Wherryman John Leonard witnessed a tragedy on the river in 1850, '... she had not been there five minutes when she exploded ... her boiler and part of the wooden houses ... went into the air in fragments ... passengers were thrown into the water...' Bristol Mercury, 27 July 1850.
The steam launch Red Rover had suffered a catastrophic boiler explosion at Cumberland Basin. Fifteen people were killed and many others badly injured. The explosion increased public concern over the safety of steam launches, which had begun transporting passengers in Bristol harbour during the 1840s. They ran in competition with 'wherries', small boats that were either rowed or sailed. Despite the tragedy of the Red Rover, steam launches soon became the main method of travelling around Bristol harbour because of their speed and size.