All posts by fairwinz

About fairwinz

retired and active - Portrait painting. Writing books and maritime articles..

“Moments in Time” by Geoff Walker

This is an early view of Port Fairy in Victoria, Australia, with the veteran coastal steamer, S.S. Casino and the the subject of the interesting article attached. (Click on the download button).

Written by Geoff Walker who started his career in the Bank Line. See his maritime site at https://oceanjoss.com

The one and only THISTLEBANK

Artist – John Stewart

John Stewart’s marine painting shows her in the early days of her career with the crew trying to barter a tow from the crew of the steam paddle tug in the foreground

John Stewart is a marine painter of outstanding talent, who became interested in the sea and things nautical from an early age. After school, he travelled the length and breadth of the British Isles, exploring and studying the coastline which has so inspired his work over the years. He went to sea to gain further first-hand experience before travelling on to the Middle East. Returning to England he studied at the Liverpool College of Art, and it was here that he became fascinated by Liverpool’s River Mersey. He subsequently studied at the Brighton College of Art, thereby gaining a first class degree.

John Stewart’s deep understanding of the sea has enabled him to portray so brilliantly the vagaries and dramatic impacts of sea, wind and sky. He is a total perfectionist with the minutest eye for detail and accuracy, each work taking many hours to complete to his total satisfaction. His work is today represented in many private art collections worldwide.

The THISTLEBANK was the ninth vessel in Andrew Weir’s fleet, and she served 23 years before going to Norwegian Owners. The name was never chosen again.

Built in the Kingston Yard of Russell & Co, Port Glasgow, Scotland as Yard No.246 and completed on 26th December 1890, the four-masted steel barque Thistlebank sailed with the Bank Line, owned by Andrew Weir. Of 2431 grt displacement and a length of 284 feet she is typical of the last sailing ships to be produced in the late-19th and early 20th century. As an example of her prowess, between the 11th May and the 7th August 1897 she sailed from Lizard to Calcutta in 88 days, racing the four-masted barque Drumrock (which had sailed from Liverpool 6 days later on May 17th and reached Calcutta on August 10th after 85 days out).

Her main trade was on the Pacific grain route where she joined two other ships, the Gowanbank and Ashbank. Having proven her worth during 14 years sailing she was purchased in 1914 by the Norwegian shipping company A/S Olivebank (E. Monsen & Co.), Tvedestrand and then served through the opening months of WWI.

On the 30th June 1915 the Thistlebank, en route from Bahia Blanca, Argentina to Queenstown (CobH), Ireland for orders with a full cargo of grain was just 25 nautical miles (46 km) south west of the Fastnet Rock (51°09′N 9°50′W) when she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-24. Her crew took to the lifeboats and managed to row to the safety of Cork harbour. All survived.

On 26 October, 1914 U-24 was the first U-Boat to attack an unarmed merchant ship without warning, the SS Admiral Ganteaume which was torpedoed but was able to be towed to port.

In seven patrols, U-24 sank a total of 34 ships totalling 106,103 GRT, damaged three more for 14,318 tons, and took one prize of 1,925 tons.

Her second kill (six months before sinking the Thistlebank) was the most significant. The victim was the battleship HMS Formidable, torpedoed 30 nautical miles (56 km; 35 mi) south of Lyme Regis, at 50°13′N 03°04′W. She was hit in the number one boiler room on the port side. In gale-force winds, rain and hail, with swells running to nine metres high, as Formidable leaned twenty degrees to starboard the crew struggled to get their boats away. Some hit the water upside down, some were smashed as they fell, others were swamped. U24’s second torpedo struck the ship’s port side.

The battleship capsized, rolling over men in the water as she sank. Out of a crew of approximately 711 men, five hundred and forty seven died, including the Captain.

On the 22nd November 1918 U-24 surrendered and was later broken up at Swansea in 1922.

Moments in Time.. Paddy Henderson

Paddy Henderson’s Burmese Venture

An interesting history – By Geoff Walker

The house flag of P. Henderson & Co., of Glasgow. A vertical red white and blue with a small Union Flag in the center. P. Henderson & Co, also known as Paddy Anderson & Co was a Scottish ship owning and management company. The company was founded in 1840 as a partnership between Patrick and George Henderson, who initially operated chartered vessels to Australia, then to New Zealand. Patrick Henderson was a merchant, who had three brothers, two also being merchants, working for an agent at the Italian port of Leghorn. The third brother, George, was a Sea Captain. Together, the brothers invested in a ship, the Peter Senn, and the business started to blossom, but tragedy struck when Patrick died in 1841, and the business was taken over by his brother, Captain George Henderson. In 1848, George went into partnership with a young man, James Galbraith. James showed outstanding abilities and successfully expanded the business from merchants, to become ship owners and ship managers, when in 1848 they established the Albion Line.

Their concept was to carry Scottish emigrants, cargo and Royal Mail to Australia and New Zealand on their outbound leg of the voyage, and to secure cargoes from Australia and New Zealand for the return voyage to the UK., but they encountered difficulties in attracting sufficient return cargoes. As a remedial action, and in attempts to fill their homebound ships, they decided to try calling at Rangoon, which was then the principal port of British colonial Burma, situated on the Irrawaddy River. So, during 1865, Henderson and Co established the Irrawaddy Flotilla & Burmese Steam Navigation Co in co-operation with the Denny companies, which provided a vast water transport network to the interior of Burma. There was an abundance of cargo from Burma which benefitted their ships considerably, so in 1870 P. Henderson & Co. inaugurated a steamship service between Glasgow, Liverpool and Burma The incorporation of the British and Burmese Steam Navigation Co (BBSN) in 1874, followed the opening of the Suez Canal, and carried passengers direct to Burma. BBSN took over the fleet of steamships on the Burma route, and appointed P Henderson and Co., as managing agents. Meanwhile, the Albion shipping company, which Henderson’s had earlier established became the dominant British company in the New Zealand trade, and holders of the lucrative mail contract. They also introduced the first refrigerated sailing ships between New Zealand and the UK. Sailing ships were used due to the limited number of coaling ports which were required by the newer steamships.

Progressively, as more coaling ports became available, steamships increased trading potential but required high capital investment which were beyond the scope of P. Henderson or the Albion Shipping Company to meet in their own right, and so in 1882, the Albion Shipping Company amalgamated with Shaw, Savill and Company to form the Shaw, Savill and Albion Company Ltd. The death of James Galbraith in 1884, the driving force of P. Henderson & Co marked the end of an era of when private capital was the norm for shipowners.

The Peter Denny built in 1865 by Duthie of Aberdeen belonged to the Albion Shipping company. She operated the New Zealand route, mostly carrying emigrants from Scotland.

(unknown source) After the amalgamation, P. Henderson & Co remained as managers and loading brokers for the new company in Glasgow. British and Burmese Steam Navigation Company Ltd., remained as a ship owning company along with another member of the group, the Burma Steam Ship Company Ltd., both being managed by P. Henderson & Co. British colonial rule in Burma lasted from 1824 to 1948, which resulted from the successive three AngloBurmese wars through the creation of Burma as a Province of British India, known as British Burma, to the establishment of an independently administered colony. Final independence being granted in 1948.

Above, an early poster of Paddy Henderson promoting their UK to Rangoon service via the Suez Canal.

The post independent years saw a decline of the Burma trade, which was one of the factors why Elder, Dempster Lines chartered P Henderson’s fleet from 1947 onwards and took over the company in 1952. Under Elder, Dempster stewardship and modernization, P Henderson fleet continued in service, with some new motor ships being delivered until the early 1960s. But due to the Suez crisis and nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1954, the trade between UK and Burma all but ceased causing a rapid decline in the company’s fortunes over ensuing 8 years of disruption, as most cargo and mails were routed via India.

Left, the Paddy Henderson liner

“Amarapoora”. She was built in 1920 for the Glasgow – Liverpool Rangoon service. At the outbreak of WW 2 she was requisitioned by the British Admiralty for use as a hospital ship. She was purchased by the Ministry of Transport in 1946, became an emigrant ship in 1948, was renamed Captain Hobson in 1951, and eventually went for demolition in 1959.

Another Paddy Henderson Poster advertising their freight and passenger service to Burma

The Paddy Henderson fleet suffered badly during both world wars with many ships lost. In 1905 a P Henderson steamship, the cargo ship Ava, ran aground and was wrecked 9 nautical miles off Maulmain in Burma. Henderson’s quickly replaced the ship with a new Ava built the following year, but the new ship’s career was cut short in the First World War, when she disappeared in January 1917 with the loss of all 92 persons aboard. She is presumed to have been sunk off the south coast of Ireland.

That year P. Henderson lost one more ship to enemy action. On 8 July 1917, the U-boat U-57 torpedoed the passenger cargo ship Pegu off the south coast of Ireland. Fortunately, all but one of those aboard survived. A replacement Pegu was built in 1921.

Just after the Armistice with Germany was declared, P Henderson lost yet another ship: on 19 December 1918, the passenger cargo ship Tenasserim was destroyed by fire in Rangoon.

P. Henderson also endured greater losses during the Second World War. On 24 November 1939, the Pegu ran around close to the Crosby Channel, off Liverpool. She broke her back and was wrecked, breaking into two sections. On 13 July 1940, the German commerce raider and auxiliary cruiser Atlantis sank the British & Burmese SN Co. & Burmah SS Co. (P. Henderson as managers) passenger cargo liner Kemmendine by gunfire, in the Indian Ocean about 700 miles south of Ceylon whilst on a passage from the UK. to Rangoon via Cape Town. All the crew were taken prisoners and transported to Europe where they remained until the end of hostilities.

On 9 April 1942, the passenger ship Sagaing – pictured left, was in Ceylon (Sri Lnka) at the port of Trincomalee, when aircraft from a Japanese aircraft carrier attacked her and set her on fire. Her crew abandoned ship but then she was sunk by gunfire. The wreck was later raised from where she lay in Malay Cove, relocated and deliberately re-sunk, to be used as a pier.

On 1 August 1942, the cargo ship Kalewa collided with the Dutch liner Boringia off the coast of South Africa. Kalewa sank but Boringia survived the collision and rescued everyone from the Kalewa.

P. Henderson’s heaviest war losses were during 1943. On 2 April, the German submarine U-124 torpedoed the cargo ship Katha off the coast of Portugal, killing six of her crew. On 9 May U-123 sank the passenger cargo ship Kanbe by torpedo, off the coast of West Africa, killing all 66 people aboard. On 24 July, U-199 torpedoed the cargo ship Henzada off the coast of Brazil killing 2 crew members.

The MV Kadeik built for Paddy Hendersons in 1952, Although part of the P. Henderson fleet she was mostly operated by Elder, Dempster Lines.the British and Burmese SN Co’s, 1950 built ship Martaban, under P. Henderson & Co management. She was sold for continued trading in 1964 to China Merchants’ SN Co Ltd and renamed Hai Ho. She was then sold to shipbreakers in 1971 but gained a lastminute reprieve, and was resold as a going concern with a name change to Ken Ho. She was finally demolished in 1975 by Taiwanese breakers.

{unknown source} Yet another war loss, on 17 June 1943, U-81 sank the passenger ship Yoma in the Mediterranean. Yoma had been converted into a troopship, and the sinking killed 484 troops and crew. The ship was owned by British & Burmese S.N. Co. Ltd. and Burmah S.S. Co. Ltd., under the management of Paddy Henderson & Co.

(unknown source)

The very elegant Pegu, built in 1961, for British & Burmese SN Co. (P. Henderson as managers) she was one of the last ships to be delivered under the Paddy Henderson banner. Between 1964 and 1975 she sailed for Elder, Dempster and Guinea Gulf as one of the group fleet ships, finally being sold for continued trading. She continued to serve various foreign owners, prior to being sold for scrap in 1982

In 1965 Ocean Steamship Co acquired control of the Elder, Dempster group. In 1967, following the Six-Day War, Egypt closed the Suez Canal, so Ocean SS Co discontinued the Burma route and transferred Henderson’s last three ships to Elder, Dempster.

By 1970, by this time all shareholdings had been transferred to Elder, Dempster and the Henderson name disappeared into obscurity with their last vessel being sold in the same year.

Since concept by the Henderson brothers in 1840, Paddy Henderson’s ships frequent and became familiar sights in the Burmese, Indian Ocean, and African trades, before their eventual demise in 1970. Their presence in the Burmese trade, became iconic and indelibly stamped for over a Century. Their innovation, drive, and farsightedness as shipowners and managers is a matter worthy of great veneration.

