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This page last updated March 2008.

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The Angus MacLeod Archives Undoubtedly the best online collection of information on the Scottish herring fishing industry.

NEW Check out the EXCELLENT collection of steam drifter photos contributed by ally & other contributors on the trawlerphotos website HERE


Above - ally has just uploaded (April 2007)an excellent photo taken at Cullen (1910 -1914?) which includes the McIntosh built steam drifter 'Guiding Star' BF 304


NEW Check out the Steam Drifter Lizzie Birrell BCK 163 taken at Findochty in 1913 - (scroll down to bottom of page)

The reference book for all Buckie based Steam Drifters is 'Steam Drifters Recalled' Portgordon to Portsoy. All of the McIntosh built Steam Drifters are covered in this publication, except for three. BF 343 Silverscale (Macduff), ? Eliza F. Craig (Aberdeen) & INS 372 Holme Rose (Inverness). This makes the total number launched to twenty.


More info on Steam Drifters.


More info on steam engines.


More info on the Scotch Boiler.

More information on the gouache ('a kind of water colour that dries looking like chalk') paintings by Rob Andrew shown opposite & below.
Visit Rob Andrew's website by clicking the link on any of his paintings shown here.

For a complete list of all Steam Drifters built BF or BCK, INS & A

Steam Power Replaces Sail

In June 1899 the McIntosh boatbuilders laid the keel of the 92ft 6in Steam Liner White Rose A 149 for Messr's Johnson & Co. Aberdeen. This new type of vessel created much interest with the local fishermen & an order was placed by two Buckie fishermen for a similar vessel to be used as a herring drifter. This was the Frigate Bird BF 398 which was launched in April 1900 & probably the first Steam Drifter built in the Buckie district.
A further nineteen were launched, the last being the Jeannie McIntosh BCK 209 which was launched in February 1915.


A photograph of the McIntosh built Bramble BCK 137 launched in April 1908, was used as the basis for the Steam Drifter depicted on the mural overlooking the beach at Cullen.

NEW - April 2007
Have a look at these fabulous Steam Drifter paintings by Rob Andrew.

BCK.56 Dashing Spray entering Wick harbour

PD.592 June Rose

BCK.197 Connage


BCK.16 Blythesome

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BF.1545 Bloemfontein-------------------------------------------- BF.552 Xeranthemum

Banffshire Advertiser article - May 1900
The 'Frigate Bird' at Buckie

'Her hull is substantially built of wood , but all the deckhouses are of iron. Her engines are of the compound surface condensing type, 45hp with 20" cylinders. Her trial trip took place on Friday, ten miles out from Aberdeen & back. She gave the highest satisfaction, the engines developing ten knots. The boiler is of the ordinary marine type, with two furnaces. There is a handy donkey engine for pumping etc., & forward is fitted a powerful Beccles winch which is supplied with steam from the same boiler, which works up to 130lbs of steam pressure. In the bunkers there are 40 tons of coal, sufficient at 8 tons per week to carry the vessel for the next five weeks.'


Frigate Bird BF 398
First Buckie built Steam Drifter?

Click the pic for more info.
A Modified Hull Shape, a Steam Engine & Boiler & some extra Crew.

