Monthly Archives: June 2019

Bank Line Nostalgia

A fellow Bank Line officer from the 1950’s, Charlie Stitt started the website Bank Line Nostalgia some years ago, using the Webs platform. It is the place to go if you are seeking shipmates or would like to browse a huge number of photos of ships or personnel. You need to register, and to have had a connection with the company, but well worth a look!

Click on the following link. – https://banklinenostalgia.webs.com

S.S. Inverlane – war casualty

On December 14th, 1939, the British tanker INVERLANE, built in 1938 by Bremer Vulkan (Vegesack) and owned at the time of her loss by Andrew Weir & Co., Bank Line, Inver Transport & Trading, Inver Tankers, British, on a voyage north, struck a mine and was beached at Whitburn, were she broke in two. 4 people lost their lives.

Willowbank – the most used name in the history of Bank Line. This is number 2 out of 5 ships that bore the name. Built just as WW2 commenced, she was torpedoed a year later when laden with a full cargo of Maize.

At 19.38 hours on 12 Jun 1940, U-46 fired a stern torpedo at a ship in convoy SL-34 about 220 miles west-northwest of Cape Finisterre and missed the intended target, but hit the Barbara Marie that broke in two and sank. At 19.46 hours, another torpedo was fired which hit the forward part of Willowbank and caused the ship to sink by the bow.The master and 50 crew members from Willowbank (Master Donald Gillies) were picked up by the British motor merchant Swedru

Twin screw Cedarbank, built by Harland and Wolff Ltd,Goven in 1924. Topedoed and lost with all hands in 1940.

CEDARBANK MV was a British Motor cargo vessel built in 1924 and owned by Weir & Co , Andrew. Bank Line Ltd and was of 5159 tons. She was built by Harland & Wolff Ltd Govan, Yard No 662 and powered by diesel engine of 717 nhp, giving 11 knots. On the 21st April 1940 when on route from Leith to Aalesund she was torpedoed by German submarine U-26 and sunk. The crew of 44 and 1 gunner were all lost.

Interesting poem about lost ships in the Sailing Ship era. Bank Line vessels, Oakbank, Levernbank, Heathbank included.

The log of Davy Jones

I’m nodding and a blinking, as I sit here at my ease,

And memory takes me back again to the days I sailed the seas,

And in the flickering firelight, the ghosts flit to and fro.

Ghosts of those good old sailing ships I knew so long ago.

I can feel the old ‘ Glenorchy’ from the Cape come booming home,

Rolling down to Saint Helena, her bows a-cream with foam.

With the ‘ Drummuir ‘ running neck and neck, the ‘ Palgrave ‘ far away,

And the ‘ Inchcape Rock’ , that later left her bones in Alloa Bay.

From Garden Reach to Esplanade, they lay in serried ranks,

Those old Calcutta traders, the ‘ Falls’ and ‘ Brocklebanks ‘.

The ‘ Bens’ and ‘ Glens’ , the ‘ Fernie’ ships, and others as wellknown.

With Jimmy Nourse’s coolie ships, the ‘ Sheila’, ‘ Erne’ and ‘ Rhone’

The ‘ Oakbank’ and the ‘ Otterspool’ both burned in far Peru.

The ‘ Frankistan’ and ‘Fannie Kerr’, the ‘ Frank N Thayer’, too.

‘Sir Lancelot’ the beautiful famed clipper in her day,

Loaded deep with salt from Muscat, when she foundered in the Bay.

‘Taitsing’ was wrecked on Zanzibar, ‘ Eden Holme’ on Hebe reef,

The ‘ Flying Spur’ on Martin Vas had also come to grief.

The ‘ Flying Venus’ on Penrhyn, ‘ Loch Sloy’ on Kangaroo.

‘Loch Vennacher’ had left her bones upon this island too.

The ‘ Nylghau’ and the ‘Alex McNeil’ passed out on Prague reef,

‘Colonial Empire’ made eight bells on the rocks of Cape Recife.

The ‘ Bangalore’ went missing, likewise the ‘Oamaru’

‘Lord Brassey’ and the ‘Manchester’, the good ship ‘Dalus’, too.

The good ‘Drumcraig’ went missing as did old ”Tamar’

‘Peter Iredale’ and ‘Galena’ on Columbia river bar.

Midway Island took the ‘Carrollton’, Layson the barque ‘Ceylon’

Ice took the ship ‘Geo’,’Peabody’, and the bonny ‘Rising Dawn’

‘Glenbervie’ on the Manacles, ‘Radiant’ on Crocodile,

‘The ‘ Lanrigg Hall ‘ on Tuskar, ‘King Lear’ on Lundy Isle,

‘Seeadler, the Pirate , wrecked on South Sea Isles afar.

Remembered by old sailor men as the ‘Pass of Balmaha’.

Malden Island took the ‘Salamis’, Iquique the ‘ Wynnstay’,

‘Persian Empire’ and the ‘Levernbank’ both sank in Biscay Bay.

‘Glenericht’, by collision, south of the River Plate,

On lonely Inaccessible, the ‘Shakespeare’ met her fate.

The ‘Allanshaw’ and ‘Mabel Clarke’ on Tristran’s rocky shore,

‘ Glunhuntley ‘ and the ‘Beacon Light’ nearby has paid their score.

‘ County  of Roxburgh’ and the ‘Savernake’ on Paumotos made their bed,

‘Edw. O’Brian’ and ‘Dunreggan’ piled up on Diamond Head. 

The ‘Primrose Hill’ on Holyhead went down with all her crew, 

The ‘ Thracian ‘ on her maiden trip took all hands with her too.

The ‘ Ardencraig’ on Scilly, ‘Tarridon’, sunk by Huns,

‘Cape Wrath’ and ‘Cadzow Forest’ took their pilots and were gone.

King Island took ‘ Loch Leven’, likewise the ‘Kalahine’,

‘Lizzie Iredale’ went missing with the ‘Heathbank’ and ‘Loch Fyne’.

‘Powys Castle’, ‘Cosmopolis’, ‘ Clencaird’ and the ‘Indore’

All made eight bells on Staten Island’s shore. 

Now the fire is getting lower and the ghosts have feed to play,

and methinks I hear a cock crow – It’s near the break of day.

I’ll make four bells and go below, to rest my weary bones,

But I bow my head to the men and ships that have gone to Davy Jones. 

By Anon


All the places and corners of the world served by Bank Line sailing ships, steamers, and motor ships until recently. Ships that carried thousands of charts as standard in order to be ready for any orders…

Elmbank, one of the 18 ship order of 1924, torpedoed by Otto Kretschner in U99 in Sept. 1940. 2 crew lost and the rest were rescued.

Twin screw and 6 cylinders giving 2300 bhp.

This is a page about the U Boat commander, (click on the the link below the picture) and this includes recordings made long after the war by Otto Kretschmer who survived as a prisoner. He torpedoed the Elmbank , Invershannon, one of Andrew Weir’s tankers, which sank killing 16 persons, and 3 weeks later the Empire Miniver, managed by Andrew Weir.

https://uboat.net/men/interviews/kretschmer.htm

NOTICE

PLEASE NOTE THAT THERE IS AN ACTIVE FACEBOOK PAGE THAT HAS PLENTY OF BANK LINE IMAGES AND COMMENTS. THE SITE CAN BE REACHED BY CLICKING THE LINK BELOW……..

https://www.facebook.com/banklinenostalgia/?epa=SEARCH_BOX

IT IS MANAGED BY ME (Alan Rawlinson) AND AS THERE IS A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF DUPLICATION, I AM PLANNING TO FOCUS MORE ON THE FACEBOOK SITE FROM NOW ON.

https://www.facebook.com/banklinenostalgia/?epa=SEARCH_BOX

Thornliebank – suffered the worst fate in WW2. Loaded with ammunition and torpedoed in 1941 – all hands killed.

When she was torpedoed, Thornliebank was carrying ammunition and she blew up in a great explosion, killing all on board. (66 crew members and 9 gunners). 

So big was the explosion that debris from the ship fell on the U-boat and even injured one of the Germans. 

To their amazement, the next day, the Germans found a 10 cm shell, which had been blown from a distance of 1.200 metres onto the conning tower. Thornliebank SS was a British cargo steamer of 5,569 grt that was owned by the Bank Line Ltd. On the 29th November 1941 she was torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-43 when on route from Barry for Suez with a general cargo.

Testbank – war casualty. Built 37 and blew up 1943 along with several other ships…. see link below.

The British merchant Testbank, owned by Andrew Weir’s Bank Line, sank at Bari on 2nd December, 1943 when the nearby ammunition ship John Harvey, loaded with mustard gas bombs, exploded.

LINK HERE
https://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?154632.
There is also a Bari cemetery link with all the names embedded on the wrecksite page.

1921 built Kelvinbank ex Brocklebank “Malia” – 9.5kts.

KELVINBANK MV was a British Cargo Motor Vessel of 3,872 tons built in 1921 by William Hamilton & Co, Port Glasgow. She was built as Malia MV for Thos & Jno Brocklebank, Liverpool. In 1927 British & Burmese Sn Co. and Burmah SS Co. (P.Henderson), Glasgow acquired the vessel and she was renamed Daga Mv. Finally she was sold in 1934 to BankLine Ltd. (Andrew Weir) and renamed KELVINBANK. On the 9th March 1943 when on route from Alexandria , Table Bay & Bahia for Trinidad & Macoris in ballast she was torpedoed by German submarine U-510 and sunk. 28 crew lost from a total of 59.

M.V.Forthbank. 1973 built and accident description below with photos….

Had a nasty collision with a bridge in Holland – see the account below courtesy of Ships Nostalgia Forum and Tim Philips




Interesting to see everyones recollection of this incident. I was actually onboard at the time as a cadet and luckily stationed down aft with the second mate.
Can definately confirm it was Rotterdam and definately the Forthbank also Correct that the vessel had been in Bolnes drydock for about 4 weeks I seem to remember we were doing her quadranial survey? as every block had been taken down and inspected.
We left the dry dock in thick fog as can still be seen in the pictures which I took the following morning. From leaving the drydock to the bridge was only a couple of miles so we reached it very quickly. The Van Brienenoord bridge in 1981 consisted of one span (looked a bit like Sydney harbour bridge) and a small section on the northern side which lifts up to let vessels thru. On the approach to the opening a series of dolphins mark the approach and should have been passing down our port side if we had been lined up correctly for passing through the open span.

We had 2 tugs fast aft and I recall chatting to the second mate about whatever, then suddenly seeing dolphins passing down the stb side and thought thats odd.  

Next thing there was a terrible crunching noise coming from fwd and the stern was starting to lift. Both tugs dropped their lines and at the same time the engines started going astern. The second mate started screaming at the crew to haul in the lines as quick as possible to stop them being caught in the prop. This kept all down aft busy for the next few moments.
At some stage during this commotion down aft I remember looking up towards the funnel and seeing the bridge coming out of the fog. I seem to recall people on the bridge dropping bicycles and running back across the main span of the bridge towards the south bank. Anyhow the engine was still going full astern as the radar mast hit the bridge and was bent back into the funnel. As the funnel made contact with the bridge our forward momentum stopped and the vessel started moving astern. From comments of the guys forward afterwards as the funnel hit, the foremast which had maintained contact with the underside of the bridge during the forward impact suddenly popped up clear on the other side of the bridge.

As the vessel then came astern it was pulled forward which is why it has such a weird twisted look in the photo.

Anyhow the vessel slowly extracted itself from under the bridge and ended up in the middle of the river in thick fog with no radar, radio or comms at all.

Luckily the tugs which had previously let us go came back and made fast again and moved us back to the Bolnes drydock repair berth. All in all quite a nerve wracking event for everyone on board but luckily no one was injured.

We had a cadet from PNG onboard who was forward with the mate during the whole incident. He had turned a funny sort of white colour which For a black guy was quite funny to see.

Capt Barber was the old man and we had one senior pilot and a trainee pilot onboard at the time. We were all paid off the next day and I heard nothing more about the incident.

Anyhow having now done a bit of research in the last 6 months or so I have located a magazine article which has extracts of the court case several years later as to exactly what happend and why. Must confess to being really surprised as to the ultimate cause of the accident.


The 2 pilots speaking in Dutch did have an impact on the courts final ruling although this was not the cause of the collision.  
Flwg excerts quoted from a Port Authority article on this case.
“Article 12 of the Netherlands Pilotage act exempts the state of the Netherlands from all liability for damages caused by its personnel involved in the performance of Pilotage services.” This basically says tough luck the vessel owner is responsible for all damages even though the pilot was effectively conning the vessel. Luckily though for Bank Line this was superseded in a later ruling of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands whereby ” the more fundamental principle that damages caused in the course of their employment by employees are the responsibility of the employer. Consequently, the State of the Netherlands cannot successfully claim compensation for damage it suffers as a consequence of negligence of its own pilot.” Against this legal back ground then, Bank Line’s legal team were successful in defending against compensation costs for damage to the bridge itself as they argued that by talking in Dutch to the tug boats through the VHF the pilots had effectively assumed a certain amount of responsibility for the manoeuvres of the vessel.
The court accepted this ruling and I am led to believe this was the first case ever (apart from the Panama Canal) whereby a pilot had been held partially liable for costs. Unfortunately though the damage to the vessel had to be picked up by Bank Lines own insurance.

Now onto the cause of the collision. At the time and right up until recently I had always thought the collision was due to the pilots lining the vessel up for the open span incorrectly. Ie for some reason they lined up for the wrong section of the bridge on their approach and this was not noticed until the last moment due to the poor visibility. This however was not the case. At only 3 ship lengths from the bridge the Forthbank was actually perfectly lined up to pass thru the open section. The error was related to her speed. Normally vessels passed thru this bridge opening at no more than 3 – 3.5 Kts. This was also the speed the pilot and master had estimated the vessel was going in their statements. However from the movement book (dam cadets) the state appointed expert reconstructed the passage from the dry dock to the moment of impact at the bridge and calculated the vessels actual speed was more likely 6.5 Kts over the bottom. Furthermore the state appointed expert was able to prove through some fairly complex simulations that at that speed (6.5 Kts) and due to the vessels close proximity to the northern bank the vessel would succumb to severe bank suction effects which would alter the vessels course significantly to port. Also at that speed the effects of the bank suction could not be compensated for in time by counter stb. helm to avert the collision. Ie the vessel was doomed to hit the bridge well before anyone knew it was going to happen. Lastly the suction effect (course alteration) was first noticed by the control tower on the bridge it self and not by anyone on the vessel. This could have been because the vessel was being conned by Magnetic compass as the Gyro was under repair, so the tell tale click, click, click……… did not happen as the vessel sheared to port in thick fog. This delay also meant that emergency full astern was too late and could not stop the Forthbank from passing right under the bridge right up to the funnel. 

For those interested I have a copy of the full article in PDF format which I can pass on, its a bit long winded to post here.

Rgds


Tim Phillips



Ettrickbank – 26 years service and one of the most popular vessels among the ‘old timers’

This is an extract from Ships Nostalgia written by Captain Alistair McNab and which describes the affection for an old ship with basic facilities. These pre war ships were the ” work horses” (my phrase) of the Bank Line fleet for many years.


Quote
Several of SN regular contributors seem to have fond memories of m.v.”Ettrickbank” of 1937 (same vintage as myself!) She was a small nearly-Doxford Economy but with a four cylinder oil engine instead of the standard three-cylinder. Nevertheless she was only good for about 11 knots and was consigned captive to the Oriental African Line for many years. Although Glasgow was the port of registry, it might as well have been Durban which was her home port.
Some features were worth mentioning. 
She had full wooden decks fore and aft. They were originally through-bolted over a light steel deck to the deck beams. I know this because when caught in the eye of a South China Sea typhoon in 1956, the working of the ship in the ferocious seas caused many dowels to pop out and seawater to enter the tween deck through the badly corroded deck holding down bolts and drilled holes. This caused maximum destruction of the tween deck cargo of paper-bagged pyrethrum powder going to Shanghai from Beira.
She was completely overhauled on the following year at her 20-year survey in Japan. The wooden deck sheathing and many of the deck plates were renewed but this time the sheathing was held down by studs welded to the steel deck. Can you imagine a full working deck of Oregon Pine laid in Japan in 1957!
In typical Bank Line fashion, this beautiful clean wooden deck was immediately compromised by a deckload of oil-leaking second-hand school busses from Yokohama to Manila!
Other main upgrading features were that the original suite of girder derricks, except for the jumbo, was replaced by tubular derricks, a welcome improvement, as was the introduction of hot and cold running water throughout the midships house. Before the Special Survey, the loading of logs around the Philippine Islands and North Borneo had been conducted using the groaning open girder cargo booms flexing longitudinally and shedding paint and rust in showers down upon anyone daft enough to walk underneath the stressed equipment.
Altogether my favourite ship where more happened on a two-year trip than any other that I experienced. Some SN members have expressed the opinion that the older ships were the happiest. I tend to agree.

Dunbritton loss 1906, after 15 years in the Bank Line sailing fleet. (click on the link below for the enquiry report)

      DUNBRITTON – 1,478t W Aug 1876  Kennedy:      
                (i3s 1,471t 1875 Dumbarton) 

https://www.wrecksite.eu/docBrowser.aspx?7538?7?1

Foundered in the North Sea on passage from Hamburg and Leith to Honolulu with general cargo….

TIKEIBANK – A voyage blog….



25 year old icebreaker TIKEIBANK


We have been on the ship for a month now and it seems appropriate to update the initial impressions gained when first boarding in Auckland. The five day passage from the last port in PNG to the Philippines gives time for reflection and time to assess the role that the Bank Line fleet plays in global sea transport – however minor that role seems at first glance.

Consider the position fifty odd years ago as I commenced my sea career. Shell, as a representative oil company having its own transport fleet had 105 ships in the Eastern fleet alone and it had five fleets! Nowadays it has a handful of specialist tankers and most crude oil is shipped around the world in VL or UL CC’s (very or ultra large crude carriers) chartered in from shipowners often themselves simply finance houses. Dry cargo movements have also fundamentally changed with break bulk cargoes virtually disappearing in the face of container traffic. Such has been the growth of container traffic that vessels have increased in capacity from 1000 teu’s to 12,000 teu’s almost exponentially, (a teu is almost the last anomaly left and stands for twenty foot equivalent unit, when most of the world has gone metric). Recent container ships are non Panamax and cannot pass through the Panama Canal unless and until it is deepened and widened.

Thus what place can there be for 25 year old vessels handling a peculiar mix of cargo – and right peculiar it is too. Do not be confused by the cargo itself. Clearly a container ship is carrying all sorts of cargo. Anything that can be stuffed into a 20 or 40 foot box is fair game, from scrap metal to bags of coffee, from dangerous chemicals to machine parts and so on. What is different with these River Class, ex Russian ice strengthened, vessels is the sheer diversity of the ’project’ cargo. There may well be other vessels world-wide that have a mix which includes passengers, containers, ro-ro, break-bulk, bulk and multiple oil tanks but I am not aware of any. This mix enables the vessels to be employed very profitably by the charterers in a modern triangular trade. Those interested in maritime history will know of the profitable triangular trade in the 17th to late 18th centuries involving manufactured goods from England to Africa, slaves from Africa to West Indies and rum/sugar/molasses from West Indies back to England – no ballast voyages there. Its modern day equivalent is loading of manufactured goods, staples such as flour and vehicles/plant in Europe, bulk copra, coffee and cocoa beans in the Pacific Islands and vegetable oil plus timber products and containers of mixed cargo back to Europe.

