Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: November 08, 2019
Webpage updated: November 11, 2019




In the past a wide selection of merchandise has been imported by sea into the Port of Plymouth.  This included goods landed at Sutton Harbour, the Great Western Docks at Millbay and the Victoria Wharves in the Cattewater.

During one week in October 1853 five vessels landed cattle from France; one ship landed raisins from Spain; two landed cheese and other goods from Holland; one landed wheat from Denmark and another a similar load from Prussia; the "Sophia" landed timber and deals from Russia while similar loads came from Norway and North America; and hides and tallow were landed from Buenos Ayres.  It was also reported that France was no longer exporting potatoes, peas, beans and other dried vegetables to Britain, albeit on a temporary basis.

Thirteen cargoes were unloaded in one week in December 1860.  The "Emilie and Charles" unloaded wheat; the "Alliance" and the "Prince of Wales" brought in cattle, butter and potatoes; more potatoes and some onions were landed by the "Watersprite", the "Endora" and the Actif"; while the "Deaux Elissa" unloaded beans, all of them from France.  Cheese, gin and wine was brought from Holland by the "Eliza Ann"; potatoes and other sundries from Prince Edward's Island were landed by the "Susan E" and there were loads of wheat and flour from the United States of America and Russia.  At Millbay Docks 44 bullocks and 108 sheep from Cork, in Ireland, were landed by the "Ibis".  

Imports during 1877 included 23,500 tons of maize; 18,000 tons of wheat; 17,600 tons of barley; 15,000 tons of phosphate; 10,500 tons of pyrites; 10,000 barrels of petroleum; 8,000 tons of oats; 7,500 tons of potatoes; 7,200 tons of guano; 5,500 head of oxen; 5,000 tons of bones; 4,500 tons of nitrate of soda; 1,800 tons of codfish; and about 500 tons of oil cake.

During 1878, no less than 1,712 foreign-going vessels entered the port, mostly to off-load cargoes but some to effect repairs or await orders.  Interestingly, only 83 vessels were steam ships, with a total registered tonnage of 7,445.  Their visits were processed by the Harbour Master of Sutton Harbour, Captain W Evans, and the Harbour Master for Cattewater, Captain T T Short.

Much of the trade was purely coastal.   Thus, in total, some 2,232 vessels had moored in the Cattewater during 1878.   They totalled 234,264 tons.  Sutton Harbour received 937 coastal vessels, totalling 69,906 tons, and 346 vessels from abroad, totalling 92,818 tons.

Business at the Great Western Docks was just as good, with 2,636 vessels berthing to discharge and receive cargoes.  The net aggregate tonnage amounted to 606,291.

The cargoes landed in 1878 were:

  • 155,000 loaves of sugar loaf from France;
  • 28,480 tons of maize from America and the Black Sea;
  • 26,120 tons of wheat from America and the Black Sea;
  • 17,450 of barley from the Black Sea;
  • 16,000 tons of guano from Peru;
  • 14,000 tons of phosphate from Bull River, Portugal and Navassa;
  • 10,870 barrels of petroleum from New York;
  • 10,860 tons of oats from the Baltic and Prince Edward's Island;
  • 10,180 tons of potatoes from France and Germany;
  • 8,500 tons of pyrites from Huelva and Pomeron;
  • 7,856 barrels of flour from America;
  • 6,500 tons of nitrate of soda from Iquique;
  • 6,400 sacks of flour from America;
  • 5,760 tons of gypsum from France;
  • 5,600 tons of bones from South America and other places;
  • 4,350 head of oxen from Spain;
  • 3,680 hundredweight of raw sugar from the West Indies;
  • 2,200 tons of valonia from Smyrna;
  • about 1,300 tons of oil cake from America;
  • 1,200 tons of ice from Norway;
  • 1,000 tons of codfish from Labrador; and
  • 930 cases of eggs from Spain.

'Trade has been fairly good at the Great Western Docks, during the past week ...', claimed the Western Morning News on Tuesday March 22nd 1887.  It recorded the following arrivals:

  • 8,900 quarters of wheat for Messrs Harris and Congdon from New York aboard the "Cathay" (1,148 tons register);

  • 7,200 quarters of maize for Messrs Phillips and Bray from Odessa aboard the "Isabel";

  • 720 quarters of oats for Messrs T Ware and Son from Waterford aboard the "Emma";

  • 245 quarters of barley for Messrs Crews and Crews from Truro aboard the "Edwin";

  • 750 quarters of oats for Messrs Phillips and Bray from Waterford aboard the "Bertha";

  • 735 tons of coal for Mr G Sampson from Goole aboard the "Sarantes";

  • 330 tons of coal for Messrs James and Company from Runcorn aboard the "Patriot";

  • 265 tones of manure for the Western Counties Agricultural Co-operative Association Limited from London aboard the "Agnes Ellen";

  • 50 tons of manure for Messrs J Fison and Company from Ipswich aboard the "Secret";

  • 75 tons of soda for the Victoria Soap Company from Chester aboard the "Florence Musprat";

  • 170 tons of salt for Mr J Westcott from Runcorn (the name of  the vessel is indecipherable);

  • 640 tons of ice fore Messrs Bidgood and Company from Christiania [modern Oslo, Norway] aboard the Susanne";

  • 50 tons of old iron for Mr H Scawn from Cowes aboard the "Endeavour".

