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David Goodchild, the Press at Toad Hall, Philadelphia (link below) is reprinting "A Thousand Miles in the Silver Cloud".  The following biographical article forms the forward. The images are of the second edition, 1879.The Press at Toad Hall prints on demand so delivery takes two or three weeks. William Forwell is a little known but his account should be of particular interest to cruisers on the east coast.



Being a cruising yachtsman I much enjoy cruise accounts of the pioneers. One of these was William Forwell, a Free Church of Scotland Minister who in 1878 published “A Thousand Miles’ Cruise in the ‘Silver Cloud’” – from Dundee to France and back in a small boat. It is the story of a cruise from Broughty Ferry to Calais in 1877 with his fourteen year old son as crew. The book is a small volume (12 mo) with beautifully embossed cover and illustrated with engravings. It quickly sold out and ran to a second edition the following year. Why it is so little known today is a mystery. The title is a tribute to “A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe” by John Macgregor.

Forwell was born in Ayr in 1831 and studied at Glasgow University and the Free Church College Glasgow. He married Elizabeth McLaren in 1859 and son William was born in 1863. William junior, known as Bill, died in 1943 and although a great sportsman he seems to have never returned to sailing. Rev Forwell was ordained in Alva in 1870 and served there as minister, resigning in 1871 due to ill health and returning to business. In his pre-college days he had been involved in the bakery trade, probably in Glasgow and around 1870-71 he started a biscuit factory at Hilltown, Dundee . The business prospered providing the funds to build the Silver Cloud.

Of Presbyterian stock, Rev Forwell did not sail just for the fun of it. He had been much influenced by the great Scottish canoeist, sailor and philanthropist John Macgregor. Like Macgregor, boating was used to travel, meet people and distribute religious tracts. He had quite a network from his college days and would not sail on a Sunday. On the cruise he often preached at a church near where the Silver Cloud was berthed. One supposes he was much in demand because of the novelty of his mode of transport and the high profile of John Macgregor. Macgregor’s magnum opus “Rob Roy on the Jordan ” appeared in 1869 and by the time the Silver Cloud sailed in 1877 it had already run to five editions and John Macgregor was at the height of his fame, a confidant of HRH Prince of Wales and Lord Shaftesbury.

Of Macgregor one need look no further than Edwin Hodder’s biography, “The Life of John Macgregor ‘Rob Roy’” and for completeness one has to mention Macgregor’s second book, “The Rob Roy on the Baltic”.

A keen observer of everything about him whilst coastwise cruising, Forwell described the decision making dilemmas that face the skipper today. He philosophised on a multitude of subjects and the proud Scotsman is revealed in “Men travel thousands of miles to witness marvels less significant than they could have seen if they had looked for them in their native land.”

Forwell considered the advice offered by Macgregor and described his own experience such as his rejection of Macgregor’s hot blast spirit cooker being too hot and thirsty on fuel, in favour of an ordinary spirit lamp. “Man is a cooking animal, and your comfort and endurance of a long voyage depend very much on the power of your cuisine.”

There is much humour and literal hands on experience, the difficulty of getting ones hands clean for the pulpit on a Sunday, not a million miles from my trying to get sealant off my hands in time for the office on a Monday morning.

The Silver Cloud, described as a fisher’s yawl, was built in 1876 by Alexander Burn at Waterside, Montrose. Burn was then 66yrs of age, well established and on retirement his son George Smith Burn took over the business. Rev Forwell specified the shape and dimensions of the Silver Cloud and superintended building. Unusually she was built with a square stern. The dimensions came from his measuring “scores of boats of this type”. Doubtless Mr Burn had substantial input to the lines. Had the Rev Forwell produced a lines drawing it would surely have been included in his book.

The yawl was 19ft keel, 7ft 9in beam, partially decked and rigged with a lug sail. The rig had a jib set on a bowsprit and the mizzen mast “could be unstepped”. Since any mast can be unstepped one assumes this means it could be done particularly easily. The boat sailed very well and weathered gales.

Prints in the book show the Silver Cloud under sail in areas familiar to the East Coast yachtsman, such as off the cliffs of the Isle of May. More of its origins can be seen in PF Anson’s books and at the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther, to which Anson donated drawings and paintings and was the first curator.

An engraving shows the Silver Cloud broad reaching past Broughty Ferry while a lady on the shore waves goodbye with her handkerchief. We can only imagine the fears she held as her family sailed away, when small boat sailing was a small minority pursuit. The Silver Cloud is depicted off Berwick on Tweed with windmills in the background. Such detail gives the book its charm and it is packed with detail.

The Forwells left West Ferry Roads, Broughty Ferry, on 18 May 1877 and arrived back on 24 August exactly fourteen weeks later. They made passages of very good time through waiting for favourable winds. Their many adventures include frank admission of mistakes made, much like the confessions one finds in sailing magazines today. The biggest problem was in Calais harbour when, left unattended, the boat fell over on the sloping harbour bottom and was flooded by the incoming tide.

Rev Forwell became minister of Blochairn Free Church, Glasgow 1882-5 but again resigned due to ill health. He was a courageous pioneer, sailing in spite of his health and many doom laden warnings, proving to many that a small boat could be sailed with safety by amateurs. In his book there is no mention of the ill health that twice led him to resign his living. During the cruise both crew were in robust good health.

After returning to Dundee no further cruise accounts appeared although Rev Forwell wrote three religious titles. He died in 1889 aged 58 years. Perhaps his exploits were simply eclipsed by those of John Macgregor.

The author would like to thank all those who gave generously of their time to help build up this picture of the Forwells and Burns of Montrose: Angus Archives, Free Church of Scotland, Dundee City Library and the National Library of Scotland.


1. A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe on rivers and lakes of Europe, J Macgregor MA, Sampson Low, Marston and Co., Ltd.. 1871. Numerous editions and reprints.

2. A Thousand Miles’ Cruise in the “Silver Cloud” – from Dundee to France and back in a small boat, William Forwell, Blackie and Son, 1878.

3. Annals of the Free Church of Scotland , William Ewing, Edinburgh , 1914. (Biographical details.)

4. The Rob Roy on the Jordan, John Macgregor, John Murray, 1869. Reprint available from DN Goodchild, The Press at Toad Hall, Philadelphia .

5. The Life of John Macgregor “Rob Roy”, Edwin Hodder, Hodder Brothers, London, 1894. Reprint available from DN Goodchild, The Press at Toad Hall, Philadelphia .

6. The Rob Roy on the Baltic, a canoe cruise through Norway , Sweden , denmark Sleswig Holstein, The North Sea and the Baltic, J Macgregor MA, Sampson Low, Marston and Company Ltd., 1872. Numerous editions and reprints.

7. The Voyage Alone in the Yawl Rob Roy, John Macgregor, Samson Low, Marston and Company, London , 1880. (Details of Rob Roy’s cuisine and hot blast spirit stove, Appendix Page 324.) – Reprint available from DN Goodchild.

8. PF Anson

9. Fishing Boats and Fisher Folk on the East Coast of Scotland, Peter F Anson, JM Dent and Sons, London , 1930 and later reprints.

10. Scottish Fisheries Museum,

Paul Shave
Hon Sec Upper Forth Boat Club
17 April 2006