Clearly these vessels are playing an important, albeit small, part in the movement of goods by sea so what will replace them when they come to the end of their useful life – which must be soon. No matter how much effort is expended to keep them in good condition the hull plates corrode, the engines will wear out and the surveyors will become more critical. I cannot see shipowners willing to commission similar vessels in a shipbuilding market which appears to have gone crazy building ever larger container ships almost to the exclusion of anything else. Ro-ro and vegetable oil? Most unlikely! The other problem is one of volume. The five ships on this round the world service are staggered about a month apart and this serves the available cargo well. I imagine there will be all sorts of scheduling problems if specialised ships replace this general purpose service. To be economic for long voyages in these days of high fuel costs you need to have sufficient volume of cargo to keep the freight costs within bounds. It is unlikely that a decent size vegetable oil tanker capable of carrying a full cargo back to Europe could be employed around the Pacific islands except on an occasional basis. That means much greater holding capacities will be required and a shift in cash flow from the producers. Indeed, significant investment might be needed in some ports to handle larger vessels. True, bulk copra can be carried inter island by coasters at a higher cost; or the infrastructure could be enhanced in the islands at substantial cost to do more processing on-site, but there would be considerable economic impact. It may also be significant that the last copra pressing plant in Europe closed some 18 months ago terminating the requirement to transport the raw material all the way back to Europe. I also suspect that the already high cost of living in places like Tahiti, New Caledonia and, to a lesser extent, PNG would rocket if you have to containerise all the palletised cargo and the vehicles currently handled by these multi-purpose vessels. Probably the only solution would be to enhance transit ports such as Singapore to handle even more cargo on a collect, store and re-ship basis – and I bet the overall freight rates go up………

And so to the M/V Tikeibank, owned by Andrew Weir and operated as part of Bank Line by Swires of Hong Kong. She currently has a complement of 31 plus 12 passengers. 9 officers, 3 cadets, 8 deck crew, 5 engine crew and five catering staff under the direction of the purser who is an officer. This is little enough for a ship of this size with frequent port visits and complex cargo requirements, not forgetting machinery 25 years of age. In the 60’s the complement would be closer to 50 but, over the years, this has been whittled down and down in the name of operating cost savings. However, as long as watch keepers are required the number of officers cannot fall further (we lost the radio officer long ago), and berthing requires a number of hands for safe mooring. I suppose that, if passengers were not being carried, one stewardess less might be feasible but I cannot see any other reductions. In fact I have heard that even one passenger on the full trip can defray the cost of food for the whole ship for that trip. A few taps on the calculator would suggest that this equates to $4 per person per day and we are certainly getting much more value than that from our daily fare. A better guess would be at about $10 per person per day. What is more important is that the captain is authorised to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables as necessary in foreign ports and he eschews chandlers, visiting local markets himself accompanied by the purser and a stewardess. The resultant addition to the menus is significant and the passengers particularly welcome fresh tropical fruit such as papaya, water melon and avocados. 

A typical day’s menu chosen at random looks like this:

The meals are served by the stewardesses in the officers mess with the officers, cadets and passengers each having tables. Apart from the sometimes hilarious results of English/Russian misunderstandings, mealtimes are an excellent opportunity to exchange views and opinions on all topics under the sun. The Russian chief cook and his second are really excellent meat chefs and are rumoured to be the best on this run while the daily baked bread and rolls are an excellent accompaniment to the RUSSIAN soup which is on every menu! However, for reasons I am not able to fathom, Russian soup varies daily as well. I usually opt for the alternative as I can add Maggi sauce since I obtained a bottle in Noumea. I also add Thai chilli dipping sauce to rice dishes but otherwise accept the food as prepared. This is not cruise ship fare with its five course menus and exotic dishes but it is wholesome and plentiful and suits me fine. The cabin has its own supply of coffee, tea, fresh fruit and biscuits plus the usual tea making equipment. The small fridge allows you to keep a few bottles of beer cool and store the ice bucket which is topped up daily. The only downside of this is that the converse of cooling in a fridge is heating of the cabin at the rear of the unit: conservation of energy and all that. As the air conditioning on our deck struggles at the best of times to overcome the ambient temperature an extra heat source must be deprecated.

The responsibilities of the various engineering officers are somewhat of a mystery to me other than evidently the chief engineer is in charge and the 2/3/4th engineers are the watch officers supported by oilers when the ship is manoeuvring but are day workers otherwise as the ship is certified as UMS (unmanned machinery space), whereas the electrical engineer has a roving responsibility for – everything electrical…. However, the deck officers are more familiar to me and I note that the allocation of responsibilities has hardly changed in 50 years. Some of the functions are perhaps more formalised such as management and safety committees, and there is considerably more paperwork associated with the various protocols such as ISPS and SOLAS, but the traditional 4 on 8 off watch system remains with the chief officer taking the 4 to 8, the 2nd mate the 12 to 4 and the 3rd mate the 8 to 12. When landlubbers point to the extensive leaves earned by seafarers they may like to remember that, in addition to standard watches of 8 ½ hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days of the year, all officers turn to for berthing and unberthing duties, the chief officer is responsible for all cargo operations and the entire maintenance of the vessel, with the exception of the engine room; the second mate is responsible for navigation and the onerous job of chart correction as well as preparing the main cargo plans; while the third mate looks after the safety and fire fighting equipment and prepares the container plans. I doubt if any of them work less than 12 hours per day or 84 hours per week. All of these activities and responsibilities are overseen and coordinated by the Master who not only has to maintain the safety of the vessel in each area of operation, but has to chair all of the committees beloved of shore management and control access to the sophisticated communications structure. Truly a modern system administrator!

There are currently three cadets on board with an additional two set to join in Singapore. These are not apprentices and are not directly indentured to the shipping company but rather sponsored by various concerns including the manning agency. Each cadet brings on board their portfolio of tasks to be achieved during training and every task is monitored and signed off either by the designated ship training officer, in this case the chief officer, or the OOW, or in the case of formal sea-time certificates by the Master himself. I have perused one such portfolio and was amazed at just how comprehensive the MNTB training document turned out to be. As always, there has to be a balance between watch training and a contribution to vessel maintenance but it seems that the era of forced labour and scant training has gone for good. I was impressed by the hard work put in by the cadets and am sure that they will all make excellent watch officers in due course.

With the exception of the sole Indian welder specialist, who will disembark soon, the rest of the crew are Russian. They are supplied by two manning agencies, Polar Shipping ex Murmansk, and Fesco ex Vladivostok – about as far apart in Russia as you can go. The deck crew work under a bosun who has considerable experience on this class of ship so has seen it all before. He is also a trader par excellence and can be seen bartering on behalf of the crew with bumboats for fresh fish or trinkets having all the skills of a modern day Russian Rezanov. All the crew have free access to the email system and keep in touch with home either by this means or by using the satellite phone which is expensive but sometimes necessary when there is a domestic crisis.

For those interested I have obtained electronic versions of the deck and general arrangement plans which are appended below. You may need to import these into your own computer in order to be able to magnify sections so as to read the text. You will see that the original lines at the bow when she was ice capable have been modified by the addition of a bulbous bow and it was at that time that all the vegetable oil tanks were fitted. These tanks are a mixed blessing because so much maintenance time has to be devoted to cleaning and preparing them for the next receipt of cargo that general maintenance has to take second place. However, the efforts of all the crew and the occasional shore gang in this respect have transformed the vessel from its rather tired appearance in Auckland to that of a grand old lady, seasoned but eminently serviceable.

After the Bank Line…..

ANDREW WEIR SHIPPING

ISSUE 5 2012 

Making new waves

Andrew Weir Shipping is a British ship manager with a rich heritage in the maritime sector. Founded as a ship owner in the late 1800s by Andrew Weir, 1st Baron of Inverforth, it grew to fame during the early 20th century with international routes handled through its subsidiary Bank Line Ltd. By the late 1990s and early 2000s the dominance of Bank Line had begun to fade and the trade routes were sold to Swire Shipping, though Andrew Weir Shipping retained the ownership and technical management of its fleet. However, Swires were impacted, heavily, by the recession and had to cease the Bank Line round the world service, leaving Andrew Weir Shipping no longer synonymous with that name. Since that time it has decided to strengthen its own name on the maritime market.

“We have been successful with the Foreland Shipping vessels, which were previously known as AWSR Shipping,” says managing director Steve Corkhill. The contract was won in 2002 as part of a consortium that also included Bibby Line Group, Houlder and James Fisher PLC, each with a 25 per cent share. Andrew Weir Shipping gained the contract for operation and technical management, carried out under the supervision of Foreland Shipping.

“We are also responsible for the last Royal Mail ship, RMS St Helena, for which we fully operate and handle technical as well as commercial management. That means everything from maintaining the website and booking system for up to 130 passengers, to all freight and cargo work and arranging for transhipments via South Africa. We essentially act as owner for a governmental asset.”

Andrew Weir Shipping also has a range of other vessels under its management. The Hebridean Princess for example, which is owned by All Leisure Holidays Ltd and in February 2012 gained a Royal Warrant following two successful private charters to the British Royal Family. Andrew Weir Shipping has been the vessel’s technical manager since 2006. The company also provides technical management for the Superyacht Christina O, one of the largest charter yachts in the world which holds an iconic position in the yachting market.

Both these vessels have benefitted hugely from the experience gained through managing the Foreland fleet and the RMS St Helena. They also represent a stepping-stone for Andrew Weir Shipping into a new market: superyachts. The superyacht sector has until recently been a closely guarded market, much of it controlled by large yacht brokers that use a percentage commission model for their management services. However, as regulations in the Superyacht sector grow, increasing numbers of owners are looking for impartial managers that can offer higher standards.

“We are keen to enter the market on the basis of not being reliant on any brokers yet offering a service that meets all the regulatory requirements – ISM, ISPS and various crewing standards – at a fixed price. This will be agreed by us with the owner so that he knows exactly where the he stands in terms of costs and budgets. So far we have signed up around 12 to 15 yachts for ISM services rather than full technical management but it is an area we expect to expand. Ultimately the aim is to take on many more yachts for full management with owners that have a pride in their vessels and want to retain asset value rather than just, for example, play the market,” explained Steve.

Andrew Weir Shipping’s status as an independent and diversely experienced third party manager has been one of its strengths throughout its lifetime and particularly during the last few years when the global financial situation has made banks more cautious about investment in shipping than ever before. The presence of an independent company without ties to owners or brokers provides a reliable source of unbiased information that is highly valued. Andrew Weir Shipping has experience as both a ship owner and technical manager, and has used this experience to assist other owners in recent times to provide ship inspections and evaluations.

This places the company in a good position to continue pursuing the yachting market, of course, whilst looking for new opportunities in the commercial shipping sector. “Our inspection report writing is a natural progression because of the standard of superintendent we employ,” Steve elaborates. “They are all British and can go almost anywhere in the world within 24 hours, making us ideal to provide even last minute inspections. Looking forward, we have no plans to go into ship ownership again but will look for opportunities that allow us to make a small investment in single or multiple vessels whilst also technically managing it. We have a 25 per cent investment in Foreland Shipping but even if we hold a smaller stake, it shows the owner that we, as managers, remain committed to a high quality service. That is the future for Andrew Weir Shipping.”

The Myrtlebank role in the Amelia Earhart mystery………

MV Myrtlebank

Location of the Ontario and Myrtlebank.

Myrtlebank-analysis.jpg
Flight-section-two.jpg

MV Myrtlebank was a 5,150 ton freighter owned by the large shipping conglomerate Andrew Weir & Co., which owned one of the largest fleets of sailing ships under the British flag. In 1905 the company was registered as Bank Line Ltd. 

The Myrtlebank was built in 1925, and was scrapped in 1960. Her length was 420 feet, with a beam of 53’9″. This information has been extracted from the website called “Ships Nostalgia” [1], where is also found this “fond” remembrance of Myrtlebank by one of its able bodied seamen about a dozen years after the disappearance of Amelia Earhart

“The American pilots in the Panama canal blanched at the sight of her and insisted in a tug at bow and stern for the canal transit … Unmodernised in 1950 she was a horrible 1925 relic-no running fresh water, baths out of buckets, that had to be heated on the galley stove.”

Myrtlebank figures in the disappearance of Amelia Earhart because on the evening of 2 July 1937 the radio operator on Nauru heard her say, “Ship in sight ahead.” The only ships known to have been in the area were USS Ontario, on station at 2°59.02′S, 165°23.20′E to provide assistance to Earhart, and MV Myrtlebank[2]. (For a more extensive discussion of the Myrtlebank’s location, see the article below

Location of the Ontario and Myrtlebank.

Flight-section-two.jpg

Randy Jacobson“Final Flight, Part 2: Midpoint to the Vicinity of Howland.”We know of only two ships in the general area that Earhart might have seen: the USS Ontario,whose position at that time was 2°59.02′S, 165°23.20′E, very close to the great circle path from Lae to Howland, and the MV Myrtlebank, a merchant vessel scheduled to arrive at Nauru the following morning, having departed New Zealand. The Lexington Search Report provides an approximate position of the Myrtlebank of 1°40′S, 166°45′E.[1] Again, we speculate that Navy personnel inferred the Myrtlebank position based upon the State Department telegram. Based upon correspondence between TIGHAR researchers and the Third Mate of the Myrtlebank, who claimed he heard a plane that night cross his starboard quarter, we have roughly determined the limits of the Myrtlebank position at 1030 GMT: a 20nm by 10nm region oriented at 350° centered at 2°20′S, 167°10′E. At this juncture of the narrative, we are uncertain as to which ship, if any, Earhart saw that night, but will speculate later when we attempt to reconstruct the navigation of her flight. The deck logs of the Ontario report the seas are calm, visibility at least 40 miles, and cloud cover from 20 to 40%.

Details re Gazellebank

(ice strengthened – great for the Pacific Trade!)

British general cargo ship Gazellebank IB Foyle bank (ex-Tikso 1983-1995, renamed Foylebank 1995-2006) 2006-2009

Built in 1983 by the STX Finland Rauma, Turku, Finland. Gross tonnage 18.663 tons, summer deadweight 22.911 tons and dimensions 174 x 25 x 8,7 metres. Ex-Tiksi renamed 26 July 1995 and renamed January 2006 Gazellebank. Beached at Chittagong on 21 August 2009 and broken up. The Foylebank was dyr docked and refitted at Port Kelang, Singapore between 10 December 2005 and 21 January 2006 and then renamed Gazellebank. Property of the Bank Line. As the Gazellebank Antigua&Barbuda-flagged and owned by Foylebank Shipping Limited at Isle of Man (Shipspotting.com). Marinetraffic.om confirmed she was Antigua&Barbuda-flagged as the Gazellebank with IMO 8013015 and callsign V2PP2. http://www.robindesbois,org claimed she was property of Weir Shipping Limited, United Kingdom, and measuring 11.277 tons. http://www.shipsnostalgia.com mentioned that she was second-hand bought by the Bank Line for her Westbound Round-of-the World line. Originally ice-strengthened was she fitted out with a bulbous bow and cargo deep tanks to transport coconut/palm oil on the so-called SoPac service although in 1996 temporarily on the BankEllerman Service line between South Africa and the Arabian Gulf/India and Pakistan. In 2006 she was acquired by Swire Shipping and via an singe ship company managed by Andrew Weir Shipping although commercially operated by her owner under her new name Gazellebank.

Bank Line History….(click on the Ocean history link below)

http://www.oceanlinermuseum.co.uk/Bank_Line_History.html

An extract………..For many years AWS had offered the last surviving Bank Line service which was the “round the world service” on the Foylebank, Speybank, Arunbank and Teignbank. These ships departed monthly from Hull and Dunkirk, travelling to Papeete in Tahiti, various sparsely populated and unspoiled islands in the South Pacific, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Singapore then via the Suez Canal, before returning to Europe. The whole voyage takes about 110-120 days, with port time ranging from 1 to 3 days. In 2003 AWS sold Bank Line to China Navigation, an offshoot of Swire Group. The AWS shipping group, which was founded in 1905, runs services between Europe and the South Pacific. The acquisition includes container fleet and agency companies in the Solomon Islands. China Navigation bought the business from Andrew Weir Shipping. Swire Group will timecharter the four vessels used on the route from Andrew Weir. Bank Line in 2006 sent their round-the-world fleet to Singapore for extensive refits and drydockings, during which time the fleet was also given new names. Ships broke from their global roamings after arriving in the east from South Pacific ports, beginning with the Foylebank completing at Port Kelang 10 December 2005 then proceeding to Singapore for her refit. When she returned to service on 21 January 2006, it was under the name Gazellbank. Thus the Foylebank was renamed Gazellbank, the Speybank was renamed Mahinabank, the Arunbank was renamed Tikeibank, and finally the Teignbank was renamed Boularibank. After their refits in Singapore they returned to their globetrotting “round the world” service. In 2007 the Bank Line name was discontinued by Swire Shipping and the service became the westbound “Round the World” service. 

Doggerbank (ex Speybank) – Sunk by mistake with a huge loss of life – see the links below.

https://www.uboat.net/allies/merchants/ship/2707.html

http://www.netherlandsnavy.nl/Speybank.htm

Introduction

Some time ago, I was reading in K.W.L. Bezemer’s book “Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse Koopvaardij in de Tweede Wereldoorlog”, and I came across a chapter dealing with the mining of the freighter Mangkalihat, near South Africa. This chapter especially drew my attention because the mine doing all the damage was laid by a ship I had never heard of before. Most of us interested in naval warfare know the story of the German raiders, disguised merchants with heavy guns marauding the waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. They laid mines off large ports, adding more ships and tonnage to their score. However, this was not one of them, although her history was closely related. The British freighter Speybank, owned by the Bank Line in Liverpool, was captured by the German raider Atlantis, and was subsequently brought to France by a prize crew. There, she was converted to auxiliary minelayer. Renamed Doggerbank, she made a daring sortie to the waters of South-Africa, where she laid her dangerous cargo. Surprisingly, I found nothing worth mentioning about this ship or her history on the Internet. 

Schiff 16

In the evening of January 31 1941, a lookout aboard Atlantis reported a mast on the distant horizon, soon followed by the vague silhouette of a merchant ship. An hour later, the British steamer Speybank lay stopped in the vast area of the Indian Ocean, awaiting the German boarding party to take over the ship. Atlantis under captain Bernhard Rogge lay further away, with her guns ready to counter any opposition on the British side. However, the captain of the Speybank had soon come to the conclusion that trying to escape would be suicide, as his ship could not begin to match the speed and firepower the German raider boasted. A whaleboat brought 17 of the British crew to the Atlantis, while the Germans quickly took command of the ship. The ship had been enroute from Cochin to New York with a cargo of tea, valuable manganese ore and teakwood. Kapitän zur See Rogge immediately realized the value of the cargo, and ordered the ship to a safe location for the time being. The Speybank had a full store of supplies and sufficient fuel to make it to France. 

On March 21 1941, Atlantis rendezvoused with the Speybank for the last time, as captain Rogge had decided to send the ship with its valuable cargo to France. The raw materials in the holds would be put to good use in the German industry. He decided to put the ship under command of an young officer named Schneidewind, from the blockade runner Tannenfels. Schneidewind [1], who knew the waters of Asia well, proved to be a capable officer. He navigated the Speybank through the dangerous waters of the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic, and finally arrived safely in Bordeaux on May 10. Immediately after arrival, Schneidewind suggested that the German Navy convert the Speybank to auxiliary minelayer. The idea of laying mines near distant ports must have intrigued the higher naval officers, they decided to accept Schneidewind’s decision. The fact that Speybank belonged to a class of 18 ships came in handy, not only because it would be easy to disguise her as one of the sisterships, but also because the disguise could be changed time after time without rousing suspicion. The ship was converted to carry a total of 280 mines of various types, and in addition, she could act as U-boat-supplyship. Her specifications were then as listed below:

NameSpeybank ( later Doggerbank )OwnerAndrew Weir & Co, GlasgowDockyardHarland & Wolff Ltd., Clydebank (No. 686 G)Dimensions128,1/133,7 x 16,41 x 7,8 mMachinery2 Harland & Wolff 6-cylinder diesels for 2300 hpSpeed11 knotsFuel1030 tArmament1 x 102 mm L/45
2 x 20 mm
155 type EMC, 55 type EMF, 70 type TMB mines
50 torpedoes for U-boats

Schiff 53

After her conversion, Speybank was commissioned as Doggerbank, and she received the codename “Schiff 53”. The Kriegsmarine staff apparently appreciated Schneidewind’s enthusiasm, because he was given command of the Doggerbank. Under her captain, the ship was quickly prepared for her new task, and on December 17 1941, she took on 280 mines in La Pallice. By mid January 1942, she was ready to set sail. Escorted by the submarine U-432Doggerbank left France for the Southern Atlantic. British ships were usually painted black or grey with a yellow superstructure. The crew started to make the ship resemble an innocent freighter, with fake corrosion as the finishing touch. The name Levernbank painted on her hull was meant to fool the nosy British patrols. Fortunately for the crew, no ships or aircraft were sighted, and by late February, Doggerbank had arrived in the warm South Atlantic to carry out Operation Kopenhagen.

Operation Kopenhagen comprised the laying of a minefield near Capetown, where many shipping lanes converged. Ships from Australia and New Zealand arrived here to make the final leg to Britain, while important troop convoys passed through the area enroute to the Middle East. Doggerbank, unlike a normal minelayer, wasn’t equipped with mine rails on a lower deck, which meant that all mines had to be hoisted to the main deck. For operation “Kopenhagen”, 75 of them were prepared, disguised as deckcargo. Schneidewind decided start the operation during the nighttime hours of March 12. Carefully, the Doggerbank approached the target area on the 12th. Things almost went wrong when in the late afternoon, an aircraft was sighted. It hailed the ship, asking for name and destination. Schneidewind ordered to signal “Levernbank from New York via Recife to Capetown”, waved a few times with his hat and then left the bridge. His resolute performance worked and the aircraft was apparently satisfied with the answer. Later that evening, a small ship was sighted, which was easily evaded. Sixty mines were laid in the early morning of the 13th. 

