Baillie's Puffers

Who were "Baillie's Puffers"?

Alexander Baillie was a Troon entrepreneur. He and his wife, Jane Young,  together with the Young brothers were Baillie's Puffers. However this name probably was never used during trading days.

There were two parts to the business. It all started when Alexander Baillie took over the Ropeworks adjacent to the Wet Dock. This became the Ships Chandlers a thriving business in one of the busiest Ports on the Lower Clyde. Perhaps it is hard to think of this today but  up until the end of the Second World War Troon harbour was a hive of industry, Shipbuilding, Shipbreaking, the Timber yard some fishing and Coal Exports as well as visits of pleasure Steamers such as the "P.S. Juno". The ships chandlers was extremely busy and profitable. It stocked every conceivable item.

However it was the Puffer trade which drew their attention next. The Baillie's and the Young's came from Co Down, on the Ards Peninsula, from villages around  Portavogie, Cloughey and Portaferry. They were Fishermen and farmers, their wives being involved in Embroidery,  dressmaking etc. On one side Strangford Loch on the other the Irish Sea, facing the Cumbrian coastline, the Isle of Man and North East to the South West Corner of Scotland. This area had strong connections to the sea. However the prospects for young families in the late 19th century in this area were not favourable. The days of sail were rapidly declining and the old technologies of Sailmaking were in decline. Troon with its thriving shipbuilding business and plenty of work had everything these people needed. Another strong link was the export of coal from Troon to Northern Ireland.

Quite how the Puffer business started is not clear. However the profits of the ships Chandlers and Robert Young's First World War gratuity and prize money were put in to the business. To what extent Alexander Baillie had sailing ability is not clear. He was quick to spot others abilities and channel them into the business. Robert Young,  his brother in law, had worked on the Glasgow and South Western Railway's Paddle Tug Troon from the age of 16 prior to the war. During the war he had served on Royal Navy Minesweepers then joined the Merchant Navy. During this time he had picked up navigational skills which would be useful to the business and was to pass on to others. He was in charge of the Elim at one stage.

Like wise Robert Palmer was a self taught mechanic He came over from Ireland to live with his father and became Robert Young's brother in law. He was an excellent mechanic and looked after Sandy's (Alexander Baillie) Puffers. He eventually married and went to America.

The Clyde Puffer  is a well documented little shiptype peculiar in nature to the west coast of Scotland, but not exclusively so. It had a number of advantages for that area. Particularly most  would pass through three of the main canals, the Forth and Clyde, the Caledonian and the Crinnan. Probably the best know builder and operator of such boats was Hay's at Kirkintilloch on the Forth and Clyde. Other characteristics were its steam engine and shallow draught. These two cylinder compound engines in their early form had no condensers and the exhaust steam was routed through the funnel which caused the 'puffing' sound peculiar to this type. Puffers could be run up a beach at low tide, unloaded and refloated again at high tide. In some instances a single sail would be added either to add speed, as an aid in case of breakdown, but more likely to the thrifty owners to save a bit on fuel costs. It was Hugh Young, Alexander's, father-in-law who made the sails for the Puffers. His trade in Cloughey had been as a Sailmaker.

The main business was carrying coal, but any traffic would do. Usual runs were to the Scottish islands, through the Crinnan canal, Arran, Starrier, Campbeltown and to Northern Ireland. Alexander Baillie was an active Christian and heavily involved with the Church in Troon, particularly the Sunday School. These church links led to him taking stone to Ireland for the building of a church in his home village at....

Another activity was Salvage, with two notable examples.

The first was the Marjorie Seed, an 1162nt steel steamship built in 1907 as the "Westhampton". After a mixed career with several owners she was bought by the Seed Shipping Co of Newcastle who renamed her for the sixth time "Marjorie Seed", not a good omen. The ship left Rothesay dock, Greenock on 26/12/1924 and the weather was 'fair'. It is a mystery why a few hours later  the ship ran aground on the North east tip of the Lady Isle. At around 6 pm distress calls were picked up at Troon and the lifeboat and Tug attended. It was hoped that she would be refloated. However the following week a South westerly gale battered the ship. In February an inspection determined she was a total wreck. Alexander Baillie was involved in the following months salvaging the remains.

The second was the David Macbrayne paddle steamer Chevalier. A 121 nt. Iron Paddle steamer built by J. & G Thomson, Glasgow in1866. This was the last vessel of this type to be a total loss in the Clyde. The incident happened on  Friday 25 March 1927 on its usual run from Glasgow-Ardrishaig. The ship became disabled when the starboard paddle wheel gave way about two miles North of Target in Loch Fine. Drifting, a South westerly gale caught he broadside. The anchors could not hold and the ship was driven onto rocks, there were no casualties. They ship was refloated and taken to Troon. It has been alleged that the intention was to repair and operate it himself. However, this ship was already 60 years old and the damage beyond economic repair so he scrapped it. The paddle wheel box was used in the harbour as a means of crossing at the entrance of the 

When the puffers were at sea the main means of communication was by postcard. So a postcard would be sent from when they were in port to the family and business with details of progress and estimated arrival times. Passages could be over several days and families were anxious.