Principle imports in to Sutton Harbour during the week reported above were coal and potatoes:

  • 150 tons of coal for the executors of Colonel Hargreaves, from Fleetwood aboard the "Ormerod";

  • 280 tons of coal for the Plymouth (and Stonehouse) Gas Company from (South) Shields aboard the "Ariel";

  • 900 tons of coal for the Plymouth (and Stonehouse) Gas Company from (South) Shields aboard the "Tom John Taylor";

  • 200 tons of coal for the Plymouth (and Stonehouse) Gas Company from (South) Shields aboard the "Roseland";

  • 530 tons of coal for the Plymouth (and Stonehouse) Gas Company from (South) Shields aboard the "James A Mark";

  • 260 tons of coal for Mr J H Polkinghorne from Runcorn aboard the "Caledonia";

  • 96 tons of potatoes for Messrs Wheeler and Davy from Montrose aboard the "Pallas";

  • an unidentifiable tonnage of potatoes for Messrs Holman and Williams from Montrose aboard the "Gazelle";

  • 70 tons of potatoes for Messrs Wills and Nash from Montrose aboard the "Triumph";

  • 52 tones of bone meal for Messrs Fox, Roy and Company aboard the "W S Flowers";

  • 80 tons of blue lias (stone) for Messrs Jefferd and Son from Lyme (Regis) aboard the "Ada";

  • 120 tons of cement for Messrs H Ede and Son from London aboard the "Penryn";

  • 130 tons of salt for Messrs W Baker and Messrs Pitts, Son and King, from Runcorn aboard the "Romola";

  • 48 cases of eggs for Captain [Louis] Gauvry from Perros, France, aboard the "Alarm";

  • 10 tons of potatoes for Mr W C Wills from Perros, France, aboard the "Alarm";

  • 124 sacks of barley and 42 sacks of wheat for Messrs Pitts, Son and King from Dartmouth aboard the "D.P.T.";

  • 75 tons of cement for Messrs Francis, Son and Company from Cowes aboard the "Rifleman";

  • 56 tons of blue lias (stone) for Messrs H Ede and Son from Lyme (Regis) aboard the "Your Name".

The discharge of freight in the Cattewater saw a 'slight improvement', reported the newspaper:

  • coal for the Plymouth Co-operative Society was landed from the "Plymouth" and the "Astrea";

  • coal from Newcastle was landed for Mr Westcott from the "Maria Lucia";

  • coal from Cardiff for Messrs Martin Brothers was landed from the "Richard Fisher";

  • coal from Newport for Mr Ellis was landed off the "Sultan";

  • coal from Newport for Messrs Edwards and Avery was landed from the "Oreston";

  • spars and timber from Porsgrund, (Norway), for Messrs R and R Bayly were landed off the "Regina" (see detailed entry in the section below).

But as if that were not enough there were several shiploads imported in to Plymouth but not recorded against the three main sites mentioned above.  During the week ending Saturday March 19th 1887 the following cargoes were recorded by the Western Morning News:

  • from Guernsey, by the "Intrepid", 59 tons - 34bahgs of bones, 18bales of rags, 7 packages of rope; 1 bag of brass, 1 bag of hair; 1 bag of canvas, and 1 barrel of rayakins;

  • from New York by the "J T Smith", 434 tons, 2,526 barrels of refined petroleum;

  • from Antwerp by the "Perseverance", 98 tons, an indecipherable (198 ?) tonnage of ground phosphate;

  • from Brest by the "La Marie", 80 tons, 75 tons of bones;

  • from Leghorn by the "Eaus", 656tons, 407 bales of hemp, weighing 2,000 hundredweights (cwt), and 1,126 bales of codfish, weighing 2,252 tons;

  • from Drobak (Oslo, Norway) by the "Susanne", 435 tons, 6430 tons of block ice;

  • from Perros (France) by the "Alarm", 33 tons, 48 cases of eggs (see entry above under Sutton Harbour), 200 hundredweights (cwt) of potatoes, 5 crates of broccoli, and 2 casks of cider;

  • from Saint Briene by the SS "Commerce", 53 tons, 157sacks of potatoes, 25 sacks of salous (?), 48 cases of eggs, and 24 sacks of cockles.;

  • from Jersey, also by the SS "Commerce", 10 baskets of butter and 13 packages of raw fruit;

  • from Antwerp by the SS "Bivouac", 713 tons, 60bags of stearine, 3 bales of paper, 2 cases of wood screws, 1 cask of zinc, 1 case of steel plates, 170 boxes of starch, 65 cases of glassware, 213 cases of window glass, 2,000 loaves of sugar, 60 casks and 15 cases of sugar, 3 cases of telephone instruments, 8 millstones, 3 packages of brooms, and 6 iron girders;

  • from Rotterdam also by the SS "Bivouac" 3 cases of marbles, 6 cases of toys, 6casesof slate pencils, 6 bags of seeds, 6 cases of furniture, 310 bags of onions, 17 bags of rags, 4 cases of cheese, 16 casks of pickles, 10 casks of saltpetre, 1 coil of rope, 7 packages of hemp yarn, 1 cask of glass beads, 74 cases of wine, 115 packages of straw envelopes, 800 cases of sugar cubes;

  • from Porsgrund (Norway), by the "Regina", 426 tons, 685 pieces of fir telegraph poles, 754 pieces of hewn fir timber, 225 hewn fir spars, 253 pieces of sawn fir, and a quantity of firewood;

  • from (Dordt), by the "Helena", (100) tons, 331 of [peat] moss litter.