The Steamboat Association of Great Britain
In the Treacle Mine–the life of a Marine Engineer
Whittles Publishing, ISBN 978-184995-488-4 223pp £16.99
In December 2021, SBA member John Richardson published a fascinating autobiography that will ring huge bells in the minds and memories of a number of SBA members who, themselves, spent demanding but always fascinating years in the engine rooms of large ships.‘The treacle mine’ was what many marine engineers from North East England called the engine room, perhaps because of the thick gooey bunker oil steamships used to burn. John is a steam man through and through and in the course of his life he has been deeply involved with steam in the context of sea, road and rail. An engineer on steam and motor ships he is also a fully qualified steam locomotive driver on the Watercress Line in Hampshire, has owned and run his own steamroller, and his workshop has produced, among much else, a 5” gauge ‘Britannia’ as well as the Taylor twin engine and John King Yarrow boiler plant for his launch ‘Lady Amanda’.
But this book focuses on his years at sea, from apprentice to Chief Engineer on an extraordinary variety of vessels, starting with Esso and Mobil steam turbine tankers through to motor shipslarge and small, Channel Ferries and Seacats. Some of John’s stories graphically recounting the challenges so often facing marine engineers in steam days may be familiar to readers of ‘Funnel’ over the years.
The engineering, described alongside colourful pen portraits of characters he worked with, was fascinating when encountered in our journal, but this book puts all those adventures, incidents and accidents into historical perspective and is a really absorbing readinga very nicely produced book. It was my Christmas reading and I heartily commend it!
‘In the Treacle Mine’ is now available from Waterstones and if a members’ partner happens to be reading this, it would make a great birthday present for that steamboater in your life; even if there’s no birthday pending, get it just the same because it will certainly keep them quiet for long time!