End

Credits and References: Various P. Henderson archival sources.

See https://oceanjoss.com for similar accounts and lots more….

Tramp owners…

One of the last Chapman ships MV Frumenton.

A Moment in Time – A Series..Chapman and Willan Ltd.

Compiled and edited by Geoff Walker

One of the best known and dynamic Tyneside tramp shipowners. The company was commenced as a partnership in 1878 between Ralph Chapman, and Thomas R. Miller, both originating from the Newcastle area. They had previously worked together and held interests in several small sailing vessels. Ralph Chapman had a background as a Ship Chandler, Insurance Broker and in Shipping Agency.

Ralph Chapman and Thomas R Miller decided in 1878, to form the partnership Chapman & Miller to buy two ships. They purchased their first ship later the same year, a steamship which named Benton, which had been built in 1872. Their new acquisition was soon lengthened by thirty feet to increase her dwt cargo carrying capacity.

Expansion of their shipping enterprise was expanded on a steady and solid footing with both the Carlton Steamship Co. Ltd. and Cambay Steamship Co. Ltd. being established in 1892 as subsidiaries. The principal shareholders in both companies were the Chapman family, business associates and some friends. The managing partnership eventually became Chapman and Son. Thomas Miller had left the Newcastle area to spend more time in London on business, but the Miller family continued to own shares in the Chapman companies until 1958. Frank Chapman was the son of Ralph Chapman and he had joined the family business in 1892, having served a four years apprenticeship with Stephens and Mawson of Newcastle, later Stephens Sutton Ltd. Consequently, the main company name was changed to R. Chapman & Son in 1896. Chapmans again changed name in 1950s to become Chapman & Willan Ltd. The introduction of bulk carriers and later, container ships signaled the end of tramp shipping and the old fleet was progressively reduced, by either sale or demolition. Eventually, the company was sold to Burnett Chapman Ship Management Ltd., part of the Federal Commerce and Navigation Group, of Canada in 1974.

Throughout its tenure Chapmans had principally been involved in worldwide tramp trades from its inception and was the basis on which their business had become successfully established, by 1914 eight ships were owned. Their fleet never became overly large however, one of the main factors being that they suffered frequent losses at sea, including ships lost during WW1.Nevertheless, by the outbreak of WW2 their fleet had been rebuilt to some 15 vessels. Unfortunately, 11 of those ships became casualties of WW2. Their ships were engaged in long trade routes from North Africa to the U.S.A. with iron ore, and on the ‘Eternal Triangle’ route with Tyne coal to the Mediterranean, usually returning with grains from the Black Sea.

Steamship Amberton, built 1928. Wrecked Western Head, Cape Pine, Newfoundland in 1947 whilst en route from Quebec to London with a cargo of timber.

The Steamship Allerton, built 1941.

Originally managed by Carlton SS Co Ltd & Cambay SS Co Ltd

Sold and changed name to North Lady in 1957, onsold 1961 and renamed Ypapanti. Sold 1964 and renamed Ever Fortune. She went for demolition at Kaohsiung in 1968

All their vessels had the suffix “ton” in their name, ie.Allerton, Amberton, Brighton, Carlton, Demeterton, Ingleton, Merton, Norton.

MV Brighton built 1960. A handsome profile and the forerunner to several similarly designed vessels. Change of name to Kaptayanni in 1971, renamed Mareantes 1973, change of name to Loukia and owner to Conship Cia SA 1975, change of name to Melpo 1976, change of name to Despoula K. Parted tow and wrecked 1982 whilst en-route from Monrovia to Split for demolition. Chapman Group House Flag and funnel Logo

One of the last Chapman ships MV Frumenton. Built in Japan 1968 for John Manners of Hong Kong, as “East Breeze” but delivered ex yard as “Frumenton”. In 1974 sold to Burnett SS Co of Canada, 1974 sold to Maidstone Shipping, Liberia r/n Aegis Typhoon, 1979 sold to Asterion Shipping, Greece r/n Asterion, 1987 r/n Nicolaos A, 1990 r/n Astron, 1992 r/n Colmena, 1994 sent for demolition.

So, there came about the demise of yet another British shipping icon, but the company lives on through the mists of sentiment and nostalgia, especially for those mariners who sailed on Chapman ships.

End

Many thanks to an ex Bank Line man, Captain Geoff Walker for this contribution. See his fascinating maritime site at https://oceanjoss.com

CEDARBANK painting..

This lovely rendition is by junglecat. See more at https://junglecat.de

The CEDARBANK shown was the 3rd vessel to bear this name, and there was another built in 1976 from the FLEETBANK class. The CEDARBANK above was one of the highly successful ‘Copra’ ships built in the mid 1950’s. If appointed to them there was a good chance of a six month voyage but it was by no means guaranteed!

SAILING SHIP INDENTURES FROM 1889

A copy of the original Indentures between George Russell, 16 years old, and Andrew Weir in 1889. George sailed on the HAWTHORNBANK and the THISTLEBANK and successfully completed the 4 years, no mean feat in the sailing era.

George Russell’s photo some 30 years later when working as a FOY boatman on the River Tyne out of S Shields. ( Towing sailing ships for a fee, and later for rope handling for the steamers)

Wages for the first year £4. He should not play ‘unlawful games’ nor frequent Taverns or Alehouses. NB: The wording 60 years later was still in use with only a few changes such as the dropping of a reference to ‘Prize money’, a relic from earlier times still.

The reverse showing the wages settlement and the sentence, ” The within Indenture has been completed by George Russell, and he leaves as a good seaman,”

Hawthornbank, one of George’s vessels in which he did 2 voyages. Shown under new owners

Thistlebank Master and Officers

The fascinating account and material above kindly supplied by Peter R Russell, George’s grandson. Many thanks Peter.

Sailing Fleet article

 

“ How a young Scottish entrepreneur built up the largest fleet of British flagged sailing ships”.

Andrew Weir, the great shipping entrepreneur, was born in April  1865.   He later became Lord Inverforth,  and among many other achievements, he created the largest sailing ship fleet under the red ensign.  His great adventure started in 1888 with a small purchased three-masted vessel, the Willowbank. Soon, Andrew Weir  added both second hand and new buildings and evidently he was  a man in a hurry.    The start was made in the tramping trades where ready cargoes were available.   Some might say that good fortune smiled on the new owner, getting ten years valuable trading out of that first all-important purchase.  Eventually,  some forty-five vessels made-up the fleet, and these beautiful three and four-masted ships roamed the seas from 1885 to 1915.  During WW1 the company also managed ships for the Admiralty, which some observers count towards a bigger total.    The graceful ships that made up the fleet led a life that was fraught with danger however, so much so that the chances of a long career also carried rather long odds. What follows describes some of the tragedy.

The Willowbank had been named the ‘ Ambrose’ at launch, but in 1884 a company called J.F.Gibb gave her the ‘ Willowbank’ name.   She was small by the standard of later additions at only 882 tons gross but she played a crucial role in that all-important start-up.   Fate determined she should be sunk off Portland in a collision in 1895.  Another old vessel, the Anne Main which was even smaller at 156ft length was purchased in 1886, and she also gave ten years service before being wrecked at Goto Island, Japan.  By this time around thirty-five other vessels, both new and second hand had been added to the fleet, or traded.   It was a fortuitous start built upon those first successful purchases.

 The suffix ‘bank’ then continued for over 100 years through sail, steam, and motor, there being a total of five ships bearing that first lucky name.   The last vessel ever built for the Bank Line repeated the name, and was launched by Smith’s Dock, Middlesborough in 1980.

The first purpose built three-masted sailing ship joined the fleet in 1886 and she was named the ‘ Thornliebank’. Russell and Company in Port Glasgow were entrusted with the order.  They went on to build many more for this owner.   Thornliebank burned out in 1891 and ended her short life as a storage hulk in Fremantle, W. Australia.

1888 saw two more vessels purchased, called the Francis Thorpe and the Abeona. They were both unfortunately wrecked after two years service.  A vessel called ‘ Pomona’ had three short years in the fleet from 1889 to 1892 before being abandoned at sea shortly after leaving London with a general cargo.

Then came a rapid spate of new orders.  The fast growth of the fleet was breathtaking. In all eighteen new vessels joined the fleet and in order they were:  Hawthornbank, Hazelbank, Elmbank, and Comliebank in 1889/90.     1891/2 saw eight new vessels named Thistlebank, Gowanbank, Ashbank, Beechbank, Fernbank, Oakbank, Cedarbank, and Olivebank built by A. McMillan & Sons.  They were all four-masted vessels. A year later came  six new buildings  named Levernbank, Laurelbank, Castlebank, Heathbank, Falklandbank, and Springbank.  This latter order from Russell and Company, in Port Glasgow, was called the Levernbank class after the lead ship, and they were also big  four-masted vessels with dimensions of 282.9 x 43 x 24.4 and 2,400 tons gross.   

Of the above, the Hawthornbank served for a remarkable twenty-one years and was eventually torpedoed and lost in 1917 when under the Norwegian flag.

The Gowanbank was abandoned off Cape Horn in 1896.

The Fernbank was wrecked in the Mozambique Channel after ten years in service.

The smart new Hazelbank was also unlucky, as on the 25th October 1980 she was lost on the Goodwin Sands whilst on a voyage from Port Townsend to Hull carrying a cargo of wheat. She had been in service less than twelve months.

 The Elmbank was lost when in January 1894 when being being towed from Le Havre to Greenock, she broke adrift from her tug and was wrecked on the South part of the Isle of Arran, near Bennan Head. The master’s wife and children were fortunately taken off by a tug before the ship was wrecked on the shore.

Oakbank was another casualty.  In 1900, while on a voyage from Callao to Iquique, she was wrecked on Serrano Island near Iquique.

The Comliebank was one of the few fortunate ships and lasted twenty-three years in the fleet, only to be lost in the Atlantic six years later under the Norwegian flag.  Thistlebank also went twenty-three years with the Weir fleet, and was torpedoed in 1915 when under Norwegian Ownership.

 Only the Beechbank made it to the breakers yard, but she had suffered a severe dismasting in 1916 during a gale, and managed to make refuge in Lerwick harbour.

Such was the ambition of Andrew Weir that second hand vessels continued to be purchased even in the middle of a big building programme.  Vessels named, Sardhana, Dunbritton, River Falloch, and Trongate were all acquired.   The Dunbritton foundered in the North Sea in 1906, mainly from having slack rigging, and an official enquiry at the time stated: “ The abandonment of the sailing ship “ Dunbritton” was not caused by the wrongful act or default of the master and chief officer, or of either of them. No blame attaches to Mr Andrew Weir, the managing owner. “   It goes on to blame the stowage of the cargo, and the foreman rigger, who failed to see the rigging was “ properly set up and taut”. He was fined £25 accordingly.     The other vessels were either sold off or went to the breakers.

The four-masted ships, ‘ Trafalgar’ and ‘Mennock’  joined the Weir fleet in 1893 . Trafalgar had been built in 1877 and was a fairly big ship at 271.5 ft long and 1768 tons gross.   After  eleven years valuable service she was wrecked after rounding the Horn, West to East on a voyage from Sydney with wheat, bound for Falmouth for orders. She had been in trouble before as stated in a report:   “During a voyage from Batavia to Melbourne in December 1893, the master and all the officers died, presumably of Java fever. Command was taken over by the senior apprentice, William Shotton (18 years), who navigated the ship all the way from Batavia to Melbourne.

Mennock was hulked after sixteen years service, but new owners re-rigged her and gave her the romantic name of Don Agusto. After a further seven years at sea she was also wrecked.

Only a handful of the full fleet of forty-seven vessels had an uneventful fate.   In the first fifteen years of trading, there were thirty sailing vessels and eleven steamers listed, but it must have been hard to accept the setbacks when smart new ships were lost. Building up a fleet in the days of sail was truly a battle against the elements, and to a certain extent ‘Lady Luck’ played a big part.

A closer look at the individual losses reveals some heart-rending stories, not least about the vessels that sailed and disappeared, never to be heard or seen again. The three-masted Falklandbank, built in 1894 by Mackie and Thomson, Glasgow, for example, disappeared at sea with all hands in December 1907.  She was loaded with coal in Port Talbot and bound round the Horn for Valparaiso.   The Loch Eck, purchased in 1894, stranded at Valparaiso within the year.   1895 two more vessels, the Isle of Arran and the Colessie joined the fleet, the latter ship being wrecked 6 years later.

