Story of a Photograph: Sailing on the High … Street?

Avast me hearties! What is that I spy off the port bow? Be that the Dundee Arms? Aweigh anchor and let us stop for a swig of rum.

Sadly, as much as I would like it to be, this is not a pirate ship being paraded up the High Street. So what boat is it and why one earth is it being marched through the town centre?

In this series of blogs we take a photograph and dig down into the background of it and the places and people it shows. In many cases we look at the story behind the picture. In others we try to work out what the heck is going on (like this one of a football team and some exotic animals). This is one of the latter. This photograph is one of a series of pictures showing the High Street. The photographer is standing on probably the first or second floor of the building on the west side of Whitehall Street, looking towards the High Street. The current view would show you bus stops and the side of Primark.

The first two photographs seem to be ordinary street scenes. One shows a blurry tram speeding past. The second shows the Caird Fountain, which was hidden by the tram in the previous picture, and a horse drawn cart heading towards the Nethergate. The photographs are taken from almost exactly the same point, although if you look carefully, you can see that it is a slightly different angle. It’s not clear if these were taken on the same day. If they were, then some time has elapsed. Apart from the tram and the horse and cart, there are quite a few differences. For example, the hand cart in Whitehall Street and the baskets are not there in the fountain picture. The Dundee Arms’ awning is not out in the tram picture. Can you spot any more differences?


What we can tell is that the tram picture was taken much later than the cart picture. We know this because of the shadows. As the shadows are pointing East, this means the sun is in the West, making it the afternoon. As the shadows are longer in the tram picture this means that the sun has set more, making it later in the day.

By the same method, we can see that the next three pictures were taken later in the day. In picture 3 we see that the street has been flooded with people, who appear to be marching down Whitehall Street with a banner. In pictures 4 and 5, the procession is heading down the Nethergate/High Street and they are carrying a boat. So what’s going on?


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We know that this picture was taken c. 1890, so I did a bit of digging and found out that Broughty Ferry was given a new lifeboat on 23rd June 1888, and it was paraded through the streets of Dundee. The boat was named the Samuel Shawcross, named after the Permanent Secretary of the Ancient Order of Foresters Friendly Society. They Society had gifted the £700 to the RNLI to pay for the boat. This was the third boat they had paid for. To celebrate this, a large procession was held in Dundee with many friendly societies from Dundee and further afield, as well as numerous bands to give some entertainment. The whole procession was said to have been 1 mile long! Special trains were put on to Dundee from Stirling, Perth, Arbroath and Montrose. The town must have been heaving!

People started to gather around 2 pm, with the procession starting at 3:30pm. The Samuel Shawcross was positioned on a cart towed by 8 horses. 14 crew members took their place on the boat, with their oars held aloft for all to see. They were dressed in blue jerseys and red caps, a far cry from the thick, waterproof, yellow suits the crew wears today. Its hard to tell in the picture, but they may also be wearing life jackets. The boat itself was painted blue and white.

The Samuel Shawcross had been kept overnight in a goods yard on South Union Street, beside the train stations. It’s here that the procession started. From Union street, they headed up towards the Nethergate and along the High Street, which is where we see it in the procession. The route then took in Reform Street, Meadowside, Commercial Street, Dock Street and then along the Broughty Ferry Road to the Ferry itself, ready for the launch.

It’s estimated in the Courier that 12,000 people amassed on Beach Crescent to watch the launch. Chief Ranger of the Dundee District of the Foresters, J. R. Aitken, presided and the boat was named by Miss Fargie. Upon the firing of a gun, the boat slipped off its carriage and into the water. The Artillery band played “The Boatie Rows” and the Camperdown Brass Band played “Grace Darling”. A celebratory banquet was held in the Queens Hotel later that evening.

The Samuel Shawcross was at Broughty Ferry for 22 years and in that time saved the lives of 17 people. She was replaced in 1910 by the Maria, which was the first motorised boat at the Broughty Ferry station. Despite her innovative designs, the Maria did not get quite as grand an entrance as the Samuel Shawcross.

P.S. My favourite thing about this picture is the boys sat on the ledge outside the window and the boys stood on the creates, trying their very best to get a good view.

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