The History (so far) of Steam Tug Portwey

By Peter Clisby


In the 1870’s Dartmouth (editors note: all place names are in Great Britain) became established as a coal bunkering port, supplying coal to shipping calling at Dartmouth. But in 1886 the shipping trade started to be lost to Portland, and to overcome this Dartmouth businessmen decided to form a new company for the bunkering trade The Channel Coaling Co. Ltd.

Charles Edward Evans had established in Cardiff in 1890 his own company, a coal-exporting firm, and in 1901 changed its name to Evans & Reid Ltd. During the early part of the 1900’s the business expanded, and was built up with acquisition of various subsidiary companies including The Portland & Weymouth Coal Co. which Evans & Reid had taken over.

Portwey was built in 1927 for the coal bunkering trade along the South coast supplying coal to steamers etc, she was also on-call for any ship requiring assistance or salvage.

As will be seen in the following pages, Portwey worked for various companies during her 40 years of working life, all under the common ownership of Evans & Reid Investment Co. Ltd of Cardiff. They were: -

  • Portland & Weymouth Coaling Co.

  • The Channel Coaling Co.

  • The Dartmouth Coaling Co.

  • G.H. Collins & Co. Shipping Agents.

In the 1930’s The Channel Coaling Co., G.H. Collins, and Dartmouth Coaling Co. all had offices at the same address, 22 South Embankment, Dartmouth, Devon. Also owned by Evans & Reid were the Torbay and Brixham Coaling Co. Ltd.

Acknowledgements This booklet is produced mainly from notes taken from The Public Record Office (Kew); Lloyds Weekly Casualty Returns; and local papers, Dartmouth & South Hams Chronicle; Dorset Daily Echo & Weymouth Dispatch to whom the Trust is grateful for permission to use.


“The Early Years 1928- 1942”

Portwey was ordered by The Portland & Weymouth Coaling Co. Ltd. on the 10th Nov 1926. and launched on the 10th August 1927 at Harland & Wolff, Govan yard, Glasgow. When built and tested, Portwey did not obtain the required speed. Because of this the propellers were changed. The vessel was surveyed under Special Survey by Lloyds and granted a “100 A.1. for Towing Services” certificate.

1928 28th April Completed handed over to Owners, Portland & Weymouth Coaling Co. Ltd at Weymouth. Berthed at Castletown Pier, and known locally as the Posh Boat because of the pristine condition in which she was kept.

Mr C.G. Gordon of Portland Harbour was in charge of Portwey.

30th April “Tug Portwey arrived on Saturday and is a naturally a source of interest, The Portwey was subjected to trials on Sunday and will take the place of the “Petrell”. The crew and their wages for the voyage from Govan to Portland Harbour were as shown below. She left Govan on the 24th April and arrived Portland Harbour on the 28th April”.


Master D.K. Minto.

Mate J. Kilpatrick £ 20. 0.0

A.B. W.C. Maxwell £ 9.0.0

A.B. D.S. Law £ 9. 0.0

C.Engineer J. White £ 25.0.0

2nd Engineer W .R. Bofer £ 15. 0.0

Fireman J. McDowall £ 9.10.0

Fireman J. Moose £ 9.10.0 (Figures given are in Pounds, Shillings & Pence)

2nd May “The Portwey came to her new home last week and looks bravely spick and span with her smart red funnel, and all her deck gear. The new boat is a box of machinery, has her own salvage gear-pumps, all built in, and is a very fine craft for her work.”

Her first skipper was Harry Moggeridge of Wyke Regis.

18th May - The auxiliary yacht “Valetta” was dismasted in squall off Portland, and the Channel Coaling Co. Tug Portwey went to her assistance and placed a towrope on board at 10.10 am. Portwey then commenced to tow the yacht slowly - she had a dinghy astern - to Weymouth. The “Valetta” was moored to the buoys reserved for yachts in Weymouth harbour at 11.30.

27th June Yacht “Bonny Jean” caught in heavy seas at night, off Portland. Bill and when approached by the Lifeboat, requested a tow.

Portwey put out from Portland and Portwey’s Captain, Capt Iies, stood by as the Lifeboat towed the yacht into Weymouth harbour.

25th Aug Steam coaster “Jolly Esmond” ran ashore at Portland in dense fog with a cargo of granite from Jersey to London. The Tug Portwey stood by, but she floated clear the following morning.

27th Aug “The crew of the Portwey, from the Portland & Weymouth Coaling Co. rendered effective assisted in extinguishing a fire that broke out on the Steamer “Bodil”, a Danish vessel of Esbjerg which had a cargo of timber. Smoke’ was seen issuing from the bunker head, and it was discovered that some of the timber in the starboard ‘tween deck was smouldering. A hose was connected by the steamer and three from the Portwey and gallons of water were being poured down both port & starboard bunker heads. The fire was soon located and extinguished. Portwey was at work for about an hour.”


5th Jan Weymouth Coastguards reported the steamer Grosvenor ashore on Clavells Hard, near Kimmeridge Ledge, and signalled for immediate assistance. The Swanage lifeboat “Thomas Mark by” was launched and Portwey was called out. Portwey and the lifeboat stood by all night, the sea being fairly calm.