Schneidewind decided to retreat though the normal shipping lanes around Cape Good Hope to avoid suspicion. The idea was to lay more mines near Cape Agulhas for operation “Kairo”. Around 1945 that evening, a warship appeared on the horizon, flashing signals with a red light. Schneidewind himself thought it was a Birmingham-class cruiser, but it was in fact the older HMS Durban, enroute to Simonstown for repairs. The signal the cruiser flashed was the standard “NNJ” signal, ordering to hoist the secret letters for identification. Naturally, the Germans didn’t know this signal and simply didn’t send a reply. After coming closer, the Durban asked “What ship”, to which Schneidewind replied “Levernbank from New York to Durban, good night”. Again, his bold answer worked, as the Durban steamed on and disappeared in the dark. 

The action led to Schneidewind’s decision not to hoist more mines to the main deck, but to lay the 15 available and then to disappear as soon as possible. After laying the mines, the Doggerbank steamed south with maximum speed. Even though the British were still unaware of Doggerbank‘s presence, the region was apparently intensively patrolled. In the morning of March 14, lookouts aboard the minelayer reported a large passenger ship in the distance. It was in fact the armed merchant cruiser HMS Cheshire. Schneidewind initially made the mistake of trying to outrun the Cheshire, which raised suspicion aboard the British AMC. Schneidewind then ordered his ship to steam directly towards her foe on an opposite course. As the liner approached, it signalled “What ship”. Schneidewind replied with “Invernbankfrom Montevideo to Melbourne”. Immediately afterwards, the red ensign and Invernbank‘s callsign were hoisted. Cheshire again asked “Where from” and “Bound for”, to which Schneidewind replied with “Montevideo” and “Melbourne”. Satisfied with the answer, Cheshiresignalled “I wish you a happy voyage”. Doggerbank replied with “Many thanks, same to you”. Cheshire then quickly disappeared. After his third narrow escape, the captain decided not to take a chance and disappeared southward. Shortly after, an increase in radiotraffic led to Schneidewind’s conclusion that his minefields apparently had made their first victims. Unfortunately, he was right.

Doggerbank’s successes

The first ship to fall victim to Doggerbank’s mines was the Dutch SS. Alcyone (4534 tons, built in 1921), enroute from Hull to Bombay and Karachi. Her cargo of military stores consisted, among other things, of 1600 tons of aircraftbombs and 9 aircraft stored on deck. Around 0130 in the early morning of March 16 1942, a violent explosion shook the ship and caused a list to starboard. Captain J. Lucas ordered the crew and passengers to make their way to the lifeboats. No distress signals could be sent due to the malfunction of the equipment, but luckily, all passengers and crewmen made it to the lifeboats safely. The last man to leave the ship was, of course, the captain, who found a large crack in the upper deck near No. 3 hold. As the three lifeboats moved away from the ship, the survivors could clearly see the Alcyonesinking bow first. The time was 0155, 25 miles west of Capetown.[2]

The sudden loss of the Alcyone caused confusion in Capetown, as no U-boat movements in this area had been reported by the Admiralty. Captain Lucas thought his ship had been torpedoed, but his statement did not convince the local Senior Naval Officer. The real cause was soon revealed, when the British Trentback reported that it had observed an unexplained explosion. A second report came in about a drifting mine, and then a British tanker even managed to pick up one with her paravanes. Needless to say, the Royal Navy immediately began concentrating minesweepers in the area, but the results of the sweeping were not very encouraging, and more ships would be lost.

The British ship Dalfram (4558 tons, built 1930 and owned by United Steam Navigation Co. Ltd) hit a mine on May 2 in position 34.10 S – 17.49 E. She had departed Capetown independently the same day, with general cargo from New York to Alexandria. Despite the damage, she made it back to Capetown under her own power. There, her cargo was discharged and dockworkers immediately started with the repairs. Both Dalfram and Alcyone were hit by mines in Doggerbank‘s first field. This minefield would soon make its third victim.

The Dutch steamer Mangkalihat (8457 tons, built 1928) under captain P.G. van Striemen was originally the German Lindenfels, captured in the Netherlands East Indies. Recommissioned under the Dutch ensign, she was now enroute from New York to Capetown with a full cargo of stores, among other things, 2400 tons of explosives. Approaching Capetown, the distress signal of the Dalfram was heard. Van Striemen ordered to increase speed, which would allow the ship to enter the swept channel during the day. Suddenly, at 0715 in the morning of May 4, an explosion jolted the ship, followed by a large column of water. Yellow smoke appeared from No. 1 hold. The engine was stopped and the crew were ordered to prepare to abandon ship. Speed was of the essence, as No. 1 hold quickly began to take on water and the ship was rapidly settling by the bow. However, No. 2 hold appeared to be undamaged and the captain had hope he could save his ship. Around 0722, the Mangkalihat started to pick up speed.

Some time later, the armed trawler Tordonn (314 tons) came to assist the battered ship, and captain Van Striemen immediately asked the trawler to take on a portion of the crew as a precaution. 63 men were then transferred to the small Tordonn, while a skeleton crew tried to keep the Mangkalihat going. The main concern was that the bulkhead between no. 1 and 2 holds would collapse under the force of numerous tons of water. Around 1240, the ship able to moor at Capetown. This story would most certainly have had a different ending if the 2400 tons of explosives had ignited.

Inspection by divers later revealed there was a hole of 9 by 5 metres in the bow. The repairs to Mangkalihat were difficult, as no large drydock was available, and it was questionable if she could make the trip to Simonstown safely. Fortunately, the Dutch engineer Van Overbeek had the novel idea of constructing a pontoon, sliding it under the damaged portion of the hull, and thus lifting the bow of Mangkalihat out of the water. This piece of engineering proved to work out extremely well, and the “Cape Steel Construction Company” was able to begin repairs shortly before Christmas. She made her first trip in April of the following year. ( It is quite ironical that a former German ship in Allied service was damaged by a former British ship in German service !)

To return to the Doggerbank, Schneidewind had been sent to the southern Atlantic to await further orders. Finally, they came and Doggerbank was sent to carry out the second part of Operation “Kairo”, the laying of another minefield in addition to the 15 already there. In the night of April 16 and 17, Schneidewind laid 80 type EMC mines south-south-east of Cape Agulhas without being discovered. Again, the British were shocked to learn of a new minefield, which quickly resulted in casualties, when troop convoy WS-18 ran into it.

The destroyer-depotship HMS Hecla (10850 tons) was hit by a mine amidships, which put her steering gear out of action and opened the lower compartments to the sea. The light cruiser HMS Gambia managed to take her in tow and safely brought her to Simonstown, where it took some 18 weeks to repair Hecla. 24 (perhaps 25) of the crew were killed during this disaster.

Later that day, the transport Soudan (6670, built 1931, owned by Barclay, Curle & Co. Ltd in Glasgow) carrying 8000 tons of stores (including 400 tons of TNT) from Glasgow to Freetown and Durban, was hit by one of the mines. She succumbed to her wounds, fortunately without casualties to the crew of 77 crew or 10 gunners. Inspection revealed that the explosion blew the bottom out of No.2 hold, where the TNT was stored. Without exploding, the explosives simply disappeared in the ocean ! [3]

Although Doggerbank apparently still had mines on board [4], her role as minelayer now ended, and she was sent to Japan. Before proceeding, Doggerbank met the German raider Michel and the supplytanker Charlotte Schliemann in the South Atlantic. In position 29.19 S- 19 W, she resupplied Michel with stores and relieved her of 128 prisoners on June 21 [5]. The ships stayed together for a week, after which Doggerbank steamed to Jakarta, later to Japan. She finally dropped anchor in Yokohama on August 19 1942. After a period at the dockyard, the ship was loaded with fats, fishoil and 7000 tons of rubber. For the second time in her career, Doggerbank became a blockade runner. 

The Atlantic

The strategic situation had changed since her first run through the Allied blockade in 1941, as the United States were now actively involved in the war. U.S. cruisers and destroyers started to search for raiders and blokkaderunners, together with the overworked ships of the Royal Navy. Their searches became more and more succesful, intercepting many German ships before they even came near friendly territory. The losses of these ships meant that the cargoes that did get through, were more valuable than ever. Doggerbank‘s captain had managed to fool the British a few times, and it was hoped he could do it again.

In the spring of 1943, the tonnage war in the Atlantic reached a climax, when German U-boats managed to butcher convoy after convoy. In addition, boats were sent to more remote areas to sink independent ships. U-43 [6] under Oberleutnant Schwandtke was part of the Tümmler-wolfpack, deployed near the Canaries. In the evening of March 3, 1943, Schwandtke torpedoed a ship which he identified as a Dunedin Star-type ship. He could not suspect he had sunk the Doggerbank, close to completing her journey through the Indian Ocean and Atlantic. Doggerbank had left Yokohama on December 17 1942, and she was steaming about 1000 miles west of the Canaries, when she was hit by three torpedoes. Only fifteen of the crew made it to a small boat, without water or food. On March 29, the Spanish tanker Campoamor found the boat after 26 days with only one remaining survivor, Fritz Kürt. He was taken aboard and brought to Aruba, where he told about the tragic fate of Doggerbank and her crew. According to Kürt, the fifteen men on the raft were quickly reduced to only six after the boat had capsized, including Schneidewind. The captain committed suicide after shooting four of his crew at their explicit request. The number of casualties totalled 364.[7]

This concludes the Doggerbank story, but I feel I have to add a side-note to this story. The German high command was apparently very upset about this case of mistaken identity. The pages concerning this sinking were removed from U-43‘s log.

Tymeric – 1919 built and sadly lost with 71 people in 1940 when torpedoed by U123. Please click on the U boat net link below for full details…

https://www.uboat.net/allies/merchants/ship/673.html


The Doggerbank story

Introduction

Some time ago, I was reading in K.W.L. Bezemer’s book “Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse Koopvaardij in de Tweede Wereldoorlog”, and I came across a chapter dealing with the mining of the freighter Mangkalihat, near South Africa. This chapter especially drew my attention because the mine doing all the damage was laid by a ship I had never heard of before. Most of us interested in naval warfare know the story of the German raiders, disguised merchants with heavy guns marauding the waters of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. They laid mines off large ports, adding more ships and tonnage to their score. However, this was not one of them, although her history was closely related. The British freighter Speybank, owned by the Bank Line in Liverpool, was captured by the German raider Atlantis, and was subsequently brought to France by a prize crew. There, she was converted to auxiliary minelayer. Renamed Doggerbank, she made a daring sortie to the waters of South-Africa, where she laid her dangerous cargo. Surprisingly, I found nothing worth mentioning about this ship or her history on the Internet. 

Schiff 16

In the evening of January 31 1941, a lookout aboard Atlantis reported a mast on the distant horizon, soon followed by the vague silhouette of a merchant ship. An hour later, the British steamer Speybank lay stopped in the vast area of the Indian Ocean, awaiting the German boarding party to take over the ship. Atlantis under captain Bernhard Rogge lay further away, with her guns ready to counter any opposition on the British side. However, the captain of the Speybank had soon come to the conclusion that trying to escape would be suicide, as his ship could not begin to match the speed and firepower the German raider boasted. A whaleboat brought 17 of the British crew to the Atlantis, while the Germans quickly took command of the ship. The ship had been enroute from Cochin to New York with a cargo of tea, valuable manganese ore and teakwood. Kapitän zur See Rogge immediately realized the value of the cargo, and ordered the ship to a safe location for the time being. The Speybank had a full store of supplies and sufficient fuel to make it to France. 

On March 21 1941, Atlantis rendezvoused with the Speybank for the last time, as captain Rogge had decided to send the ship with its valuable cargo to France. The raw materials in the holds would be put to good use in the German industry. He decided to put the ship under command of an young officer named Schneidewind, from the blockade runner Tannenfels. Schneidewind [1], who knew the waters of Asia well, proved to be a capable officer. He navigated the Speybank through the dangerous waters of the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic, and finally arrived safely in Bordeaux on May 10. Immediately after arrival, Schneidewind suggested that the German Navy convert the Speybank to auxiliary minelayer. The idea of laying mines near distant ports must have intrigued the higher naval officers, they decided to accept Schneidewind’s decision. The fact that Speybank belonged to a class of 18 ships came in handy, not only because it would be easy to disguise her as one of the sisterships, but also because the disguise could be changed time after time without rousing suspicion. The ship was converted to carry a total of 280 mines of various types, and in addition, she could act as U-boat-supplyship. Her specifications were then as listed below:

NameSpeybank ( later Doggerbank )OwnerAndrew Weir & Co, GlasgowDockyardHarland & Wolff Ltd., Clydebank (No. 686 G)Dimensions128,1/133,7 x 16,41 x 7,8 mMachinery2 Harland & Wolff 6-cylinder diesels for 2300 hpSpeed11 knotsFuel1030 tArmament1 x 102 mm L/45
2 x 20 mm
155 type EMC, 55 type EMF, 70 type TMB mines
50 torpedoes for U-boats

Schiff 53

After her conversion, Speybank was commissioned as Doggerbank, and she received the codename “Schiff 53”. The Kriegsmarine staff apparently appreciated Schneidewind’s enthusiasm, because he was given command of the Doggerbank. Under her captain, the ship was quickly prepared for her new task, and on December 17 1941, she took on 280 mines in La Pallice. By mid January 1942, she was ready to set sail. Escorted by the submarine U-432Doggerbank left France for the Southern Atlantic. British ships were usually painted black or grey with a yellow superstructure. The crew started to make the ship resemble an innocent freighter, with fake corrosion as the finishing touch. The name Levernbank painted on her hull was meant to fool the nosy British patrols. Fortunately for the crew, no ships or aircraft were sighted, and by late February, Doggerbank had arrived in the warm South Atlantic to carry out Operation Kopenhagen.

Operation Kopenhagen comprised the laying of a minefield near Capetown, where many shipping lanes converged. Ships from Australia and New Zealand arrived here to make the final leg to Britain, while important troop convoys passed through the area enroute to the Middle East. Doggerbank, unlike a normal minelayer, wasn’t equipped with mine rails on a lower deck, which meant that all mines had to be hoisted to the main deck. For operation “Kopenhagen”, 75 of them were prepared, disguised as deckcargo. Schneidewind decided start the operation during the nighttime hours of March 12. Carefully, the Doggerbank approached the target area on the 12th. Things almost went wrong when in the late afternoon, an aircraft was sighted. It hailed the ship, asking for name and destination. Schneidewind ordered to signal “Levernbank from New York via Recife to Capetown”, waved a few times with his hat and then left the bridge. His resolute performance worked and the aircraft was apparently satisfied with the answer. Later that evening, a small ship was sighted, which was easily evaded. Sixty mines were laid in the early morning of the 13th. 

Schneidewind decided to retreat though the normal shipping lanes around Cape Good Hope to avoid suspicion. The idea was to lay more mines near Cape Agulhas for operation “Kairo”. Around 1945 that evening, a warship appeared on the horizon, flashing signals with a red light. Schneidewind himself thought it was a Birmingham-class cruiser, but it was in fact the older HMS Durban, enroute to Simonstown for repairs. The signal the cruiser flashed was the standard “NNJ” signal, ordering to hoist the secret letters for identification. Naturally, the Germans didn’t know this signal and simply didn’t send a reply. After coming closer, the Durban asked “What ship”, to which Schneidewind replied “Levernbank from New York to Durban, good night”. Again, his bold answer worked, as the Durban steamed on and disappeared in the dark. 

The action led to Schneidewind’s decision not to hoist more mines to the main deck, but to lay the 15 available and then to disappear as soon as possible. After laying the mines, the Doggerbank steamed south with maximum speed. Even though the British were still unaware of Doggerbank‘s presence, the region was apparently intensively patrolled. In the morning of March 14, lookouts aboard the minelayer reported a large passenger ship in the distance. It was in fact the armed merchant cruiser HMS Cheshire. Schneidewind initially made the mistake of trying to outrun the Cheshire, which raised suspicion aboard the British AMC. Schneidewind then ordered his ship to steam directly towards her foe on an opposite course. As the liner approached, it signalled “What ship”. Schneidewind replied with “Invernbankfrom Montevideo to Melbourne”. Immediately afterwards, the red ensign and Invernbank‘s callsign were hoisted. Cheshire again asked “Where from” and “Bound for”, to which Schneidewind replied with “Montevideo” and “Melbourne”. Satisfied with the answer, Cheshiresignalled “I wish you a happy voyage”. Doggerbank replied with “Many thanks, same to you”. Cheshire then quickly disappeared. After his third narrow escape, the captain decided not to take a chance and disappeared southward. Shortly after, an increase in radiotraffic led to Schneidewind’s conclusion that his minefields apparently had made their first victims. Unfortunately, he was right.

Doggerbank’s successes

The first ship to fall victim to Doggerbank’s mines was the Dutch SS. Alcyone (4534 tons, built in 1921), enroute from Hull to Bombay and Karachi. Her cargo of military stores consisted, among other things, of 1600 tons of aircraftbombs and 9 aircraft stored on deck. Around 0130 in the early morning of March 16 1942, a violent explosion shook the ship and caused a list to starboard. Captain J. Lucas ordered the crew and passengers to make their way to the lifeboats. No distress signals could be sent due to the malfunction of the equipment, but luckily, all passengers and crewmen made it to the lifeboats safely. The last man to leave the ship was, of course, the captain, who found a large crack in the upper deck near No. 3 hold. As the three lifeboats moved away from the ship, the survivors could clearly see the Alcyonesinking bow first. The time was 0155, 25 miles west of Capetown.[2]

The sudden loss of the Alcyone caused confusion in Capetown, as no U-boat movements in this area had been reported by the Admiralty. Captain Lucas thought his ship had been torpedoed, but his statement did not convince the local Senior Naval Officer. The real cause was soon revealed, when the British Trentback reported that it had observed an unexplained explosion. A second report came in about a drifting mine, and then a British tanker even managed to pick up one with her paravanes. Needless to say, the Royal Navy immediately began concentrating minesweepers in the area, but the results of the sweeping were not very encouraging, and more ships would be lost.

The British ship Dalfram (4558 tons, built 1930 and owned by United Steam Navigation Co. Ltd) hit a mine on May 2 in position 34.10 S – 17.49 E. She had departed Capetown independently the same day, with general cargo from New York to Alexandria. Despite the damage, she made it back to Capetown under her own power. There, her cargo was discharged and dockworkers immediately started with the repairs. Both Dalfram and Alcyone were hit by mines in Doggerbank‘s first field. This minefield would soon make its third victim.

The Dutch steamer Mangkalihat (8457 tons, built 1928) under captain P.G. van Striemen was originally the German Lindenfels, captured in the Netherlands East Indies. Recommissioned under the Dutch ensign, she was now enroute from New York to Capetown with a full cargo of stores, among other things, 2400 tons of explosives. Approaching Capetown, the distress signal of the Dalfram was heard. Van Striemen ordered to increase speed, which would allow the ship to enter the swept channel during the day. Suddenly, at 0715 in the morning of May 4, an explosion jolted the ship, followed by a large column of water. Yellow smoke appeared from No. 1 hold. The engine was stopped and the crew were ordered to prepare to abandon ship. Speed was of the essence, as No. 1 hold quickly began to take on water and the ship was rapidly settling by the bow. However, No. 2 hold appeared to be undamaged and the captain had hope he could save his ship. Around 0722, the Mangkalihat started to pick up speed.

Some time later, the armed trawler Tordonn (314 tons) came to assist the battered ship, and captain Van Striemen immediately asked the trawler to take on a portion of the crew as a precaution. 63 men were then transferred to the small Tordonn, while a skeleton crew tried to keep the Mangkalihat going. The main concern was that the bulkhead between no. 1 and 2 holds would collapse under the force of numerous tons of water. Around 1240, the ship able to moor at Capetown. This story would most certainly have had a different ending if the 2400 tons of explosives had ignited.

Inspection by divers later revealed there was a hole of 9 by 5 metres in the bow. The repairs to Mangkalihat were difficult, as no large drydock was available, and it was questionable if she could make the trip to Simonstown safely. Fortunately, the Dutch engineer Van Overbeek had the novel idea of constructing a pontoon, sliding it under the damaged portion of the hull, and thus lifting the bow of Mangkalihat out of the water. This piece of engineering proved to work out extremely well, and the “Cape Steel Construction Company” was able to begin repairs shortly before Christmas. She made her first trip in April of the following year. ( It is quite ironical that a former German ship in Allied service was damaged by a former British ship in German service !)

To return to the Doggerbank, Schneidewind had been sent to the southern Atlantic to await further orders. Finally, they came and Doggerbank was sent to carry out the second part of Operation “Kairo”, the laying of another minefield in addition to the 15 already there. In the night of April 16 and 17, Schneidewind laid 80 type EMC mines south-south-east of Cape Agulhas without being discovered. Again, the British were shocked to learn of a new minefield, which quickly resulted in casualties, when troop convoy WS-18 ran into it.

