The origins of P&A Campbell's White Funnel Fleet of paddle steamers lie in early nineteenth century Scotland, when the Campbell family began its steamer services on the River Clyde. In the 1880s a series of events led the brothers, Peter and Alexander, to transfer their business from Glasgow to Bristol, where, despite intense competition, they quickly established themselves as the major pleasure steamer operators. As the popularity of marine excursions flourished in the 1890s they increased their fleet, extended their network of Bristol Channel services and ventured into a new enterprise on the south coast of England. The Golden Age of the paddle steamer ended abruptly with the outbreak of the First World War, when, in common with most other fleets of excursion ships, the Admiralty requisitioned the thirteen Campbell vessels principally for minesweeping. At the end of the hostilities the company recommenced its peace-time services, which continued throughout the difficult years of industrial unrest and the Depression, until the outbreak of the Second World War, when the Admiralty, once again, requisitioned the entire fleet, which then consisted of eleven vessels.
Only four of those paddle steamers survived to sail again, but after the gradual resumption of sailings in 1946, and with the delivery of three new steamers, the company enjoyed a number of profitable seasons during the early post-war years. In the 1950s, however, the company's fortunes went into decline; partly as a result of its own practices, which failed to keep pace with the changing demands of the public; and partly as a result of rising costs, the increasing trend towards private motoring, and one bad summer after another. Although the company was saved from demise in 1959 and continued its services for a further twenty-one years, economic pressures enforced the disposal of the last of the paddle steamers in 1968. This account of the company's post-war history touches, only briefly, on the broader issues of management and finance. It is concerned, principally, with the activities of the steamers themselves, and has been meticulously researched over many years from a wide variety of sources.
The aims of the book are simple - to enable those who have known and loved the paddle steamers to relive their memories of a bygone era, and to introduce younger generations to the exitement and sense of adventure experienced in sailing on the Bristol Channel.