6th Jan Portwey got a rope on board, and after several hours succeeded in towing her off the rocks, and took her into Portland.

2nd Dec An S.O.S. was received from the British steamer “Canadian Transport” drifting ashore some 5 miles south of St. Alban’s Head in fog.

Portwey put out from Portland harbour to go to the assistance of the distressed vessel, however the wind blew her clear of the shore, and the tug was not required.

7th Dec In a 100 mile an hour gale in Portland, a coal barge” Minx” laden with about 500tons broke from her moorings in Portland harbour and went aground. Minx was owned by Messrs Collins & Co. of Portland. The tug Portwey was sent out from Portland to attempt to refloat her but Portwey found it impossible to approach the barge due to the bad weather and returned to Portland.


3rd Jan Steamer “Winslow” was towed into harbour this morning by the tug Portwey. Winslow had a 22deg list received in gales and heavy seas.

Part of her cargo of grain was jettisoned.

4th Jan Portwey went out to the Steamer “Danchild” who had machinery trouble and towed her back into harbour.

14th Jan French Ketch “Reine Des Cieux” was reported to be drifting towards Hope Rocks. Portwey put out from Portland harbour, but assistance was not required and the tug Portwey returned to harbour.

7th July Steamer ”Jolly Charles” bound from Poole to Portland went aground on Kimmeridge Ledge. Portwey offered assistance, but this was not required. Tug returned to Portland Harbour.

24th Nov “Triton” & “Taxinrchis” - Greek flag - S.O.S. in West Bay was in danger of drifting ashore. H.M.S. Dorsetshire, Weymouth lifeboat, tug “Portwey”, and Admiralty tug “Pilot” put out to assist. Nothing was found due poor visibility, and the tugs returned at 11.30am to harbour.


13th Jan “Crown of Denmark” schooner went ashore on Portland Breakwater. Crew taken off by Portwey and conveyed to Castletown.

Difficulty was first encountered outside the harbour. The sea was fairly rough with a Northeasterly wind, and she was blown onto the breakwater before Portwey could get to her assistance.

21st Jan Attempts to salve the two-masted auxiliary steel Schooner “Crown of Denmark”, have been abandoned, and the ship has been offered for sale’ As she stands’.


26th Jan Portwey went out from Portland to West Bay with members of the press and photographers aboard, to where the “Submarine M2” was believed to have sunk off Portland, but nothing was seen.


14th Jan Steamer “Ford Fisher” arrived with a cargo of cement at Portland. At 4.45am during a heavy gale, she dragged her anchors and went ashore on to Portland Breakwater. At 7.45am Portwey got a line aboard aft and assisted the ship into harbour .


16th Feb Portwey went out to assist the “Winchester Castle” when she ran aground ,on Chesil Bank, however the towrope broke. The ship refloated her self the next day.

July Went out from her berth at Castletown, in answer to a request for the water boat to Astra, Velsheda, & Shamrock V. (These were’ big J-Class Yachts built before the 2nd W.W) At this period of her life, Portwey also carried supplies of newspapers, cigarettes and various items for the crews of ships at anchor in Portland Harbour, and supplied stores and water to the ships. She also ran the choice Pilots to the Blue Funnel and Ben Line ships in Lyme Bay and off the Shambles, which were bound for London.

The company ran Portwey with two watches, day and night watch.

Each watch consisted of 5 persons, Skipper, Engineer, Deck hand & boy, and a Boarding clerk.


18th Feb Attended “H.M.S. PC 74” (Patrol Boat) a decoy ship from WW1, which was in collision with the large coal hulk “Haytian” (a ex Bristol/West India Liner of Elder Dempster Line) and owned by G.H. Collins & Co. The hulk was holed and sunk at her moorings with nearly a full cargo of coal.

5th April The Steamer “English Trader” was under tow by two tugs and a salvage vessel en route to Southampton for repair, when she broke adrift and started making water which her pumps “could’ not hold. Portwey went out from Portland to assist her into harbour .

24th Aug Assisted in the raising of the hulk “ Haytian “ which was finally raised by Mr L. Basso, a local marine diver & salvage expert.


Portwey was purchased by G.H. Collins & Co. Ltd. of Dartmouth and moved there. Both companies, G.H. Collins & Co. and Portland & Weymouth Coaling Co. were under the common ownership of Evans & Reid, a holding company in Wales, together with The Channel Coaling Co, & The Dartmouth Coaling Co.


7th May Management of Portwey now passed to Mr L.G. Godfrey, Dartmouth, of the Portland & Weymouth Coaling Co.


At this point Portwey was also working for the Channel Coaling Co. Ltd of Dartmouth.

9th April Tanker “Buesten” and collier “Dudley Rose” while in convoy, were attacked and sunk off Berry Head. Portwey and other vessels went out to assist in rescuing survivors.

21st May Tanker “British Renown” sailing in a convoy to Falmouth was bombed 3 ½ miles from Dartmouth. Portwey, belonging to the Dartmouth Coaling Co., and with other tugs (on charter to the Admiralty) assisted in towing her back into harbour .