Steam Launch built 1866 by Thornycroft, J I & Co Ltd, Chiswick

Ensign House flag


National Historic Fleet

Leisure Craft


Steam Launch


Museum based

Museum: indoors





Web site






Vertical Fire Tube

J O Lugg & Son Ltd, Billingshurst.



To be confirmed

7.51 feet (2.29 metres)

41.97 feet (12.80 metres)

To be confirmed



WATERLILY was designed, built and used by the Thornycroft family. She then remained in use on the Thames until after World War II and took part in the Festival of Britain celebrations in 1951. Although her steam plant was removed in 1919, it was stored and re-installed in 1977-78 when she was restored by apprentices of Vosper-Thornycroft (UK) Ltd. The vessel was presented to the National Maritime Museum by the Thornycroft family and in 2007 she was on display in Falmouth.

Norman J Brouwer, International Register of Historic Ships (Edition 2, 1993) pub: Anthony Nelson
Steamboat Register: An illustrated Register of surviving steam vessels in the British Isles (May Edition 6, 1994) pub: Steam Boat Association of Great Britain


What is the vessel’s ability to demonstrate history in her physical fabric?

WATERLILY is a very good example of an early luxury steam launch used on the Thames. Stored for many years, she retains most of her original features. She was built in 1866 to a longitudinal system, consisting of five deep web frames or bulkheads with intermediate floors and three longitudinal stiffening angles each side riveted to the plating. The plating itself is laid clinker fashion with riveted lap joints. This structure was an early pioneer of the form used in constructing the larger Vosper Thornycroft steel patrol boats. WATERLILY’S steam plant was removed when she was converted to motor in 1919, but the original engine and boiler were re-fitted in 1977 after being found in a gun emplacement on the Thornycroft family estate. At the same time, approximately one third of her wrought iron plates were replaced with mild steel as the original Swedish iron was no longer obtainable, although care was taken to make the riveted lap seams correctly with calico impregnated with red lead.

What are the vessel’s associational links for which there is no physical evidence?

WATERLILY has strong links to the Thornycroft family who both built and designed her. She was built mainly for use by John I Thornycroft’s father, the sculptor, Thomas Thornycroft, but remained in the Thornycroft family for many years until she was later donated for display at the National Maritime Museum.

How does the vessel’s shape or form combine and contribute to her function?

At 42 feet and with a very stylish shape, WATERLILY has the elegance and presence of a leading luxury steamer designed and built by the Thornycroft family. She originally had lateen sails which were set from short masts, to save stoking when the wind was fair.

Source: George Hogg, Registration Sub Committee, National Historic Ships Date: May 2011

Key dates

  1. 1866 Built by J. I. Thornycroft of Chiswick, London
  2. 1951 Took part in the Festival of Britain on the Thames
  3. 1977/1978 Full restoration and re-installation of steam plant by apprentices at Vosper Thorneycroft
  4. 2007 Presented to the National Maritime Musuem


  1. 1993 International Register of Historic Ships - Brouwer, Norman J
  2. 1994 Steamboat Register: An illustrated Register of surviving steam vessels in the British Isles
If you are the owner of the vessel and would like to provide more details or updated information please contact info@nationalhistoricships.org.uk

thole pin:

a single pin or one of a pair rising vertically from the sheer and acting in a variety of ways to provide a fulcrum for the oar