As the raked stern of the zulu was entirely unsuited to accommodating a shaft & propeller, a different hull design was required, with a vertical stern. (Despite this, many Zulus were fitted with oil engines). Many other major modifications were also required, such as beds for the engine & boilers as well as bunkers for the 40 tons of coal to power her. The masts no longer needed to be massive timbers to support huge sails to drive her, but enough to provide sails for auxiliary power when required as well as a steadying effect at sea. The foremast also became adapted as a derrick to facilitate the unloading of the catch. A wheelhouse provided a new found protection from the weather for the helmsman & extra crew was required in the form of an engineer, a stoker & a cook. The accommodation had to be expanded to cater for these extra crew members.
However she was still a 80ft carvel planked timber vessel designed to catch herring. She could now shun certain adverse winds & not only put in more fishing time than the Zulu, but in most cases get the catch back to the market much sooner. This came at a cost however, as the steam drifter was not only much more expensive to purchase, she was much more expensive to operate. They gave the fishermen the means of catching much more herring, which they did - but then they needed to. They were now also dependent on a regular supply of coal. The change from sail to steampower required a huge increase in investment as a new boat was required, but another option was becoming available to the fishermen. Small paraffin fueled motors such as Kelvins & Gardners began to be installed in the sailboats, mainly as auxiliaries because of their low power. It was not until around 1917 that motors were available that could power the sailboats to anywhere like the speed of the steam drifter. Lets not forget some fishermen such as Alexander 'Sandy' MacLeod of Stornoway, fished his Muirneag continuously until 1939, refusing to fit an engine.
Fishing methods remained basically the same, except nets were now hauled over the bow to prevent them fouling the propeller, thus the steam winch was now positioned on the starboard bow. Most things remained the same however - it was still hard, sometimes dangerous work & less dependence on the weather meant more time out fishing. Sails & nets still needed barking (tanning) regularly, & were still dried at every opportunity to combat rotting. A dinghy was now included & in many cases saved the crew from almost certainly drowning - as in the sinking of Frigate Bird in 1904.
Extract from 'Fisher Blue' by Peter Buchan
in his short story 'Calcium Carbide'.

"Lugs wis come o' a famous fisher faimly (fae Finechty). In fact his Granda scored a great victory ower the Aul Enemy at Yarmouth. Granda wis skipper o' a Zulu boat that had jist left Yarmouth River fin the win' fell flat calm, an' the rain came doon in buckets - jist hale watter! The hale crew disappeared below, leavin' Granda sittin' like a prize doo at the helm. Sail boats had nae wheelhooses, so Granda jist had t' tak' 'is shak' wi' the wither.
Up comes a fire-new English drifter, een o' the very first o' the kind, wi' a Woodbine funnel. The shippie wis heavy wi' herrin', an' wis homeward bound at seven knots. Her skipper, prood o' his big shot, prood o' his new ship, an' mair than prood o' his fancy wheelhouse, steered close past the becalmed sail-boat an' shouted in derision at the forlorn, dreepin weet mannie in the starn.
'Where's yer umbrella this mawnin', Scottie?'
'Oh, dam't', cries Granda. 'I clean forgot! I left it wi' your missis last nicht! One - nothing for Finechty."

The Steam Engine powering the 'Frigate Bird'.
16 inch triple expansion engine by Clyne & Mitchell of Aberdeen - 37hp

The concept of the boiler & steam engine powering the 'Frigate Bird' had been well tried and proven by 1900 & an engine of similar specifications was fitted to their last steam drifter launched in 1915.
The Zulus had been making use of the power of steam for more than a decade to power the winch, haul the nets & sheet the sails. The boiler & furnace in the Zulu also provided the means for cooking & a welcome means of warmth in the cabin aft.
The new arrangement was by necessity much larger - a standard Steam Drifter's boiler & engine weighed 42 tons. Coal was fed into the furnace beneath the boiler, providing the steam for firstly the red high pressure cylinder, then at a reduced pressure into the yellow intermediate cylinder until finally into the blue low pressure cylinder, where all the energy was expended and the residue is returned to the condenser.
The pistons in the cylinders of course transmitted their energy to the crankshaft by connecting rods, causing it to rotate the shaft turning the propeller.


BCK 432 Helen Bowie
A look at a Steam Drifter on the slip

This photo contributed by Steve Farrow shows the underwater lines of a steel steam drifter. In this photo the BCK 432 Helen Bowie is shown on Doig's slipway at Grimsby sometime between 1925, and when she foundered in 1934. The image was given to Steve by shipwright J.S. Doig of Grimsby.

She was built of steel in 1908 at Aberdeen as PD 512 Kate Baird.


