Carsethorn - Historic Emigrant Port

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The Steamboat Inn, Carsethorn
Bed & Breakfast and Self-Catering Accommodation
Links * Safety Advisory Services (Scotland) Ltd.

This short history of the village and port is sponsored by
The Steamboat Inn Carsethorn, Dumfries DG2 8DS Scotland.
Tel. : 01387 880631. E-mail :
Proprietors : Anne and Graham Carnochan.

The Old Jetty, Carsethorn
The Old Pier, Carsethorn

Carsethorn beach, 1920s : Petrel unloading coal

The Early Days...

The village was started by Danish Vikings as a fishing and coastal trading port, the sandy shore giving a hard where it was safe to beach ships at mid-tide on a falling tide, unload or load them from carts at low tide, then float them off on the next rising tide. At a time when roads inland were rutted tracks, most freight and much passenger traffic was by sea. This was only to change with the road improvers like Telford and MacAdam in the early 1800s. The illustration shows the ''Petrel'' using a spar crane (topping lift) to unload coals from Whitehaven onto carts at Carsethorn beach as late as 1920. Built in 1852 at Liverpool, ''Petrel'' was the smallest of British topsail schooners; it was finally broken up in the 1930s. Prints in The Steamboat Inn show that that local fishermen still used 'haaf' nets and worked their boats from the beach until well into the end of the twentieth century.

Carsethorn beach, 1920s : Petrel unloading coal

The Growth of Trade...

The channel of the River Nith moved closer to Carsethorn over time, until the deep water channel was near the shore. Carsethorn is first mentioned as a port, in 1562, when a ship was loading for Rochelle and Bordeaux. Later, the 'Carse', as it is fondly referred to, acted as an outport for Dumfries, with the larger ships anchoring in Carse Bay, before unloading their cargo. There was a great deal of trade through the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s, chiefly coastal to ports either side of the Solway, to Ireland and to the Isle of Man.

A Smuggling Past ?...

There may also have been smuggling; until recently, the Blackett family of Arbigland preserved records of one family member who was both an Exciseman ('Gauger') and a smuggler. The amusing fact is that he informed on his fellow smugglers, who returned the compliment and so forced him to resign. However a more lucrative trade was to replace this - Scotland's greatest export has not been its whiskey but its hard-working and ambitious people. Robert Burns was himself a 'Gauger' when living at Dumfries, preserving the ambivalent attitude to his trade in the poem ''The Deil's Awa' Wi' the Exciseman''. His Excise sword can still be seen in the Robert Burns Centre in Dumfries.

Carsethorn : John Paul Jones cottage at Arbigland
John Paul Jones Cottage
(link to official site)

John Paul Jones Was Here...

In 1760, one of the local lads, John Paul Jones, who was later to become famous as the founder of the American Navy, sailed from Carsethorn to England. He was then only 13. After a career in merchant shipping, he joined the Revolutionary Navy and crowned his career by defeating the English frigate ''Serapis'' off Flamborough Head. On one cruise in the Irish Sea, he burnt coal ships at Whitehaven and raided the home of the Earl of Selkirk near Kirkcudbright.

American visitors may like to see the small cottage on Arbigland Estate where John Paul Jones was born. A small museum in the building shows what his early life would have been like and reproduces his cabin aboard his ship, the ''Bonne Homme Richard''.

From Carsethorn to America...

During the late 1700s and early 1800s there was a very high level of emigration to the American and Australian Colonies and newspaper advertisements show emigrant ships sailing regularly from Carsethorn. In 1775 the ''Lovely Nelly'', Captained by William Sheridan, took 82 emigrants to Lot 59 on Prince Edward Island. The reason for the families going was given as being 'to get more bread' - in Scotland they were almost destitute.
A rather grimmer export trade emerged with the transportation of convicts to Australia. They were marched down from Dumfries and housed in the barracks (later a warehouse) at the river's edge. The whitewashed building remains to the south of the bus-stop in Carsethorn.

The Old Jetty, Carsethorn
The Old Pier, Carsethorn

The coastal trade reached its peak in the late 1840's with almost 25,000 tons entering the river and steamboats such as the ''Countess of Nithsdale'' maintained long established links with Liverpool. It is said that in 1850, 10,000 people emigrated to North America, 7,000 to Australia and 4,000 to New Zealand through the 'Carse', leaving from the jetty which was constructed in 1840 by the Nith Navigation Commission and used by the Liverpool Steam Packet Company. The remains of that jetty still stand beside the deep-water channel at the north end of Carsethorn; apparently it was a triangular structure, whose longest face allowed the steamers a good pierhead to come alongside.

