The steamship, Charlotte Dundas, was built by William Symington for Lord Dundas in 1801. Lord Dundas wanted to use the ship to draw barges along the Forth and Clyde canal as a replacement for the horses then used. He was a large owner of the canal company and its governor.
Lord Dundas had seen Symngton's earlier steamboat experiment. The Charlotte Dundas was named in honour of his Lordship's daugther. After making the trip to Glasgow, she was used on various occasions on the canal as well as running into the River Forth.
The other proprietors of the canal feared that its banks might be damaged by the wash created by paddle wheels of the steamboat and ordered, against the views of Lord Dundas, that it be stopped.
Lord Dundas, not to be discouraged, advised William Symington to get a model of his boat constructed. This was done and taken by Syminton to 17 Ardlington St, London and presented to his Lordship. Lord Dundas introduced Symington to His Grace, the Duke of Bridgewater who was particularly enthusiastic and gave order for eight steamboats to be built for his canal.
Shortly afterwards, Symington returned to Scotland and completed his second and largest steamboat for Lord Dundas. This was also called the Charlotte Dundas and tried out in March 1803 when she towed two laden sloops, the Active and the Euphemia, from Lock No 20 to Port Dundas in Glasgow. The sloops were each seventy tons, the distance 19.5 miles and the time taken, despite an adverse gale with prevented movement of any other vessel, was six hours.
Despite this, the other managers of the canal company could not be persuaded as to the use of the steamship and ordered that any further experiments be stopped and the Charlotte Dundas was laid up in a creek on the canal.
Unfortunately, on the day of that decision, William Symington was also informed of the death of the Duke of Bridgewater.
The obituary of John Fea makes reference to him having the "distinguished honour of steering the Charlotte Dundas - the pioneer of steam navigation - from Grangemouth to Glasgow - when she was transformed into a "dredger" - an honour to which be afterwards referred with the live'iest of emotion". This has not been verified.