The destroyer-depotship HMS Hecla (10850 tons) was hit by a mine amidships, which put her steering gear out of action and opened the lower compartments to the sea. The light cruiser HMS Gambia managed to take her in tow and safely brought her to Simonstown, where it took some 18 weeks to repair Hecla. 24 (perhaps 25) of the crew were killed during this disaster.

Later that day, the transport Soudan (6670, built 1931, owned by Barclay, Curle & Co. Ltd in Glasgow) carrying 8000 tons of stores (including 400 tons of TNT) from Glasgow to Freetown and Durban, was hit by one of the mines. She succumbed to her wounds, fortunately without casualties to the crew of 77 crew or 10 gunners. Inspection revealed that the explosion blew the bottom out of No.2 hold, where the TNT was stored. Without exploding, the explosives simply disappeared in the ocean ! [3]

Although Doggerbank apparently still had mines on board [4], her role as minelayer now ended, and she was sent to Japan. Before proceeding, Doggerbank met the German raider Michel and the supplytanker Charlotte Schliemann in the South Atlantic. In position 29.19 S- 19 W, she resupplied Michel with stores and relieved her of 128 prisoners on June 21 [5]. The ships stayed together for a week, after which Doggerbank steamed to Jakarta, later to Japan. She finally dropped anchor in Yokohama on August 19 1942. After a period at the dockyard, the ship was loaded with fats, fishoil and 7000 tons of rubber. For the second time in her career, Doggerbank became a blockade runner. 

The Atlantic

The strategic situation had changed since her first run through the Allied blockade in 1941, as the United States were now actively involved in the war. U.S. cruisers and destroyers started to search for raiders and blokkaderunners, together with the overworked ships of the Royal Navy. Their searches became more and more succesful, intercepting many German ships before they even came near friendly territory. The losses of these ships meant that the cargoes that did get through, were more valuable than ever. Doggerbank‘s captain had managed to fool the British a few times, and it was hoped he could do it again.

In the spring of 1943, the tonnage war in the Atlantic reached a climax, when German U-boats managed to butcher convoy after convoy. In addition, boats were sent to more remote areas to sink independent ships. U-43 [6] under Oberleutnant Schwandtke was part of the Tümmler-wolfpack, deployed near the Canaries. In the evening of March 3, 1943, Schwandtke torpedoed a ship which he identified as a Dunedin Star-type ship. He could not suspect he had sunk the Doggerbank, close to completing her journey through the Indian Ocean and Atlantic. Doggerbank had left Yokohama on December 17 1942, and she was steaming about 1000 miles west of the Canaries, when she was hit by three torpedoes. Only fifteen of the crew made it to a small boat, without water or food. On March 29, the Spanish tanker Campoamor found the boat after 26 days with only one remaining survivor, Fritz Kürt. He was taken aboard and brought to Aruba, where he told about the tragic fate of Doggerbank and her crew. According to Kürt, the fifteen men on the raft were quickly reduced to only six after the boat had capsized, including Schneidewind. The captain committed suicide after shooting four of his crew at their explicit request. The number of casualties totalled 364.[7]

This concludes the Doggerbank story, but I feel I have to add a side-note to this story. The German high command was apparently very upset about this case of mistaken identity. The pages concerning this sinking were removed from U-43‘s log.Notes

[1]: I have found virtually nothing about this man, except that he was the first mate and his first name was Paul. More info is appreciated.

[2]: In this special, I will go deeper into the Dutch ships, primarily because my source focus on the Dutch Navy and merchant navy. I have only been able to find pieces of information regarding the British victims, and their experiences will therefore be described only briefly.

[3]Alcyone, Mangkalihat and Soudan all carried explosives, but apparently, this did not have any effect on their fates. This is quite remarkable.

[4]: The Doggerbank jettisoned the 55 EMF mines on May 28 after a message from SKL indicated this type proved to be defective.  

[5]: The 124 prisoners were from the following merchants, all sunk by Michel:

Patella (British) 54 men
Connecticut (US) 16 men
Kattegat (Norwegian) 32 men
Lylepark (British) 22 menThe tanker Charlotte Schliemann later added another 68 men from the British Gemstone and the Panamanian Stanvack Calcutta, both victims of the raider Stier.

[6]: U-43 was a type IX submarine, completed in August 1939. She was destroyed by a carrier-based aircraft from the USS Santee on July 30 1943 with the loss of all 55-crew. Oberleutnant Hans-Joachim Schwandtke was still in command at the time and went down with his ship. (source: Uboat.net)

[7]: It appears the Doggerbank carried about 200 injured survivors of the supplytanker Uckermark and the raider Thor. The first accidentally blew up in Yokohama, Japan on November 30 1942, taking the Thor and a prizeship down with her. More information about Fritz Kürt and the tragic fate of the survivors can be found in the booklet by Hans Herlin titled “Der letzte Mann von der Doggerbank”. The English translation is titled “Survivor”.German ranks and names of ships are in italics         

Sources

Bernhard Rogge “Schiff 16” (Dutch translation “Onder vreemde vlag”)
K.W.L. Bezemer “Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse Koopvaardij in de Tweede Wereldoorlog”
L.L. von Münching “De Nederlandse koopvaardijvloot in de Tweede Wereldoorlog”
Hans Herlin “Der letzte Mann von der Doggerbank”, Heyne Verlag, 1979
Thanks to Don Kindell, Dan Muir, Peter Kreuzer and Captain George Duffy for providing additional details

Thanks to Jon Balson for proofreading this article.

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Andrew Weir and a potted history…

Baltic Exchange Buildings, 21 Bury Street, London, EC3

1885 Andrew Weir first acquired a sailing ship in Glasgow. The name of Weir’s ships included the word “Bank” from the outset.

1896 His first steam ship was bought.

1905 Andrew Weir registered Bank Line. Bank Line operated services between Europe and the South Pacific. 

1912 Last of the sailing ships were disposed of. 

Bank Line lost many ships to enemy action in both WW1 and WW2.

1919 Andrew Weir and Co (Bank Line) and East Asiatic Co., Copenhagen, founded United Baltic Corporation, operating passenger and cargo services from Poland and the Baltic States to London. 

1935 Robert MacAndrew was acquired by Andrew Weir and Co Ltd, as a subsidiary for their United Baltic Corporation

2003 The Bank Line (South Pacific) service was sold to The China Navigation Co Ltd, the deepsea shipping arm of the Swire Group.

Andrew Weir

M.V. Cedarbank, built in 1976 in the Pallion Yard of Sunderland Shipbuilders..

Lovely view of a loaded Cedarbank
CEDARBANK 366211 GBR 7356551  completed1976 26/05/1976 28/06/1976 Vessel typeVessel description Cargo General  Steel Motor Vessel  BuilderYardYard noSunderland Ship Builders Ltd., SunderlandPallion Yard 1001  

TonnageLengthBreadthDepthDraft11282 grt / 7050 nrt / 16291 dwt161.50 m 21.42 m 9.74 m  Engine builderDoxford Engines Ltd.Engine detailOil 2SA 6cyl (670 x 2140mm), 1 screw 

First ownerFirst port of registerRegistration dateBank Line Ltd. – A. Weir & Co. Ltd., London London  Other names1983 ELLY – 1991 IRENE – 1997 NINI Subsequent owner and registration history 1983 Harrier Maritime Inc., Piraeus. Broken up 1999.

Willowbank details…last pupose built ship for the Bank Line after approx 100 years of worldwide trading…

NameOfficial numberFlagIMOWILLOWBANK 388473 GBR 7817103 Year builtDate launchedDate completed1980 19/02/1980 07/1980 Vessel typeVessel descriptionCargo Container Ship Steel Motor Vessel  BuilderYardYard noSmith’s Dock Company Ltd., South Bank and Stockton 1345  

TonnageLengthBreadthDepthDraft18236 grt / 9478 nrt / 16511 dwt171.13 m 26.55 m 15.73 m 9.36 m Engine builderJ. G. Kincaid & Co. Ltd.Engine detailOil 2SA 6cyl (900 x 1800mm) B&W, 20460bhp, 1 screw 

First ownerFirst port of registerRegistration dateBank Line Ltd. (Andrew Weir & Co.), London London  Other names1988 MANDOWI – 1989 CALIFORNIA STAR – 1996 SEA ELEGANCE – 2003 GOLDEN GATE Subsequent owner and registration history 1985 Royal Bank Leasing Ltd.
1988 Austasia Maritime Pte. Ltd., Singapore
1989 Blue Star Line Ltd., Bahamas 
1996 Pacific International Lines, Singapore 
2003 Four Seasons Maritime, Panama 
by 2008 Sinokor Merchant Marine, Korea 
 Vessel history Remarks End yearFate / Status2009 Broken Up 23/01/2009 Disposal Detail23/01/2009 arrived at Alang for breaking.  
smart ship -768 teu

IVYBANK Liberty ship

IVYBANK

BuilderBethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard

Last edited by: John Brown

Where BuiltBaltimore, Maryland, USA

Last edited by: John Brown

Date Built1943

Last edited by: John Brown

Propulsionnot specifiedOwners & Previous Names1943-1947 Ministry of War Transport SAMYORK 
1947-1959 Andrew Weir (BankLine)

Last edited by: John Brown
One of 12 Liberty’s in the fleet, mostly with British and Australian/New Zealand crews etc (so called ” white crews”)

Thornliebank

Andrew Weir SS Thornliebank by rlkitterman

Andrew Weir’s Thornliebank

The Glasgow-based Andrew Weir Shipping and Trading Co Ltd’s second ship named Thornliebank was a 5569-ton steamship built by J Redhead and Sons’ shipyard in South Shields in 1939.  SS Thornliebank was sunk off the Azores in November 1941 when German submarine U-43 attacked Allied convoy OS-12.  U-boat captain Wolfgang Luth fired two torpedoes at the ship, sinking her with all hands.  U-43 sank a total of 21 ships in 14 missions before itself being sunk in July 1943 — also off the Azores, and also going down with all hands — when a U.S. Navy Grumman Avenger bomber caught the submarine with a Mk.24 Fido homing torpedo.  This model of SS Thornliebank is displayed at the Newcastle upon Tyne Discovery Museum in the gallery of Tyne-built ships.

Thistlebank and the tragic loss of the Castlebank.

So many sailing ships were lost on the passage from NSW with coal to Chile or Peru

MICHAEL KICK MURPHY – VOYAGING AROUND THE WORLD BEFORE THE MAST AT FIFTEEN

A few years ago, a Hull family were clearing the house of an old relative who had recently died when they came across a small, battered suitcase. Inside, they found a batch of letters, photographs and documents which, when pieced together, revealed the story of a forgotten life at sea, that of Michael ‘Kick’ Murphy.

Michael Murphy, who was known as ‘Kick’ to family and friends, was born at 50, Blackfriargate in Hull’s Old Town on the 23rd August 1876; the eldest of the three sons of Michael (born 1842) and Fanny (nee Buckley, born 1850). His father Michael senior was a dock labourer and the son of an Irish immigrant who had probably come to Hull in the 1830s.

Young Michael Murphy grew up amidst the hustle and bustle of the Victorian Old Town. In those days this was a densely packed area: many families lived in the myriad of small back to back houses that filled dozens of crowded yards, often known as entries or alleys, found behind most of the Old Town’s main thoroughfares. The Murphy’s were no exception: in 1881 they were living at 3, Royal Oak Passage and by the early 1890s they had moved to Blue Bell Entry, behind 107, High Street. Even by the standards of the day these were poor buildings, lacking decent sanitation and usually relying on a communal tap or pump for their water supply.

Michael was a bright lad and passed an entrance examination for Hull’s Trinity House Navigation School, enrolling there in September 1887. He completed his studies at Trinity House in June 1891, receiving a leaving certificate which described his conduct as good and recommending him for service at sea. The following year his father paid £10 for him to begin his seagoing apprenticeship with the Glasgow firm of Andrew Weir and Company. He joined his first vessel, the Thistlebank, a four masted sailing ship at Barry Docks in Wales in July 1892.

The Thistlebank was expected to make a twelve month voyage. She was a steel hulled sailing barque and had only been launched by Hall Russell & Company of Port Glasgow, the previous year. The ship left Barry on the 21st July 1892 and the first leg of the voyage was to Cape Town with a cargo of Welsh coal. After about a month at sea the ship approached the equator and, of course, crossing the line, as it is called, was one of those rites of passage that had to be observed as Kick and his companions discovered. Afterwards, he described the events quite graphically in a letter home to his family:

Young Kick wrote home regularly to his family on his voyages and his letters provide a vivid description of various aspects of life at sea under sail in the late nineteenth century. His letters are often full of talk of food:

He also provides some interesting accounts of the places the ship calls:

The Thistlebank was originally expected to sail from Cape Town onwards to Chittagong in India but the orders were changed and the vessel instead headed for Newcastle in New South Wales. What had been expected to be a year’s voyage looked like turning into one of around eighteen months. Although Kick was disappointed at the prospect of spending his next birthday so far from home he did look forward to the extra money that his trip would bring him and all the time at sea he was learning, becoming a more accomplished seaman, and gaining experience of what the oceans could thrown at a ship.

The voyage had proved eventful in more ways than he at first told his parents, as a later letter shows:

After an extended stay in New South Wales the Thistlebank and crew sailed on across the Pacific, reaching San Diego in California towards the end of April 1893. The voyage took ninety three days instead of the expected fifty because of long periods of fine weather and they were somewhat surprised they had been reported as lost because of the delay. After a few weeks in San Diego they voyaged on to Iquique in Chile where they arrived in August 1893 after a passage of 78 days. Here Kick met up with around six of his school mates on other ships whilst the vessel was loading with salt petre as cargo for a voyage to Hamburg. He was less than impressed with Iquique and no doubt pleased when the Thistlebank finally sailed for Hamburg. However, the bringing of nitrates or saltpetre from Chile to Europe by sailing ship in the late nineteenth century by way of Cape Horn was considered to be one of the hardest of voyages. Nitrates were in great demand in the nineteenth century both as a means of improving soil and also for the munitions industry. Ships voyaging from Chile to Europe covered around 7,000 miles. Certainly Kick’s voyage to Germany was not without its problems as he outlined in a letter to his parents in January 1894:

By now he was still only seventeen years old and had worked his way around the world on a four masted sailing ship. Whilst the ship was laid up in Hamburg young Kick was able to take some leave and snatch a few weeks back home with his family down Bluebell Entry in Hull. He had been away for more than eighteen months.

Back in Hamburg by the end of March Kick sailed once more for the Pacific, and arrived at Santa Rosalia, California in August 1894 after what he described as a fine voyage of 171 days at sea. He was enjoying his time at home but missing family and friends and Hull Fair:

He was always asking in his letters about the fortunes of Hull FC and sometimes of Rovers and eagerly read every inch of the newspapers his family sent him from home.

The Thistlebank later moved up the coast to Portland in Oregon and did not make the return voyage to Europe, this time to Queenstown in Ireland until later in the spring of 1895. Kick and his ship arrived in Ireland in August 1895 after a 142 day voyage after which the ship made its way to Liverpool from where Kick seems to have been able to grab a few days leave at home on a couple of occasions.

At this stage Andrew Weir and Company transferred Kick and a number of other crew members to the Castlebank, a somewhat smaller three masted sailing vessel which was lying at Rotterdam. He almost certainly passed through Hull, en route for Rotterdam, and probably snatched what proved to be his last and brief stay with his family. His new ship was not without problems and had to turn back to Rotterdam on a couple of occasions after experiencing difficulties with stability which worried both captain and crew. Afterwards, it also ran aground. Nevertheless, the problems were eventually overcome and the Castlebank then made a 120 day passage to Port Germain in Australia. Kick was certainly impressed:

A few weeks later they voyaged round the Australian coast where Kick and his companions seem to have thoroughly enjoyed an almost three month sojourn before they left for Peru with a cargo of coal in September 1896.

And that is the last that was ever heard of the Castlebank, Kick or indeed the rest of the crew. The vessel was reported missing: the loss was never explained, one of those perennial mysteries of the sea. The weather in the Pacific at that time was reported to have been good. It was thought at the time that the cargo of coal must have caught fire and that the crew had taken to the boats. There was hope that they might have been picked up by a passing ship. Months later and with still no news all hopes for their safety dissolved. A friend of his in Australia, Maggie Gray, wrote a final letter to his family in Hull in April 1897:

Michael (Kick) Murphy was one of many, many Hull people who have lost their lives whilst going about their business in great waters but although his life was cut painfully short his few years at home and afloat were filled with interest and adventure and he had seen much more of the world in his seagoing career than many other manage in a lifetime. As for his family, well they seem to have lived on for some time in Hull’s Old Town. His mother, Fanny, died in 1915 in the Old Town and his father, Michael followed her within two years aged 75. Kick’s first ship, the Thistlebank was sold by Andrew Weir and Company to E. Monsen & Company of Norway in July 1914 and was sunk by the German U-boat, U-24, off Fastnet Rock on the Irish coast on the 30th June 1915. Michael Murphy has no memorial, save the collection of his letters and photographs which recount such an absorbing story of young person at sea.

A bit of History…


Andrew Weir & Co. / Bank Line

Andrew Weir entered the shipowning business in 1885 in Glasgow when he purchased the barque WILLOWBANK and eventually controlled one of the largest fleets of sailing ships under the British flag. In 1896 the company purchased their first steamship, but it was 1912 before the last sailing ship was sold. In 1905 the company was registered as Bank Line and the head office was moved to London, although the ships continued to be registered in Glasgow.

In 1917 the United Baltic Corporation was formed with 50% of the shares held by Andrew Weir & Co. and 50% by East Asiatic Co., Copenhagen. However, this was managed as a seperate company and is the subject of another fleet list.

The tanker trade was entered in 1920 with the establishment of the British-Mexican Petroleum Co. and this passed into the control of Andrew Weir & Co. in 1930 and subsequently became part of the Anglo-American Oil Co. Motorships were built from 1923 for the service between Rangoon and South Africa with accommodation for 12-1st, 20-2nd and 400-emigrant class passengers.

In 1925 a French subsidiary was formed and named Cie. Venture-Weir S.A, Paris and operated services between Antwerp, Dunkirk, Havre, Bordeaux and West African ports. However, by 1928 this company returned to the oil distribution trade. In 1925 the Lago Shipping Co. was established to ship crude oil from Lake Maracaibo to the refineries at Aruba, but control of this company passed to F. J. Wolfe in 1936. The service between Calcutta, Rangoon, Colombo and South Africa was taken over from Bullard, King & Co. in 1933 and became known as the India Natal Line. Ships on this service had accommodation for 50-1st, 20-2nd and facilities for 500 native passengers.

In 1935 MacAndrews & Co. were taken over by United Baltic Corporation, which allowed access to the Spanish trade. Many of the company’s ships were lost in WWII but were rapidly replaced after the war and the company continued to expand. It is one of the widest ranging shipping companies in the world and is still trading successfully.

