Monday, August 04, 2014

A piece of floating history

Just recently, I've joined a group called Women on Barges on Facebook. It's a lovely forum where women from all over the world share information about the boats they live and travel on. Many of them live on historic barges as I do, and they're very interested in the history of all the different vessels. As there is no specific place on the internet where there is information about my barge - at least not in English, I thought I'd do a post that compiles all the information I've gathered about my Vereeniging. I know I've written about it in different places and in my books, but I don't think I've ever written a complete potted history of my barge here, so for anyone who's interested, read on!

Roelof Mur
The Vereeniging is the type of barge known as a pakschuit, which is otherwise described as a small beurtschip (barges that followed particular routes according to a timetable). It was built in 1898 by Roelof Mur, a skipper whose family had been transporting goods along the canals of north and south Holland (the provinces, not the country) for generations. The Murs had previously used barges called trekschuiten which were pulled (trekked) by horses from town to town. They were often used as passenger carriers too. Here's a photo I found on the net of a reconstructed passenger trekschuit (thanks to

However, in the late 19th century, some barges were having engines installed to help skipper's maintain speed and reliability. Sailing barges would use both engine and sail power, but the Vereeniging, commissioned by Roelof Mur, was one of the first examples of a barge built solely for motor power. It was built in Alphen aan den Rijn under the name Loenen Amsterdam II at one of the two boat yards there, but sadly it is not known which one. I don't have the original meetbrief and things can get confused over time and with changes to documents, so it was either Boot or Pannevis, but I'll never really be sure.

A copy of the original photo taken of a newly-built
Vereeniging in 1898

You can see from the copy of an original photo above, it had a very slim loading mast and derrick, no winch and no rigging for sails. If you can enlarge the photo enough, you'll see that there is a man's face in the window of the engine room (the first window behind the hold)! I'll bet he was determined not to be left out of the image!

The first engine installed in my barge was a Van Renesse paraffin-fueled motor. This served the Mur family until 1921 when a semi-diesel single cylinder hot bulb engine from the Industrie works was installed in its place.

Single Cylinder hot bulb engine (1921) from the
Motorfabriek Industrie

The Vereeniging plied the canals and waterways between Amsterdam and Alphen a/d Rijn, but it was built to its specific dimensions (19,5 x 3,2 metres) so that it could pass through one particular lock on the Oude Rijn, which would only take barges of that width. The cargo it carried was varied and consisted of any goods that needed transporting between the smaller towns on these waterways, sometimes even cattle (or maybe sheep). You'll have seen it has a very large foredeck (four metres long) which is also pretty flat. This would have been space where non-perishable goods could be loaded and perhaps the odd cow or small flock of sheep (I'm guessing here). 

It also has a small back cabin (the roef) which still has the original bench seats and cupboards. This was where the Murs accommodated a few passengers on their travels, combining the two uses of a trekschuit.

The only archive information I've been able to find is of some small newspaper reports about transactions with lock-keepers and one small piece where Mr Mur helped to break the ice on a canal with the Vereeniging's sharp bows. Other than that, I think its history is very mundane. It was not designed to sail, so never crossed the wider waters; it was not requisitioned during the war, so no excitement there. As I've said before, I expect the only drama in its life was the odd argument with  other tradespeople and bargees. My barge has a very strong and substantial berghout or rubbing rail, so in any argument with other barges, it would probably come off best. Maybe a cause for contention! Since pakschuiten with these big rubbing rails were very common at one time, they probably gave more than a bit of credence to the whole idea of people just 'barging in'!

A substantial berghout  or rubbing rail

When it stopped being in service in the 1960s, it was used for a time as a holiday boat and some changes were made to the superstructure. The family Mur kept it until 1997, when it was bought in a very sorry and neglected state by an engine enthusiast. He restored much of the superstructure to its former configuration, as well as repairing the very holey roef.  However, he spent most of his time and energy on the engine room, rebuilding and restoring the old Industrie. 

