Monkey business on the Thames at Horseferry


Benjamin Elliot was appalled to see a ‘monkey boat’* being towed along the Thames at the Horseferry by a tug, seemingly without anyone on board her. He thought this was an accident waiting to happen and reported it to the authorities.

This resulted in the boat’s ‘captain’ – William Tiramine – who kept a pub, the King’s Arms at Thames-side, being summoned before the sitting magistrate at Westminster Police Court.

Tiramine complained that the summons was unfair; he had been on the tug and a couple of hands on deck who could have easily jumped over the to other boat if they had needed to. His protests that he had it under control were somewhat undermined by the revelation that there weren’t even any oars on the canal boat.

The witness counter argued that practice of towing a long narrow boat such as this was dangerous. Such boats were commonly used as family homes and needed to be piloted even when they were being towed.

The case was brought under the Thames Conservancy Act (1857/1866) on the strength of which the justice fined Tiramine 10s and awarded 11s 6d costs. The fairly hefty penalty may have had something to do with the fact that this was not the first time Tiramine had appeared in court for a similar offence; indeed the reporter noted he had been ‘convicted more than once’ for doing exactly the same thing.

[from The Morning Post , Monday, February 09, 1880]

*a Victorian term for a narrow (canal) boat. Outside of London it was also used to denote the second of two boats – i.e the one being pulled by the other. The Horseferry (at Lambeth) was finally replaced by a bridge (Lambeth bridge) in 1862, so presumably Tiramine’s boat was passing close by this spot when Ellitt saw it. Now the horseferry is memorialized in Horseferry Road.

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