ALASKA was built in 1883 at Bourne End by J. S. & W. J. Horsham and Co. as a hire boat to take parties on day trips from Bourne End Wharf. She was subsequently purchased by Salter Brothers of Oxford in 1886. In 1887 Salters used ALASKA to inaugurate their famous Oxford to Kingston service. This trip took 2 days going down to Kingston and 3 days for the return leg to Oxford. Passengers stayed in boarding houses and hotels along the route and the fare for the trip, excluding accommodation, was one pound ten shillings (£1.50). Up until WWII, ALASKA plied this route, gradually being relegated to shorter portions as more vessels were built to cope with demand. She was also used for parties and private functions, much as she is today.
At the outbreak of war, the boat was sold to Jackson Brothers of Putney and served time as a guard boat but was then sold to Mears of Twickenham who used her for trips between Richmond and Teddington. Apparently, the skipper during this period attempted to procure tips from the passengers by telling them that the boat had been to Dunkirk, which is completely untrue but probably had the desired effect!
With her engine removed at Kingston, ALASKA was then 'poled' with a punt pole all the way up-river to Oxford. She was later sold to Putney Sea Scouts, who took out the steam plant and used her as their headquarters, but the enterprising Boy Scouts chopped up the wooden superstructure and sold it as fire wood in order to raise funds for a new hut. Around 1948, she was sold as a hulk and was used as a hire boat pontoon at Medley Boat Station in Oxford. When she was rediscovered there in 1974, she was sat on the bottom, decked over with plywood being used as a boarding pontoon for hire boats.
ALASKA was brought down river wrapped in plastic sheeting with an outboard motor attached and then spent 12 years in Peter Freebody's boatyard at Hurley, being restored to her former glory. She was reunited with her original engine and fitted with a new boiler and finally relaunched in 1987.
Robin Gates, Classic Boat (August, 1992, pp12-17) Alaska to Windsor Took part in the Diamond Jubilee pageant on the Thames
Geoffrey Hamer, Trip Out 1995/6 - A Guide to the Passenger Boat Services of the British Isles (1995) pub: G P Hamer
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
Kathy Mansfield, Classic Boat (September, 2015, pp16-17) Thames Traditional Boat Festival Back in Style
Classic Boat (June, 2012) 1,000 Boat Pageant - Steamers and Workboats
Robin Gates, Classic Boat (August, 1992, pp12-17) Alaska to Windsor
Took part in the Diamond Jubilee pageant on the Thames
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