The Steam Tug Kerne Preservation Society Ltd


Built by Montrose Shipbuilding Co. Ltd and competed in 1913, to fulfil an order placed by the Gerdes Hansen and Co, she was originally named Viking. Upon completion in March 1913, she sailed under her own power to London but in April 1913, she was acquired by the Admiralty and re-named Terrier. Based in Chatham she worked in and around the Medway as a harbour/basin tug for 35 years, which included the two World Wars.

She was sold out of naval service in March 1948 to J.P.Knight and re-named Kerne, which is Gaelic for “Vagabond Foot Soldier.” In September 1949 after 18 months service with Knights she was sold on to the Straits Steamship Co. of Liverpool, a subsidiary of Liverpool Lighterage Co. sailing North to work on the Mersey, Manchester Ship Canal and Weaver Navigation as a lighterage tug until her retirement in March 1971. 

During 1970 and 1971 several likeminded steam enthusiasts in the Liverpool and Wirral area were becoming increasingly frustrated at the disappearance of suitable outlets for their hobbies. Steam on the railways had recently finished and the few embryonic organisations involved with steam did not fit the bill for a variety of reasons.

Laid up in Wellington Dock in Liverpool until October 1971, the Kerne was about to go for scrap when the fledgling group of enthusiasts outbid the scrapman and rescued her from the cutter’s torch. Six years later the North Western Steamship Company Co Ltd was formed as a non-profit making organisation to operate the Kerne and facilitate her conservation. She is now an extremely rare example of the once common steam estuary/dock tug and a living reminder of early 20th century naval architecture.

As the Kerne has continued in preservation she has performed roles that bring her greater distinction. She has been the guest of honour at several maritime festivals, on the Mersey, at Preston Docks and in North Wales and has also appeared at steam festivals on the Isle of Man. But perhaps her greatest honour was to represent her type in the Royal Review of Ships in the Mersey during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. As this event has receded into the past, the majority of vessels that took part have succumbed to the scrap man. It is realistic to assume that the Kerne may be the sole operating survivor of this prestigious occasion.

Her veteran appeal has made her sought after by film and TV production companies and she has appeared in some period productions.

The structure of Kerne’s owners, the North Western Steamship Co. ensured positive outlooks prevailed, coupled with a determination to ensure that the vessel continued to be maintained in good operating condition for years to come. An essential aspect of this is the tenacity with which the demands of Kerne’s survival are met. This dedication was recognised in 1990 when the North Western Steamship Co. won first prize in the marine category of the Steam Heritage Awards.

She is now the last remaining operational Naval coal-fired steamship to have seen service in two World Wars.