The Humber Union Steam Packet Company began its pioneering steamship service between Hull and London with two identical wooden paddlers - Vivid and Waterwitch - in 1835. Measured at a mere 270 tons, these little steamers proved hugely successful, so much so that a third vessel was ordered to supplement the service in 1837. The additional paddler was named Wilberforce and she was built by Curling & Young at Limehouse, the same yard from which her sisters had been launched two years earlier. An altogether larger boat, Wilberforce was registered at 610 tons gross (344 net) and measured 169½ feet in length with a 23½ foot beam. With 280hp. engines by Seaward & Capel, she was also significantly more powerful and she entered service just in time to help cater for the large influx of passengers travelling to London for Queen Victoria's Coronation festivities in 1838. When Humber Union was taken over by the General Steam Navigation Company (of London) in 1841, all three Humber steamers continued to ply the same route from Hull to the capital, with Wilberforce surviving longest until scrapped in 1856.
In 1838, to mark Wilberforce's entry into service, John Ward produced two fine oils, one depicting the new steamer in three positions and the other showing Vivid and Waterwitch passing in the Humber estuary. Both works became widely known after being engraved and published by R.G & A.W. Reeve the following year but whilst the original oil showing Vivid and Waterwitch is now in the Town Docks' Museum at Hull, its companion - portraying Wilberforce - is currently lost and known only from the engraving.