The Ashbank, Laurelbank, Castlebank, and Heathbank mentioned earlier simply disappeared for good without any news of the ship, cargo, or crew.   It was agony for the family and friends of the crew ashore, made worse by not knowing the circumstances, and the long drawn out realisation as time passed with no news, that they were gone forever.      Other ships in the fleet with none ‘bank’ names that disappeared were the David Morgan, the Perseverance, the Glenbreck, and the Ellisland.   The Cedarbank also suffered this fate later when with new owners.   Pomona and Sardhana were abandoned, as was the Allegiance.  Others were wrecked.  The wrecked vessels each had a story to tell, which at least met the need for news of those waiting on shore,  albeit tragic news.  

The three-masted Thornliebank, built in 1896, was the second vessel with this name and also the last purpose built sailing vessel. She came to sudden grief after a long voyage from Chile when she hit the notorious Crim rocks in the Isles of Scilly.  The enquiry criticised the master.    He had not had a firm position for several days due to inclement weather, and what finally did for him and the ship was the Bishop Rock light characteristics which had been changed but crucially not registered on board.  The actual words of the Court of Enquiry judge were: “  Apart from the master’s omission to obtain a line of soundings, and his failure to identify the Bishop Rock Light, and the siren of the Round Island, the vessel was navigated with proper and seamanlike care.  The court finds that the loss of the ‘Thornliebank’ was due to the default of the master in not making himself acquainted with the changes in the seamarks at the Scilly Isles”.  

Although it was the tramping trades that gave young Mr Weir the way into the ship owning business, he soon created some regular trades.  Over time they became established liner routes.    It became a highly successful pattern, and it was reinforced at every opportunity.  The big fleet of vessels remained available on the open market for tramping, giving a high degree of flexibility and It was a successful formula.  In 1905 he settled on a new name for his fleet, the ‘Bank Line’ and this became world renowned and synonymous as a ‘no frills’ global service in both tramping and liner services.  For mariners, it was never a so-called ‘ prestige’ company, but many liked the varied and regular work that the growing fleet offered.  To achieve his aims, the owner built up a comprehensive network of agents and subsidiaries around the world, many of whom he partnered with in business, and many of whom became long-standing personal friends.       It was another success story, and it ran for many years from the beginning in 1885 to the time when rampant containerisation arrived in force.   When this happened, the regular trades that had formed the backbone of the modern service were gradually eroded by the growing container consortia and the concept of ‘hub’ ports and feeder services that evolved.  Today,  it can  be seen how the company desperately formed innovative services in the 1980s and 90s in an effort to find stability, but all to no avail.        Within the company itself, tragedy struck as the owning family suffered early deaths in the 1980s, and the interest and drive for shipping waned and then morphed into other non shipping activities.   

At the start, Andrew Weir went about his business quietly, content to trade and provide the best service possible to shippers worldwide.  Virtually unknown to the general public,  the nearest to global recognition of Bank Line occurred on the rare occasions that an incident hit the headlines.        Of the ships that made up the sailing fleet, the Olivebank was the most famous, as she was occasionally in the news, usually for being late, and she was to end her days under another well-known Finnish owner, Gustav Erikson.  With this owner some smart passages were made. Reams have been written about her longevity and ability to turn up when lost, but the end of her days came when she was ignominiously mined in the North Sea in 1942.     A few survivors clung to a spar protruding from the water, but the master and many others on board drowned. It was a sad end for a ship that had stretched the imagination of maritime folk, especially, the young. 

In the sailing ship age, longevity was down to a combination of factors, not unlike life itself.    Careful management, good masters, and a liberal helping of good fortune were essential ingredients.  Disaster at sea was a real possibility, and looking back it is clear that certain routes and particular cargoes flagged up danger.       A cursory examination of sailing ship records would show that coal from Newcastle, N.S.W. Australia was always a high-risk cargo due to fire from spontaneous combustion.  Careful stowage was also needed to avoid the danger of this cargo shifting in adverse weather.   The Bank Line had vessels lost on this route,  and the Castlebank  and Ellisland both suffered this particular fate.  The Gowanbank also met her end with a coal cargo, but loaded in Barry, S.Wales.  The following is a true account of the unwelcome experience of a coal cargo loaded in Newcastle and a subsequent fire:

“The beautiful Barque Cedarbank  was a sistership of the famous Olivebank, built at the same yard.   Her tonnage was 2825 gross, and 2649 net.  On her maiden voyage, in June 1892, she loaded coal at Newcastle for San Francisco.  Her cargo was 4,400 tons.   She sailed at the beginning of March, but shortly after sailing she lost part of her masts off of the Australian coast after being caught in a cyclone.    The cyclone caused much damage on the Australian coast, and the Cedarbank had to return to Sydney for repairs, sailing again at the end of April.   Outside of the harbour, the winds were mainly SE’ly, and it was decided to take advantage and sail the northerly route across the Pacific.   After 45 days at sea, strong fumes were then detected coming out of the ventilators, and later some hatches were taken off to allow painting of the coamings, when smoke was seen trickling up through the coal cargo.   The temperature was taken by lowering a thermometer down inside the masts, and as a result, it was decided to fight the fire at number 2 hatch first.       The coal was stowed right up into the hatch square, and about 250 tons was dumped overboard so as to make a space, and to get near the seat of the fire.   After three or four days, the men were overcome by fumes, so the pumps were started and water played over the coal until there was about 30 inches in the bilges where it was pumped out and recycled back onto the cargo.   This was kept going for several days, until just after 12 midnight one night, and ten days after the fire was first noticed there was an explosion.   This was in the fore end of number 2 hatch, and whilst a man was down below spraying water around.   The flames burst up through the coal and blue flames continued to cover the coal”.     The account continues and to a successful conclusion, as the Cedarbank made port safely after a long struggle.

   The saying, ‘ prudent mariner’ was never more relevant than when it was applied to a sailing ship master. His was  both a skill and a talent, enhanced with a sixth sense, one that enabled a few masters to live to old age, and to bring their crews home safely.   They needed to avoid disaster on a regular basis.    Appointing a trustworthy master was one of the trickiest decisions an owner had to make.  Nothing was guaranteed however, and the loss of the big beautiful German five-masted sailing vessel, the ‘Preussen’ captained by one of the most seasoned and skilled captains in the famous Laeisz fleet is a prime example where luck ran out. She was lost in the channel in a collision with a railway steamer and grounded at Beachy Head in adverse winds.  With hindsight, a wrong judgement over the position at a crucial time by the master meant the loss of this beautiful ship.    It is fascinating reading and heartrending in cold print, but the company did keep faith in him and he went on to successfully command other vessels.

   Sailing the big unwieldy ships, bereft of engines, and subject to current, tide, and fickle winds, meant that vigilance was constantly needed.   The ships were happiest out on the oceans with plenty of sea room but were helpless without tug assistance close to port.  The master alone regularly had to make crucial decisions that often meant life or death, and this could be a daily occurrence unless some relief was obtained in long periods of steady winds, as in the trades.   It was a guessing game to some extent betting on wind and weather in the immediate future, but years of experience and local knowledge determined whether sail should be set or shortened.     This was harder than it sounds because owners kept the pressure on to make fast passages which could not be achieved by regularly shortening sail unnecessarily, and an over-cautious master was unpopular and could lose his job.    In anything but steady winds, there was a constant need to be weighing up the amount of canvas aloft, and no master got it right 100% of the time.  No office job even remotely compares!

What of the crews?    They were a mixture of hard-bitten sailing men who were wild ashore, but good at sea, and crucially good aloft in times of need.  They were able to operate in all ocean conditions, often with howling gales plus the misery of the wet and cold.  Young, idealistic men made up the balance of able bodied hands,  but they often became disillusioned, and it was very common, even normal, for men to run away in foreign ports, quite regularly and at the first opportunity.  There was a common saying in the Forecastle – 

  ” Anybody who goes to sea from choice, would go to hell for a pastime!”  

Apprentices were a useful addition to the sailing vessels and were more idealistic and reliable than the hardbitten seamen.   Over the whole of the lifetime of Andrew Weir and the Bank Line, thousands of apprentices served their time afloat in sail, and later in steam and motor vessels.

Out of the grand total of sailing ships owned, twenty-six only were purpose-built, and the rest purchased, including a couple, Poseidon and Marion Frazer that were bought to serve as storage hulks at the Chilean  loading ports.  Some were in and out of the fleet only a short time.  It is clear that the owner proved to be very astute in the sale and purchase of ships in addition to his other considerable skills.  Sizes ranged, but the  4 vessels of the Levenbank class were some of the biggest. 

In 1896 the first steamer Duneric was built.  Thereafter the fleet had a steadily growing proportion of steam vessels, and in 1912 the last sailing vessel Philadelphia joined the fleet. She served for three years before being sold on to the Norwegians.   

So ended a remarkable story that has passed into the Maritime history books alongside other famous fleets.  The sailing era with all the beauty and romanticism it possessed was still a tough trade, and it was a tough life for those motivated enough to crew the ships.   They will long be remembered, as will Andrew Weir and the Bank Line sailing fleet that flew the flag so proudly for Britain.    

Alan Rawlinson – author of “ Any Budding Sailors?”

EMPIRE HONDURAS as the LOCHYBANK

One of the ‘Empire’ ships purchased by the Bank Line in 1946. Built in the war but completed at Sunderland after the ceasefire. Originally named the EMPIRE HONDURAS she served as the LOCHYBANK in the fleet until 1954 when sold to Dutch interests and then she became the STAD HAARLEM serving them for 10 years. Another 5 years were completed as the UNION FAIR under the Liberian flag, and she finally went to the breakers in 1969.

Dragon Boat Racing…..(Click on the Download button to read)

This interesting and original article is from the pen of Geoffrey Walker, a regular contributor who commenced his sea-going life as a Bank Line apprentice. He went on to have a long and successful career as Master on a variety of ships and companies serving a vast range of Pacific and Far Eastern ports, big and small. He also has his own specialist maritime website which can be viewed here at https://oceanjoss.com Geoffrey continues to make a valuable contribution to contemporary maritime history with fascinating first hand accounts of seagoing life in the China seas in all seasons including access to remote river ports.

THE HMS FOYLEBANK STORY

HMS FOYLEBANK TRAGEDY DETAILS. (CLICK ON THE RED LINK BELOW FOR THE FULL ACCOUNT FROM WORLD WAR II TODAY)…


HMS Foylebank bombed in Portland Harbour. When out of the sun they came, enemy dive bombers. Diving straight down onto the guard ship, machine gunning and bombing. Hell let loose, about 20 planes, they appeared to have caught us napping. I immediately told my crew that we were going in to pick up the hands and ratings who were jumping and being blown into the water alongside of her. There was a barge with work people alongside of Foyle Bank, a bomb dropped alongside the barge turning it upside down.

RUDDBANK, the 4th of the 6 ‘FISH’ class ships.

The RUDDBANK only stayed in the fleet for 4 years (a record minimum stay from 1979 to 1983) and became the ROMNEY of Lamport and Holt. This class were popular as a part container ship that ran at 16kts, but they entered the fleet at a time of great turbulance due to the world wide impact of containerisation and the rapidly changing parameters for a stable and profitable service that affected all owners. She eventually came to grief as the GLOBAL MARINER on the Orinoco river.

The 1924 CEDARBANK in dock

Torpedoed and lost in 1940 off Aalesund. (see below)

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 14 and 1 gunner were all lost. Read more at wrecksite: https://wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?12812

4 of the Bank Line’s Liberty Ships

The Ericbank, Rowenbank,Maplebank, and Ivybank. All served the company well as ‘stopgaps’ after WW2 until new buildings arrived from the building yards of Harlands in Belfast and Wm Doxfords in Sunderland.

These standard ships had a good capacity, a reliable steam engine, and were especially useful for bulk cargoes with only 2 modest sized deeptanks. All of them served on the phosphate run which they suited, running mainly between Australian and New Zealand ports and loading in Ocean Island, Nauru and sometims Makatea. One, the Kelvinbank, was wrecked at Ocean island. (See some voyage accounts and photos on this site). The crewing was mainly European and the lively and often drunken antics in port were a feature remembered by those who sailed in them.

