Bovril had been a staple in pantries all over France and Britain for generations. It should come as no surprise, then, that when London found itself with a massive deadly human waste build up in the Thames, the vessels that came to the rescue were aptly dubbed the “Bovril boats”.
Bovril boats, also known as sludge vessels, were specially designed sewerage dumping ships. The vessels were well maintained, and crews could expect reasonably good pay and regular work.
In 1887 the first ship of a long line of ‘pump and dump’ effluent tanker vessels was launched.
Their task was to remove London’s sludge waste from Beckton and Crossness Pumping Stations for disposal on the ebb tide at sea in the Black Deep, an extremely deep channel in the North Sea, located fifteen miles off the aptly named Foulness Island.
The dreadful state of the Thames near the sewer outfalls was highlighted by the SS Princess Alice disaster of September 1878.