Carsethorn : view south to slipway

In one photograph of the ''Petrel'' beached at Carsethorn there is a wooden structure in the background. According to Ernie Robinson and Alfred Truckell, this was the slipway of a former piloting and lifeboat station run by local fishermen. The garage opposite 'Spindrift Cottage' was at one time the boathouse. The gradual failure of the Nith trade and of fishing ended this service.

Carsethorn front

A Slow Decline...

During the 1870s and 1880s the local Captain, John Robson, traded in the ''Defiance'' to Archangel for timber, but this was in the face of a general decline. The coming of the railway in 1850, along with the ongoing costs of the many improvements needed to the navigable channel started a slow decline in the seaborne trade and by the early 1900s very little trade was left.

Steamboat Inn, Carsethorn
Steamboat Inn, Carsethorn

The Tourist Future...

The 'Steamboat' was already trading as an Inn in 1813, but its name first appeared on the 1854 Ordnance Map. Bunks where travellers and sailors could sleep were built into the walls on the Inn and were still visible until a short while ago. Now it is the centre of a quiet little village, nestling on the shore of the Solway. The new attractions for visitors lie in the history of surrounding villages such as New Abbey, Dalbeattie and Kippford, as well as the local beaches and the bird-rich merse where millions of seabirds live or over-winter. Visitors to the National Nature Reserve on the far side of the Nith come round by the coachload to watch birds on the Carsethorn foreshore, before continuing to the nature reserves at Southwick and Mersehead. Ironically, Liverpool firms are often the ones providing the coaches.

 House Map
Click for Map

To Find Carsethorn...

Directions ...
Take the A710 from Dumfries through New Abbey, turning left at Kirkbean down the road to Carsethorn. Alternatively, take the A711 from Dumfries or Dalbeattie to Beeswing and follow the minor road to New Abbey before turning right onto the A710 at New Abbey and proceeding south towards Kirkbean. Visitors coming from Dalbeattie should follow signs towards Kippford and Southerness, but stay on the A710 coast road until they reach the junction at Kirkbean.
See Map for details.

Local Attractions...

The Steamboat Inn at Carsethorn provides an ideal base from which to explore the beautiful Solway Coast.
At Kirkbean, a few minutes by car or a one-mile walk from Carsethorn, there is the splendidly laid out Kirkbean Fishery, where Fly Fishing for Brown and Rainbow Trout can be enjoyed by all at a very reasonable price.
For the sportingly-minded and for those who like a challenge, the magnificent Championship Links Golf Course at Southerness Southerness Golf Club is only 5 - 10 minutes away by car.
The Solway Links Golf Course is on the same road to Southerness, and here the Pay and Play system has proved popular with all ages and categories of players.
Some details of each course - on the Tourist Board Gateway to Golf scheme - are given below :-

Southerness Golf Club : [G2G]
Telephone : 01387-880677. Fax : 01387-880644. Secretary Bill Ramage.
Address : Southerness DG2 8AZ. (16 miles south of Dumfries off A710 near Southerness Village.)
Yardage : 18 hole - 6566 yards - SSS-72. Championship Links Course.
Clubhouse : Modern, roomy, comfortable, ladies and gents changing, toilet and shower facilities. Lounge, dining room and bar. Excellent views of the Solway Coast, sometimes the Isle of Man. Site shop sells golf equipment and 'Southerness' souvenirs. Booking essential, - time sheet operation in summer months so contact the Starter to have tee times allocated. Handicap certificates are required.
Other Comments : Designed by MacKenzie Ross in 1947. Championships held here by the R & A, the Scottish Golf Union, Scottish Ladies Golf Association and the Ladies' Golf Union. Course in superb condition, greens a joy. Not for the beginner, - sea winds, gorse and heather.
N.B. : £ 5.00 supplement for playing using Gateway to Golf pass.

Solway Links Golf Course (11 Holes) : [G2G]
Telephone : Mungo Clark : 01387-880323
Address : East Preston Farm, Kirkbean, Nr. Southerness.
Yardage : 11-hole - 3062 yards - par-41 for 11 holes. Links type. Upgrading towards 18 holes 1999-2000. Sea winds.
Clubhouse : Converted farm cottage. Basic facilities. No dress restrictions. Other comments : Fine views of the hills and sea. 'Pay and play' site. Clubs etc. for hire. Very well drained, - very rarely closes.

Grateful thanks to Mr. Alfred Truckell, Mr. Ernie Robinson and Mr. Harry Kidd,
for most of the historical information and illustrations on this page.
Other information and photographs © Mr. Richard Edkins.


All Steamboat Inn Enquiries and Booking Requests to :- Tel. : 01387 880631. Mobile : 07885 648900.
E-mail :

Carsethorn History built by
Added to Dalbeattie Domain Server on 22nd November 2000.
last updated 15th January 2004.

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22nd November 2000.