puffers & vics



The Hamiltons' Puffer Connection Before and After 1900

The story of the "Brodick" and the "Glencloy" as told by

Adam Hamilton's Great Grandson

Graeme Wallace


Captain James Hamilton of Brodick was at sea at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, probaby crewing on cargo boats in and around the Clyde. In 1821 he had decided to set out in business properly and ordered a 45ft gaff rigged trading smack which they named "Brodick" from Fyfe of Fairlie. This was long before Fyfe's were building the world's finest racing yachts and commercial craft were their bread and butter.

With a man from Lamlash called McNicol he went into the regular service business, running a sail packet service from Saltcoats to Arran for about 36 years until competition from the railway steamers made the trade no longer viable. Stuck with a boat they couldn't make money with, James with his two sons, Adam and Robert, decided to convert her to a schooner for the west coast trade, and to do it by themselves!

A smack in the same style as Brodick before she was lengthened

In what has become a part of the Hamilton tradition for innovation, they hauled the Brodick out of the water at the burn beside the old pier at Brodick, near the Dougas Hotel. Her bowsprit was right over the road. The three of them, on their own, cut her in half, and made a new keel and keelson. They got everything straight and planked her up, 15 feet longer than before. The three of them had a reputation of having hands for anything.

"Brodick" as a topsail trading schooner at the old pier Brodick in 1870. Note the new steamer pier in the background, on the same site as today's CalMac Ro-Ro ferry terminal..

 They now had a ship better suited to operating outside of the Firth of Clyde. Also in the Hamilton tradition, they economised until they had made some money; she started out as fore and aft rigged until they had the time and money to make upper yards, then sailed with 2 fore topsails all over the west coast until 1893. Coal to Skye, Bricks to Liverpool. Salt from Northwich or Fleetwood to the Cyde. Lime from Antrim to the Clyde. They had good success with her. Young George Hamilton (b1872) with Adam and latterly Gavin Hamilton sailed her in her later days.

However, by 1893 they were running into the old problem again: competition from steam. This time it was puffers venturing outside of the Firth in greater numbers, using the Crinan Canal to access the west coast and taking away their business.

They made the bold decision to build their own small puffer, on Arran in the tidal lagoons behind Brodick Beach. Through negotiations with the local estate owned by the Duke of Hamilton , they chose 6 large larch trees, in the bark, and had them taken to an Ardrossan sawmill. There they were cut into 2 1/4 inch planks and transported back to Arran.

The keel of the "Glencloy" was laid at the end of 1893 and they worked away at it themselves, with occasional assistance, until launch in April 1895. They bought second hand spars salvaged from a big schooner which was washed up at Lamlash and used them for mast and boom. Sails and warps came from the "Brodick". They fitted seacocks and the stern tube after launch, between tid

 "Glencloy's" steam engine was to be installed upriver at Glasgow and the engineless ship needed ballast to allow her to be towed safely there from Brodick. At that time the export of sand from the island was suspended, but Adam persuaded the estate to allow him 50 tons to weigh her down and in typical Hamilton fashion this was all done by hand by George and Gavin themselves using shovels, a barrow and a long plank.


Taking shape behind Brodick Beach Launch day 1895 

When the telegram arrived from Glasgow telling them that the engine was ready for them, they made ready for the tow, sailed her over to Brodick Pier using the mainsail from the "Brodick", from where a tug took them to Glasgow. After an 8 hour tow, the tug left them at the foot of West Street, at Windmillcroft Quay,where they tied up for the night. The next morning they made use of the crane at the quay to unload the sand;  it was sold right away! Next came the engine, built by Alexander Shanks of Arbroath, and delivered by tractor. They had the hatch already made and so were able to lower the engine into Glencloy. They got the shaft and engine flange coupings made, and fitted the other engine mounts to the keelson. They then mounted the consenser and the other parts. Remember that before this none of them had ever worked on a steam engine.

The boiler came from Crown Point and was mounted on heavy steel plates bolted to the keelson to form a floor. But it didn't have its tubes fitted.....

Fortunately a man appeared alongside and asked if they needed any help with the boiler and since they needed an engineer for that he was made welcome. He offered to bore the holes for the boiler tubes and another supplier measured up the copper pipe to fit, They continued to work away at fitting out; just the three of them and the man fitting  the boiler, feed pumps and pipework.

After several days they got her working and took her for a few turns up and down the river for practice. Immediately afterwards they got a cargo of coal for Loch Etive and so off they went downriver to the sea.

The photograph opposite shows "Glencloy" loading sand. Adam Hamilton is by the tub, George Hamilton is ashore with the shovel and a young Gavin Hamilton is at the for'ard end of the hatch. Note the sail suspended lashed up in the stays.

They sailed the wee Glen all over the west coast until 1911 when she was sold off to new owners in Tralee, Ireland.

And just to illustrate the dangers to puffer crews, look at this last picture on the left. When puffers were beached to take on cargo such as gravel or sand, they could only take on board as much as would still allow them to be floated off on the high tide - any more and they were stuck aground. The answer was for them to top up the load once they had been floated off and this was done by the crew loading the remainder of the cargo into the puffer's small boat and punting it out, to be loaded on board by hand. The dangers are all too obvious. No Health & Safety managers in these days!

The article and all photographs above are copyright Graeme Wallace

Footnote by Alasdair MacKenzie: Subsequent vessels in the fleet included two Glenrosas, one an ex-VIC, two Invercloys, the first built by Larne Shipbuilders in 1904 and the second by Scotts of Bowling in 1934. Another three Glencloys were built for the Hamiltons themselves, a fourth built for Hay Hamilton, and a fifth and to date last Glencloy built in Poland and bought second hand by Hamilton's successor company, Glenlight Shipping. Larne Shipbuilders also built the 1910 Rivercloy for them.

As for G & G Hamilton as a company, facing intense competition from the new generation of ro-ro ferries serving the Clyde and the Western Isles, the industry started to consoliate into larger units and in 1963. G & G Hamilton merged with the long established Glasgow shipowner J. Hay and Sons to form Hay Hamilton Ltd. This company in turn merged with Ross & Marshall Ltd in 1968 to become Glenlight Shipping.