Some people have not forgiven me yet for replacing that with another, later classic engine, but that's another story for another blog. Maybe the next one…

So that's about it - the story of my barge. It's not a very exciting history, but the fact that it's still floating in a very authentic state is, I think, pretty special. I still need to have a proper loading mast and derrick made, but that's an expensive undertaking, so it's had to wait. However, it is as original as I can practically keep it and has the honour of being a class A monument with the FONV, the Dutch Federation of old working barges. And finally, I have the honour of being its carer and custodian!

For information in Dutch, here is a link to the Museumschepen Rotterdam website.


  1. An enjoyable article Val. The photos were fantastic.

  2. Wow! I'd had no idea that you'd been able to track down so much of it's history. Well done, and very interesting!

  3. Thanks Sandra and Tom! I'm glad you enjoyed reading about my lovely old girl :)

  4. One of my great - grandmothers' last name was Berghout, opoe Berghout to be precise. I have always been wondering what a Berghout was, but now I know! Lovely story, as always, dear Val! xxx

  5. HI Val, it was so nice to read the history of your lovely girl and your photographs add so much, since many of us from other places have no concept of the actual barge culture. I look forward to reading more of your writings!!
    Carole Grant,
    Tjalk SilkPurse

  6. Isn't it wonderful, feeling part of history!! My house was built in the 1830s, and I feel I'm privileged to be allowed to look after it for a few years - and it's story will go on long after I'm pushing up daisies.

  7. Ah thank you, Carole! I am just a bit obsessed with my barge and its history, and the barge culture here is really inspiring. I think you would love it!

    Jo, it really is a special feeling. I have that same idea of privilege too. Your house sounds lovely!

  8. It's wonderful you have been able to find out so much detail of Vereeniging's history, Val. It does bring your barge to life in a whole new way. I do hope I visit Holland some day and learn more about the barge culture in general, and Rotterdam in particular. Congratulations on being a Class A monument!

  9. Val. This makes your barge even more special. Good you did the research on your Vereeniging. Now you know its true value and can relish in every moment spent on it. Lynn

  10. Patricia, it would be a real thrill to have you see the Vereeniging for real.

    Lynn, the quest for more information goes on! I had hoped to interview a member of the Mur family, but it's proved to be difficult to arrange. I'd still like to if I can!

  11. It sounds like you've been doing with boats what I've been doing with people - researching their ancestry!

  12. Fascinating and how wonderful that you can trace the history of your barge back to the beginning of its story. Vereeniging's history is far from mundane and you gave every right to be very proud of your beautiful boat. Have you ever met any of the original owner's family? When we were barge hunting in Holland, we looked at one barge that had not been converted at all and were accompanied by the owner who, with her husband, had worked and lived on the barge all her life. She even managed to raise four children in the tiniest of living spaces. I had so much admiration for that lady xxxx

  13. Admirable research Val ! and I am looking forwarding reading about your replacement engine. The original hot bulbs were invented by Herbert A Stuart (British) in late 1880's and slowly replaced the steam engines.

  14. Ros, you're right! It is fascinating delving into the past, isn't it? I am so looking forward to seeing your book. I had it sent to my nephew for his children, so I'm hoping they will bring it with them to a family get together next weekend! If not, I'll buy another one :)

    Fran, how wonderful that you met some people who'd always lived on their barge. I recently met a member of Koos's skippering family who'd lived his whole life on the family barge and inherited it from his forebears. I couldn't believe he'd actually sold it to live in a flat. A bit like selling a family heirloom! xxx

    Mel, I'll definitely do a post on the engines. I haven't managed it for the next one, but it will be the one after :) I need to find my file of documents and photocopy some of them for the blog! I'll let you know when I've done it.

  15. The mere fact the barge was named "Vereeniging" indicated your destinies were to merge! I well-remember the part in your "Watery Ways" book where you sought out and met your destiny. ;) xo


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