 ODE TO THE COPRA RUN

It doesn’t seem so long ago,

Joining sometimes in the snow,

But what a life on the Copra run,

Cruising round the Pacific sun!

First,  a visit to Gulf Ports,

The hectic loading of all sorts,

Sailing down to the Antipodes

Then island hopping in Southern Seas.

There were those times, – a precious thing,

Where island folk often sing,

The natural lazy way of life,

Free from worry, free from strife.

It was a gift, we never thought,

Just a job that we had sought,

But looking back it was something special

Joining on that Copra vessel.

View of Rabaul, and ” The Mother”, a volcano overlooking the port with the ERNEBANK climbers on top 1953.

Rabaul before the big Earthquake in 1994 which destroyed the town. In the 50’s Bank Line ships loading Copra and coconut oil were berthed on the “wreck” berth, which was a sunken Japanese ship alongside which had been levelled to form a rough wharf.

WELCOME TO THIS BANK LINE WEBSITE. A fun place maintained purely as a hobby………….

Did you or a family member sail in the iconic Bank Line? Then see your ship and memories here. There are over 1500 pages of photos, stories, history, heartache and drama from more than 120 years back. The fascinating history of the sailing fleet and the destiny of the ships. The early steamers and the motor ships. Also snippets from many internet sources and the records, artwork and more, all brought together on one site. Please enjoy browsing the pages and feel free to leave a comment………………

LINDENBANK built 1930

One of 4 vessels Deebank, Forthbank, Trentbank, Lindenbank from Workman Clark in Belfast in 1929. The Deebank was sold in 1955 and went on to have a 41 year career. The Forthbank had a 30 year career at sea. The Trentbank was lost in WW2. The Lindenbank (above) was lost after 9 years in service, grounding on Arena Island, Sula Sea in 1939.

Fire on the sailing ship CEDARBANK on her maiden voyage in 1892. An extract from the new book ” Man the Braces”

Chapter 15 – The Cedarbank on fire

The beautiful Barque Cedarbank was built for Andrew Weir by Mackie and Thompson, Glasgow, in 1892.    She was a steel 4 masted Barque, and was a sistership of the famous Olivebank, built at the same yard.   Her tonnage was 2825 gross, and 2649 net.    After 21 years service, she was sold out of the fleet in 1913 to a Norwegian owner. 

On her maiden voyage, in June 1892, she loaded coal at Newcastle for San Francisco.  Her cargo was 4,400 tons.   She sailed at the beginning of March, but shortly after sailing she lost part of her masts off of the Australian coast after being caught in a cyclone.    The cyclone caused much damage on the Australian coast, and the Cedarbank had to return to Sydney for repairs, sailing again at the end of April. 

Outside of the harbour, the winds were mainly SE’ly, and it was decided to take advantage and sail the northerly route across the Pacific.   After 45 days at sea, strong fumes were then detected coming out of the ventilators, and later some hatches were taken off to allow painting of the coatings, when smoke was seen trickling up through the coal cargo.   The temperature was taken by lowering  thermometer down the masts, and as a result, it was decided to fight the fire at number 2 hatch first.       The coal was stowed right up into the hatch square, and about 250 tons was dumped overboard so as to make a space, and to get near the seat of the fire.   After three or four days, the men were overcome by fumes, so the pumps were started and water played over the coal until there was about 30 inches in the bilges where it was pumped out and recycled back onto the cargo.   This was kept going for several days, until just after 12 midnight one night, and ten days after the fire was first noticed there was an explosion.   This was in the fore end of number 2 hatch, and whilst a man was down below spraying water around.   The flames burst up through the coal and blue flames continued to cover the coal. 

The man who had been below scurried out of the hold, yelling and shaking, and with good cause.  The nearest land was approximately 1000 miles away, and the situation looked serious.   The Cedarbank at this point was in the North Pacific Ocean, above the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii)  

All the hatches were put back on, and the hoses were directed down the ventilators.  The excessive heat turned the water to steam, which after a further period appeared to put the flames  out. 

At daylight all the boats were swung out and fully provisioned in readiness for a long journey, and before dark on that day were put over the side and towed astern.   Charts, chronometers, and all equipment was loaded together with two men for steering.      After eight or nine days, after the fire appeared to subside, the boats were again hoisted up on davits where they stayed until the ship arrived in San Francisco. 

The night before making the Farallones, outside of San Francisco, there were several heavy explosions.  This was put down to the fresh breeze which had sprung up giving new life to the fire. Hatches were blown off, and a bizarre game ensued as the crew replaced them time after time as they were repeatedly blown off by the exploding fire!    This happened despite the firm wedging to keep the boards in place.  The crew began to feel confident however that they could make port this way. 

Every outlet was covered up to smother the fire as much as possible, and after 35 days in total fighting the fire, a tug was spotted looking for a tow. As the breeze was fresh and favourable, the tug’s first offer was refused, but eventually a price of 70 dollars was agreed which was a cheap tow. Some 3 years later the same service cost the vessel 200 dollars.   The tug captain did not suspect that anything was amiss, although with the boats swung out it was an unusual sight, except when carrying passengers.   He then saw smoke coming out of the focs’le and asked the Mate what was going on.   The Mate replied that it was probably the crew burning paint pots, and the tug only heard of the fire later from sources ashore.    On the way in it was usual for shipping reporters to come on board for details of the passage, but when the fire was admitted, they returned to the boats alongside and conducted interviews from there. 

Once in port, the Cedarbank was towed to mudflats by the same company, and two tugs with pumps provided, all at the normal rates.   The exercise to pump water in and out took about 36 hours, after which she berthed alongside and discharged her cargo.   It was then seen the fire had started in several places, and it was seen that coal and coke had fused together in the heat, standing up like a wall in number 2 hold. Beams and stringers were buckled, and the wooden deck in that area all burned away. 

The American Australian and British papers all made fun of how the British ship had scored off of the American tug company, but as any shipmaster will attest, it was simply a matter of protecting the owner’s interests. 

The Captain was later awarded a gold watch by the underwriters for his actions.

INVERUIE

One of 7 tankers built between 1921 and 1924 by Harlands in Belfast for the British/Mexican Petroleum Company Ltd with Andrew Weir as managers. 6958 gross tons. and 412 ft long. Two of the total were torpedoed and lost in WW2. ( The lead ship Inverleith by a British submarine when she was under the Italian flag) . Inveruie had a shortish 14 year life before being broken up at Rosyth.

Liberty ship Corabank Gallery (Updated with more pictures from 1948 in Makatea loading phosphate)

Photos kindly supplied by Peter Nicholson from Canada (pictured), who was a Junior Ordinary Seaman onboard. An account of life aboard the Corabank follows….


Corabank

The Corabank was my 5th ship in a year when I joined her as a Junior Ordinary Seaman, which was just one rank above the lowest of the deck crowd, the Deck boy.

That one year’s experience at sea before had given me the chance of sampling the sea life on merchant ships as a young teenager living amongst hardened men and holding my own amongst other teens, getting over sea sickness, going through rough weather that can’t be imagined by landspeople and even knowing foreign pub life which included mixing with the  ladies of the night in such countries as Brazil, United States, Argentina, Australia, South Africa., and my Dad taking me to his pub when I came home and bragging to his mates, “Go on son, tell ‘em where you bin”, and even such as  “He came home with eighteen quid”. 

On Corabank every man older than me was a war hardened seaman as were the crews of my other 4 ships before her .I do have trouble remembering the names of every man on the Corabank. I do know         that was a long trip, but also it was over 70 years ago and memory does dim after that many years.

Anyway the Captain’s name was Peter Stewart, A very nice man. Mr. Carnie was the Mate and Mr. Davidson was 2nd Mate. I won’t mention the Bosun’s name who the Captain fired in I think, Melbourne, when he was coming back to the ship along the dock and came upon the Bosun flogging a brand new coil of 2 inch rope.

There was a young apprentice named String fellow who I have good reason to remember with warmth and there was a young steward’s boy that I have good reason to remember his name of Champion, and of course the Deck boy, ‘Ginger’ Bulbrook, who many years later I was to be Best Man at his wedding.When we left London, I was put in the 12-4 watch with 2 ABs because I had learned steering experience on other ships. Corabank did not have radar or

Gyro compass, only magnetic compass, which was quite standard for those times. She also had a steering station up on Monkey Island which we made good use of in good weather.

The voyage was uneventful to the East coast ports of the United States, New York, New Orleans, Galveston, then Trinidad where the ABs sent me ashore to buy rum, and coming back to the ship as they were all leaning on the gunwhale watching me and no doubt relishing the thought of what was in the bag I was carrying, when I tripped on some railway lines and down I went and….disaster!  The 4 bottles in the bag broke!. Needless to say, I got my ears clipped for that and spoiling their evening of pleasure indulged in by all seamen. But unbeknown to us, the Mate had been watching and sent for me later and had me take down two 12 packs of beer to them. That didn’t stop them for the rest of the trip, always coming out with a reminder when I went ashore, not to trip on my way back aboard.

We left Trinidad bound for Brisbane via Panama. The ABs told me I would be doing my wheel going through the canal, which alarmed me as in the past up to then I had never steered in rivers or canals. They told me just do what the Pilot tells me and I’ll be OK. So with much trepidation, when my time came I went to the wheel. The Pilot took one look at this little fresh faced 17 year old and said to the Captain “Do you usually let the boys to the wheel in confined waters like this Captain?”. My Captain looked over at me and after about 3 seconds replied “Yeah, he’ll be OK”.

 From that moment this little 5 foot 6” OS, was 6ft tall and ready to show what I could do, which was my 2 hour wheel, with no mistakes.

The voyage across the Pacific was uneventful except for one thing that sticks in my memory ever since. The 2nd Mate had paid off sick in Trinidad or Panama, and left us with a mate short. Stringfellow, the young 15 year old cadet was put in charge of standing the 12-4 watch.

When I was at the wheel on the Monkey Island I often saw him ‘shooting the stars’ at night and the sun at noon. We often chatted teen age boy stuff, and one night when I asked him how he could do such a thing as navigation, he told me he had been put in a sea school since he was 10 years old, and he learned it there and now it was child’s play to him and besides, the Captain  checks his work.

A 15 year old trusted to share in navigating an ocean going, fully laden merchant ship!!!  He had to be good! When we got to Brisbane there was a dock strike on which left us at anchor amongst lots of other ships. Short of tobacco and grub too, but eventually we did get alongside where all hands made the most of shore leave, and that can be imagined how, including all officers and crew. All crew except for one man who unbelievably did not go ashore for over a year by the time we got back to London, and that was an AB named ‘Ginger’ Hubble. He told me he was not long married with a baby son and was saving up for a house.  Which was understandable in those days when you could buy a house for about 1500 pounds. So his years wages would amount to 24 pounds a month times 13 plus overtime. Nowhere near 1500 but a good down payment.

Now brings me to a memory that I had no reason to bring to the forefront until an event that happened quite recently, only a few years ago.

I saw an article on my computer on a nautical website that I’ve forgotten now, but it referred to a guy that his father was telling him about a ship that he was on that hit a bridge many years ago in Brisbane, Australia. I immediately perked up because I had firsthand knowledge of such an event. I made enquiries and got in touch with a guy in England who told me by email that his father told him about it happening and the ship was named Corabank. As I was the man at the wheel when it happened, I was most interested. The 2 ABs in my watch were in no way fit to go to the wheel on account of their shenannigans ashore on the previous few nights, so it was left to me do it. I didn’t mind at all. We let go from the discharging berth and headed out into the river. The Captain, Officers and Pilot by now were all on the wing of the bridge and I was keeping the ship headed on my last order from the Pilot which was “Steady”, and which I marked as the center of the bridge ahead.

I was the only one in the wheelhouse and as we were getting closer to the bridge, I looked at the mast, then looked at the bridge and thought to myself, “It can’t be, but it is. Surely not. That mast is gonna hit the underneath of that bridge!” I’m thinking.  I yelled out something to attract those out on the wing of the bridge, but they was already coming in the wheelhouse. But they were too late to take any action to prevent what was certainly going to happen. Too late to get the way off her by putting the engine astern, and no helm order would have any effect to change what was going to happen. That mast was going to hit the underside of the bridge regardless. And hit it did. First the underside of the side we were headed for and next a few seconds later, the other underhang. Then we were under, free and clear, with no damage to the ship but a buckled topmast. We did hear later that the bridge was closed for the day while they had it checked for damage, but none was found and the bridge was free for traffic to resume.