Gazellebank

2007 Voyage on ‘Gazellebank”

Richard Woodman, a friend of sorts, actually he’s a chap I sailed with as a Midshipman, is an author who writes fiction and non-fiction books about the sea. Anyway – I told him I was going away on a trip on a Bank boat last year and he said I should write him a piece about it that he could maybe put in his latest book ( A history of the Merchant Navy). This is what I wrote for him on my return. 
In 1972 I left the sea having sailed as second mate on Ocean Fleets cargo liners. So I thought it would be interesting to see how things are in 2007. Sadly Ocean Fleets no longer exist but Andrew Weir & Co. have been running the famous Bank Line since the year dot and have tramped the world very successfully. They now, using 4 ships, run a more or less monthly round the world service beginning in Europe and sailing via Panama across the Pacific to Tahiti and Auckland then up through the Coral Islands to Papua New Guinea, Singapore and back via Suez.I joined the MV Gazellebank in Auckland in May 2007. Built in Finland in 1982 as an ice-breaker for Russian Fleet operations in the Arctic, she was originally named Tiksi, bought by Andrew Weir and modified by Cammell Laird in 1995 with bulbous bow as a Ro-Ro general cargo carrier and renamed Foylebank. In 2005 to celebrate 100 years of Andrew Weir in the South Pacific the name was changed to Gazellebank after a cape in Papua New Guinea.She sails under the Red Ensign although registered in Douglas, Isle of Man. At nearly 174 metres length and 25 metres breadth she has a gross tonnage of 18,663 tons and is powered by 2 Wartsila Sulzer engines driving a single screw with 22,000 bhp. She is fitted throughout for container carriage with approximately 685 T.E.U capacity, equipped with cranes at each hatch, and has over 7,000 cubic metres of tank space for carriage of vegetable oils. There is accommodation for 12 passengers with lounge/bar facilities, a gym, sauna, and a small inside swimming pool.There are 31 crew members including 4 cadets. Captain John Gunson (ex Ocean Fleets) and the 2nd mate and purser are British, the rest of the crew which includes three stewardesses and a lady Chief and 2nd cook are Russian.The ship is fully chartered by Swires and she has Swire funnel colours. The cargo being carried on this part of the voyage was mainly heavy machinery, army trucks and earth moving equipment, drums of steel cables etc. The rest of the space taken up with containers of varying sizes including Reefer. On deck there was a large luxury yacht and one container had been ingeniously converted for the carriage of 4 horses from Auckland to Noumea. 2 grooms accompanied us on this leg. Cargoes loaded through the islands included bagged cocoa beans, coconut oil, palm oil and 4,000 tons of bulk copra, which in turn was offloaded on arrival in the Philippines and Pasir Gudang. That space in turn being filled by timber in Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu.The ship, said to be into its last 4 years of life has been hard used and running repairs were aided by having an AB and a fitter both of whom doubled as qualified welders.Navigation has, of course, improved out of all recognition with Global Positioning by Satellite (G.P.S.) giving a continuously updated Lat & Long, course and speed over ground and ETAs to next waypoint and final destination. The Radar now gives the name of each ship target and its course and speed and point of nearest approach at the touch of a button. I wonder what happened to the old Blue Flue plotting boards and Chinagraph pencils!At the end of June we arrived in Singapore after a fascinating 7 week leg of the voyage – via New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Sabah. 14 ports in 48 days. (I should have stayed at sea!!) Posted by Dennis Richardsat 8:45 PM

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Farewell to Bank Line

DescriptionThe end of an era on the Mahinabank (Speybank)
Today the 02nd November 2009,the last Vessel of the “Bank Line tradition” will bid farewell as it runs up the beach at Chittagong. To my knowledge,there has been no message promulgated to mark the occasion, either to the vessels crews or the associated organisations involved, so at this time I would like to thank, on behalf of myself and crew, those individuals and friends, who have assisted and taken part, with our round the world voyages over the many years.These thanks to include Agents, Stevedores, Pilots, Andrew Weir Shipping personnel, Swire Shipping personnel, passengers and last but not least the Bibby Crewing agency and its affiliated agencies in Russia, Ukraine and the Philippines.There are no words to describe exactly the feelings and sentiments passing through myself and individual Crew members, as we approach the beach and the loss of a friend who has seen us through so many different scenarios and has always seen us home safely, although somewhat tired.Against all our instincts and training, we will take the unusual steps of deliberately heading for the shore, land her, then immediately leave, to allow the dismantling to begin. A lump of steel machinery to most, but to a small minority, a home from home and a family friend, with lots of memories both good and bad and as you are aware some of which, have been a nightmare. Farewell to this old lady (true to the end) and the other three sisters which have beached over the past few months quietly and without comment, they will live on for many a year in our memories and thoughts. Now may they rest in peace, with our fondest regards.K.W.Mulholland, Master, Mahinabank

extract from the Swire site

BanK linE – 100 yEars

Bank Line celebrates its centenary in 2005. The company was established in Glasgow by Andrew Weir in 1905 – although he acquired his first sailing ship, the 882-ton Willowbank, 20 years earlier in 1885, when he was just 20 years old. During those formative years, the fleet had grown rapidly and by 1900, Andrew Weir already had 38 ships under his house flag. The line soon established offices in New York, Buenos Aires, San Francisco and Hong Kong, and by the mid-1920s included services from the USA to India, Africa, Asia and Australasia, India to Africa and to South America, and Africa to Asia, as well as a shipping agency business in the Persian Gulf. By the 1920s, Bank Line included a substantial tanker fleet, and Andrew Weir had also begun to acquire diesel-powered vessels – one of the first British ship owners to do so. The Second World War saw the loss of 37 ships from Andrew Weir’s various fleets, but post-war the company embarked on an ambitious newbuilding programme. By the 1960s, one of its principal homeward cargoes was copra from the South Pacific and the company designed vessels with deep tank capacity to carry coconut and vegetable oil in bulk. Since these island trades were more suited to bulk commodities, Bank Line embraced the container revolution with cautious enthusiasm, launching its first ships with additional container carrying capacity in the mid-70s. The only purpose-built container ship built for Bank Line, Willowbank, was launched in 1980; she could carry 768 standard containers and 358 reefers. During the 1980s recession, the fleet was reduced to this vessel and four Pacific Islands trade vessels. The four SA-15 vessels that make up the current Bank Line fleet, SpeybankArunbank,Teignbank and Foylebank, were purchased in 1995 from the Russian Arctic fleet and modified to provide improved container capacity, the addition of heated vegetable oil tanks, and to enhance them for blue water trading; they already had a quarter ramp for ro-ro traffic and could carry 576 TEUs and up 6,400 tons of vegetable oil. China Navigation purchased the Bank Line trade from Andrew Weir Shipping in August 2003.

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M.V. Corabank – Tanker!

MV Corabank later Rikko Maru1932 – 1945

A view of the Rikko Maru, formerly Corabank.

The MV Corabank was laid down at Workman, Clark Ltd (1928), Belfast, Northern Ireland at the end of 1931 as yard number 516, a 9,181 ton tanker for Andrew Weir Shipping & Trading Co. Ltd, (Bank Line) of Glasgow & London, their first motor tanker. It was launched during 1932 and completed during August 1932.

The Corabank’s maiden (?) voyage took her to the Far East, being noted on October 12th 1932 near Penang, then October 14th 1932 near Singapore.

Noted in King’s Dock (floating) drydock Keppel Harbour November 30th 1935,

December 1st/2nd 1935 at Keppel Harbour.

February 3rd 1936 due Singapore.

April 21st 1936 cleared Singapore for Kudat, Borneo.

Noted in King’s Dock (floating) drydock Keppel Harbour July 15th 1936, departed Singapore on July 19th 1936,

During October 1937 the Corabank was sold to Nippon Sekiyu K.K., Tokyo (Japan Oil Co. Ltd) for the reportedly high price of £220,000 and renamed Rikko Maru. 

The Rikko Maru was requisitioned during 1941 by the Japanese Government’s Senpaku Uneikai civilian wartime shipping authority. It was alloted to the Imperial Japanese Army and chartered with a civilian crew. 

The Rikko Maru would spend much of 1943 sailing the East China & South China Seas, between Mutsure, Japan and Singapore, visiting such ports as Mako, Cap St Jacques (Vung Tau), Takao (Kaohsiung), Kirun (Keelung) & Moji. 

During 1944 the Rikko Maru followed similar routes to that of 1943 but included several roundtrips between Manila & Takao. Other ports visited included Miri. On May 13th 1944 the Rikko Maru sailed with about 25 other ships as convoy MOTA 19 with several escorts to Manila carrying men and supplies to establish air defence and early warning capabilities. The Rikko Maru was back at Takao by by May 20th 1944, departing three days later as part of convoy TAMA 19 headed for Manila, transporting similar cargo and men as were carried in convoy MOTA 19. On June 13th 1944 convoy SHIMA 01 departed Singapore for Manila presumably including the Rikko Maru. On June 24th 1944 convoy MATA 23 with fifteen ships including the Rikko Maru departed Manila for Kirun. On June 25th, 26th & 27th the convoy came under attack by submarine & aircraft. Three ships were lost in the attacks, with the Rikko Maru sustaining minor damage from an early morning air attack on 28th.

On August 19th 1944 the Rikko Maru sailed from Moji in convoy MI 15 for Takao, arriving on August 25th 1944, then departing on 30th for Manila. The Rikko Maru, in ballast, carried 506 men of the 3rd Aviation Army, 5th Aviation Communication Unit and others. Whilst passing through the Luzon Strait early on the morning of August 31st, the Queenfish (SS-393) sank the Chiyoda Maru and damaged the Rikku Maru. Whilst in the Bashi Strait more submarines appeared, the Sealion (SS-315), Growler (SS-215) and Pampanito. Before dawn the Growler made a surface attack on what was believed to be the Rikku Maru. Three torpedoes hit at position 21-30N, 121-19E killing 125 passengers and crew and leaving the tanker covered in smoke with a twenty foot hole amidships. Counter flooding stabilised the ship, with the engine-room not affected by the damage. The convoy continued to come under attack, but the Rikku Maru remained afloat and eventually reached Takao on the early evening of September 1st 1944, entering the dry dock, where overnight, the seriousness of the damage was revealed. Temporary repairs would take over three months. Air raids on October 10th-12th 1944 caused no damage to the ship, but since more urgent work was waiting the Rikko Maru was patched up and sailed for Keelung. The 150 mile trip was completed at night under full speed with the ship gradually sinking. Just before dawn the ship was run aground outside of Keelung. Carrier based aircraft from Task Force 38 further damaged the ship whilst on the early morning of March 6th 1945 a typhoon broke the ship in two and sank at 25-09N, 121-44E. 

Details

Built: Workman Clark Ltd (1928), Belfast Yard No.516
Launched: 1932
Tons: 8,898 gross, 13,710 deadweight
Length: 470ft 
Breadth: 63ft 6in
Draught: 35ft 4in
Propulsion: 1 x 8-cylinder 8S68 Workman Clark-Sulzer diesel engine 3,600bhp at 90rpm.
Screws: 1
Speed: 11.5 knots
Crew: ??

Resources:
National Library of Australia : Trove website of archived Australian Newspapers (trove.nla.gov.au)
NewspaperSG – Singapore pages newspaper archive.
Thunder Below: by Eugene B Fluckey,
Sulzer: List of Motorships

Sailing Fleet – part 1

The Sailing Ships of Andrew Weir
Shipping & Trading Co. Ltd. – Part One

by John Richardson

The Bank Line’s founder Andrew Weir was born in Kircaldy, Fyfe, on 24th April, 1865. He was the first son of the cork merchants William and Janet Weir. After being educated at the Kirkcaldy High School where he specialised in finance, Andrew started his working life for the Commercial Bank of Scotland. His second employment was in a ship owner’s office where he embarked upon the basics of ship management, and from what he learned it soon became apparent that his future was in the shipping industry.

Just a month after turning twenty years of age, on 5th May 1885, Andrew Weir opened his own shipping office in Glasgow which was originally named the ANDREW WEIR SHIPPING & TRADING Co. Ltd. (Later to be named Bank Line).

Here we look at the first vessels of this famous company.

Willowbank

S1604-28 Willowbank

On 22nd December 1885 the young entrepreneur acquired a 24 year old three masted barque named Willowbank. That 882 ton vessel was built by Wigham Richardson on the Tyne in 1861 as the Ambrose. Her first owner was Schillizzi & Co. of Liverpool, but he sold her to another Merseyside ship owner named E. Bates in 1876. Then another Liverpool company J. & F. Gibb & Co. bought the barque in 1884 and re-named her Willowbank.

The insurance premium on a ship has always been an expensive part of its operating costs, and ship owners who bought their ships on mortgage had to have the vessel fully insured in case the ship was lost. But if that ship was purchased for cash, the insurance on the same ship was not compulsory. Many ship owners started off by obtaining an old unwanted ship at a very low price for cash, then after getting a charter sent it to sea without insurance. Lending banks or other financial institutions would not lend money to purchase such a ship, and the young businessman undoubtedly obtained the Willowbank for a very low price in a cash sale, then when he obtained a charter he sent her to sea, but it is doubtful if the ship or its crew were insured.

However, Andrew Weir was very lucky in his early days of ship owning. Willowbank managed to survive for ten years and probably paid for herself over and over again before she met her fate, and by which time the company was well established. If on the other hand the Willowbank had been lost on her first voyage under Andrew Weir’s ownership, it is doubtful if the Bank Line of Glasgow would ever have come into existence. It would appear that Willowbank’s suffix of ‘Bank’ led to the naming of The ‘Bank’ Line, and later on as a suffix for many of Weir’s ships. But ten years later in December 1895 the Willowbank was run down and sunk by the SS Berlin, a steamer which had previously belonged to the Inman Line of Liverpool, was at one time the world’s most luxurious passenger liner. For 21 years that liner which was then named City of Berlin, had run between Liverpool and New York.

She could carry over 2,000 passengers and steam at a service speed of 15 knots. After being sold to the American Line in 1895 her name changed to Berlin. However, it was when she was on her first ever venture into the English Channel that she collided with and sank the 34 year old Willowbank off Portland Bill.

A report from a local Plymouth newspaper gave the following account:

On the arrival of the cruiser HMS Blake at Plymouth on 23rd December 1895, she reported a fatal collision off Portland Bill. The cruiser had been about 14 miles South West of Portland in foggy weather at 0500 hrs on 22nd December when she observed the American Line passenger ship SS Berlin hove to. In answer to a signal from HMS Blake, the Berlin replied saying she did not require assistance for herself, but needed it for a ship named Willowbank that she’d collided with. The Glasgow ship had sunk, and the Berlin had launched three boats in a three hour long search looking for survivors but none could be found, just one empty lifeboat. The Berlin which had a large hole in her starboard bow headed back towards Southampton where she was towed in by two tugs and berthed at the Empress Dock for repairs. Willowbank’s captain, his wife and a crew of fourteen were lost.

Anne Main

The next sailing vessel to join the company after the Willowbank was the 449 ton barque rigged Anne Main. Length 156 feet and beam 28 feet. She had been built in 1867 on the Clyde by Alexander Stephen & Co. with a yard number 109. Captain William S. Main who lived in the Wirral was the Anne Main’s first owner and master. He named the ship after his wife and registered her in Liverpool. The Glasgow ship owner Thomas Skinner purchased the vessel from him in 1884, but shortly after putting her on the Glasgow register he sold the iron three masted barque to Andrew Weir in 1886. That ship with a deadweight of about 700 tons was to be the smallest of all the ships that Andrew Weir owned. Ten years later in 1896, the Anne Main which was carrying case oil from Philadelphia towards Japan ran aground and was wrecked on Goto Island off Nagasaki.

Thornliebank

S1604-28 Thornliebank 1

The very first ship to be built specifically for the Andrew Weir Shipping & Trading Company, was the 1,492 gross ton three masted barque Thornliebank. Built by Joseph Russell of Port Glasgow in 1886, her dimensions were 244.5 x 37.6 x 21.5 feet. However, on 6th August 1891 when she was five years old, and shortly after dropping her anchor at Owens Anchorage, Cockburn Sound, Western Australia she caught fire. Although the blaze was extinguished by the crew after a two day battle, it was due to the many twisted beams and plates that the ship was written off. At a subsequent Court of inquiry held four days later on 10th august, the cause of the fire could not be ascertained and the crew were exonerated. Had the accident occurred in the UK the ship could have been repaired, but in the fledgling Western Australia there were no such facilities in those early years. As a consequence the Thornliebank’s hull was sold to J. & W. Bateman. They used her as a coal hulk in Fremantle before she was sold to McIlwraith & McEacharn. However, on 18th April 1928, when the Thornliebank had rusted away and was beyond economical repair, the 42 year old ship that was once the pride of the fleet, and Andrew Weir’s first designed ship, caught fire and was towed out to the nearby Rottnest Island and sent to the bottom. Owen’s Anchorage where the Thornliebank caught fire was a favourite spot where captains ran their ship up onto the beach for careening. It seems likely, that if at the time of the fire the ship was high and dry, any water required to douse the flames would have to have been carried a long distance in wooden fire buckets.

Trongate

S1604-29 Trongate 2

The iron barque Trongate which was named after a Glasgow thoroughfare was the next ship to be bought into the company. She’d been built by Dobie of Glasgow in 1878 for E. L. Alexander of the same port. Her maiden voyage began on 7th November 1878 from Liverpool towards Sydney. Captain Tait was her master and his complement of 19 consisted of 2 mates, carpenter, cook, steward, 10 ABs, 2 ordinary seamen and 2 apprentices. There was one passenger on the passage. After one voyage for E. L. Alexander, William Denny was the next owner of the ship and under him part of the ship’s history occurred on 6th September 1880 when she was on passage from Antwerp towards New York. Carrying a cargo of railway lines the Trongate which was sailing in the fog in 45° North 47° West collided with the SS Anglia of the anchor Line.

From The New York Times 29th September 1880:

Captain Dunn the master of the Trongate wrote. We sailed from Antwerp on 15th August 1880 for New York. Everything proceeded favourably until 6th September, when the ship ran into a thick fog and a heavy swell. At 3pm the Trongate was close hauled on a starboard tack when the Anchor Line ship SS Anglia ran into us. She being three days out of Boston towards London was carrying general cargo and cattle. The Trongate received considerable damage to the forepart losing her head, bowsprit and jib-boom and all that was attached. After the collision the two ships separated. We proceeded to secure our head stays and temporarily repair the damage in order to proceed on the passage. About two hours after the collision the boats of the SS Anglia came alongside us in the fog and said their ship was sinking. Soon afterwards her boilers blew and she went down. I took the crew and their boats on board and bore away for St. John’s, Newfoundland. On arrival at that port they went ashore in their own boats. Both ships were British and both were insured. Except for the Anglia’s cattle no lives had been lost on either ship. We then proceeded to New York where we arrived on 28th September 1880. The enquiry will be held in London at a later date.

Andrew Weir bought the Trongate in 1891 and put her on the Australia, Americas and the UK trade with coal and wheat until 1909. At that time the number of his steam ships were increasing while those of his sailing ships were decreasing. However, after having had a good dusting in the Pacific Ocean, in 1909 the Trongate was sold. Trading under the Chilean flag she was hulked at Valparaiso in 1917. Eight years later in 1924 she was sold locally to Borquez y Cia and sailed again as the Luis a Goni. But because of her age and condition she was sold to a Spanish company and re-named Nanolo before being broken up at La Spezia in the following year of 1925.

Elmbank

S1604-29 Elmbank-04

Built in 1890 by Joseph Russell at Port Glasgow was the steel 2,218 grt four masted barque Elmbank. Her dimensions were 279 x 41.9 x 24.25 feet. She was owned and managed by Andrew Weir of 71 Wellington Street, Glasgow.

Because this ship was less than four years old when she came to her end, little can be found on what short history she had. However on her last voyage in 1893, it is known that she took a cargo of nitrates from Caleta Bueno, Chile, to Le Havre. However the ship was lost on the run to Greenock when she piled up on the isle of Arran.

Below is a condensed account of her loss at the subsequent Marine Enquiry at Glasgow:

After having discharged her cargo at Havre, the Elmbank was ballasted with 720 tons of rubble, 20 tons of fresh water, and about 30 tons of dunnage wood and lining boards, thus giving a total ballast weight of about 770 tons. Her draught when ballasted was 10 ft. 11 in. forward, and 11 ft. 1 in. aft. On 6th January 1894 she left Havre for Greenock under the charge of the Glasgow tug Hercules with Charles Morrison in command. The Elmbank was under the command of Captain Alexander Greig, who held a certificate of competency numbered 02260. She had a crew of 16 runners as well as the master’s wife and two children making 19 souls on board. The 4½ inch towing wire which belonged to the tug, was made fast to the Elmbank by passing the end of the ship’s mooring chain through the thimble of the tow rope, and then bringing the end back through the same hawse pipe on the starboard side.

All went well on the passage around Land’s End and up St. George’s Channel, and at 2.15pm on 9th January the Calf of Man bore E by S ½ S. From this position a course N by E was set and the Walker’s patent log was streamed. The wind was fresh from SSE and increasing, while the weather was described as being misty but getting thicker. From 2.15pm the vessel had the ebb tide setting her to the NW but the Mull of Galloway light could not be seen. At 8pm the master instructed the mate who had just been relieved by the boatswain, who was acting as second mate, to see what the reading was on the Walker’s patent log. The mate found that the distance run was 47 miles. With this information he entered the chartroom along with the master to consult the chart in reference to the ship’s position. But they had barely got the chart on the table when they heard three blasts from the tug’s whistle, which both the master and his mate thought was a signal meaning, “I am making for an anchorage.” The master and mate rushed out on deck to find the tug going hard across their bows. According to the inquiry witnesses, the helm of the Elmbank was put hard to starboard. But before the helm had a chance to answer, the high cliffs were seen close by to starboard and the ship was felt to bump three or four times on the ground. She did not stop and followed the directions of the tug which by that time was well out on the port-beam. While the tug and her charge were in this position, the crew of the Elmbank seem to have got into a panic and kept shouting for the tug to come alongside to take them off as they thought their ship was going to sink. The foc’sle head bell was rapidly rung and other urgent signals made. The master of the tug then cast off the tow-rope, and manoeuvred his vessel until he got a 4-inch rope close under the stern of his charge to act as a breeches buoy with the view to saving life. The master of the Elmbank then asked the tug skipper to come alongside and take off his wife and two children. The latter replied saying he could not go alongside, but would take them on board if they were sent in the ship’s boat. The gig on the starboard side was then lowered, and the mate with four hands transferred the above passengers to the safety of the tug.

