History of the Liverpool Pilot Service - Arnet Robinson

by xtinacavender - published on 14 February 2022 650 -

The first-known chart of the Mersey estuary was dated 1689 – to assist sailors approaching the port. The route for ships through to the port of Liverpool, through sand banks and the powerful tides of the Irish Sea and Mersey Estuary, was a challenging business.

However, charts didn’t eliminate the risk, and often local sailors were called on to assist incoming vessels. So in 1766 the first official Liverpool Pilot Service was established by the ‘Liverpool Pilotage Act’. This made it compulsory for a pilot to be aboard all vessels in the Mersey. So the pilot vessels would greet ships entering the estuary, a trained pilot would board and navigate them into dock. Likewise, on the return voyage, they would meet the ship and remove the pilot once he had navigated into a safe area of the estuary. The only exceptions to this were for Irish passenger ships and Isle of Man steamers (for example) as the Masters on these ships themselves held the Mersey Pilotage certificate.

As Liverpool grew in size and importance, during the 19th century, the career of Pilot was held in high regard. In 1858 the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board’s (MDHB) own Pilotage Committee took over responsibility for the service, and in 1883 the pilot boats moved from private ownership to the Board’s ownership (although the Pilots themselves remained self-employed until as late as 1988).

A new pilotage office was opened by Canning Half Tide Dock in 1883, and the first steam pilot boat, the Francis Henderson, was launched in 1896.
My grandad had health issues towards the end of the 1950s, which meant that he could no longer sail ‘deep sea’, he needed to be closer to home. His documents show that on the 19th June 1956 he was effectively signed off as a merchant seaman – his CRS56 was issued (which meant the transfer to national registration and civil rationing).

On 17th March 1958 (St Patrick’s Day) it appears he was in Dartmouth, to sail back with the brand new Pilot vessel, the Arnet Robinson. One of three Pilot boats that would be working the Mersey at that time:

“Together with her consorts Sir Thomas Brocklebank and Edmund Gardner, the Arnet Robinson works a three weekly cycle of operations.

Last week the Arnet Robinson undocked on Thursday and proceeded to the Mersey Bar Station for a week of duty. She was due to return to Princes Stage yesterday to take stores and then start a week as Point Lynas boat. The Point Lynas boat which she was replacing yesterday, the Edmund Gardner, will then dock for a week before taking her next turn on the Bar station.”

Journal of Commerce and Shipping Telegraph (Thursday June 16th 1966) *on the 200 year anniversary of the Liverpool Pilot Service

So the Pilot boats would each spend a week by Point Lynas – with its lighthouse – on the north-eastern tip on Anglesey; and a week at the Mersey Bar station, where the mouth of the River meets the Irish Sea. At this time the Mersey Bar was marked by the Bar Lightship:
Reaching Liverpool you pick up the pilot, cross the bar and enter the river Mersey.
Reaching Liverpool you pick up the pilot, cross the bar and enter the river Mersey.
Reaching Liverpool you pick up the pilot, cross the bar and enter the river Mersey.
Reaching Liverpool you pick up the pilot, cross the bar and enter the river Mersey.
Then following 2 weeks on the water, the crew would have 6 days leave.

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