This page contains some personal recollections about the story of Cygnet from past years plus information on the initial conservation work carried out by the Thames Boats Trust

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──  Steam Launch Cygnet ──

Thornycroft No. 9 seems to have had the following distinct periods during its 140 year history.

1870 to 1919

No factual history is known about Cygnet over this time except that there were a few changes made which are different to the detail shown in an original GA drawing of 1872.

A front steering wheel has been added; the shape of the tiller arm changed; a possible boiler replacement; the rudder blade area increased.

1919 to 1964

Thornycroft set up the Hampton Launch Works on Platts Eyot from 1908 to 1964 and Cygnet is reported to have been kept here from 1914 (storage?). Note the larger steam launch Eva was also stored here until the site was vacated by Thornycroft in 1964. At this point Michael Turk took over ownership of Cygnet, and Eva was sold to Graham Lindsay, now owned and displayed at the Henley River and Rowing Museum.
When Cygnet was photographed in 1961 the last conservancy plate was dated 1919.


Cygnet was then used privately by Michael Turk and also used as a film/television prop for various films.

Some minor re-plating of the hull was carried out on the bottom plates from the front cockpit to under the boiler, this can be identified by the use of slightly different rivets, then the whole hull was glass fibre sheathed up to about four inches below the gunwale. A canopy was made for private use because of excessive smuts.
Steamed at Laurie Weaver’s Datchet Steamboat Rally in 1970.
Steamed at Henley date?? Michael Turk’s wife objected to smuts so a canopy was made.
Steamed to little Venice, date ??.
Steamed for a group from the PSPS in 1973 arranged by David Abrahams.
Used in 1983 for Sherlock Holmes film of Sign of the Four with Ian Richardson in the leading role. Sabrina was the police launch and Duchess of Argyll the villains launch. Scott Periera in charge of Sabrina says he was asked to ram Cygnet by the film director – refused.
Cygnet was being operated by an old chap, Michael Turk told everyone to stay clear of Cygnet because she was not insured. Scott says there seemed to be several steam leaks.

1995 to 2009

Displayed in the Power Boat Museum at Basildon Essex as a static exhibit until the museum closed 2009.

2010 --

Purchased by the Thames Boats Trust with funds from donors and PRISM for conservation and public display at Beale Park. Static exhibit.

Now some tales from personal memories but not necessarily accurate

  • Taken out of service and stored at Platts Eyot in 1914 and serviced twice yearly by an engineer. Left here forgotten until 1964?? (source Michael Turk).

  • Cygnet’s last Thames Conservancy licence dated 1919. Noted by Brian Hillsdon when photographed at Hampton in 1961

  • Brian Hillsdon wrote in the SBA archives - Cygnet yard No.9 was an even more remarkable survivor for when she went out of commission during the 1920's she was stored away amongst the rafters in the roof of the Thornycroft works at Hampton, complete with all her machinery. Here she remained for more than 50 years and now has a home at Michael Turk's Kingston-on-Thames yard and is steamed for special occasions.

  • Propeller was replaced by Turks because it threw a blade. It’s possible that original was three bladed. (source Michael Turk)

  • The hull was sheathed below the waterline because of concern over plate condition.

  • There is an added keel to stop abrasion of the sheathing.

  • The linoleum deck covering bow and stern was replaced by M Turk (source Michael Turk) -  but had since suffered shrinkage so has now been removed to the original scrubbed teak decking.

  • Suggested to have been the first Thornycroft launch built to order at Chiswick for a private buyer who owned a biscuit factory in Reading. source Michael Turk and also suggested by a secondary source via NMM. Note the Reading biscuit manufacturer at the time would probably be Huntley and Palmer; Palmer was in full charge of this Company by the 1870’s and in 1894 owned the steam launch Lodona (changed to Donola later when owned by the Thames Conservancy); so Palmer may well have been the first owner of Cygnet.

  • Cygnet and Eva were looked after by Turks when the Thornycroft works at Platts Eyot closed. Eva’s boiler and engine had been shipped to South Africa before the war ; the engine was recovered after the war ( there is now some doubt about this ) however the engine had been displayed in the Thornycroft office on the island until the works closed. The Tamesis Trust have a Thornycroft loco boiler which following careful investigation of old photos and the boiler details, is almost certainly the original boiler from Eva.

  • Eva was sold to Graham Lindsay in 1970’s.

  • Cygnet's steam plant has never been removed and Turks retained Cygnet as payment for services during closure. It is possible that Cygnet was forgotten during this closure period. Michael Turk acquired her in the late 1950s, (or possibly later when the yard finally closed in 1964).

  • Michael Turk steamed Cygnet from Kingston to Henley in 11 hours on a 1 cwt of coal (50kg) and claimed she was faster than the old police launches. (source Michael Turk)

What is original and what has been changed or modified

  • The injector is an original Gifford type by Gresham and is fitted with a combining cone adjusted by wheel operated rack and pinion.

  • The pressure gauge is probably an original Bourden with an engraved dial 0 – 150 psi marked “lbs upon the square inch“.

  • The engine is an original Thornycroft single cylinder steam engine with a bronze base.

  • All fittings on the boiler are thought to be original.

  • The steel hull, and decking and trim are almost certainly original. However Turks replaced a few bottom plates under the boiler/front cockpit and glass sheathed the hull up to about 4 inches below gunwale because of concerns about overall plate thickness when being used afloat.

  • Original GA drawing from the National Maritime Museum shows that the front wheel steering is not original. Thought that Cygnet was steered by a person in the rear cockpit or by cords from the tiller as used on rowing skiffs. The front steering wheel was probably a modification made in the late 19th century.

  • The boiler may not be the original but possibly dates from pre 1914 and is a close copy of the original. There is evidence of the funnel uptake in the boiler top plate being relocated by a small amount.

  • Brass fender hanging fittings all around the gunwales/covering boards are not original - not shown in 1961 photo. (now removed)

  • There are two brass plates on Cygnet; the cast builders plate has the build number 9, and another engraved plate dated 1873. A Thornycroft list of boats built at Chiswick shows that Cygnet No. 9 was built in 1870 then Miranda Thornycroft No.10 built in 1871. This other plaque dated 1873 is thought to have been fitted later because the specific wording on it was only in use for a short time by J.I. Thornycroft & Co. during the 1890's;

List of early 30ft Thornycroft steam launches using the same engine:-

Boat name

  Year Engine HP Pressure revs Speed knots

The first Thornycroft launch of this size        Scolopendra

No. 8 1870 9 76psi 700 7.8
Cygnet No. 9 1870 9 76psi 700 7.8
Firefly No. 19 1873 9 76psi 700 10.5
??? No. 20 1874 9 76psi 700 10.5
??? No. 21 1874 9 76psi 700 10.5
??? No. 39 1875 9 76psi 700 10.5
??? No. 53 1877 9 76psi 700 10.5

The engine design in Cygnet was apparently used in several other steam launches after 1877 and Brian Hillsdon's research notes indicate that the engine was then being used in these later boats to deliver 13 HP at 856 rpm with steam of  100psi.

Recent Conservation work while in the care of the Thames Boats Trust

  • Cleaned out bilge, stabilised hull plate corrosion with rust inhibitor, painted with red lead and satin Bruswick green (ie near original finish).

  • Painted floorboards with grey paint (original colour).

  • Cleaned up all boiler fittings and freed up plug cocks.

  • Repainted boiler exterior in satin black.

  • Restored fore and aft decks to scrubbed teak finish.

  • Refitted funnel and repainted in satin white.


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