We never did hear what was the Company’s reaction when they got the report, but it was obvious that the topmast should have been lowered after the ship came higher out of the water after discharging cargo. Maybe those in the office in far away London from Brisbane Australia, didn’t know about shenanigans ashore after a long trip across the Pacific…….or did they. Anyway, the buckled topmast had to be cut off when we got to Sydney as it could not be lowered due to the buckling. Bill Champion, who was a young steward’s boy at the time on Corabank told his son about it so over 70 years after that voyage I sent him a tee shirt with Corabank’s picture on it and the list of ports we done. Sadly he died since then and his son told me that his Dad wanted to be buried wearing that tee shirt. (Photo of that tee shirt following) We did several Australian ports including Port Pirie where the “Maplebank” was already docked loading wheat for India, I think. She had a crew of Brits too and they told us they were making their own good whisky from their cargo. We loaded bagged grain there too but I forget where we discharged it because we eventually took a complete load of copra back to London with no grain in any hatch.. We also took a couple of loads of phosphate from Nauru to Australian ports. The ship was drydocked in Auckland, and  as she was in there for a few days the Crew, Officers and Engineers too were all put in hotels ashore except us Deck and Engine room crowd who were put in, of all places,….. the New Zealand WRENS barracks!  Say no more!

We went also to Port Lyttleton in New Zealand where the deck boy and I got ourselves into quite an adventure:

(Here’s the previously written story)

 My New Zealand Adventure

Looking back to those years, 1947 was a fabulous time for me as a teenager.

Other young guys were working in factories, or offices, or a store, some still at school even, and here was I, working on a steamer sailing to destinations which can only be described as ‘Exotic’

 We sailed from London in an England which was still engulfed in the drab and dreary early post war years, bound for the ports and bright lights of the USA, then through the Panama Canal, lazily steaming across the Pacific Ocean to Australia. Then on from there to New Zealand, New Guinea and eventually to many of the South Pacific Islands, which up until then only existed in most people’s, including my own, imagination, or from brief glimpses seen in movies. Tahiti, Bora Bora, Fiji, Rambi, Rotuma, Makatea, Nauru, Tarawa, most of them with no harbor as we know ports to be.

The ship would lay at anchor in a lagoon or bay, and with nothing to do in one’s spare time but to swim and fish in the warm, deep blue, crystal clear water whilst my brothers and those other boys I had left behind in England were riding their bikes in the cold, pouring rain to get to a factory, only to stand soaking wet all day, making cars they could never in those days dream of owning.

As I had already completed a few other voyages, I was rated ‘Ordinary Seaman’. Amongst the crew was another young guy about my age, a first tripper, who had the rating of ‘Deck Boy’, and owned the status of a ‘nobody’ which was bestowed upon boys of that rank.  Deck boy, steward’s boy, galley boy, all nobodies on a ship.  But….fiercely protected by the men regardless. In the pecking order I was about second to lowest among the deck crew whose duties and work was totally separate from cooks, stewards, engine room crew and of course, Officers. I was ranked just above the galley boy, deck boy and stewards boy.

Above us were the seasoned seamen, men in their twenties, thirties, forties and older to whom war on the oceans was still very fresh in their minds. Some of them had been torpedoed and bombed, swam for their lives in fiery oil covered waters, spent days on end in open lifeboats and watched their shipmates die in agony until  rescue came for those still alive. And among us was an ex wartime Spitfire pilot who told us he couldn’t settle into the blasé post war life any more. His name was Arthur Farthing. All of them great seamen who taught me the seamanship craft that stood me in good stead over the many future years that I spent at sea.

New Zealand in those days was a young country populated by aboriginal Maoris, with the Europeans being mostly of British stock, with a very British Olde-world flavor to the country, a very ‘comfortable’ and friendly country to visit, welcoming not just for Brits, but for anybody of any nationality. It was a country that was a magnet for seamen to ‘jump ship’ as it was almost like being at home, with the English language, and employers crying out for help in those days and offering wages that many could just not resist. This did result in numerous seamen adding themselves to the country’s population, knowing that the Department of Immigration would turn a blind eye to their presence. 

Actually, in stark reality, jumping ship was classed no less than Desertion, and punishable by imprisonment Myself and the deck boy who went by the name of ‘Ginger’ due to his mop of copper colored curly hair, decided it was about time we had a go at this jumping ship lark, after all, what harm could befall us? Aren’t we in a country almost like home? and both of us with the Over ‘Ome accents. What could go wrong? It’ll be a piece of cake.

Our plan was to jump the night before sailing, hide out somewhere until we’re sure the ship has gone, resurface, and get one of those high paying jobs that are abounding here. Piece ‘a cake it’ll be.

Except it wasn’t a piece of cake.  It didn’t quite work out that way for us though. Oh, jump we did. Hide out we did not. We actually watched the ship sail away, us being bold as brass and our teenager plans being kept with a determination of a pair of chocolate soldiers. What we didn’t know though, was the alarm was already raised. The Captain had put out our description to the Authorities in this small New Zealand port town where everybody knew just about everybody else and the police were already alerted for two young guys, one with copper colored hair and one with blonde hair, both with seamen’s kitbags on their shoulders. Seamen didn’t use suitcases in those days. By now we were quite hungry and we decided then to go and get a breakfast and plan which one of the high paying jobs we would go after. Piece ‘a cake, right?

No, not right, not right at all. Oh, we got the breakfast ok and were halfway through, when a uniformed policeman came in and just sat himself down at our table and said, all friendly like, as if he’d known us all our lives, “When you’ve finished eating lads, you’re coming with me”. Just like that! That was it. That was the extent of our jumping ship. That was as far as we got. Not even 24 hours into our New Life in a New Country. We were not ship jumpers now, we were ship Deserters, and were about to take the consequences. The policeman who had detained us was quite an affable chap, having nonchalantly sat drinking a cup of tea while we finished our breakfast, or tried to finish it more likely. Appetites suddenly disappeared with this bolt out of the blue. Our first day in the New Land was instantly shattered. What will they do to us now? “Oh, nothing much, you’ll be detained until your ship either comes back here or to some other New Zealand port, and then you’ll be put back aboard her, that’s all” Put back aboard? Oh no! We’ll be the laughing stock of the crew. Not to mention what punishment the Captain will dole out to us. “Can’t you just let us go? We can find a job and not be trouble to anybody. You’ll see we can make good. Just give us the chance and we’ll prove it” “It doesn’t work that way lad” said the policeman. “You’re too young to go wandering around on your own, and you’ve got to be taken care of until you get back on your ship”

We were up before a Magistrate, who ordered us to be detained until such times as we could be returned to our ship. We weren’t looked upon, or treated as criminals in the real sense. It was an Immigration offence that we were guilty of as far as the New Zealand authorities were concerned, with our desertion from the ship being a matter for the ship’s Captain to decide upon. The jail we were put in was a local jail, not a big prison. It held about twenty small time offenders. Thieves, burglars, a couple of drunk drivers. Most of them guilty of petty nuisance stuff. One guy I remember was doing six

months for breaking into a railway station booking office and stealing train tickets. His excuse to the Magistrate was that he was waiting for a train when he heard the office phone ringing and as it kept on ringing he thought it might be an urgent emergency so he broke the window to go in and answer the phone, that’s all. And that’s when he was caught and arrested. The cops must have put the tickets in his pocket to frame him. This is the story he told to anybody who would listen, including me.

We heard that our ship would be away for about a month, and wherever she came back to is where we would be sent, under escort, return fare for our escorts and a night in a hotel for them at our expense yet! And while we are in jail, we’re not earning anything. We’ll be working forever to pay this ship jumping caper off. I made 12 English pounds per month and Ginger made 7 pounds per month. In those days the dollar rate of exchange was around 4$C. I made $48 and Ginger made $28 a month, his not even a dollar a day. The worst thing about daily life in that jail was getting ‘banged up’ at 4.00pm until 7.00am. We did not share a cell. We had our own cells, which were not intended to be comfortable in the least. Wooden boards and a straw mattress, no pillow, no sheets, just two rough, filthy blankets. When I complained to another guy that half the straw was missing in my mattress he said to me “Yeah, the guy that had that cell before you smoked the other half”. One bare light bulb that went off at about 9 o’clock and there you were with your thoughts until the next morning. There was no toilet in the cell. At the 4 o’clock lock-up you lined up and took a chamber pot, of course referred to as a piss-pot, and took it into your cell for any personal needs you might have during the night and that was it. Daily routine for Ginger and me was hum-drum and boring as we had no tasks. Unlike the other cons who had mopping out, kitchen duties, and other tasks assigned them during the day we had nothing except to play cards or read the whole day long, waiting to get banged up again at 4 0’clock. No radio, with television, whilst it may have been invented in those days was certainly not widespread and equally as certainly not available to convicts. This boredom was soon to end for me though and I was offered and accepted a task that relieved my boredom and led to an experience that stays in my mind until this very day. Sid, the chief jailer and a kindly man to Ginger and me, sent for me one morning and put a proposition to me that was mine to choose or not. “Nick” he said “ In a couple of days a man will be coming in here to stay for a while until he may be sent to another prison to serve a long term sentence. While he is here, he will wear his own clothes, smoke tailor made cigarettes, have books and magazines and food sent in from outside. He can have chocolates, sweets, candy and fruit as long as he is here, and during that time we’d like you to keep him company. Not share his cell, but just play cards with him, talk with him, and generally keep him company. Also he doesn’t get banged up with the rest of the guys and you won’t either as long as you’re with him. You’ll only get locked up when he wants to go to sleep, how does that sound to you?”

How does that sound? Chocolate, sweets, tailor made fags? Books and magazines! That suits me Sid. Bring him in! Wait a minute though.  “Er….. Sid, what’s this guy in for? What’s he done?”

This is a question that one soon learns in jail not to ask. “What are you in for?” is a question that’s a no-no. You will be told if the con wants to tell you, if he doesn’t, don’t ask.“He’ll be going to court for trial every day and coming back every afternoon until his trial is over” “Yeah, O.K Sid, but what’s he going to be on trial for?”

“Oh, didn’t I tell you?  Ah…well………..Murder. He killed his wife’s lover” Murder! Yikes! Instant visions of a 6 foot 6 thug entered my head. A murderer and I got to play cards or checkers with him? That means I’ll have to let him win all the time. Ah well….the chocolate and good outside grub will make up for that. But Jack was far from what I imagined he was going to be. I was myself at that time a little shrimp of a kid. Skinny, and weighed about 125 soaking wet. This ‘murdering thug’ was even smaller than me. In his mid fifties I would think, baldy head and a hearing aid stuck in his ear with wires leading to a battery in his shirt pocket. Very soft spoken too, as well as being very mild mannered. Altogether different, even the opposite, from what I had always imagined to be the stereotype murderer. Ah well, at least I won’t have to deliberately let him win any games we play.

Jack and I got along quite well, very well in fact. In retrospect, I think that he thought he was playing a part in rehabilitating a juvenile delinquent, a budding criminal so to speak. Each day he would go to court for his trial. Young as I was, I had to smile at the cons making book on what length of sentence Jack was going to get. They would press his pants in the prison laundry for him. They made sure the guy with haircutting talents would trim the few hairs he had left over his ears and give Jack a good clean shave. They seemed to have a mistaken idea that if Jack appeared in front of the Judge with an always neat and tidy appearance it would somehow have an influence over the length of sentence he would hand down to Jack.