That operation occupied about an hour and a half. The Elmbank’s bilges were sounded but found to be dry. There was considerable conflict of evidence as to the state of the weather and the sea at the time. But with regard to the sea state, the Court reached the conclusion that with the wind at SE, it could not have been as heavy as the witnesses from the tug said it was.

Shortly after the gig had returned from the tug, the master of the Elmbank informed the tug skipper that he had slipped the tow rope as it prevented him from steering, and as the 4-inch and 5- inch lines to which the tug had been attached had parted, he offered the tug skipper a 7½-inch coir line. There was a rocket apparatus on board, but on account of the bad weather, as well as the position and condition of the ship he could not use it. From about 10.45pm until midnight, the Elmbank was kept heading to the WNW under a fore-topmast staysail while drifting at between three and four knots. At midnight the tug came within hailing distance and advised the Elmbank’s master to set more sail, steer NE by N, and run up the Firth.

The four lower staysails and the reefed jigger sail were then set and the course maintained until about 1a.m. At that time the tug skipper again advised Captain Greig to set more sail but this was not done and the Elmbank continued drifting to leeward. The wind and sea from the SSE kept gradually increasing while the weather became thicker. At 6am the Pladda Light was seen about a point on the port bow. The tug came in again within hailing distance, and once again recommended that Captain Greig should set more sail and try and weather Pladda. But on seeing that this was impossible, the latter asked the tug to take a rope and pull his stern round so that he could keep away from the land.

Owing to the severity of the weather this request was also refused. An attempt was then made to run up the jib, but in seeing that she only payed off a point, the master of the Elmbank hauled her up to the wind. The land at that time was close to the lee side. Both anchors were let go immediately and 70 fathoms of chain were paid out, but the anchors did not hold. Within just a few minutes the Elmbank drove ashore on the rocks near Bennan Head about two miles west of Pladda Light. Soon afterwards one of the lifeboats was lowered, all hands took to it and succeeded in effecting a landing just inside where the vessel lay. At about this time the tug lost sight of the Elmbank in a snowshower, when it was observed that she was ashore they proceeded to Kildonan for the lifeboat, but on their return found that the lifeboat’s services were not required. In the matter of a formal Investigation held at Glasgow The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances attending the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons stated in the annex hereto, that the ultimate cause of the stranding of the Elmbank was due to the failure of the master, Mr. Alexander Greig, to set sufficient canvas to keep his vessel from driving to leeward after she became detached from the tug. The Court therefore finds him in default and suspends his certificate numbered 02260 for a period of six months from this date. The Court also censures Mr. Charles Morrison, master of the tug Hercules.

Dated this seventh day of February 1894.

River Falloch

S1604-30 River Falloch

In 1891 six more ships of sail were to join the Andrew Weir Company. From William Denny of Glasgow came the 1,637 gross ton river Falloch, a ship built by Joseph Russell at Port Glasgow in 1884. The ship which is described as being an ‘iron clipper’ was named after a river that flowed into Loch Lomond. Although little in the way of the ship’s history under the ownership of Andrew Weir is known, her maiden voyage for William Denny was one of frightening proportions; the story was given by her master Captain J Davidson.

From the Otago Times June 1895:

Under the command of Captain J. Davidson the River Falloch left Glasgow on 2nd November 1884. She was on her maiden voyage with general cargo for Port Jackson, Australia, and was expected to arrive there sometime in January or February 1885. The ship rigged with a full crew the River Falloch proved to be a fast ship and was soon in the Bay of Biscay, but that is where the speedy ship was slowed down, both by head winds and heavy seas as far as the Azores. The heavy weather increased and the South Easterly hurricane force winds battered the ship. As a result the foremast which snapped at the deck came down and took with it the head gear and the main topmast as well as the mizzen topmast. In their efforts to secure the ship John McInnes was lost overboard and Edward Allison was killed. Another sailor had his arm broken while the bosun and an ordinary seaman who’d been aloft were injured. In that incident the bosun had slipped while he was 90 foot up in the rigging, but as he was falling to the deck the ordinary seaman grabbed him and hung on until assistance arrived. Only the lower mainmast and the mizzen lower mast with its crojack were left standing. After the hurricane had abated the decks were cleared and the ship was jury rigged. Captain Davidson tended to those injured and while the ship was still pitching and rolling quite heavily, he re-set the injured sailor’s broken bones before the River Falloch struggled into Funchal, Madeira. The body of Mr Allison was buried at sea and Funchal was reached on 26th December after a dreadful Christmas. After a cable had been sent to the owners regarding the ship’s encounter with the weather, and the fact that she was completely disabled, the tug Storm Cock was dispatched from the Clyde to tow her back to Joseph Russell, her builder, for repairs. The tow which began on 5th January 1885 took eleven days and repairs to the ship nine weeks. On 21st March 1885 the River Falloch resumed her passage to Port Jackson where she arrived in June.

When Andrew Weir bought the river Falloch in 1891 he had her cut down to a barque to reduce her crew numbers. However, the ship is reported to have sailed from Glasgow on 4th April 1895, with Captain David Young in command and a complement of 29. Amongst that figure of 29 were a first, second and third mate as well as 6 apprentices. But when she left Liverpool on 10th March 1897 with Captain Young still in command, his complement had been reduced to 22 with just a first mate and no apprentices. The river Falloch stayed with the company until 1909 when she was sold to Sigurd Bruusgaard of Drammen, Norway, who renamed her Avenir. In 1916 she went under the Italian flag and was registered at Genoa but was broken up at her home port in 1922.

Thistlebank

S1604-31 Thistlebank 1

This was the largest of three sisters at 2,430 grt and Captain J. Wilson was her master on the maiden voyage. The ship was sold to E. Monson of Tvedestrand in 1914, but in the following year under Captain J. Forby Olsen she was sunk off Fastnet by a U boat on 30th June 1915 while on passage Bahia to Queenstown. The following story however, relates to a first trip apprentice named Michael Murphy from Hull who was nick named ‘Kick.’ He joined the Thistlebank at Barry Docks South Wales for her second voyage in July 1892. The Thistlebank was expected to make a twelve month voyage. She was a steel hulled sailing barque which had been launched by Russell & Company at Port Glasgow in the previous year. The ship left Barry on 21st July 1892 with the first leg of the voyage being to Cape Town with Welsh coal. After about a month the ship approached the equator, and, of course, the crossing of The Line as it is called. It was one of those rites of passage that had to be observed as Kick and his companions discovered. Afterwards, he described the events quite graphically in a letter home to his family. On the night of the crossing two men got dressed up, one as Father Neptune the other as his wife named Trident. They were dressed in oakum wig and whiskers with a large tin can that was cut into a crown. They also had the barbers with them. They pretended to come aboard from over the side and shouted out. “Ship ahoy” they then rigged a platform and a large tub of water with lighted lanterns all round it. The three apprentices, the sail maker and two ordinary seamen were to have our heads shaved as we had never crossed The Line before. We shook hands with Father Neptune and his so called wife, then sat on the edge of the tub to be lathered with grease, Stockholm tar and droppings from Denis the pig. It was then scraped off with a big wooden knife and daubed on our heads. We were then put into the tub with all our clothes on and wet through with buckets of, water, but we were all right again next morning except for being a little greasy and some extra dhobying to do on washing day. Young Kick wrote home regularly to his family on his voyage, and his letters provide a vivid description of various aspects of life at sea under sail in the late nineteenth century.

His letters are often full with talk about food: When we are at sea we get coffee every other morning. Breakfast consists of hard tack biscuits, butter, salt beef or salt pork. At tea we get hard tack biscuits, milk-less and sugar-less tea, butter and all the meat left-overs which is chopped up small with saute potatoes and fried in fat. Friday’s is known as being ‘Catholic Day’ when no meat is given and salt fish is served. On Sundays we get fresh tinned mutton soup, potatoes, barley and a loaf of soft bread. I miss the puddings but I make them myself when we are in port.’

He also provides some interesting accounts of places the ship calls at and writes:

Cape Town is a splendid place situated on a fine harbour with mountains in the background with one of them being the celebrated Table Mountain. There are fine buildings, a palace, castle, batteries and gun boats. I have never seen such a nice place. There is a breakwater about ½ a mile long on which the convicts who are under guard have to work to make it larger. Table Mountain is covered by clouds most of the time, but it is a grand scene to see on a calm day, the houses in the sunshine are all white. The bay is like a pond and on in the other side of the bay the mountains run right along the coast of Africa. On a clear day we can see the smoke rising from native villages behind the mountains. The Thistlebank was originally expected to sail from Cape Town to Chittagong in India, but the orders were changed, and instead, the vessel headed for Newcastle, New South Wales. What had been expected to be a year’s voyage looks like turning into one of around eighteen months.

Although Kick was disappointed at the prospect of spending his next birthday away from home he did look forward to the extra money his trip would bring him, the time he was at sea learning to becoming a more accomplished seaman, and the gaining of experience in what the oceans of the world could throw at a ship.

Dear Father and Mother, we left Cape Town on Saturday November 12th and have had fair winds all the way. The ship is going twelve, thirteen and sometimes fourteen knots. All the time we had one day of calm. They call it Running’ the Easting Down. We arrived safe in Newcastle on Monday 19th December. After having had a very stormy passage, the ship was rolling so much, that it rolled us out of our bunks and the chests went sliding from one side of the cabin to the other and broke from their lashings. On the 1st December at about 1am in the morning the ship was struck by a heavy squall. We had just got turned in at 12pm till four when at 1 o’clock orders were shouted out for us to clear the royals, let go the topgallant and top sail halyards and clear the lower to the t’gallant sails up. All hands had to turn to and shorten sail. The royals were blown into ribbons before we could take them in, and all the ropes belonging to it carried away. I went to the main royal to help make it fast when it hit me and skinned my nose. We had another squall on 7th December but it done no damage.

As a later letter shows, that voyage proved to be more eventful than he at first told his parents.

When we were about two weeks out of Cape Town I was struck by a sea that washed me down the deck and into some iron stanchions which laid me up for three weeks. I couldn’t move for the first week. I was bandaged up and as white as a sheet. I was still laid up when we entered Newcastle, but I started work 4 days after and was soon as well as ever. ‘Dad wanted to know if I could take the wheel. ‘I was at the wheel every night and he (the captain) let me take the wheel in the day time.’

After an extended stay in New South Wales, the Thistlebank sailed across the Pacific Ocean and reached San Diego in California towards the end of April 1893. Because of long periods of fine weather that passage had taken ninety three days instead of the expected and hoped for fifty. On the ship’s arrival the people there were somewhat surprised.

It seems that we were so long on the passage that we had been posted missing and reported as being lost. After a few weeks in San Diego we sailed to Iquique in Chile where we arrived after a very long passage of 78 days in August 1893. Here I met up with around six of my school mates on other ships whilst the vessel was loading a salt petre cargo for Hamburg.

He was less than impressed with Iquique and no doubt pleased when the Thistlebank finally sailed for Hamburg. However, the transportation of saltpetre from Chile to Europe in the late nineteenth century is by way of Cape Horn, and that was considered to be one of the hardest of passages. Nitrates were in great demand in the nineteenth century, both as a means of improving soil and also for the munitions industry. Ships sailing from Chile to Europe covered over 7,000 miles and usually took over 100- 120 days but sometimes an awful lot longer. Certainly Kick’s passage to Germany was not without its problems as he outlined in a letter to his parents in January 1894:

We have arrived all safe in Hamburg after having had a very hard passage of 122 days. Everything went well until Christmas when we had heavy gales. But then the provisions ran out and we had to live on maggoty biscuits and salt beef. When we reached Deal we only had one day’s supply of beef left on board. We have been nearly starved on this passage, and our half-deck house has been flooded on a number of occasions. Chests were full and clothes soaked through. I hadn’t had a dry change in 2 weeks. Sometimes we could not get along the deck for our dinner because there was so much water coming aboard.

By then Kick was still only seventeen years old, but he had worked his way around the world on a four masted sailing ship. Whilst the ship was laid up in Hamburg, young Kick was able to take some leave and snatch a few weeks back home with his family down Bluebell Entry in Hull. He had been away for more than eighteen months. Back in Hamburg at the end of March, Kick sailed once more for the Pacific ports and arrived at Santa Rosalia, California in August 1894. He described it as a fine passage of 171 days at sea. He was enjoying his time at sea but missing his family and friends and the Hull Fairground.

Dear father and mother, I am just as happy here as when I am at home, but often wish I could have a night off to go to Hull Fairground. This is the third time I have missed it. We are still in the best of health and are having pretty good times, going for picnics with the captain and his wife. I wish you would write a little oftener as all the other chaps are getting letters every time the steamer comes in, and I have only had two, one when we arrived, which was written on 25th July, and another 3 weeks after.

Castlebank

S1604-32 Castlebank

The Thistlebank later moved up the coast to Portland in Oregon and did not make the return voyage to Europe until late in the spring of 1895. Much of that was due to crew desertions in America. This time the ship went to Queenstown. Kick and his ship arrived in Ireland in august 1895 after a 142 day passage after which the ship made its way to Liverpool from where Kick seems to have been able to grab a few days leave at home. At this stage Andrew Weir & Company transferred Kick and a number of other crew members to another of the company’s ships named Castlebank, a somewhat smaller three masted sailing vessel which was laying at Rotterdam. He passed through Hull en route for Rotterdam, and snatched what proved to be his last brief stay with his family. His new ship was not without problems and had to turn back to Rotterdam on a couple of occasions, after experiencing difficulties with stability which worried both captain and crew. Later on the Castlebank ran aground and had to be towed off. Nevertheless, the problems were eventually overcome and the ship made a decent 120 day passage to Port Germain in Australia. Kick writes:

We have been exactly 120 days on the passage, and it has been the finest passage we have had. A bit slow but fine weather all the way and not a gale of wind at any time. I must tell you that we have got ourselves into a floating hotel on this ship. We have had plum pudding, beef pies, Rice puddings, fish, and nearly every mortal thing we could ask for. We have had as much as ever we could possibly eat. And the captain is such a nice man, he comes into our half-deck house and plays games with us and spins yarns nearly every night. The first night he went ashore he brought us back as many grapes as we could eat.

The Castlebank sailed around the Australian coast to Newcastle NSW where a cargo of coal was loaded. Kick and his half-deck companions seem to have thoroughly enjoyed an almost three month sojourn before leaving in September 1896 for Valparaiso. But when that ship sailed it was the last that was ever heard of the Castlebank, Kick Murphy or indeed the rest of the crew. The vessel was reported missing. The loss was never explained, and indeed, it was one of those perennial mysteries of the sea. The weather in the Pacific at that time was reported to have been good on the passage she took. It was thought at the time that the cargo of coal must have possibly caught fire and the crew had taken to the boats. There was hope for some time that they might have been picked up by a passing ship. But days passed into weeks and then into months with still no news of the ship and all hopes for the crew dissolved.

A friend of Kick’s in Australia, Maggie gray, wrote a final letter to his family in Hull in April 1897:

I received your kind letter on Saturday and I’m very sorry that I have to tell you, that it is only too true about the loss of the Castlebank, and I fear all hands. I have made every inquiry but nothing has been seen or heard tell of her since she left here five months ago. But I can tell you that your son left here in the best of spirits and seemed to be very happy all the time he was in port. He was the third mate and was liked by everybody on board as well as on shore where he had a lot of friends. He was up at our house just the night before the ship sailed with a few of his friends to wish us goodbye and we are indeed very sorry to hear of your loss as I know he was indeed a good boy and I am sure he would have prospered in life with all his undertakings.

Michael (Kick) Murphy was one of many Hull people who lost their lives whilst going about their business in great waters, but although his life was cut painfully short, his few years at home and afloat were filled with interest and adventure. He had seen much more of the world in his short seagoing career than many others can manage in a lifetime. As for his family, well they seem to have lived on for some time in Hull’s old Town. His mother, Fanny, died in 1915 while his father Michael followed her within two years aged 75.

Kick’s first ship, the Thistlebank was sold by Andrew Weir & Company to E. Monsen & Company of Norway in July 1914. But she was sunk by the German U-boat, U-24, off Fastnet rock on the Irish coast on the 30th June 1915. Michael Murphy has no memorial, save his beloved Hull City FC and Hull Kingston rovers, whenever he could he eagerly read every inch of the newspapers his family sent him from home.

Sailing Fleet – part 2

The Sailing Ships of Andrew Weir
Shipping & Trading Co. Ltd. – Part Two

by John Richardson

Beechbank

S1605-28- Beechbank-10

Russell & Co of Port Glasgow launched the Beechbank on 3rd February 1892 with yard number 289. She was a four masted barque measuring 2,288 grt with the dimensions of 277.5 x 42 x 24.2 feet. After tramping around the world when mainly carrying coal from either South Wales or Newcastle, NSW, the Beechbank was sold in 1913 to E. Monson of Tvedestrand, Norway. Early in 1916 during WW1 when she was on passage from Iquiqui towards Copenhagen with nitrates, she was firstly intercepted by a British armed merchant cruiser when sailing north of Scotland, and ordered into Kirkwall, Shetlands for examination. On the same day she was hit by a terrific storm and lost many of her sails, spars and became badly damaged. Then another British armed merchant cruiser HMS Ebro came to her assistance and escorted her into Kirkwall. Once seaworthy she went to London for a major refit. During her repairs later in the year of 1916, she changed hands to O. Stray of Kristiansand who renamed her Stoveren. He kept her until 1922 when she went to Norsk Rutefart of Norway. The four masted barque was scrapped in 1924.

However, during her career in Andrew Weir’s fleet, on 5th January 1907 an apprentice named Victor Harbord joined the Beechbank at Port Talbot. He was making his first trip to sea. His first ship’s destination was to the Peruvian port of Iquiqui, (pronounced aye kee kee) with a cargo of coal. Victor came from a family of sailors of which his father Captain Richard Harbord OBE, and his three elder brothers, were all seasoned seamen who’d been brought up in sail. Young Victor had wanted to pursue a life in steamships, but his father told him that if he wanted to get any money from him for his indentures, then he had to start off in sail. Therefore, it was due to the wishes of Victor’s father that the young man signed his four year indentures with the Andrew Weir Shipping & Trading Co. Apprentice Harbord remembers only too well the day he joined his first ship in Port Talbot. It was on a cold and icy day of January 1907. Mr Webb the mate welcomed him on board at the top of the gangway, took him to the saloon and introduced him to Captain John R. Bremner, then put him to work breaking the ice off a load of dunnage on the quayside, and then stow the planks on board. Also in his memory was his first rounding of Cape Horn, and what he’d heard about that notorious stretch of water turned out to be true, indeed the Beechbank took a 15 day pasting in sailing around The Horn, and Victor recorded some notes on the ordeal.

22nd March 1907 – Ran into very bad weather, ship labouring with heavy seas coming aboard.

26th March 1907 – Latitude 60°25′ South Longitude 72°48′ West. Still beating around Cape Horn.

31st March 1907 – Still beating to windward.

2nd April 1907 – Shocking weather. The ship is labouring heavily. Mate’s and apprentice’s rooms flooded out. The ship is taking a lot of heavy water on board. Two men are lashed to the wheel.

6th April 1907 – Rounded Cape Horn, Very cold weather, heavy seas and snow squalls.

Victor and his six other apprentice shipmates had lots to learn. As well as climbing the rigging, they had to set and furl canvas as well as stitching it, and ensure that every rope was always in its proper place. There was also boxing the compass, learning how to steer with quarter points, and many other sailorising jobs. Then of course there was the holystoning the wooden decks, a task which was otherwise known as ‘bible practice’.

On arrival at Iquiqui the apprentices had to supervise the coal discharge, and then ensure that the hold was thoroughly cleaned before loading at Pisagua. After loading a cargo of salt petre the Beechbank’s next destination was Cape Town. From there the ship went to Adelaide in ballast where on arrival she anchored awaiting orders. On Sunday 24th December 1908 the ship berthed at Port Augusta, and then on Christmas day the ship was ‘dressed’ and thrown open to the public. Captain Bremner invited Reverend Wilkinson and his friends on board and they returned the compliment by taking the seven apprentices on a picnic. Beechbank left Port Augusta on 15th March 1909 and made a 109 day passage to Belfast. Victor went home on leave and rejoined at Cardiff where his ship was loading coke for Albany, New York.

