Today there are two ferries across the River Dart but originally there was a single “floating bridge” built in 1831 in Plymouth and owned and run by Sir H P Seale local squire and owner of much land in the area. Apart from the advantage of providing pedestrian access across the Dart the company had the responsibility of transfer of Royal Mail goods and letters from Kingswear to Dartmouth and back. This contract was poorly written and in 1830 forced the owners to run the service even at a loss and it became a millstone to the Seale family. Eventually in 1855-56 when the service was inoperable due to the ferry sinking at her Sandquay moorings in a storm the company declared itself bankrupt.
A group of dissatisfied tradespeople, including my ancestor from Brixham Thomas Lakeman, accused the company of failing to meet its obligations and issued a writ. The end result was that Thomas Lakeman with others took the company over. The old ferry was stripped and rebuilt and returned to service as “Floating Bridge No 2” and launched on 16th October 1856 and brought into service on 31st October. This was much lighter than its predecessor and had a steam capstan replacing the horse and crossed the river in seven minutes. Sir H P Searle and Thomas Lakeman were business rivals and the business venture appeared to be a propaganda exercise with the end result not being a great financial success. In 1867 the first steam ferry was introduced with the business then becoming more financially long term secure.