Saturday 27 February 1858 saw the launch of the iron paddle steamer Cornubia at Hayle. The vessel was built by Harvey and Co to work the packet service between Hayle and Bristol. Her keel had been laid down a year earlier and the intention was that she should replace the wooden hulled steam paddler Cornwall. In 1858 the Cornwall was only 16 years old and she was to be sold to help the Hayle and Bristol Steam Packet Company to cover the costs of the Cornubia.
Cornubia was the first big iron paddler steamer built in Cornwall, she was designed at Harvey's probably by Jebus Bickle who gave her the lines of a Yankee “extreme” clipper. She was in fact the only iron passenger vessel ever built in Cornwall and between 4000 and 5000 people are estimated to have turned up to watch the launch. Cornubia was named by the 10 year old daughter of Edwin Ley of Penzance, one of the shareholders. The launch went according to plan and within minutes Cornubia was moored alongside Carnsew Quay where work would soon get under way to prepare her for sea.
Cornubia, from an original drawing redrawn by Pete Joseph.
Cornubia had a overall length of 200 feet, 185 feet of keel, 241/2 feet beam and a 13 feet depth of hold. She had a gross tonnage of some 500 tons and was powered by a pair of oscillating engines of a nominal 230hp output which were fed by twin steam boilers. In service she could accommodate 55 to 60 saloon passengers plus an unknown number of second cabin and deck passengers. Fit out took four months and Cornubia underwent her first sea trial, under Captain Vivian, on 11th June 1858.
Monday 5th July saw the new vessel's first commercial trip, from Hayle to Land's End, Penzance, the Lizard and Falmouth, which saw Hayle bar to Penzance pierhead covered in two hours and fourteen minutes. The return trip averaged 16 miles per hour. She entered regular service on the Bristol run on 8th July and was scheduled to make three or four return trips each month. Her first trip back to Hayle, under Captain William Gill, saw a couple of close encounters. She left Bristol at 7.30pm on Tuesday and promptly grounded in the Avon tideway, maybe should have left at 8pm instead. Having got off the mud she then had a collision with a French vessel which led to a need for minor repairs off Lundy at about one the next morning. Despite her eventful voyage Cornubia still made Hayle by 9am the next morning, a total sailing time of 13.5 hours.
Cornubia's service on the Hayle - Bristol Packet run was short and in November 1861 she was sold to Thomas Sterling Begbie for whom she briefly worked the London-Southampton-Vigo-Oporto-Lisbon route before crossing the Atlantic to operate as a blockade runner for the Confederate States.
The story of Cornubia's days as a blockade runner and her subsequent career is told in Cornubia: The Life and Times of a Hayle Steamship by Peter Joseph, published by Peninsula Projects in 2016.