General History/Historical Fiction


QUESTION: I have just a few questions on 19th Century privately owned passenger ships.

Sail from Bristol Channel, England to Dublin, Ireland.

Length of trip - tall ship, any speed.

Who would collect passage & when would it be paid?

Who would be at the gangway?

ANSWER: Hello,

You have to remember that sailing ships were highly wind dependent.  I good clipper ship with a good wind in the right direction could probably make the trip of about 250 miles in a single day, about 14 hours.  But if there was no wind, or the wind was in the wrong direction, the same trip could easily take three or four days.  A steamship might also be available by the mid 19th Century.  They took about the same time as the fastest sailing ships, but were not significantly slowed by poor winds.

At the time, most ships were used for the transport of cargo, but many had mixed use transfer of both cargo and passengers.  

Typically, travel would be made with the ship's company ahead of time and tickets purchased.  Even if there was no regularly scheduled passenger transport, one could find out what ships were leaving when and find a ship that was leaving.  One would book travel in advance, although ships would also be happy to take on passengers at the last minute if space was available.  But payment would normally be expected in advance of the travel.

One would expect a junior officer of the ship to see that the passengers were greeted and taken to quarters on the ship.  If the passengers were of some importance, the ship's captain might handle the matter himself.  Crew members would be available to port any luggage.

I hope this helps!
- Mike

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hello Mike,
I really appreciate your quick response. I understand what you're saying. This story will have more female readers than male & that probably won't make any difference. I totally understand the need for the wind. The Irish sea is about 150 miles (240 km) wide. So I think we're looking at about 2 days to cross from the harbors I picked. I thought clipper ships in that time period were mostly military. So, I was wondering on a private ship, including a steam ship, you say payment would be made at the ship's company but would it be a paymaster or purser? I was kind of looking for a crew, while not pirates, not too motley, but not too proper. It was very difficult to find any information on 19th century private ships. Any ideas?

Although clipper ships were used as military ships, they were also commonly used as private trading ships as well.  They could be fitted for either purpose.

The companies that owned and ran ships varied greatly.  I am more familiar with the late 18th century when many merchants owned their own ships for cargo, but would sometimes take on other passengers or cargo from third parties.  During the 19th Century, we see an transition to larger shipping companies carrying people and freight for others and operating on more regular schedules and routes.

On civilian ships, pursers and paymasters were often the same person.  A purser is in charge of the money, and usually supplies as well, while the paymaster was in charge of paying crew.  As you can guess, it usually made sense for one person to do both.  In the Royal Navy, the rank of purser became paymaster in the 1840s.

If payment was made on ship, the purser would likely handle the transaction (or perhaps an assistant purser on a larger ship).  But if this was an established trading company, it might also have an office in the harbor and would handle the financial transaction there rather than on the ship itself.

Typically officers came from fairly good families and had good manners.  The crew tended to be less educated and not particularly well mannered.

- Mike  

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Michael Troy


My specialties are 17th through 19th Century history, especially in the Americas and Europe. I also have a fair knowledge of ancient Greek and Roman History, and some knowledge of Medieval European history. My expertise is focuses on Military and political history, but I`ll take a crack at anything.


I have been a guest lecturer at George Washington University. Mostly, I have just read hundreds of books about world history.


J.D. Univ. of Michigan B.A. George Washington University

Awards and Honors
Truman Scholar

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