Come the 1900’s Palmer workforce would be in excess of 9,000 men and boys. Charles Palmer also held major interests in the local Coal Mining industry. With this in mind Charles wanted to ferry coal to London, from the Durham coal fields, using his own steam collier ships. This is were the John Bowes, named after the coal mining concern, came into the story. Driven by a propeller this steamship, the first of its kind, would prove beyond doubt the advantages of carrying coals both on the sea and to London propelled by steam. The John Bowes specifically designed to carry coal was the first steamship to transport, on a regular basis, what was called black diamonds from the coal pits of the North East to London. However, having said that the Bedlington of 1841, and the Q.E.D of 1844, both ships launched on the Tyne had a small amount of success, but were no where near the commercial success of Palmers vessels.
Charles Palmer was born in South Shields in 1822. He was born into a family of ship owners and timber merchants. He received his education in his home town for some years then attended the much esteemed Dr Bruce’s Academy in Newcastle Upon Tyne. He joined the firm of John Bowes as a managing partner in 1847. With the development of railways, coal from other areas of the country could be sent to London a lot quicker. Those parts of the country that still relied on sailing ships, like the north, were at a great disadvantage. The average sailing collier, from the Northern pits, would take a month. That was until The John Bowes was built she had a speed of eight, or nine knotts, did not need to rely on winds and could do the round trip within one week compared to a sailing collier that would take a month. Here maiden voyage was on 27th July 1852, Arriving in London on the 30th July, she was back on the River Tyne by August 3rd taking three weeks of the standard time of a sailing ship.
The ability to build well constructed ships soon earned Palmer worldwide recognition by 1909 as well as having berth for the construction of ships Palmer had establish blast furnaces, iron and steel works, a boiler and engine works on the site. The dock it-self Stretched nearly three quarters of a mile along the southern bank of the River Tyne.
During the late 1800’s the company went on to have the highest output of ships in Britain. During the company’s life-time Palmers would launch 900+ ships, keeping careful details of each ship built.
Prior to the construction of the John Bowes launched on the river in June 1852, an iron paddle tug called the Northumberland launched in April 1852, she was the first of his ships small and of little consequence, yet the industry would develop into a major supplier of ships.