In 1796 there were over 12,000 watermen in England. By 1828 there were more than 3,000 wherries (or rowboats) on the Thames in and around London. (Old and new London: a narrative of its history, 1881). The wherries were small crafts meant to haul people and small items across the river, and were available in many of the major cities in the UK.
At any given time, there would be thousands of ships, barges, wherries, and other small boats in the Thames at once, creating a lively and oft crowded atmosphere (Pigot & co.’s metropolitan guide & book of reference to every street, 1824). Wherries were required, by law, to be “at least one boat’s length distant from any other boat or boats” with additional regulations for onboarding passengers (Mogg’s Table of the new Watermen’s Fares, 1828).