13

At first Jack would not have much to say about the trial when he returned in the afternoon, but as time passed he would let on a few things that went on in court that day. I do remember one time he came back and said to me “That brother in law of mine has really dropped me in it. That’s going to get me a few extra years” He was resigned to doing about a twelve years sentence which is what you did if you’re sentenced to life in New Zealand in those days. Gradually, Jack opened up to me. Opened up about the actual murder, describing to me in detail how he killed the guy. It was if he was just telling me a story. “Oh, I did it alright” he told me. “And d’you  know what made me laugh? He said “They was out hunting for me and all the time I was home in bed”  “Made you laugh Jack?” I thought. “You just blew a guy in two, gave him both barrels you told me, went home and went to bed, and it made you laugh because they were looking for you everywhere but the righ place.Hmm…

Getting on towards the end of his trial, we had a nice meal, and I said to him after him telling me of events at that day’s trial, I said “Jack, something doesn’t make sense to me and it’s this. Look, really, a person doesn’t have to kill anybody. You don’t kill at all. But let’s suppose you do, surely you make sure you kill the right one” “What do you mean? kill the right one” “Well, look at it this way. That guy you done in, how do you know what your wife had told him, how do you know that she could have said she was a widow, couldn’t she? She could have told him she was divorced. She even could have told him she was a single woman, in fact she could have told him anything.” “So? They was still carrying on wasn’t they” “Yeah Jack, but the difference was it was her that was stitching you up, not him. After all, he never made any wedding vows with you did he? It was her that made the promises, not him. You told me yourself that you didn’t know the guy, and you only found out about the affair by gossip, then you found out where he lived and went and gave him both barrels of your shotgun. That’s why I think you killed the wrong one”. Then I hastened to add “Not that you should kill anyone”.

“Nah, he had it coming” said Jack. The following day was the day that Jack was going to be sentenced. All the cons were making themselves busy to ensure that Jack looked his best for the Judge, and I was in fact hoping that he would get a lighter sentence than they were forecasting, but I wasn’t too optimistic from what Sid told me..

The waiting for Jack to come back was nail bite time and the time dragged slowly until the bell sounded that somebody was coming in from outside. As soon as I saw Jack’s face I knew it was bad news for him. It couldn’t have been worse. He looked at me and said two words, “Natural life”, then burst into tears. He was only given time to change into prison garb from his street clothes, gather up his personal belongings, and be hustled out to journey to the place to begin the sentence that would last until the day he died. The last words he said to me were “I think you were right boy, I killed the wrong one” That’s what he said to me.

I was told that if they had the death sentence in New Zealand, Jack would have got it.

I asked the other cons what kind of life would Jack have in Mount Eden, the prison he went to. “He’ll have everything he wants except the key to the front gate” they told me.I was told that if they had the death sentence in New Zealand, Jack would have got it. Our own time in that jail eventually came to an end for Ginger and me and we did go back to the ship with our tails between our legs to complete the voyage that lasted 13 months. The Captain was kind to us and told us that he was thinking of our parents when he alarmed the authorities that we were missing, and if we had been over 21 years old instead of 17 he would have left us there. Our ‘adventure’ was very costly to us in terms of money though, for a start off we lost a month in wages, then we had to pay the return fares of the 2 policeman escort to take us from the Christchurch jail to Wellington and a night in an hotel for them. So it was about 3 months before I started earning for myself again, longer for ginger because he earned much less than me. After that escapade, the ship started the ‘copra run’. This entailed going from island to island in the South Seas. There were no ports as such in most of those islands. The ship just anchored off and loaded copra from boats in which the islanders brought a few bags at a time. Many, many boat loads of sacks at each island where there were no streets, no roads on most of them, no shops and certainly no bars or pubs. There was little for any of us to do those days. Most of our off duty activities when Corabank was anchored was pleasurable though.  We did have a raft which was made from empty oil drums and planks, and mainly used for painting the ship’s hull, but also used by us in our spare time for swimming and fishing. There were sharks abounding in those waters, but swimming took place when cargo nets were hung over the ship’s side and a lookout posted to holler a warning if a shark was spotted in the clear blue water, when swimmers made for the net until it was safe again.  I remember 3 of us swimming ashore in Makatea and while we were there the weather came up, the ship departed for 2 days, leaving us there. Msr Charles Buchet, the head islander, kindly made a hut available for us to sleep in and made sure we had plenty to eat and we were never short of female company all that time until the ship returned. We did not get in trouble on the ship because we had permission to go ashore. There were harbors as such when we went to 2 places in Fiji to load bulk copra. Also harbors in Rabaul and Madang. There was one place we went to in New Guinea which I forget the name of, but we it was another place we loaded copra. The local natives intrigued me, an English teenager from far away London. We were used by now to seeing bare chested women and men wearing nothing but a loincloth and white tattoos on their faces and bodies. The men, when you gave them a cigarette, always wanted a piece of newspaper to roll it in, even though it was already rolled. A page from a book or magazine would do as long as it had print on it. I was intrigued by this and when I asked their Australian ‘overseer’ why that was he told me that they see us reading and as they have no concept of reading, think the book or newspaper is somehow talking to us, and they think that when they take the smoke containing “Talk-talk paper” inside of them, they will get the magic.    Another thing he told me was that their chief did all the business regarding the labor of the villagers that worked the cargo, wages and everything else. When he tried to cultivate the chief in the matter of the value of banking for the villagers as a group and how the money would grow with interest, the chief, after giving that some thought, insisted in payment in Australian shillings which he had planted under certain trees so that he could see for himself the money growing. Because they could see no sails or oars on the ship, they figured she must have legs to walk along the bottom of the sea and their river.

I figure nowadays their children and grandchildren will all have cellphones and computers. The voyage continued with So many delights for all, officers, engineers, Deck and engine room crowds and catering personnel. Our surroundings at sea, the sun, the calm and deep blue sea, and the starlit sky at night amonst those islands. The weather was almost such that we would use the open wheelhouse on the monkey island , with Corabank being such a good steering ship that she would hold her course with the helmsman having only to put a spoke or two to correct when she wandered slightly off course.

Being as Mr. Davidson, the 2nd Mate was an affable man who was not given to treating the man at the wheel as a non-person and would engage in conversation when he was not engaged in taking sights etc.  I remember distinctly, one night up there, and if it had not been dark, the islands around us would have been visible, but a distinct smell like perfume came drifting over the ship, and was so strong that I said to the Second Mate, “What’s that scent surrounding us Sec?  He replied straight away, ”Oh that’s the smell put off by the Bougainvillea carried over here by the breeze”.

This was the kind of reward for us in those days on the Corabank’s trip, but it shouldn’t be construed that it was a pleasure trip. For us in the deck crowd there was plenty of work to do for 8 hours a day, liberally mixed with very hard work. But in the islands on our time off, there were plenty of diversions to occupy us, like swimming, fishing, going ashore in those islands, the fabulous beaches, meeting very affable and friendly islanders. There were very few cameras amongst us in those days, certainly cell phones with their cameras hadn’t been invented yet, hadn’t even been thought of. Film type cameras then were expensive for us, so we had to rely on the good will of those who did have one to get pictures.

I sailed with Mr. Davidson as AB many years later when he was Captain of the Empire Star. He had a tattoo on his upper arm which I saw very often on the Corabank that he had done in Levuka, Fiji. 

It was a skillfully crafted moonlight scene of an island scene, with a palm tree and moonlit waters, with the words “Suva Fiji Bula” underneath.

On the Empire Star I went to the wheel at night, and the Captain was there in the wheelhouse. I knew he was Captain, who I remember as being a very nice guy to crew members when he was second Mate. When he said“Who’s the man at the wheel”? I answered “Nicholson sir, Suva Fiji Bula”  He came for a closer look at me by the light of the compass binnacle. “Nicholson” he roared, and then, “You’ll get no special favors here”. And neither did I, nor expect any.  One day he did ask me if I knew what happened to the senior cadet of Corabank, and he was pleased at my answer that I did see and spoke to him in KGV docks when he had Captain’s stripes on his sleeve. Amongst the islands that we visited was Tarawa, where one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific war was fought, if not the bloodiest. While we were anchored off there, another ship came and anchored. She was an American freighter belonging to the United States Navy, painted all grey.  We found out that she was there to take the bodies of U.S. service men who had been killed when the island was taken from the Japanese. Some crew and officers from that ship came aboard Corabank one evening and brought a movie set with them, ice cream and Coke too, while our ship provided beer.

After the movie show, there was a friendly mixture of both ship’s Officers and crew. They spoke of their unenviable task, and bitterness of having to dig up those bodies to take back for final burial in the USA. The islanders told them of the location of many bodies, with one very sad tale of when they were told by the islanders of a plane under the water on a reef.  They sent divers to investigate and they found the plane with the pilot’s body still in the cockpit. When they got him out and back to their ship, they found a note in his bullet riddled flying jacket pocket that he was uninjured when he crash landed, but he could see the Japs had set machine guns up on the beach and were already firing at him, so he won’t be getting out.   That tale ended our celebration and for them, they told us of many sad stories of their trip.  That put a tone of sadness in our stay at Tarawa. And for them…being as American ships were ‘dry’, they couldn’t ‘drown their sorrows’.

We called at a few more islands, including some remote as Rambi and Rotuma and by now all 5 hatches were almost full of copra and just needed topping up. Everybody, from the Captain down, by now were plagued by copra bugs which were everywhere imaginable, in every nook and cranny, especially in our bunks….and shoes which have to be shaken out before putting them on. There was nowhere on the ship free from them, and they were breeding by the millions as time went by.

However, we were homeward bound now and ‘Channels’ took over making the bugs seeming insignificant, and goodwill prevailed as on any ship when homeward bound as England got closer.  and even the odd guy you didn’t like becomes your friend. 

So ended an unforgettable voyage all those years ago voyage that took place over 70 years ago. I have sailed on 28 different ships, from deck boy to Bosun, with multiple voyages in a few of them, sailed 4 different flags too, but none of them stay in my memories as much as the Corabank.

Many thanks to Peter for this authentic and original account.

PLAQUE APPEAL.

PLAQUE APPEAL. A plaque celebrating the life and work of Andrew Weir ( Lord Inverforth) is being applied for. It will likely be placed on or near the Baltic Exchange where many of our adventures were hatched!

The BANK LINE ASSOCIATION are making the application and they would welcome pledges of cash, however small, towards the cost of creating and fixing the plaque. Please make your offer direct to geoff@solomongm.co.uk who will acknowledge receipt. Thank you.

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The CRESTBANK’S last voyage

Stuart Murgatroyd – Sydney -Nova Scotia -Canada

M.V. Crestbank.1973

  The final Voyage

               By:  Stuart Murgatroyd, radio officer.

In Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada

I joined  her in Barry 18 April 1973, and from Barry we headed west across the Atlantic heading for New York, or so we thought.   We had heavy weather half way across, but the ship seemed to revel in it.

Before we reached New York we received new orders to head north to Sydney, Nova Scotia, to load iron rails. This brought new challenges as I had to get ice reports so we could navigate through the sea ice along the Nova Scotia coast. So US coast guard ice patrol reports were used, and they were hard to take down as the assisted morse keys spat out the message.

But we made it to Sydney – a small city on tip of Cape Breton Island Nova Scotia.We berthed at the Steel mill and started loading rails meant for Iran.

It was cold and snowy but we managed a few trips ashore this being an important part of my life as I met my future wife, now of 42 years here. We corresponded by snail mail and expensive calls for 5 years before we marry back in Sydney! So after a week or so in Sydney we head South to New York, Norfolk, Charleston then into Gulf Houston New Orleans all with multitudes of different cargo on deck-all meant for Persian Gulf states.

So leaving the Gulf after some good times in the French quarter we-headed across Atlantic and the  coast of South Africa.

Round the South Africa coast there are heavy Cape rollers but we get around and head for the Persian Gulf. Through the Straights of Hormuz then most of Gulf states – man, it was hot. No AC on the old Crest bank. But the beer with Chapatis and curry sauce from our crew keeps us sane.

So we proceeded to the top of the Gulf up the Shatt al Arab river where we  unloaded those Sydney rails. Luckily this was way before the Iran Iraq War.

Then down to the final destination in the Gulf,  Bahrain, where the ship was to be sold, and where our Greek friends assumed ownership of the Crestbank. They offered me a job as RO but it was not something I considered.

As we approached Bahrain we ran aground on a sandbar.  We were stuck fast even at high water and unable to get ourselves off. So lurking nearby was a Dutch salvage tug which freed us after negotiations with head office. In Bahrain divers went down for an examination, but there was no serious damage. Unfortunately this did not satisfy the Greeks who insisted on drydocking.   The only drydock available was in Singapore so we headed there . We would then fly home assuming that the Greeks accepted the ship.  Two thirds of the way there my main transmitter – HF Oceanspan all of 100watt lost power. I tried to raise other ships on MF back-up 500Khz but to no avail. With the help of the Electrician we found the power cable to the Unit damaged. We temp ran a new cable and soon got back on air,  sending a list of unsent cables to London so they knew we were still there.

