AS the Port of Sunderland developed during the 19th century, completion of civil engineering projects was usually accompanied by formal opening celebrations. This week, we look at the vessels which participated in some of these events.
Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, after a royal charter had been obtained for its construction by Sir Hedworth Williamson, Wearmouth Dock (also known as North Dock) was the Wear’s original enclosed dock.
Opened for traffic on November 1, 1837, the honour of being the first ship to enter went to the 200-ton brig, Iona, owned by local sail maker, Thomas Speeding. Iona had been completed shortly beforehand by Robert Thompson at Biddick.
On the South side of the river, the opening ceremony of the initial phase of Sunderland Dock Company’s South Dock was a much grander affair.
About 30,000 spectators watched as a majestic aquatic procession, led by the dock master’s boat and lifeboats, glided into the new dock.
With a regimental band from the nearby barracks on board, Lord Durham was the first steamer to enter.
By passing into Extension Dock (later Hudson Dock South) on November 24, 1855, HM Cutter, Seaflower, became the first vessel to use the enlarged waterspace.
In 1856, work finished on the South Half-Tide Basin, which provided a direct link between South Dock and the sea, via the South Outlet.
On March 5, that year, the Admiralty wooden-hulled gunboats, Manly, Magnet, Mastiff and Mistletoe were the first vessels to proceed to sea by this route.
On April 30, the steamer, Black Diamond, became the first ship to pass from the river through the dock to sea via the South Outlet.
When the River Wear Commissioners’ No 2 Graving Dock became operational on March 8, 1865, the vessel, Robin Hood, built by Taylor and Scoular, became the earliest ship to be dry-docked there.
On June 9, 1868, the steamship Good Hope, built by James Laing and Sons marked the formal opening of Hendon Dock by sailing through Hendon Junction Gateway.
The old South Half Tide Basin was later replaced by the New Sea Lock, which was opened by the Earl of Durham on October 21, 1880. His steamer, Lady Beatrix, was chosen to be the first ship to enter the lock.
In 1889, a newly-reconstructed No 3 Gateway entrance to Hudson Dock was completed. The formal opening was performed jointly on August 12 by RWC chairman, James Laing and Lord Londonderry’s agent-in-chief, Colonel Eminson.
Following completion at Laing’s Deport shipyard, the 4,662 gross ton British India Steam Navigation Company cargo liner, Mombassa – then the largest ship built on the Wear – was towed though the lock to commemorate the occasion.