By Stephen Stockdale
I thought I knew the Clyde estuary; I mean I had sailed down the river from the Broomielaw all the way to Ireland and up and down the upper reaches several times, but Newshot Island? Never heard of it! In fact, Newshot Island didn’t start out as an island at all, but, more of that later.
What’s all your interest in it anyway, I hear you say! Well, it does exist, it is in the river Clyde, and it contains remains of considerable Nautical Archaeological interest.
The Newshot Island boat graveyard has three main groups of wooden boat wrecks. All of them date from the late 19th century when the river was undergoing the change from accessible river to deep water port; a change which required the removal of tons of silt from the river bottom to deepen and widen it, facilitated by a fleet of 350 mud punts, and the first of a series of Steam Dredgers.
Round about the 1900s, a new flotilla of dredgers and hopper barges came into use, and the once ubiquitous mud punts were gradually disposed of, though some remained in use until the 1960s.The punts were built in various shipyards on the Clyde. They were rectangular, wooden flat-bottomed punts with a carrying capacity of about ten tons. In operational use they were used in conjunction with dredgers and diving bells to take spoil and mud further up the Clyde where it could be safely dumped, although since the punts had no mechanical means for releasing their cargo, it all had to be done by pick and shovel.
With the decline in the river’s use the punts became redundant, and the four dozen remnants lying in and around Newshot Island are all that is left. There are no other examples left anywhere, as they were unique to the Clyde. As they were built by local shipwrights to their own design, there are no plans either, so if the boats are not to vanish from history altogether, they will have to be mapped and recorded.
The punts lie in three groups on the foreshore, and are only completely visible, and approachable at low tide. They lie, just off the foreshore at Erskine, near Park Quay, and for about 300 yards towards Glasgow. There is a group of four punts, together with a schooner, two dredgers, and a diving boat, lying within the bay of the island.
Newshot Island, incidentally, is completely man made. When large quantities of silt began to be removed from the river bed, it had to be taken somewhere, so it was dumped by the mud punts near Erskine where the river widened. Gradually, over time, the residue built up into a bank, and then, the grass covered peninsula which it is today.
Back in the summer of 2014, I saw an invitation by the Scottish Coastal Heritage at Risk Project for assistance in recording and mapping the mud punts before they disappear into the river forever. Accordingly, on a windy, wet Saturday in September, 2014, I found myself standing on the muddy shoreline, clipboard and tape measure in hand, and wondering which part of the wooden hulk was the bow, and which was the stern!
To be continued...