Arrived in Singapore and stayed there 7 days before the Greeks accepted her. We then fly long haul flight home Via Amsterdam KLM on 30 August 1973. 

So that is my description of the Crestbank’s  last Voyage under Bankline.

The Crestbank became the RENA K and served for a further 5 years before going to scrap at Split in Italy.

(See ‘ A Bank Line Voyage ‘ for another account in 1959 when the author of this site was serving on the same ship as 2nd Mate.)

Liberty Ship – MARABANK loaded down in Capetown harbour…

Built as the ‘ Samouse’ in the USA and purchased by the Bank Line in 1947. Sold in 1960 to Italian interests and then became the RUSCIN. 2 years later sold again to become the WHITEHORSE for a further 7 years under the Liberian flag, finally going to scrap in Italy in 1969. A good 25 year career.

The amazing wartime wanderings of the M.V. Irisbank.

Sistership to Lossiebank, Taybank, and Tweedbank. All of these vessels came through the war OK, and helped by the good speed they ran at – 13kts plus on 2 engines. U boats found it difficult to sink faster ships…

(The author spent 2 years as 3rd Mate on the Irisbank in the 1950’s)

Note the convoy work was limited with the vast majority of the trips carried out alone, somehow avoiding both Japanese and German torpedoes…

Liberty ship Corabank Gallery (Updated with more pictures from 1948 in Makatea loading phosphate)

Photos kindly supplied by Peter Nicholson from Canada (pictured), who was a Junior Ordinary Seaman onboard. An account of life aboard the Corabank follows….


Corabank

The Corabank was my 5th ship in a year when I joined her as a Junior Ordinary Seaman, which was just one rank above the lowest of the deck crowd, the Deck boy.

That one year’s experience at sea before had given me the chance of sampling the sea life on merchant ships as a young teenager living amongst hardened men and holding my own amongst other teens, getting over sea sickness, going through rough weather that can’t be imagined by landspeople and even knowing foreign pub life which included mixing with the  ladies of the night in such countries as Brazil, United States, Argentina, Australia, South Africa., and my Dad taking me to his pub when I came home and bragging to his mates, “Go on son, tell ‘em where you bin”, and even such as  “He came home with eighteen quid”. 

On Corabank every man older than me was a war hardened seaman as were the crews of my other 4 ships before her .I do have trouble remembering the names of every man on the Corabank. I do know         that was a long trip, but also it was over 70 years ago and memory does dim after that many years.

Anyway the Captain’s name was Peter Stewart, A very nice man. Mr. Carnie was the Mate and Mr. Davidson was 2nd Mate. I won’t mention the Bosun’s name who the Captain fired in I think, Melbourne, when he was coming back to the ship along the dock and came upon the Bosun flogging a brand new coil of 2 inch rope.

There was a young apprentice named String fellow who I have good reason to remember with warmth and there was a young steward’s boy that I have good reason to remember his name of Champion, and of course the Deck boy, ‘Ginger’ Bulbrook, who many years later I was to be Best Man at his wedding.When we left London, I was put in the 12-4 watch with 2 ABs because I had learned steering experience on other ships. Corabank did not have radar or

Gyro compass, only magnetic compass, which was quite standard for those times. She also had a steering station up on Monkey Island which we made good use of in good weather.

The voyage was uneventful to the East coast ports of the United States, New York, New Orleans, Galveston, then Trinidad where the ABs sent me ashore to buy rum, and coming back to the ship as they were all leaning on the gunwhale watching me and no doubt relishing the thought of what was in the bag I was carrying, when I tripped on some railway lines and down I went and….disaster!  The 4 bottles in the bag broke!. Needless to say, I got my ears clipped for that and spoiling their evening of pleasure indulged in by all seamen. But unbeknown to us, the Mate had been watching and sent for me later and had me take down two 12 packs of beer to them. That didn’t stop them for the rest of the trip, always coming out with a reminder when I went ashore, not to trip on my way back aboard.

We left Trinidad bound for Brisbane via Panama. The ABs told me I would be doing my wheel going through the canal, which alarmed me as in the past up to then I had never steered in rivers or canals. They told me just do what the Pilot tells me and I’ll be OK. So with much trepidation, when my time came I went to the wheel. The Pilot took one look at this little fresh faced 17 year old and said to the Captain “Do you usually let the boys to the wheel in confined waters like this Captain?”. My Captain looked over at me and after about 3 seconds replied “Yeah, he’ll be OK”.

 From that moment this little 5 foot 6” OS, was 6ft tall and ready to show what I could do, which was my 2 hour wheel, with no mistakes.

The voyage across the Pacific was uneventful except for one thing that sticks in my memory ever since. The 2nd Mate had paid off sick in Trinidad or Panama, and left us with a mate short. Stringfellow, the young 15 year old cadet was put in charge of standing the 12-4 watch.

When I was at the wheel on the Monkey Island I often saw him ‘shooting the stars’ at night and the sun at noon. We often chatted teen age boy stuff, and one night when I asked him how he could do such a thing as navigation, he told me he had been put in a sea school since he was 10 years old, and he learned it there and now it was child’s play to him and besides, the Captain  checks his work.

A 15 year old trusted to share in navigating an ocean going, fully laden merchant ship!!!  He had to be good! When we got to Brisbane there was a dock strike on which left us at anchor amongst lots of other ships. Short of tobacco and grub too, but eventually we did get alongside where all hands made the most of shore leave, and that can be imagined how, including all officers and crew. All crew except for one man who unbelievably did not go ashore for over a year by the time we got back to London, and that was an AB named ‘Ginger’ Hubble. He told me he was not long married with a baby son and was saving up for a house.  Which was understandable in those days when you could buy a house for about 1500 pounds. So his years wages would amount to 24 pounds a month times 13 plus overtime. Nowhere near 1500 but a good down payment.

Now brings me to a memory that I had no reason to bring to the forefront until an event that happened quite recently, only a few years ago.

I saw an article on my computer on a nautical website that I’ve forgotten now, but it referred to a guy that his father was telling him about a ship that he was on that hit a bridge many years ago in Brisbane, Australia. I immediately perked up because I had firsthand knowledge of such an event. I made enquiries and got in touch with a guy in England who told me by email that his father told him about it happening and the ship was named Corabank. As I was the man at the wheel when it happened, I was most interested. The 2 ABs in my watch were in no way fit to go to the wheel on account of their shenannigans ashore on the previous few nights, so it was left to me do it. I didn’t mind at all. We let go from the discharging berth and headed out into the river. The Captain, Officers and Pilot by now were all on the wing of the bridge and I was keeping the ship headed on my last order from the Pilot which was “Steady”, and which I marked as the center of the bridge ahead.

I was the only one in the wheelhouse and as we were getting closer to the bridge, I looked at the mast, then looked at the bridge and thought to myself, “It can’t be, but it is. Surely not. That mast is gonna hit the underneath of that bridge!” I’m thinking.  I yelled out something to attract those out on the wing of the bridge, but they was already coming in the wheelhouse. But they were too late to take any action to prevent what was certainly going to happen. Too late to get the way off her by putting the engine astern, and no helm order would have any effect to change what was going to happen. That mast was going to hit the underside of the bridge regardless. And hit it did. First the underside of the side we were headed for and next a few seconds later, the other underhang. Then we were under, free and clear, with no damage to the ship but a buckled topmast. We did hear later that the bridge was closed for the day while they had it checked for damage, but none was found and the bridge was free for traffic to resume.

We never did hear what was the Company’s reaction when they got the report, but it was obvious that the topmast should have been lowered after the ship came higher out of the water after discharging cargo. Maybe those in the office in far away London from Brisbane Australia, didn’t know about shenanigans ashore after a long trip across the Pacific…….or did they. Anyway, the buckled topmast had to be cut off when we got to Sydney as it could not be lowered due to the buckling. Bill Champion, who was a young steward’s boy at the time on Corabank told his son about it so over 70 years after that voyage I sent him a tee shirt with Corabank’s picture on it and the list of ports we done. Sadly he died since then and his son told me that his Dad wanted to be buried wearing that tee shirt. (Photo of that tee shirt following) We did several Australian ports including Port Pirie where the “Maplebank” was already docked loading wheat for India, I think. She had a crew of Brits too and they told us they were making their own good whisky from their cargo. We loaded bagged grain there too but I forget where we discharged it because we eventually took a complete load of copra back to London with no grain in any hatch.. We also took a couple of loads of phosphate from Nauru to Australian ports. The ship was drydocked in Auckland, and  as she was in there for a few days the Crew, Officers and Engineers too were all put in hotels ashore except us Deck and Engine room crowd who were put in, of all places,….. the New Zealand WRENS barracks!  Say no more!

We went also to Port Lyttleton in New Zealand where the deck boy and I got ourselves into quite an adventure:

(Here’s the previously written story)

 My New Zealand Adventure

Looking back to those years, 1947 was a fabulous time for me as a teenager.

Other young guys were working in factories, or offices, or a store, some still at school even, and here was I, working on a steamer sailing to destinations which can only be described as ‘Exotic’

 We sailed from London in an England which was still engulfed in the drab and dreary early post war years, bound for the ports and bright lights of the USA, then through the Panama Canal, lazily steaming across the Pacific Ocean to Australia. Then on from there to New Zealand, New Guinea and eventually to many of the South Pacific Islands, which up until then only existed in most people’s, including my own, imagination, or from brief glimpses seen in movies. Tahiti, Bora Bora, Fiji, Rambi, Rotuma, Makatea, Nauru, Tarawa, most of them with no harbor as we know ports to be.

The ship would lay at anchor in a lagoon or bay, and with nothing to do in one’s spare time but to swim and fish in the warm, deep blue, crystal clear water whilst my brothers and those other boys I had left behind in England were riding their bikes in the cold, pouring rain to get to a factory, only to stand soaking wet all day, making cars they could never in those days dream of owning.

As I had already completed a few other voyages, I was rated ‘Ordinary Seaman’. Amongst the crew was another young guy about my age, a first tripper, who had the rating of ‘Deck Boy’, and owned the status of a ‘nobody’ which was bestowed upon boys of that rank.  Deck boy, steward’s boy, galley boy, all nobodies on a ship.  But….fiercely protected by the men regardless. In the pecking order I was about second to lowest among the deck crew whose duties and work was totally separate from cooks, stewards, engine room crew and of course, Officers. I was ranked just above the galley boy, deck boy and stewards boy.

Above us were the seasoned seamen, men in their twenties, thirties, forties and older to whom war on the oceans was still very fresh in their minds. Some of them had been torpedoed and bombed, swam for their lives in fiery oil covered waters, spent days on end in open lifeboats and watched their shipmates die in agony until  rescue came for those still alive. And among us was an ex wartime Spitfire pilot who told us he couldn’t settle into the blasé post war life any more. His name was Arthur Farthing. All of them great seamen who taught me the seamanship craft that stood me in good stead over the many future years that I spent at sea.

New Zealand in those days was a young country populated by aboriginal Maoris, with the Europeans being mostly of British stock, with a very British Olde-world flavor to the country, a very ‘comfortable’ and friendly country to visit, welcoming not just for Brits, but for anybody of any nationality. It was a country that was a magnet for seamen to ‘jump ship’ as it was almost like being at home, with the English language, and employers crying out for help in those days and offering wages that many could just not resist. This did result in numerous seamen adding themselves to the country’s population, knowing that the Department of Immigration would turn a blind eye to their presence. 

Actually, in stark reality, jumping ship was classed no less than Desertion, and punishable by imprisonment Myself and the deck boy who went by the name of ‘Ginger’ due to his mop of copper colored curly hair, decided it was about time we had a go at this jumping ship lark, after all, what harm could befall us? Aren’t we in a country almost like home? and both of us with the Over ‘Ome accents. What could go wrong? It’ll be a piece of cake.

Our plan was to jump the night before sailing, hide out somewhere until we’re sure the ship has gone, resurface, and get one of those high paying jobs that are abounding here. Piece ‘a cake it’ll be.

Except it wasn’t a piece of cake.  It didn’t quite work out that way for us though. Oh, jump we did. Hide out we did not. We actually watched the ship sail away, us being bold as brass and our teenager plans being kept with a determination of a pair of chocolate soldiers. What we didn’t know though, was the alarm was already raised. The Captain had put out our description to the Authorities in this small New Zealand port town where everybody knew just about everybody else and the police were already alerted for two young guys, one with copper colored hair and one with blonde hair, both with seamen’s kitbags on their shoulders. Seamen didn’t use suitcases in those days. By now we were quite hungry and we decided then to go and get a breakfast and plan which one of the high paying jobs we would go after. Piece ‘a cake, right?