There were five ships owed, the Alexanderina, the Hafton, the Advance and the Elim and also the schooner Kate.

Little is known about the Alexanderina or the Kate. However, it is recalled that the deck house of the Alexanderina was removed and erected in the Garden of Hugh Young in Harbour Row. Here it was used as an extention of the house and guests would stay there as well as some of the children who 'camped' in it at night.

Advance --  Official Number 98669 Built 1891 at Glasgow ( at Maryhill or Kelvindock )


Iron Construction

Length 65' 5"

Width 17' 1"

Depth of hold 6' 0"


Net Tonnage 30

Gross Tonnage 67

Engine 15 HP


Previously owned by John McCreath of Hunters Quay and still registered to him in 1928. By 1933 it was registered to Jane Young in 11 Titchfield Row, Troon.


Elim -- Official number 106067, Built Kirkintilloch in 1897 formerly the Gael and owned by Hay's, William Hay. Registered at Troon in 1929.


Steel Construction,

Length 65' 8"

Width 18' 0"

Depth of hold 8' 4"

Net Tonnage 36

Gross Tonnage 85

Engine 17HP

The Elim was involved in an accident when William Young  grounded it. The record is as follows:-

Name                  Position                Nationality Type      Dimensions Date of loss Comment                                                 Cargo

ELIM (ex Gael), 5526.25 0505.00, TROON       SS 1897 85G             8/5/1932        Stranded at Cleats Point Arran Cpt Young

Location formerly cited as NR 9580 2060: N 55 26.04 W 5 13.68.

Steam Puffer ELIM, 84 ton, of Troon, master William Young. Bound from Carradale to Troon. Lost
8 May 1932, 1.30am. Cleats Point, Arran (Cleiteadh Buidhe), 4 miles from Pladda Lighthouse. cause of wreck, fog. Crew 3, all saved. No cargo.
[Contemporary] source: Lightkeeper, Pladda Lighthouse.


Whittaker, I G (1998 ) Off Scotland: a comprehensive record of maritime and aviation losses in Scottish waters, Edinburgh, 350, ( ) Northern Lighthouse Board Wreck Returns
Pladda Lighthouse.


Hafton -- Official number 129486. Built in 1910 at Maryhill It had previously been owned by John McCreath at Hunters Quay, Balmoral, Argyll, till about 1926/1927.

Steel Built, 66' 1" long,18 00" Breadth, depth of hold 7'-00". Nett Tonnage 32, Gross Tonnage 81, 15 HP Engine.

Sold C1933 to Alexander McClean, 12 Minerva Street, Glasgow.

The Hafton was a more modern puffer, the name appears to have been taken  from the Hafton estate near Dunoon.


Hafton: Formerly called Halfton. Hafton was the general name adopted and given to all the lands purchased at the beginning of the 19th century by James Hunter, who gave his name to Hunter's Quay, previously known as Cammesreinach, bay of the ferns (taken from the Argyll on line Web site)

It has been said that the Hafton was rather thin on the bottom and by 1933 it had been sold. It was by accident that I discovered that after being sold it sunk near Oban fortunately without and loss of life although the crew of five  had to swim to get into their small boat.. Leaving Toberonochy on the island of Luing, bound for Mull, about 9 miles into the journey the vessel sprang a leak and rapidly filled with water. At daybreak the crew managed to get ashore at Ellanbeich on the island of Seil

Name           Position           Nationality Type       Dimensions Date of loss Comment                                                                                                                              Cargo

HAFTON   5613.000556.00 Glasgow      SS 1910 81g                 2/9/1933     Foundered 9 Miles from Toberonochy, Luing on route to Fionnphort, Mull Maclean Coal

The untimely death of Alexander Baillie in November 1931 led to the slow demise of the business. His wife continued to run both. However increasing legislation and legal requirements for operating ships led to the sale first of the puffers and then after the second World war, the ships chandlers.

These were times of legends and many stories have been told of the antics of these men. In Neil Munro's infamous "Para Handy" series of books many of the stories paralleled those deeds that were actually enacted by the crews.

' The Light in the Glens' - Len Patterson - ' The Rise and Fall of the Puffer Trade' ISBN 1 899863 14 1 House of Lochar, Colonsay, Argyll PA61 7YR
'OFF SCOTLAND' - A comprehensive record of marine and aviation losses in Scottish Waters - Ian G Whittacker ISBN 0-9531977-0-0

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