English Channel Packet Boats by C. Grasemann, M.A., and G.W.P. McLachlan. Siren and Shipping Ltd 1939 [ebook]


English Channel Packet Boats by C. Grasemann, M.A., and G.W.P. McLachlan. Siren and Shipping Ltd 1939. Green Cloth bound boards, 8.75”x 5.5”pp.206 inc. adverts. Over 80 B&W halftone illustrations of packet vessels operating in the Channel and of harbour installations.


Although Cuthbert Grasemann was successor to John Elliott as Public Relations Officer of the Southern Railway this was not an official publication and Grasemann would have required the permission of his General Manager (Sir) Gilbert Szlumper to embark on the venture. However because of his position he had access to sources of information denied to ordinary mortals so we can be confident that any information relating to the steamers of the Southern Railway and its constituents will be as accurate as the official records allow. The book is not so good on steamers in the pre railway era; for accurate information on the first Post Office steamers you are referred to the paper by Dr. Roger Owen in:




Cuthbert Grasemann came from a railway background. His father or possibly grandfather was at one time Chief Goods Manager of the LNWR but this did not prevent one of the Grasemanns from giving Charles Grinling son of the GNR Chief Accountant and brother of the GNR Traffic Manager W.J. Grinling considerable help with “The Ways of our Railways” 1905 which we will be offering on this site in a few weeks. There is some evidence that Cuthbert Grasemann was a railway enthusiast – not always an easy stance for a Senior Railway Officer as I personally found to my cost. When one of his junior clerks came up with the idea of a booklet listing details of Southern locomotives to save time in dealing with public enquiries, Grasemann felt that it was not something which the company should do but based on his own experience with “English Channel Packet Boats” encouraged the young man to “go it alone” and may even have put him in touch with people who could help him. The resulting little booklet “ABC of Southern Locomotives”  was well received, except by Chief Mechanical Engineer  O.V.S Bullied who was furious and wanted the clerk sacked.  Grasemann intervened with GM Szlumper and the clerk – yes you have guessed it was Ian Allan – was not fired but was banned from entering the CME’s drawing office. However the acorn from which a mighty oak would grow had been planted.

Cuthbert Grasemann himself authored at least two more books under his own name “An ABCof Yachts” for his protege Ian Allan and a book on Southern Railway ships for another publisher on behalf of the Railway Company. By the nature of his job he probably wrote more which were required to be anonymous or were ghosted on behalf of more senior officials.

Now we come to a bit of a mystery. In 1957 Rixon Bucknall published “Boat Trains and Channel Packets” covering much the same ground as Grasemann’s work of 1939 but with more emphasis on train services. Bucknall wrote that he had spent years researching his book, but in his acknowledgements and bibliography does not mention Grasemann (as Southern PRO surely one of the first calls for information) or his book. Like Grasemann,  Bucknall is weak on the pre-railway steamers despite having claimed to have consulted the records of the General Post Office. In the copy of Bucknall which I own there are two loose letters from a Henry Maxwell whom have been unable to trace but who was obviously a person of consequence, as one of the letters is dated from the Carlton Club in February 1958. He thanks Grasemann for an evening’s in “…an Aladdin’s Cave of Treasures each one of which one could examine for an hour and it is wonderful that you should have been able to rescue so much of rare interest and value which would otherwise have been lost”.   One wonders what these treasures were? Maxwell encloses a copy of “Boat Trains and Channel Packets” as a token of thanks – the implication being that he has not seen a book published the previous year on a subject which greatly interested him. My copy is presumably the one gifted by Maxwell, but apart from the two loose letters there is no indication of Grasemann having owned it. Odd.

“English Channel Packet Boats” is unfortunately printed on a coated paper which renders the half tones little “foggy” but they and the rest of the book are full of interest.



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