No, not right, not right at all. Oh, we got the breakfast ok and were halfway through, when a uniformed policeman came in and just sat himself down at our table and said, all friendly like, as if he’d known us all our lives, “When you’ve finished eating lads, you’re coming with me”. Just like that! That was it. That was the extent of our jumping ship. That was as far as we got. Not even 24 hours into our New Life in a New Country. We were not ship jumpers now, we were ship Deserters, and were about to take the consequences. The policeman who had detained us was quite an affable chap, having nonchalantly sat drinking a cup of tea while we finished our breakfast, or tried to finish it more likely. Appetites suddenly disappeared with this bolt out of the blue. Our first day in the New Land was instantly shattered. What will they do to us now? “Oh, nothing much, you’ll be detained until your ship either comes back here or to some other New Zealand port, and then you’ll be put back aboard her, that’s all” Put back aboard? Oh no! We’ll be the laughing stock of the crew. Not to mention what punishment the Captain will dole out to us. “Can’t you just let us go? We can find a job and not be trouble to anybody. You’ll see we can make good. Just give us the chance and we’ll prove it” “It doesn’t work that way lad” said the policeman. “You’re too young to go wandering around on your own, and you’ve got to be taken care of until you get back on your ship”

We were up before a Magistrate, who ordered us to be detained until such times as we could be returned to our ship. We weren’t looked upon, or treated as criminals in the real sense. It was an Immigration offence that we were guilty of as far as the New Zealand authorities were concerned, with our desertion from the ship being a matter for the ship’s Captain to decide upon. The jail we were put in was a local jail, not a big prison. It held about twenty small time offenders. Thieves, burglars, a couple of drunk drivers. Most of them guilty of petty nuisance stuff. One guy I remember was doing six

months for breaking into a railway station booking office and stealing train tickets. His excuse to the Magistrate was that he was waiting for a train when he heard the office phone ringing and as it kept on ringing he thought it might be an urgent emergency so he broke the window to go in and answer the phone, that’s all. And that’s when he was caught and arrested. The cops must have put the tickets in his pocket to frame him. This is the story he told to anybody who would listen, including me.

We heard that our ship would be away for about a month, and wherever she came back to is where we would be sent, under escort, return fare for our escorts and a night in a hotel for them at our expense yet! And while we are in jail, we’re not earning anything. We’ll be working forever to pay this ship jumping caper off. I made 12 English pounds per month and Ginger made 7 pounds per month. In those days the dollar rate of exchange was around 4$C. I made $48 and Ginger made $28 a month, his not even a dollar a day. The worst thing about daily life in that jail was getting ‘banged up’ at 4.00pm until 7.00am. We did not share a cell. We had our own cells, which were not intended to be comfortable in the least. Wooden boards and a straw mattress, no pillow, no sheets, just two rough, filthy blankets. When I complained to another guy that half the straw was missing in my mattress he said to me “Yeah, the guy that had that cell before you smoked the other half”. One bare light bulb that went off at about 9 o’clock and there you were with your thoughts until the next morning. There was no toilet in the cell. At the 4 o’clock lock-up you lined up and took a chamber pot, of course referred to as a piss-pot, and took it into your cell for any personal needs you might have during the night and that was it. Daily routine for Ginger and me was hum-drum and boring as we had no tasks. Unlike the other cons who had mopping out, kitchen duties, and other tasks assigned them during the day we had nothing except to play cards or read the whole day long, waiting to get banged up again at 4 0’clock. No radio, with television, whilst it may have been invented in those days was certainly not widespread and equally as certainly not available to convicts. This boredom was soon to end for me though and I was offered and accepted a task that relieved my boredom and led to an experience that stays in my mind until this very day. Sid, the chief jailer and a kindly man to Ginger and me, sent for me one morning and put a proposition to me that was mine to choose or not. “Nick” he said “ In a couple of days a man will be coming in here to stay for a while until he may be sent to another prison to serve a long term sentence. While he is here, he will wear his own clothes, smoke tailor made cigarettes, have books and magazines and food sent in from outside. He can have chocolates, sweets, candy and fruit as long as he is here, and during that time we’d like you to keep him company. Not share his cell, but just play cards with him, talk with him, and generally keep him company. Also he doesn’t get banged up with the rest of the guys and you won’t either as long as you’re with him. You’ll only get locked up when he wants to go to sleep, how does that sound to you?”

How does that sound? Chocolate, sweets, tailor made fags? Books and magazines! That suits me Sid. Bring him in! Wait a minute though.  “Er….. Sid, what’s this guy in for? What’s he done?”

This is a question that one soon learns in jail not to ask. “What are you in for?” is a question that’s a no-no. You will be told if the con wants to tell you, if he doesn’t, don’t ask.“He’ll be going to court for trial every day and coming back every afternoon until his trial is over” “Yeah, O.K Sid, but what’s he going to be on trial for?”

“Oh, didn’t I tell you?  Ah…well………..Murder. He killed his wife’s lover” Murder! Yikes! Instant visions of a 6 foot 6 thug entered my head. A murderer and I got to play cards or checkers with him? That means I’ll have to let him win all the time. Ah well….the chocolate and good outside grub will make up for that. But Jack was far from what I imagined he was going to be. I was myself at that time a little shrimp of a kid. Skinny, and weighed about 125 soaking wet. This ‘murdering thug’ was even smaller than me. In his mid fifties I would think, baldy head and a hearing aid stuck in his ear with wires leading to a battery in his shirt pocket. Very soft spoken too, as well as being very mild mannered. Altogether different, even the opposite, from what I had always imagined to be the stereotype murderer. Ah well, at least I won’t have to deliberately let him win any games we play.

Jack and I got along quite well, very well in fact. In retrospect, I think that he thought he was playing a part in rehabilitating a juvenile delinquent, a budding criminal so to speak. Each day he would go to court for his trial. Young as I was, I had to smile at the cons making book on what length of sentence Jack was going to get. They would press his pants in the prison laundry for him. They made sure the guy with haircutting talents would trim the few hairs he had left over his ears and give Jack a good clean shave. They seemed to have a mistaken idea that if Jack appeared in front of the Judge with an always neat and tidy appearance it would somehow have an influence over the length of sentence he would hand down to Jack.

13

At first Jack would not have much to say about the trial when he returned in the afternoon, but as time passed he would let on a few things that went on in court that day. I do remember one time he came back and said to me “That brother in law of mine has really dropped me in it. That’s going to get me a few extra years” He was resigned to doing about a twelve years sentence which is what you did if you’re sentenced to life in New Zealand in those days. Gradually, Jack opened up to me. Opened up about the actual murder, describing to me in detail how he killed the guy. It was if he was just telling me a story. “Oh, I did it alright” he told me. “And d’you  know what made me laugh? He said “They was out hunting for me and all the time I was home in bed”  “Made you laugh Jack?” I thought. “You just blew a guy in two, gave him both barrels you told me, went home and went to bed, and it made you laugh because they were looking for you everywhere but the righ place.Hmm…

Getting on towards the end of his trial, we had a nice meal, and I said to him after him telling me of events at that day’s trial, I said “Jack, something doesn’t make sense to me and it’s this. Look, really, a person doesn’t have to kill anybody. You don’t kill at all. But let’s suppose you do, surely you make sure you kill the right one” “What do you mean? kill the right one” “Well, look at it this way. That guy you done in, how do you know what your wife had told him, how do you know that she could have said she was a widow, couldn’t she? She could have told him she was divorced. She even could have told him she was a single woman, in fact she could have told him anything.” “So? They was still carrying on wasn’t they” “Yeah Jack, but the difference was it was her that was stitching you up, not him. After all, he never made any wedding vows with you did he? It was her that made the promises, not him. You told me yourself that you didn’t know the guy, and you only found out about the affair by gossip, then you found out where he lived and went and gave him both barrels of your shotgun. That’s why I think you killed the wrong one”. Then I hastened to add “Not that you should kill anyone”.

“Nah, he had it coming” said Jack. The following day was the day that Jack was going to be sentenced. All the cons were making themselves busy to ensure that Jack looked his best for the Judge, and I was in fact hoping that he would get a lighter sentence than they were forecasting, but I wasn’t too optimistic from what Sid told me..

The waiting for Jack to come back was nail bite time and the time dragged slowly until the bell sounded that somebody was coming in from outside. As soon as I saw Jack’s face I knew it was bad news for him. It couldn’t have been worse. He looked at me and said two words, “Natural life”, then burst into tears. He was only given time to change into prison garb from his street clothes, gather up his personal belongings, and be hustled out to journey to the place to begin the sentence that would last until the day he died. The last words he said to me were “I think you were right boy, I killed the wrong one” That’s what he said to me.

I was told that if they had the death sentence in New Zealand, Jack would have got it.

I asked the other cons what kind of life would Jack have in Mount Eden, the prison he went to. “He’ll have everything he wants except the key to the front gate” they told me.I was told that if they had the death sentence in New Zealand, Jack would have got it. Our own time in that jail eventually came to an end for Ginger and me and we did go back to the ship with our tails between our legs to complete the voyage that lasted 13 months. The Captain was kind to us and told us that he was thinking of our parents when he alarmed the authorities that we were missing, and if we had been over 21 years old instead of 17 he would have left us there. Our ‘adventure’ was very costly to us in terms of money though, for a start off we lost a month in wages, then we had to pay the return fares of the 2 policeman escort to take us from the Christchurch jail to Wellington and a night in an hotel for them. So it was about 3 months before I started earning for myself again, longer for ginger because he earned much less than me. After that escapade, the ship started the ‘copra run’. This entailed going from island to island in the South Seas. There were no ports as such in most of those islands. The ship just anchored off and loaded copra from boats in which the islanders brought a few bags at a time. Many, many boat loads of sacks at each island where there were no streets, no roads on most of them, no shops and certainly no bars or pubs. There was little for any of us to do those days. Most of our off duty activities when Corabank was anchored was pleasurable though.  We did have a raft which was made from empty oil drums and planks, and mainly used for painting the ship’s hull, but also used by us in our spare time for swimming and fishing. There were sharks abounding in those waters, but swimming took place when cargo nets were hung over the ship’s side and a lookout posted to holler a warning if a shark was spotted in the clear blue water, when swimmers made for the net until it was safe again.  I remember 3 of us swimming ashore in Makatea and while we were there the weather came up, the ship departed for 2 days, leaving us there. Msr Charles Buchet, the head islander, kindly made a hut available for us to sleep in and made sure we had plenty to eat and we were never short of female company all that time until the ship returned. We did not get in trouble on the ship because we had permission to go ashore. There were harbors as such when we went to 2 places in Fiji to load bulk copra. Also harbors in Rabaul and Madang. There was one place we went to in New Guinea which I forget the name of, but we it was another place we loaded copra. The local natives intrigued me, an English teenager from far away London. We were used by now to seeing bare chested women and men wearing nothing but a loincloth and white tattoos on their faces and bodies. The men, when you gave them a cigarette, always wanted a piece of newspaper to roll it in, even though it was already rolled. A page from a book or magazine would do as long as it had print on it. I was intrigued by this and when I asked their Australian ‘overseer’ why that was he told me that they see us reading and as they have no concept of reading, think the book or newspaper is somehow talking to us, and they think that when they take the smoke containing “Talk-talk paper” inside of them, they will get the magic.    Another thing he told me was that their chief did all the business regarding the labor of the villagers that worked the cargo, wages and everything else. When he tried to cultivate the chief in the matter of the value of banking for the villagers as a group and how the money would grow with interest, the chief, after giving that some thought, insisted in payment in Australian shillings which he had planted under certain trees so that he could see for himself the money growing. Because they could see no sails or oars on the ship, they figured she must have legs to walk along the bottom of the sea and their river.

I figure nowadays their children and grandchildren will all have cellphones and computers. The voyage continued with So many delights for all, officers, engineers, Deck and engine room crowds and catering personnel. Our surroundings at sea, the sun, the calm and deep blue sea, and the starlit sky at night amonst those islands. The weather was almost such that we would use the open wheelhouse on the monkey island , with Corabank b