Built in 1942 by J. Hay & Sons, Kirkintilloch, Spartan the only surviving Scottish-built ‘puffer’, a type of steam-powered cargo vessel first built in the 1850s for use on the Clyde and Forth Canal, Now on the Designated List of the National Historic Ships Committee, she was the first vessel in the museum’s collection when it was established in 1983.

The term ‘puffer’ came from the characteristic puffs of steam – and accompanying sound – from the early single-stroke steam engines. The name stuck despite only the earliest examples of this type used this engine.

Sea-going puffers were being built by the 1870s, supplying an essential link to the maritime communities of Scotland. Carrying all manner of cargoes, they traded mainly in the Firth of Clyde and the Scottish Highlands and Islands. Their flat-bottomed hulls mean puffers were able to beach and unload their cargoes at low tide, not relying on piers.

Spartan has been much altered since her construction. She was built as a waterways puffer with riveted steel plating and pitch-pine deck. At a length of 66ft she was the longest a canal dock would allow.

At the outbreak of WWII the Ministry of War Transport required a fleet of small cargo boats, for servicing Naval ships and installations on Scotland’s west coast. Rather than designing a new vessel type, it was decided that the 66ft Clyde puffer type made an ideal model for the basis of a fleet.

A large number of these ‘Victualling Inshore Craft’ – known as the VIC series – were built, most of them constructed south of the border. Spartan, or VIC 18 as she was known, was an exception.

VIC 18 remained in Naval service until 1946 when she was laid up. She was reacquired by Hay’s in 1946 and converted to join there fleet of puffers, before being re-registered as ‘Spartan’.

Spartan’s steam engine was replaced by a Scania diesel in 1961, and remained in use as a cargo vessel until 1980. She was handed over the West of Scotland Boat Museum Association (the precursor of the Scottish Maritime Museum) in 1982.

With growing competition from subsidised road haulage and ferry services, and the islands using less coal, operators began to go out of business and by the mind 1990s the puffer trade was no more.