At the end of the nineteenth century the victuals on ships would never come up to today’s standards. On the Beechbank there was a daily ration of eight ‘Liverpool Pantiles’. These rock hard biscuits were normally ages old, full of weevils and had to be thoroughly soaked before being eaten. Salt fish and salt pork as well as South African dried stringy meat named biltong were other additions to our cheap meal allowances. Another one was ‘Harriet Lane’ a tinned meat product that’s regarded as being a bit of a luxury. Apparently, the name for this tinned meat got its name from a London meat canning factory in the mid nineteenth century. It so happened, that one of the women workers in the factory named Harriet Lane, who regularly prepared the stewed meat for canning, suddenly disappeared! Because she’d recently had an altercation with her employer, he was accused of chopping the woman up and putting her into the huge stew pot to hide the evidence. Despite police intervention nothing was ever proved, but the name of ‘Harriet Lane’ stuck. Furthermore, that woman’s name was given to all the stewed meat products that came from that meat canning factory. Moreover, because the Londoners would no longer eat the products of that factory it was sold off cheaply. Therefore, it came as no surprise when ship owners revelled in the cheap food and bought all that was left and used it for crew meals. As a result of it all, and even many years after the meat canning factory had gone out of business, tinned meat was forever after called ‘Harriet Lane’ on ships of sail. A cup of tea on a ship never had any milk or sugar in it, and was similar to the porridge that was called ‘goolash’. A week after a ship had sailed any fresh meat quickly disappeared from the menu, spuds and onions lasted longer but like the drinking water they were kept locked up. To prevent scurvy lime juice was part of the rations, as was a daily issue of four quarts of water, half of which had to be handed over to the galley.

Victor’s recollections of his four years apprenticeship on the Beechbank are a vivid memory as are the two weeks spent in the ‘roaring forties’ battling against the strong winds and high seas. On one occasion he was sent aloft in the dark to secure a loose sail. The seas were so heavy and the ship being thrown about so much, that after he had made the sail fast he was unable to get down again and spent several hours clinging to the rigging. Such was the life that Victor led for the whole of his apprenticeship. When he finally left the Beechbank after serving his four years apprenticeship he received a massive pay-off of £28. Victor Harbord never returned to sail but continued his life at sea in steamships and worked his way up to the rank of Master Mariner. He later became a Humber Pilot and later in the Thames and Clyde, eventually completing 28 years as a pilot. During WW2 he was selected by the Admiralty to be an examining officer.

Cedarbank

S1605-28- Cedarbank 300 x 20

This four-masted steel barque of 2,825 grt was launched in June 1892. She was built by Mackie & Thompson of Glasgow to the order of Andrew Weir & Co. Her other dimensions were 326 x 43 x 24.5 feet. Her sister ship was the Olivebank, and those two large vessels were the pride of the fleet. Both of those ships had steel wheel houses on the poop deck to protect the helmsman if the ship got pooped. They also had a donkey engine for hauling in the anchor as well as for a fire hose line. But none of Andrew Weir’s ships ever had the modern style Liverpool House amidships, a point from where the ship could be steered with chain and rod gear, and also where the crew could be accommodated. The Cedarbank’s first master was Captain Andrew D. Moody, his crew had all signed on at Glasgow, but his ship almost came to a premature end when she was on her maiden voyage after her coal caught fire. After leaving Sydney while still on her maiden voyage, the ship was towed 60 miles up the coast to Newcastle where she loaded 4,800 ton cargo of coal for San Francisco. But when she was halfway across the Pacific Ocean, the deck plates were found to be unnaturally hot, and that spelled ‘fire’.

Coal itself comes in different forms with the best steam coal in the world ‘arguably’ coming from South Wales in the UK. But it appears that in 1892, a seam of inferior slate coal was mined at Newcastle, NSW and designated for export. Slate coal has always been well known for its instability as it splutters and spits out gas as it burns. Indeed, those of us who have sat before a coal fire will know only too well, and especially when burning cheap slate coal, that a fire guard has to be placed before an open fire in case the coal spits out dangerous sparks.

Cedarbank left Newcastle, NSW on 5th March 1893 bound for San Francisco with its 4,800 tons of coal. All went well for the first five days, but during 12th-15th March the ship was hit by a Pacific Ocean hurricane. Damage to her spars, rigging and loss of sails obliged Captain Moody to turn around and head for Sydney. The fully laden ship arrived there on 21st March, where after five weeks of repairs she once again sailed for San Francisco on 28th April.

A coal fire in the hold of a ship, which is better known as internal combustion, can often take many weeks to materialise and reveal itself. Indeed, when the Cedarbank left Sydney her coal may have already been alight. But after having been at sea for 53 days when the ship was in a position just north of Midway Island, those dreaded wisps of smoke were seen to be seeping out from beneath number two hatch tarpaulins, while at the same time the decks were becoming increasingly hot! If the Beechbank had been built of wood she’d have long since burned, and wouldn’t have even got half way. So much for steel and iron versus the out dated wooden collier ships!

On realising the cargo was on fire Captain Moody had a tough decision to make. Should he head for the nearest landfall, where any kind of assistance would be next to zero, or should he continue his passage in the hope of making San Francisco? After a consultation with the mate he decided to push on for ‘Frisco. At first light on the following morning, number two hatch was stripped and the crowd began discharging as much of the smouldering coal as they could, while at the same time every stitch of canvas was set. The sailors in the smoke and gas filled hold worked intermittently, but after ditching a few hundred tons, they then realised that the fire was slowly gaining and the hatch was battened down again. Two boats were fully provisioned and towed astern for a few days. But the weather came up and they had to be brought back onboard again. It was a torrid five weeks from when the fire was discovered, to when the Cedarbank finally arrived at San Francisco on 26th July after an 89 day passage. During that time water had been pumped onto the heated coal and the pumps were swung day and night to take the water from the bilges. Clouds of steam and smoke had emitted from the hold and many hatch boards were blown off. Taking a tow from the unsuspecting tugs the ship was first beached, and then the hold was flooded by the fire fighting tugs, after two to three days when the fire had been extinguished the water was pumped out and the ship towed away to discharge her cargo. Needless to say most of the cargo was saved, but the inside the hold was a mass of twisted beams with the hold ceiling badly burned.

After being repaired for the second time in five months, the Cedarbank took a cargo of grain back to the UK. From there she went out to Australia again and continued tramping with coal and grain until Mr Weir began disposing of his sailing ship fleet. Cedarbank was sold in January 1914 to E. Monson of Tvedestrand, Norway, with Captain Abrahamsen taking command. Two years later in 1916 with WW1 at its peak she was sold to Rederiselskabet A/S Cedarbank of Farsund, Norway. But that company didn’t keep her long, because while she was homeward bound on her first voyage for her new owners, she left Savannah with a cargo of oil cakes via Halifax Nova Scotia on 9th May 1917, on passage towards Aarhus, Denmark. The year of 1917 was the worst of all the war years for ships being sunk by submarines, the war at sea had reached its peak and ships of sail were easy prey for submarines. In the North Sea on 14th June 1917 the submarine U-100 had the Cedarbank in her sights. The unarmed sailing ship had no radio and was therefore no danger at all to the U boat. But to Commander Dagenhart von Loe it was no excuse. His orders from his superiors were to sink enemy ships without warning, not even giving their crews a chance to take to the boats. The philosophy of the German High Command was that rescued men and survivors could man other ships. He therefore torpedoed the helpless ship leaving 26 sailors to their deaths. The only trace that was ever found of the one time pride of Andrew Weir’s fleet was a few days later on 17th June 1917, when one of the Cedarbank’s empty lifeboats was found drifting off Flo Sunnmore, Norway.

Olivebank

S1605-29- Olivebank 1

The Olivebank was launched on 21st September 1892, three months after her sister ship Cedarbank. Her first master was Captain J. N. Petrie, but any information on the ship for the next seven years is presently obscure. This may be due to the fact that during those years when steam ships were rapidly taking the business from sail, it was quite normal to see vast numbers of sailing ships being laid up for long periods of time all around the world. However, it was in 1899 that the Olivebank left the UK for Chile with coal, and then went onto Australia in ballast. In the following year she made a fast passage from Melbourne to Falmouth in 87 days. The next news on the ship is in February 1909 when she arrived at Santa Rosalia, California with coal from South Wales.

Under the command of Captain Carse she later sailed in ballast to Newcastle, NSW and loaded 4,800 tons of coal. Her destination was back to Santa Rosalia, but after she’d arrived there, and while she was lying at anchor in the shallows, it was then discovered that her cargo of coal was on fire. The fire fighting tugs came alongside and after the best part of two days put the fire out, but there had been so much water pumped into her hold that the Olivebank ended up sitting on the bottom with little or no freeboard showing. After being refloated and her coal discharged she went for repairs.

Captain Petrie was relieved by Captain David George. But after those repairs had been completed four months later, she was thrown against the Santa Rosalia sea wall in a hurricane on 29th June 1911. In that accident one sailor was killed and the rudder was badly damaged, and that necessitated a further delay for repairs. Despite being insured and with commanding a good freight rate on its 4,800 ton cargo, it was a voyage in which the unfortunate ship made a loss for her owner.

The ornate figurehead of the Olivebank.
The ornate figurehead of the Olivebank.

On completion of the voyage the Olivebank was sold in August 1913 to E. Monson. The next news of the ship came when she went to Rederi/As Heinschien of the same port. Two years later she went to The Kristiansand Shipping Co. They renamed her Caledonia and also kept her for two years before selling her to J. Lorentzen of the same port. In 1924 the ship was once again sold after a two year period of ownership. This time she went to Gustav Erikson of Mariehamn, Finland. Captain Erikson had always been a firm believer that a ship’s name should never be changed, so the first thing he did was to give Olivebank her original name back. With no cargoes offering, the Olivebank sailed on spec from her new Mariehamn port of registration to Cardiff looking for a coal cargo. But because there was nothing available anywhere in South Wales, she once again sailed on spec, this time in 93 days to Port Lincoln in ballast under Captain Troberg.

After receiving orders to load at Port Victoria, Olivebank loaded wheat and then had a slow 147 day passage back to Falmouth for orders. So slow had the passage been, that Captain Troberg wasn’t a bit surprised to learn on his arrival that he’d been posted ‘posted missing’ by Lloyds. On discharging no outward cargoes were available, so once again Olivebank went out to Port Lincoln ‘light ship’ looking for a cargo, and once again she took 93 days to get there. With nothing available her new master Captain Granith received orders that a cargo of guano was awaiting him in the Seychelles. On 24th April 1926 he sailed his ship from Melbourne for Mahe, arriving there on 27th June. The cargo was loaded and he sailed for Dunedin on 16th August 1926 arriving there on 13th November.

From then on the Olivebank joined in on the grain races with a large number of other sailing vessels. Those grain races had in fact begun in 1921 and ended in 1939. It was an annual event and the winners in order of year from 1921 being, Marlborough Hill, Milverton, Beatrice, Grief, Beatrice, L’Avenir, Herzogin Cecilie, Herzogin Cecilie, Archibald Russell, Pommern, Herzogin Cecilie, Parma, Parma, Parma, Passat, Priwall, Herzogin Cecilie, Pommern, Passat, Passat, Moshulu, Viking, Passat.

The Olivebank took part in 13 of those grain races, and although she had the capabilities to win she never won any of them. However, Gustav Erikson’s ships won 18 of the 23 races which ended at the outbreak of WW2.

During those Grain Races the Olivebank was under the command of the following:

1929-1931 Captain K. F. Lindgren, from 1931-1933 Captain J. M. Mattson, from 1933-1937 Captain A. L. Lindvall, and from 1937- 1939 Captain C. Granith

S1605-30- Olivebank 2a

After having discharged her Australian wheat at Barry Docks, it was on 29th August 1939, which was six days before the declaration of WW2 that Olivebank sailed from Barry to her home port of Mariehamn. However, on her arrival at the South Wales coaling port, a number of apprentices paid off and took a ferry back to Finland. They had done their time and wanted to sit for their tickets. As a result the short handed Olivebank left for Mariehamn with a crew of 21. With Finland being a neutral country a large Finnish flag was painted on each of her ship’s sides as well as the hatch tarpaulins. Just to be on the safe side her boats were kept swung out. When the ship was off Dover a British destroyer approached with the information that the Royal Navy had not sown any minefields on Olivebank’s proposed route, but strongly suspected that the Germans had. Captain Granith therefore posted two look-outs day and night, one the foc’sle head and the other up aloft. Ten days after leaving Barry and when the ship was in the North Sea, Olivebank ran into a minefield near Bovbjerg off the Danish coast. But because the water was comparatively calm and shallow, the anchored mines which should have been about ten feet below the water were visible and floating on top. On the lookout’s three bell ring, and his verbal report of “Mine Right Ahead”, Captain Granith ordered the wheel hard over. The Olivebank missed that mine but as she swung around she hit another that was submerged in deeper water. The result of the explosion was catastrophic. Masts, yards and other spars came crashing down, the ship’s empty hold filled rapidly and the ship quickly developed a port list. So quickly did everything happen that those onboard could do nothing except jump over the side and swim for their lives. Nobody on board was wearing a life jacket and those in the water could only grasp at anything that was buoyant and hold on to it. The 47 year old Olivebank quickly sank.

Fortunately for some of the crew, the ship had sunk in shallow water with a heavy list to port, with the fore upper t’gallant yard sticking up out of the water and pointing skywards. Seven of the crew managed to reach it and lash themselves onto it. But they had to wait there all night and most of the next day in the cold waters of the North Sea before rescue arrived. Eventually a trawler named Talona, whose skipper was Captain Soren Hansen approached the sunken wreck. He took the seven survivors off and landed them at Esbjerg. Fourteen men had perished in the sinking with Captain Carl Granith being one of them.

Trafalgar

S1605-31- Trafalgar

In 1893 the company brought in the four masted iron ship Trafalgar which had been built in 1877. Her builder was Charles Connell of Glasgow, yard number 106, while the first owners were the Australian brothers W. & A. Brown of Sydney. Captain Brown was the ship’s first commander. The Glasgow registered Trafalgar was 1,765 grt with dimensions of 271.5 × 39.3 × 23.4 feet. While she was under Brown Brother’s ownership, the Trafalgar was involved in a collision with George Smith’s City Line barque City of Corinth in March 1888, the incident occurred off the Isle of Wight and the latter ship foundered. On buying the Trafalgar Andrew Weir immediately had her converted to a barque. After loading coal at Cardiff, Trafalgar made a 31 day passage to Rio de Janeiro. On discharge she sailed to New York in ballast and loaded case oil for the Dutch East Indies. But later in the year whilst she was still on her first trip for Andrew Weir, and after discharging the case oil at Batavia, disaster struck! The incident was later reported in the Melbourne Times:

The four masted barque Trafalgar left Batavia in the Dutch East Indies on 29th October 1893 with ‘Java Fever’ on board. The captain died before the ship had sailed and the first mate succeeded to the command signing on another man to take his own place, with one of the sailors acting as second mate. On their way across the Indian Ocean the new master, Captain Richard Roberts, and his new first mate both succumbed to the Java Fever plague and died. The navigation of the ship then fell upon the shoulders of the acting third mate William Shotton, an 18 year old lad who was still serving his apprenticeship. The second mate who had been promoted from the crew proved to be worse than useless and William Shotton sent him back to the foc’sle. Imagine the task the boy had to face. There was only one other man left on board who could take a trick at the wheel, a sail maker named Kennedy. The rest of the crew for the most part had either died or been stricken with the deadly disease. Yet William Shotton brought the barque safely into Melbourne, riding out a gale and faring up dauntlessly. The Trafalgar arrived at Port Phillip a week before Christmas. The Victorian Government presented Mr Shotton with a gold watch and chain in recognition of his gallantry. Later on he was the recipient of a Lloyds Silver Medal.

Eleven years later on 11th November 1904, the Trafalgar was wrecked 20 miles South of Tamandare, Brazil. She was on passage with a cargo of wheat from Sydney towards Falmouth for orders.

Falklandbank

S1605-31- Falklandbank

Built in 1894 by Mackie & Thompson for Andrew Weir, yard number 78, the three masted fully rigged ship Falklandbank registered 1,913 gross tons. Her other dimensions were 265 x 39 x 24 feet. Of the scraps of information found on this ship, one is she collided with the Belgian steamer Switzerland, Captain Doxrud, at Antwerp on 5th July 1905. As a result eight plates on the steamers hull were stove in and left a 30 inch hole below the waterline on the starboard side. Most fortunately the Switzerland’s cargo had been discharged. A claim for £4,000 was made against the Falklandbank and the tug Flying Serpent, the towing line which parted was the cause of the accident. She met her end in the winter of 1907-1908.

Transcript from the Liverpool Mercury, 9th May 1908

Grave anxiety is being manifested in Liverpool for the safety of the steel ship Falklandbank, which is overdue on her voyage from Liverpool and Port Talbot towards Caleta Beuno. She arrived in Liverpool on 2nd October 1907 from Caleta Beuno to load for the West Coast of South America (WCSA) through the agents William Lowden & Co., 17 Water Street. The crew signed on at the Central Shipping Office in Canning Place with a large number of her men coming from Liverpool. Prior to leaving the Mersey she was in Glover’s Graving Dock and should have been in good sailing condition.

She left Liverpool on 24th October 1907 and arrived at the Welsh loading port two days later where she remained until 9th November when she sailed for Valparaiso. She was in contact two days after leaving port in 49° North and 8° West, and then again in 31° South 46° West by the Italian ship Checco which arrived in Montevideo on 27th December.

The American ship Kenilworth had been caught in a heavy gale, otherwise known as a Pampero on 30th December off the River Plate. She was thrown onto her beam ends which resulted in her subsequent loss. It is feared that the Falklandbank was possibly overtaken by the same gale, as she would have been in the same position at the time. Captain J. A. Robbins her master has been 35 years in active service and for the past ten years had been in the employ of Andrew Weir & Co. of Glasgow. At about the same time that the Pampero hit the River Plate region, a terrific storm was raging off Cape Horn which resulted in the loss of six ships. It is a possibility that the Faklandbank was there at the time. The Falklandbank has to date been 180 days out of port. The Liverpool ship Barcore left Barry nine days after the Falklandbank and arrived at Caleta Colosa on 20th March 1908 after a passage of 123 days.

The continued absence of the Falklandbank is causing great anxiety in shipping circles and it is feared she has been lost with her crew of 30 men. Although several of the Liverpool crew deserted at Port Talbot, it is known that many of those who sailed in her come from the Mersey port.

The Sailing Ships Of Andrew Weir Shipping And Trading Co. Ltd.

NameBuiltBuildersIn ServiceTonsFate
Willowbank1861Wigham, Richardson1885-18958821895 – sunk in collision off Portland
Anne Main1867Alexander Stephen1886-18964991896 – wrecked at Goto Island
Thornliebank (1)1886Russell & Co.1886-18911,4051891 – fire at Perth
Francis Thorpe1868Richardson, Duck & Co.1888-18901,2571890 – wrecked at Salinas Cruz
Abeona1867Alexander Stephen1888-19001,0041900 – wrecked at Cape Recife
Pomona1867Steele & Co.1889-19021,2531902 – abandoned off The Azores
Hawthornbank1889Russell & Co.1889-19101,3691917 – torpedoed off Scotland
Hazelbank1889Connell & Co.1889-18901,6601890 – wrecked on Goodwin Sands
Elmbank1890Russell & Co.1890-18942,2881894 – wrecked on Isle of Arran
Sardhana1885Russell & Co.1890-19111,1461911 – wrecked off Uruguay
Comliebank1890Russell & Co.1890-19132,2831913 – abandoned off Bermuda
Dunbritton1875McMillan & Son1891-19061,5361906 – sank in the North Sea
River Falloch1884Russell & Co.1891-19091,6371922 – broken up
Trongate1878Dobie & Co.1891-19179871925 – broken up
Thistlebank1891Russell & Co.1891-19142,4301914 – torpedoed off Ireland
Gowanbank1891Russell & Co.1891-18962,2881896 – abandoned off Cape Horn
Ashbank1891Russell & Co.1891-18922,2921892 – disappeared
Beechbank1892Russell & Co.1892-19132,2881924 – broken up
Fernbank1892McMillan & Son1892-19021,4291902 – wrecked off Mozambique
Oakbank1892McMillan & Son1892-19001,4291900 – wrecked on Serrano Island
Cedarbank1892Mackie & Thompson1892-19132,8251917 – disppeared
Olivebank1892Mackie & Thompson1892-19132,8241939 – mined off Jutland
Trafalgar1877Connell & Co.1893-19041,7681904 – wrecked near Recife
Mennock1876London & Glasgow Eng.1893-19168221923 – wrecked at Punta Lirqen
Levernbank1893Russell & Co.1893-19092,4001909 – abandoned off Scilly Isles
Laurelbank1893Russell & Co.1893-18982,3971898 – disappeared
Forthbank1877Dobie & Co.1894-19091,4221911 – wrecked at Chinchas, Peru
Castlebank1894Russell & Co.1894-18961,6561896 – disappeared
Heathbank1894Russell & Co.1894-19001,6611900 – disappeared
Falklandbank1894Mackie & Thompson1894-19071,9131907 – disappeared
Loch Eck1874Connell & Co.1894-18951,7011906 – dismasted and hulked
Springbank1894Russell & Co.1894-19132,3981920 – wrecked off Stavanger
Isle OF Arran1892Russell & Co.1895-19151,9181915 – sunk by U-boat off Kinsale
Collessie1891Russell & Co.1895-19011,4651901 – wrecked off Chile
Clydebank1877Birrell, Stenhouse & Co.1895-19018931913 – damged and hulked
David Morgan1891Wm. Hamilton & Co.1896-18981,5661898 – disappeared
Perseverance1896McMillan & Son1896-19001,9001900 – disappeared
Thornliebank (2)1896Russell & Co.1896-19132,1051913 – wrecked off Scilly Isles
Allegiance1876Potter & Co.1897-19001,2361900 – abandoned on fire
Loch Ranza1875Connell & Co.1897-19011,1291925 – broken up
Gifford1892Scott & Co.1898-19032,2451903 – wrecked near San Francisco
Gantock Rock1879McMillan & Son1900-19091,6111924 – broken up
Glenbreck1890Duncan & Co.1900-19011,9001901 – disappeared
Ellisland1884Duncan & Co.1908-19102,4261910 – disappeared
Philadelphia1892C. Tecklenborg1912-19151,8051917 – torpedoed off Ireland

The company also bought the sailing ships Poseidon (built 1881) in 1908, and Marion Frazer (built 1892) in 1911 and converted them into storage hulks.

