The article focuses on the period 1837–1860. In those early years of steam shipping, regular connections were established and developed. Maritime historians traditionally research characteristics like gross tonnage and the number of ships in a certain region or port. Those characteristics are very helpful in researching cargo shipping, but they are less useful in researching passenger shipping because they provide no information on numbers of passengers and personal mobility. Therefore the article is based on statistical reviews of passenger numbers from 1840–1860 and on two passenger lists from the 1850s.
The first steamship connection calling at Tallinn was on the Stockholm–Åbo–Helsinki–Tallinn–St. Petersburg line established in 1837. In 1837–1843, the steamship’s passenger numbers at the port of Tallinn were approximately 2,500 per year. In those first years of the steamship, one of the attractions for passengers to take such voyages was the phenomenon of the steamship itself. For that reason, companies organised excursions from Tallinn to Helsinki and vice-versa. In 1844, a second steamship route St. Petersburg–Tallinn–Riga was established. Steamship owners were interested in profits and for that they needed larger numbers of passengers. Thus they started adding stops to the routes at attractive destinations like resorts, for example. In 1847, a stop at the coastal resort town of Haapsalu was added to the route St. Petersburg–Tallinn–Riga and passenger numbers at the port of Tallinn increased to 6,600. The reopening of ship connections after the Crimean War blockade (1854–1855) caused a rapid increase in passenger numbers. Along with growth in the number of passengers, new companies were established and competition between different companies increased the number of passengers to 14,000 in 1858–1859, which was the highest number of passengers in the period.
The main reasons for passenger travel were tourism (mainly to resorts) and vacations, official duties and studies. The advantage of the steamship over the sailing ship was its independence from the wind, and at the same time, the steamboat could offer much more comfortable conditions for a better price with shorter travelling time. Postal horses on roads traversing the same route were approximately four times more expensive than a steamship ticket, and a journey by stagecoach cost as much as a first class ticket on a steamer. The steamship was able to offer amenities in many ways. The amount of baggage allowed free of charge was five times larger than for road transport, and passengers were able to take refreshment during the voyage, while on the road they had to make stops at inns for a meal and an overnight stay, which meant additional time cost.