Tributes paid to Exmouth pleasure boating pioneer Hiram Lewis

A PIONEER of Exmouth's famed pleasure boating industry, who plied his trade in Lyme Bay and the River Exe for an incredible half a century, has died aged 81.

A PIONEER of Exmouth's famed pleasure boating industry, who plied his trade in Lyme Bay and the River Exe for an incredible half a century, has died aged 81.

But Hiram Lewis Thomas, who also worked as a fisherman and marine engineer on the waters he loved so much between 1947 to 1997, will be most vivid in the memories of many Exmothians for his fishing trips.

He was famed for loudly advertising his boat trips from the Clock Tower on The Esplanade, with the help of a booming megaphone.

He was actually born in Shawinigan Falls, Quebec, Canada, on August 13, 1927, after his Exmouth-born hotelier-father, Bertrand, landed a job there, taking his wife, Budleigh-born Elsie, with him.

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But it was after returning to East Devon aged nine, just before the outbreak of war and living in Budleigh Salterton, he got his first taste of fishing - he was 'shown the ropes' by his fisherman-uncle Harry.

"He was a very skilled engineer," said one of his daughters, Paula. "But he never went to college.

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"He learnt a lot from Uncle Harry."

When he was 12, they moved Exmouth, where he went to Exmouth Grammar School, now the community college.

As a teenager during the war, he did his bit by regularly traversing up and down the estuary, keeping American ships anchored in Lyme Bay stocked up.

Daughter Anne said: "He always used too joke that he wasn't called up to go to war because he was too valuable on the river

"But he knew the river like the back of his hand and used to make the journey in the dark, supplying food and supplies.

"He used to say he patrolled the estuary up and down to stop the 'nasty Germans' from 'nicking our Warren'.

"He used to keep the crews supplied with whelks - I suppose they didn't have hamburgers.

"He thought it was very, very strange they were eating whelks."

After the war, he variously worked as an engineer on coasters to Jersey bringing back tomatoes - and it was there he got engaged to his wife to be, Greta, whom he had met at a dance at Exmouth Pavilion.

At the same time, he took the chance to buy her a ring. "Probably to avoid paying duty," joked his son, Bert.

During the same period, he worked as an engineer on a couple of large passenger boats, including The Dumbo, before buying his first fishing boat, the Miss Noreen.

Bert said: "The fishermen were based at Mamhead Slipway and there was an opening - normally this only happened if one of the fishermen had retired or died."

He spent the next 50 years in the winter months fishing for scallops, herring drifting, trawling in Lyme Bay and catching cockles and mussels up the river.

"There was no mechanical equipment then," said Bert. It was a hard life."

During the summer, when there were more tourists, he took holidaymakers for half-hour boat trips, including journeys to Starcross and the Turf Hotel.

Then he got his big break in the late 1960s. Ernie Bond for years had run fishing trips and cruises up and down the estuary from the Clock Tower, but his partner had pulled out - and Hiram was asked to be Ernie's new partner.

"This earned him enough money to buy a bigger boat," said Anne. "It was called The Rivermaid, and it is that what most people in Exmouth remember him for."

The boat, however, was one of many he owned through his life, including The Silver Queen, The Gorgeous Gussie, The Mongoose - in which he used to take visitors on trips to Countess Wear - and The Henrietta, an old life boat.

Over the years, Hiram probably took thousands on boat trips. "The same people used to come back year after year," said Burt.

"He used to say that was why people came on holiday to Exmouth and used to joke his job was to make sure visitors spent all of their money so they knew that they had had a good holiday!

"His trips were popular because people liked him. He was always laughing and used to keep passengers entertained with stories - they loved it."

If you want to pay your respects to Hiram, a service at the Holy Trinity Church begins at 4pm tomorrow. All are welcome.

He leaves two sons, Bert and Phillip, and two daughters, Annie and Paula.

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