A pre-sea story….


L.N.S. Woolverstone school
The Discharge Book Photo 1951
in ‘ Square Rig’

    Memories of a life at Woolverstone,  September 1948 to  July 1951.

                                    By   Alan Arthur Rawlinson.

Having won a scholarship to a Nautical School in 1948 my young life was turned over dramatically.   Bear in mind WW2 had not long ended and sweet rationing was still in place.  I had fallen into bad ways, attending Chandos secondary Modern school, a vast and unwelcoming comprehensive.  I was scrapping regularly, often returning home with black eyes.  Worse, my out of school activities were questionable and I was keeping company with lads that ended up in Borstal for various offences, including some serious house breaking.    So this total change jerked me back to a disciplined world.  It was quite a shock, not least because my parents, well meaning, but not pushy, had failed to do any serious investigation into what I was letting myself in for.     So off I went. 

The application to The LCC was made on the spur of the moment in response to a circular letter sent  to all the schools.   One day a teacher with a clipboard put her head around the door in an agonising Maths session, saying, “ Any budding sailors here? “ and I leapt at it, glad to escape.      An interview held later with the Headmaster, a Mr Bezant, ended gloomily as he told my parents that my chances at the forthcoming written examination were slim or worse.  In the event, and much to my surprise,  I was the only success from that school.     An oral test and interview in London followed, again successfully.  A financial award enabled my parents to pay only  a nominal amount each month, but it was still a significant part of their monthly budget. 

That year was the year of the Olympic Games at Wembley.  They had touched my life briefly when the marathon took place, and the road route for the runners clashed with my summer holiday job, pulling a bread cart on its rounds for ‘Brills Bakery’ of Edgware.   A policeman ushered us off the road in Honeypot Lane, Stanmore,  to make way for the runners!     Shortly after, on September 6th,  my parents and I  took the tube to London and they waved me off on a coach outside County Hall.   Destination Woolverstone Hall, out in Suffolk, 5 miles from Ipswich.    There were a mixed bunch of lads on the bus, one or two still in the striped school uniform jacket of their previous posh school. Our personal effects were in a green covered suitcase that had been stipulated in the instruction to parents and which was approved naval luggage of precise dimensions. It was a totally unnecessary expense for hard pressed parents, but insisted upon by those running the school.   This smart case with leather corners was quickly trashed  when rocks and other rubbish was placed in it by the bigger lads in the Dormitory. 

There were only 144  boys, ( 12 dormitories x 12 boys) at the school, and each dorm had a leader who slept in  the bunk near the loos!   His bunk was lengthwise and all the others ran across the Nissan huts, which had the trademark curved roofs.  Heating was provided by 2 electric heaters in the centre of the aisle, conveniently sited for ad hoc cricket!  Flooring was Lino, and the routine was for the boys to clean the dormitories and polish this Lino on Saturday mornings, which were set aside for this purpose.   An inspection took place after which there was a welcome break when we could dress down for the day.  In practice this meant dispensing with the collar, silk, lanyard, and cap, leaving us in bell bottom trousers and the tight top.  It felt like heaven, somehow. 

One of the very first tasks after stepping off the coach, was to get kitted out.   The store, which was in a Nissan hut, was crammed full of uniforms, caps, boots, and all of the naval kit we would wear for our stay.  A strong smell emanated from the new piles of blue serge material, and we  trooped through,  being supplied with our uniforms by the naval superintendents, before being allocated a dormitory.    At the kitting out, we were all assigned a number, mine being 717.     For the whole of my stay I was 717 Rawlinson.       The ‘powers that be’  divided the boys alphabetically, with the result that my Dormitory had names starting with   ‘L’ up to ‘W’.    A  bunk was allocated, and the combination of the strange surroundings, the unfamiliar kit, and the bugle commands to eat and parade made for a very uncomfortable experience.  It took me a long time to adjust.     A few delicate souls never made it, and either ran away, or were withdrawn by parents.  In my case, old habits died hard, and I was soon playing fisticuffs with my more obnoxious dorm mates.  In particular, a lad called McCarthy who was in the next bunk, and who squared up to me on a regular basis.   The usual boarding school hierarchy existed, and us new boys were expected to flunky for the old hands, cleaning boots etc.   The discipline and lifestyle badly affected me, and it was many months before I started to settle.  Not before a period of bed wetting which was extremely embarrassing and was made worse by my efforts to disguise the wet sheets by quickly making up the bed in the morning.  It meant I returned to a damp and smelly bed each evening! 

Nissan huts were situated all over the grounds, and used for storage, seamanship lessons, a tuck shop, the dormitories themselves, and a mess-hall created by siting 2 Nissan huts close together and arranging two passage ways through from one to the other.   The seamanship huts were situated some way down the lawns on the right hand side facing the main building, past the Diana statue, and involved quite a trek.    One hut was fitted out as a classroom for signals and hobbies, and the other was a treasure trove of Stockholm tar, rope, cordage, and all the paraphernalia of boats and sailing.  It gave out a delicious pungent smell never forgotten.    It was here we learned how to “ worm and parcel with the lay”, and “ serve the rope the other way”.   This ditty has been handed down from Nelson’s navy and was great if you served in the wooden walled ships with miles of standing rigging.   Something more useless   as preparation for the post WW2 world would be hard to find!      Even the modern shipping world had moved on. 

The stable block housed the sickbay, the showers, the band room, the woodwork room, and some accommodation for masters. One project in the woodwork room expertly run by a Mr Young, was the creation of the two Dolphins in oak,  which have featured in some photos and which supported the old Exmouth bell.    This was placed in front of the main building forecourt and was used in flag raising ceremonies usually at 0900 each morning (2 bells).     Mr Young was  also the proud owner of a yawl kept on moorings off of the hard at Woolverstone, and the boys (me included) volunteered for crewing duties, taking part in regattas and the like at weekends. 

The daily routine never varied when the school was L.N.S Woolverstone.  

There were 4 ‘houses’ with a Nautical theme.  They were the Forecastle, Foretop, Maintop, and Quarterdeck.    Every morning, bugles roused the boys who had to run across the grounds to the showers in the stable block.   This was done in stages to accommodate the numbers in the showers.   The rallying call ended with blasts, and the drill was to listen for the number of blasts which ran in sequence from one to four.   It follows that the Quarterdeck boys got the longest lay in as they went last, and we waited to go on 4 blasts!      In winter, it mattered not if it was raining or 6 inches deep in overnight snow – the call to the showers had to be obeyed and was overseen by the Navy instructors, and In the time honoured way, each of these had a nickname, not always complimentary.   At the showers in the stable block, it was obligatory to run through a tray of permanganate of potash, a purple mixture that left a long lasting  tide mark round the ankles. It was a safeguard against foot rot.    This, and conjunctivitis were common ailments among the boys.  The showers themselves were operated by an overhead  chain pull,  and the technique was to hang on them for dear life with both hands up at the shoulder.  ( I still do this strap hanging involuntarily today nearly 70 years later).  The shower ended abruptly when the instructors hosed us out with icy water. 

Back in the dormitory there was a period, maybe an hour,  when the boys dressed for the day in the navy square rig. This consisted of a serge two piece uniform, bell bottom trousers, and a tight fitting, over the head top jacket.  Then the blue and white navy collar, lanyard and silk, all carefully arranged.  At weekends it was permitted to dispense with the collar, lanyard, silk, and the cap.      A navy system of rank was used so that there were petty officers ( leading hands, who wore a navy killick on their left sleeve) and chief petty officers (CPO’s) who sported the coveted  cross anchors.   Badges were also worn for signals expertise etc.    and the author proudly wore a crossed flags badge signifying the holder of ‘ Advanced Signals’, one of only two at the school.  The bugle called the boy’s to the mess-hall situated behind the main building on the east side. It happened that there were chickens in a big coop nearby, and  any food like unwanted cake would be hurled over the wire to the grateful hens as the boys left the dining room.   In the dining room, each table corresponded with the dormitory so that the head of the dormitory sat at the head of the table.  The fare was mediocre, with rabbit stew, often with lead pellets in it, and unpalatable tapioca quite frequently for pudding.  Slabs of cake were a feature, and if not thrown across at other tables, the chickens outside were grateful recipients. Local girls from the village had jobs serving in the mess room. In the way of things, informal but permanent arrangements were made between the boys to swap unwanted meals with favoured items.  This way, it was possible to suddenly accumulate a dozen boiled eggs or many bowls of soup!  No one wanted the rabbit stew, which was not surprising. 

An important part of the day was the so called ‘ divisions’ where all the boys lined up in front of the main building.  Any announcements were then made, and a  nominal inspection took place. The  bell was then rung , the flag was raised (by me and a helper) , and the bugles played.    It seems comic today, viewed many years later.  Gilbert and Sullivan comes to mind.   Then the normal school day began.

After school and the evening meal, the boys were free for an hour or two, before a bugle call summoned them to double to supper.   Homework was not enforced, although some lads used the time to study.        The evening supper was ALWAYS cocoa from an urn, and wicker baskets held dry bread in one, and cheese cut into squares in the other which the boys filed past,  helping themselves.  The mood was normally good, and on some occasions an impromptu sing song would break out!   I can recall one evening when all the lads joined in singing “ Little Jimmy Brown” which had caught on for some reason.      Like all schools, there were fads, hobbies, and slang which went around rapidly.   The seamanship master at one stage promoted the making of coloured spill holders, and this led to all the boys bizarrely toting around a short pole in their hands with coloured cord dangling .

After supper, there was a brief period at leisure before lights out.   This was overseen by the Navy masters who strolled around the dormitories leisurely enforcing the routine of bed and lights out.  These ex Navy men were authority personified, and each had a character, some quite benevolent, and some not so.  Mr Matthews, the senior one, was an old timer from the Exmouth days, and although a tough character, easily irritated, he was very kindly and well regarded.  In particular, his habit of carrying and reading poetry from little notes in his pocket was a talking point.  The young boys regarded him as an eccentric, but he was a long experienced seaman instructor and he also had a kindly wife, an old lady to the boys, who readily darned their socks on request!     These elderly instructors inadvertently projected the founding image of the Exmouth where many of them had served.   By telling us hair raising tales of the strict discipline and corresponding punishments meted out afloat, they reinforced the concept that LNS Woolverstone was a correction school, although it was not.    The LCC were at pains to project the place as a grammar school in the country, but these old instructors were wedded to the Exmouth concept.  Even today, arguments can  arise over the precise nature of the Exmouth ship itself.        Below the main building was a crypt, out of bounds, but some boys made their way there after dark, and as a dare.    Records and punishment books from the “ Exmouth” were stored there, and they always made good reading.   One of the more colourful entries was six strokes of the cane for “ throwing the post boy overboard!”

In the years in this article, the main building was quite care worn.  Internally, the decor was shabby, and the plaster walls marked superficially.  The very top floor housed the navigation room with a splendid view down the Orwell towards Felixstowe.    At this time, the last working sailing barges were flogging their way up and down to the mills at Ipswich and these added to the beauty of the view.   The boys who frequented the river banks regularly came to meet the crew if for some reason they dropped anchor near the school ‘hard’ or further down at Pinmill, where the well known pub, the “ Butt and Oyster” was a strong draw!       A typical crew was a master, a boy, and a dog.   No more, no less.    It was an amazing feat given the size and unwieldy bulk of the spritsail barges with their Lee boards – an important part of the sailing kit which assisted in the crabbing movement when ‘reaching’ back and forth across the Orwell river.

Other floors held the school rooms, and the ‘ wings ‘ around the forecourt housed staff.  Facing the building on the left was the home of Commander Smethick, in charge of the school,  and on the opposite side lived Captain Wiseman. The headmaster was a Mr Langley.    Staff, from memory,  included Lidster – Maths, Croot – History Evans P.E  Johannson- Navigation. Matthews-Seamanship and signals.   1951 saw the first ‘O’ levels introduced to the U.K. and they were taken by a number of the boys.  Seamanship and Navigation (papers set by Pangbourne College) were on offer and were taken and passed by me.   The seamanship ‘O’ level involved practical work on the river, sailing and sculling (with a single oar) and taking charge of a manned boat with oars. Great fun. 

In the building forecourt were two ugly water tanks remaining from the war precautions, and which acted as a dare for boys to swim at night.  They were situated either side of the gates close to the railings on the inside.  A mast with a small yard, stood in the centre of the green area, and flew the Woolverstone flag which was an ensign with a specially approved  logo. 

The grounds were surrounded by a high wire fence, except at the river end.  Boys were compelled to double, or run,  everywhere and walking was not generally encouraged. Trips out were not allowed except in an organised way at weekends, when a van, in Navy parlance, a Liberty bus, ran into Ipswich.    Anyone opting for this had to be in their best uniform with all the correct dress.   Going outside of the wire was strictly forbidden, but trips into Chelmondiston or Pin Mill were still quite common, sneaking through the wire and in dress down mode.    In the innocence of those years it was simply to buy bread or sweets, maybe the odd packet of fags, but a far cry from all of the sad temptations for today’s youth.  A field of ripe sweetcorn on the way provided an additional incentive.  

Like most schools, especially boarding, sport was a big part of the week.      Saturdays there were cricket or football matches, and the school was in a league with Ganges at Shotley, Holbrook nearby, and other schools.  The ‘ liberty’ bus was used to ferry boys to away matches, and the trip  to Ganges was always an eye opener.  The discipline there, and the terror of the big mast never failed to leave an impression.   Many of the Woolverstone boys went on to Ganges, and some musical ones went into the Royal Marine Band school.   The odd boy with high academic ability went to Dartmouth, and a number, including myself were dispatched into the Merchant Navy as apprentices.    Some chose to be RN Artificers after successfully sitting the entry exam.  The way careers were decided remains a mystery to the writer, and a suspicion remains that there was a default process, meaning that if parents failed to take any interest, or were too slow, the school authorities took it upon themselves to allocate boys according to their perceived ability.   We were not privy to the application process to shipping companies, for example.    Possibly the Burser or someone else in authority fired off applications to several companies, scatter gun style.   Some colleagues tell me today that the career chosen was arranged by their parents, but in my case I was simply informed one day that I would be joining  a famous ‘tramp’ company as an apprentice navigator.   As it turned out, I regard it now as having won the jackpot because it was an iconic company recognised throughout the industry as a no frills but wide ranging Nautical education – which it fortunately was. 

In addition to the usual sports activities, there was an opportunity to sail, either with the schools boats, or as crew for the staff who owned boats.    I was regularly in the boat owned by the Commander of the school, and spent many hours stranded on the mud waiting for the tide to return after a misjudgement.   Boys were also invited to crew boats out of Pin Mill and no regard at all was made for safety.  Those were the days!     I can recall manning a very old and large schooner that had been laid up for a year or two, and in the breeze that sprang up, several sheets and ropes parted with a bang.   There was also a memorable trip out of Harwich on a very stormy day with the woodwork master and his wife, who took to praying on her knees in the middle of a storm when we came close to snagging an old mast from WW2 sticking up out of the water.    By sailing, it was possible to escape the semi obligatory need to excel at field sports which I was not particularly interested in.   

Like all schools, there was an annual sports day and prize giving ceremony.   At Woolverstone, we also laid on a demonstration of our particular skills with ropes or apparatus each year.   The band also played, and all in all, they were fun days. 

In 1950, the feature chosen was a demonstration of the workings of the Breeches Buoy, which saved many lives particularly in the sailing ship era, when Strandings around the coast were common and frequent.    This rescue entails the firing of a rocket over the ship in difficulty, and then setting up a rope hawser by which a Buoy is hauled backwards and forwards with the distressed mariners.  The Buoy has canvas leggings attached – hence the breeches name.  We performed in front of the VIP’s and parents, and the green playing field was an imaginary turbulent sea!     To add some humour and liven up the rescue, it was decided to dress up someone as the imaginary Captain’s wife on board, and for her to leap up at the last moment, screaming and shouting hysterically to be saved.    This came my way, as a volunteer, and I was duly tarted up with lipstick and a flowery dress and told to hide behind the cardboard bulwarks, leaping up frantically at the last minute.  The whole thing went off very well, and the watching crowd cheered and applauded enthusiastically as I bobbed across the gap to safety, duly shouting and waving like mad.  The naval superintendents congratulated me on the performance and I cleaned up and later found my Mother who was in the front row.  Unfortunately, she was horrified and embarrassed that I had volunteered for this fun acting role.   Such is life. 

On Sundays there was a ritual which took place and which revolved around the church service.   The band led the way and we marched to the church in full uniform for the morning service, followed by inspection.   Great score was put on the detail of the uniform, and many hours were spent getting everything ‘tiddly’  in Navy parlance.    The bell bottoms in particular were judged by the depth and sharpness of the ladders or creases showing.  To achieve this, a strong wooden press was used, and admiring looks won if the creases were very strong.  The cap issued was an oval shape, and many lads purchased round caps which were considered ‘ cool’ in today’s speak.  ( see photos).  The other item which distinguished the smart ones from the rest of us was the cap bow at the side.    This could be a simple bow, or it could be coaxed into a more butterfly shape which was greatly. favoured. During the inspection, the band played lovely  slow marches and other tunes suitable for the walk through the ranks.   They were great pieces, remembered to this day.   Sunday afternoon was more sport or sailing. 

Down on the river bank, rope swings out over the water were improvised, and the big grounds provided ample scope for adventurous lads.    Many pheasants nested around the ferny areas, and on occasions when wandering further afield, shotguns were fired at the fleeing boys. 

Gradually my familiar pals in the dormitory left one by one, and in 1950 at the start of the academic year, the coaches from London delivered new and younger boys, only 11 years old.  Furthermore, and unknown to me at the time, a decision had been made to revert to a non Nautical school, and the uniforms and the Nautical training scrapped.   So for my final year, the young boys remained in civilian dress, whilst we ‘ old hands’ stayed in our uniform.     I was given charge of 12 dormitory and the privilege of ‘lording it’ over a dozen young beginners, all of whom I got to know well.   As is the case, they were of mixed ability, and even more individual and different in their personalities.   Looking back, and with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I could have been more supportive than I was at the time, but of course, I was still ‘ wet behind the ears’ myself as I was to find out later at sea!

In 1951 as I departed the school, the Festival of Britain was  taking  place in London and it was a huge success for the nation.  One of the key attractions on the South Bank was a feature called “ The Dome of Discovery”.    It was an apt name for me personally,  as it was the start of an amazing career commencing when I finally left Woolverstone Hall that summer, and climbed the rickety ladder of my first ship in Cardiff docks,  the S.S. Forthbank.  It was a two year round the world voyage, and my own ‘dome of discovery’  had truly begun. 

N.B.  The ebook “ Merchant Navy Apprentice 1951-55”  available on Amazoncontinues the story, and is  an account of life at sea on Tramp ship and Liner routes all around the world, serving as an apprentice and junior officer.  

A book about life in the Bank Line from 1951 to 1955 serving as Apprentice and 3rd Officer. ( The cover shows a crude ‘ crossing the Line’ ceremony on the S.S. Hazelbank in 1951.)

Various voyages are related. Old prewar vessels, passenger ship Inchanga, Coal burner Hazelbank ( ex Empire Franklin) Liberty ship Maplebank and newer tonnage in the Compass Class ships and the Cedarbank class ship, Crestbank. The Ports visited, the characters, and a lot more….. Days now gone forever, with long port stays, and ships taking a month or more to cross the Pacific.

This was a time of transition as prewartime tonnage and war built vessels were still in the fleet. Newer vessels were starting to be ordered and there was a huge bonanza ahead with 50 new ships to join the fleet in only 10 years! ( 1957 to 1967). Those of us afloat at this time had a precious and unique experience.

This inexpensive book is available from AMAZON as a paperback or as an ebook, or can be downloaded from pay hip. Enjoy the read!