Your Country Needs You

In March 1912 Winston Churchill, who was then First Sea Lord, ordered the return of the three complete Mediterranean Fleets from the dockyards at Gibraltar and Malta to protect the North Sea in case of war with Germany. The French Navy was left to guard the Mediterranean Sea. The return of the fleets put additional strain on Chatham and Sheerness Dockyards to service them.
The dockyards were already under pressure due to the naval arms race between Britain and Germany and the reorganization of the Navy begun by Admiral Jackie Fisher in 1906. Fisher’s policy resulted in the scrapping of old craft, and Churchill’s order resulted in additional tugs and service craft being urgently required as the fleets returned home during 1912/13.
Work on constructing KERNE began in 1912. She was built by the Montrose Shipbuilding Company to the order of Messrs Gerdes-Hansen and Company of London, and was originally named VIKING. However, whilst under construction she was acquired by the Admiralty who renamed her H.M. TUG TERRIER. On 6 March 1913 she sailed for London, and on arrival went into immediate service with the Admiralty.
TERRIER was to be one of two ‘basin tugs’ bought for Chatham in 1912/13, the other being H.M. TUG TYKE (tyke being a dialect name for a small dog). Her launching and steam trials took place in March 1913, and TERRIER sailed for Chatham where she worked for the next 35 years, undertaking general dockyard duties in Chatham. She was classed as an Admiralty Yard Service Craft operating as an auxiliary vessel for the Admiralty.
TERRIER served as a basin tug during the First World War, operating within the confines of the three enclosed basins at Chatham. Here small tugs were required to manoeuvre large vessels in the relatively confined dock basins. These basins were built in the 1860’s to service the “Steam Navy”. Two of the basins are still in use as commercial docks by Medway Ports.
Although in peacetime the crew would have been dockyard civilians answering to the Captain of The Dockyard, in wartime she would have been manned by naval crew. The vessels flew a blue ensign defaced with a yellow anchor badge.
After the end of the Second World War TERRIER was sold to Messrs J.P. Knight Ltd. of London for use on the River Thames. She was registered in London on the 28 July 1948 and received her new name - KERNE. All of J.P. Knight's fleet of tugs had names beginning with the letter 'K'. KERNE is Gaelic for 'foot soldier' or 'warrior'. On 13 September 1949 she was sold again, this time to the Straits Steamship Company Ltd. of Liverpool.
A number of modifications were made, including the fitting of a non-folding funnel, an enclosed wheel house, and a new mast. KERNE was then used to tow barges, and operated on the River Mersey, the Manchester Ship Canal and River Weaver systems for the next 22 years. Her ownership passed to the Liverpool Lighterage Company Ltd in April 1965.
In April 1971, KERNE, the last 'lighterage' tug, was laid up for disposal and sold to the North Western Steam Ship Co. Ltd, a non-profit making organization, for preservation in steam condition - retaining the name KERNE.
Where is she now?
KERNE is usually based at the Merseyside Maritime Museum at Liverpool, or at the Boat Museum at Ellesmere Port. She is currently undergoing repairs in Cammell Laird’s No 4 Dry Dock at Birkenhead, Merseyside. She has made voyages to the Isle of Man, North Wales ports, Port Madoc and regularly cruises on the River Weaver and Ship Canal systems. She has taken part in four films, and in 1990 was awarded the Steam Heritage Award-Marine Section.
Brown, P. (2010) Historic Ships: The Survivors. Amberley Publishing, Stroud, Glos. 68-9.
(1995) The North Western Steam Ship Company Limited: a brief history of the steam tug KERNE built in 1913.
Hillsdon, B.E. and Smith, B.W. (eds.) (1994) Steamboat Register: An illustrated Register of surviving steam vessels in the British Isles. Steam Boat Association of Great Britain: London.
Brouwer, Norman J (1993) International Register of Historic Ships.
Sullivan, Dick (1978) Old Ships, Boats and Maritime Museums.
Kirkbride, P. (May 1977) Still in Steam: tug KERNE, Ships Monthly, 8-10.