History

The timeline below shows a few key developments and other related events which led to the Thames becoming, for a while, the world centre for marine technology during the 19th century. To view in a timeline format press here


Historical Event

Current status


Thomas Newcomen builds the first practical steam engine (atmospheric engine also known as a fire engine)

Replica of a 1712 engine on display at Dudley


James Watt develops the steam engine with the invention and patenting of the condenser



Richard Trevithick introduced the use of high pressure steam at a Cornish mine. Pressure was around 40 psi; about ten times the pressure used in Watt engines. High pressure steam engines were lighter so could be used for all forms of mechanised transport unlike the massive James Watt beam engines.



Charlott Dundas built by William Symington for towing work on the Forth & Clyde Canal.

Three quarter size replica. Now on display at New Port Downie - The Falkirk Wheel


Until this time the Thames was tidal up to Staines. Each lock built lower downriver needed an act of Parliament. The new locks now made the river non tidal above Teddington

Thames has 45 locks between Lechlade and Teddington


Comet built by Henry Bell - first successful passenger steamboat used on the Clyde.

Replica can be seen at Port Glasgow town centre


PS Margery - First use of a steamboat on the Thames between London and Gravesend



First practical electric motors being developed



Screw Propeller patented by Francis Pettit Smith



Queen Victoria accession to the throne



Great Western - a wooden paddle steamer makes the first crossing of the Atlantic by steam power alone.



SS Archimedes - Built in London was the first successful use of a propeller instead of the paddle wheel. Circumnavigated the UK in 1840; influenced Isambard Brunel to use screw rather than paddle for the SS Great Britain



SS Great Britain built by Brunel - first iron screw steamer providing an Atlantic passenger service

Restored and on display at Bristol


HMS Rattler - built at Sheerness was the first naval ship fitted with a propeller. There were a series of trials; screw versus paddle, the screw always proved superior in pull and speed. Most famous against paddler HMS Alecto in 1845.



Thames Conservancy formed



Nautilus - first steam launch built by J.I. Thornycroft on the Thames completed 1863



Re-chargeable electric battery invented - lead acid type



Alfred Yarrow establishes Headly &Yarrow Company on the Thames at Poplar



Thames Conservancy assumes responsibility for the river navigation from Lechlade to Teddington



First "practical" dynamos invented independently by Siemens and Wheatstone. Providing a means of recharging the lead acid cells (ie secondary battery)



Cutty Sark - maiden voyage

Restored as a static exhibit, on display at Greenwich


Thames Conservancy starts to clear the weed obstructing steam screw powered vessel navigation



Cygnet - built by J.I. Thornycroft at Chiswick; yard no. 9

Static display at Beale Park


Miranda - built by Thornycroft, yard no.10 astonishes naval experts with a speed in excess of 18 knots. A paper was given to the INA by Professor Bramwell



Thought to be first use of a steam launch to carry umpires at the Henley Royal Regatta, possibly using Thornycroft steam launch Ariel



Eva - built by J.I. Thornycroft yard no 34 also used for umpire duty before cabin fitted.

Restored to full working order, now on display as a static exhibit at the Henley River and Rowing Museum.


Rap - first torpedo boat supplied to Norway - using spar torpedoes

On display at a Museum in Norway


G.F.G. Desvignes built the umpire launches for the Henley Royal Regatta for the next 20 years.



Otto patented the four stroke engine principle which lead to the development of the successful Internal Combustion engine, by others



Lightning - first torpedo boat built by Thornycroft for the Admiralty to carry the new self propelled Whitehead torpedoes. Large numbers of torpedo boats were made for the Admiralty and navy's around the world by Thornycroft and Yarrow



Electricity - the first electric launch on the Thames



Yarrow patented a three drum design watertube boiler. Lighter water tube boilers were now being use in naval vessels instead of the heavier loco types.



Salters passenger steamboat service started between Oxford and Kingston with Alaska

Alaska was rescued and completely rebuilt in  1987 and is now privately owned; available for private outings


Moritz Immisch employed Magnus Volk as manager to develop an electric launch hire business based at Platts Ayot. Steam dynamo stations were set up on barges at various locations on the Thames for re-charging batteries.



Hibernia - at 30 mph was fastest steam launch on the Thames, built by G.F.G. Desvignes for umpire use



Daring and Decoy and Havock and Hornet- the first of a new class of warship called torpedo boat destroyer were commissioned by the Admiralty from Thornycroft  and Yarrow respectively at their Thames yards



Speedy - the last large warship built by Thornycroft at Chiswick



Lodona - built by Kingdon Yacht, Launch and Engineering Co. Ltd (G.F.G Desvignes) for Mr Palmer of Huntley and Palmers of Reading. 1923 purchase by the Thames Conservancy renamed Donola used as inspection launch until 1969

Now owned by the National Maritime Museum and held in store - not currently on public display


Turbinia - built by Charles Parsons, first successful vessel using steam turbines

On static display at the Museum of Discovery Newcastle upon Tyne


Consuta - built by S.E. Saunders at Goring using the patented Consuta plywood

Restored 2001 and now operational at various events on the Thames each year


Queen Victoria dies



Saunders sets up the syndicate and moves to the IoW to exploit the use of Consuta plywood. Springfield works at Goring sold to Hobbs c1908

1927 became Saunders-Roe, and now part of GKN


Thornycroft moved to the Hampton launch works at Platts Eyot, building small craft

Yard closed 1964


Thornycroft establishes a ship building yard at Woolston, Southampton

Woolston yard closed in 2002

Thornycroft became Vosper Thornycroft in 1970 based at Portsmouth, now known as VT


Thornycroft's Chiswick yard closed.