John Speller's Web Pages Scraper Boat Bertha

John Speller's Web Pages - Brunel's Steamships

Scraper Boat Bertha
The Bristol & Exeter Railway's Bridgwater Dock was constructed in 1837-41, but almost immediately began to silt up. So solve this problem Brunel designed the scraper boat Bertha, which was constructed by G. Lunnell & Company of Bristol. It was a small iron-hulled steamship, a mere 50 feet long with a displacement weight of around 60 tons. It worked rather like a bulldozer with a blade in front which was lowered to push the silt from one side of the dock to the other, where it could be collected. The blade was then raised and the ship backed across the dock to its starting point. It was steered by a hawser stretched between rows of bollards at either end of the dock, somewhat in the fashion of a chain ferry. Each time the scraper boat went across the dock and back, the hawsers were moved to the next pair of bollards over, so that eventually the whole dock would be desilted. Ownership passed to the Great Western Railway in 1876, who assigned Bertha the number P.W.M. 171*, and again to British Railways in 1948. After a faithful service of 128 years, Bertha was withdrawn when the Great Western Dock at Bridgwater closed in 1972. Bertha was initially preserved at the Exeter Maritime Museum, but when that institution closed in 1997 she was moved to Bristol to be with her big sister the S.S. Great Britain. Bertha is believed to be the world's oldest operable steamboat.

* P.W.M. for Permanent Way Maintenance. Quite why a dock would be considered part of the Great Western Railway's permanent way is difficult to say.
Bertha. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
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