George Flett of Findochty in his Royal Naval Reserve uniform.
The Steam Drifters Role in the First World War

At the outbreak of war, the Steam Drifters were required to return to their home ports, where they were requisitioned by the Admiralty for war service, & given a Pennant Number. Where the boat went, the crew went, & they became part of the Royal Naval Reserve. The port fishing number was replaced with the letters HMD (His Majesty's Drifter), but in most cases the name remained unchanged.
The majority of the McIntosh built Steam Drifters are recorded as being used as 'anti-submarine net vessels' and fitted with either a '3 or 6 pdr gun' for self - defence. Two types of nets were used by these vessels. The fixed net was used to provide an underwater barrage to prevent submarines gaining access to an area. Other nets were used in the same way as if they were fishing, except they were trying to mesh the submarine, or at least snare its propellors if one was suspected of being in the area.
The BCK 190 En Avant launched in 1914 was also recorded as having minesweeping duties, while the BCK 209 Jeannie McIntosh launched in 1915 was a 'boom - defence & water - carrier'. (She was the only McIntosh built drifter to go on and serve in WW2, where she served as a 'minesweeper & auxiliary patrol vessel' & participated in the Dunkirk evacuation). The BCK 20 Hazael launched in 1908, was 'employed on miscellaneous service'.
Although this was a very hazardous task, only one McIntosh Steam Drifter was lost while on service. The BF 453 Plantin launched in 1912, was mined off Standfast Point in April 1917 while on charter to the Admiralty. The boat was skippered by John Wood, who was lost with two of his sons, John and William. However, His eldest son, James, survived, having been in the wheelhouse, was thrown clear of the explosion. Another survivor (Alex Mair (Shy) - known as Alinger - of Portknockie) was later to be the only survivor when M.B. Sickle capsized at the entrance to Porknockie harbour.
However, many of these vessels were lost in service, bringing tragedy to many fishing villages around Britain. Such was the case when the HMD Deliverer (formerly BF 151) was lost off the coast of Ireland near Dublin in November 1917 with the loss of all hands. Six of the crew, including George Flett shown in the picture opposite, were from the small fishing village of Findochty, not far from Portessie. She was apparently mined by the submarine UC-75 near Bailey Lighthouse.

The Era of the McIntosh Shipbuilders Ends.

The last McIntosh built Steam Drifter was the BCK 209 Jeannie McIntosh launched in Feb 1915 for himself (W.R. McIntosh). Very few Steam Drifters were launched in the Buckie district after this, & Jones Buckie Slip & Shipyard, who bought their business at Ianstown (the Portessie yard had closed down in 1912) in 1918, is recorded as having launched only three more - the last in 1921. The end of this family business came virtually at the end of the building of Steam Drifters.
While they were very efficient at catching herring, they had become too expensive to operate in comparison with the new motor fishing boats. The new much improved motors developed during the carnage of WW1, could provide similar power at much less cost to purchase and operate. These motors could be run & maintained by a crew member, thus saving the wages of the engineer & stoker. They were also not reliant on large quantities of coal which was becoming more expensive. The efficient catching power of the Steam Drifters had maybe begun to thin the herring stocks, & the catches began to drop.
However, they could still be a viable fishing boat, & many continued to fish through the 1920's, with their numbers declining into the 1930's as did the herring fishery.
As mentioned, the Jeannie McIntosh saw service in WW2, and continued as a work vessel until 1947.

BCK 209 Jeannie McIntosh
Sources & acknowledgements
Mr. Ron Stewart "Sail & Steam"
Moray District Library
Buckie District Fishing Heritage Museum
Banffshire Advertiser
"Steam Drifters Recalled - Portgordon to Portsoy"
Mr. Andy Adams, Harwich
Mr. David Mallinson - Mariners list, Rootsweb
Mr. George Bergius (online resource)
Rob Andrew - marine artist
McIntosh family history sources