Category Archives: Bank Line

A site for any Bank Line related material



An aerial view of New Plymouth with Mount Egmont in the distance

New Plymouth, on the north island of New Zealand, was a regular port for Bank Line vessels, either discharging the last of the import cargo from the USA Gulf Ports, or more often as a discharge port for Phosphate.

New Plymouth Port

The Liberty, MAPLEBANK after discharging a full cargo of Phosphate Rock from Ocean Island



Sydney Harbour, always a magnificent site and a welcome port call for all the Bank Line ships. All the delights of a major city, with the added prospect of easily arranged on -board parties.

The MEADOWBANK at Sydney
The SOUTHBANK at Sydney witha ” Just Married” sign on the occasion of Captain Carney’s marriage there during a visit.



Bank Line stalwarts from the Copra run will no doubt remember seeing the Burns Philp vessels that served the area, and the crews that were S. Pacific regulars. The unique atmosphere in the islands, the sights, sounds, and aroma were unique.

Captain Geoffrey Walker who was a long term Master on other vessels in the area has penned this excellent article and fleet history. An extract is below, and the full article is available by clicking on the download button.

Many thanks to Geoff. His site is here:-



Another interesting article from Captain Geoffrey Walker

A picture of “Graigfelen.”from the article….

Click the download button to read the whole story

Readers interested in the author should see his book titled, ” A Tramp For All The Oceans” and visit the website full of maritime items –


A nostalgic look at the Maritime world

Welcome to – Bankline- Plus. This is a maritime site full of photos, articles, accounts, and much more. It was started to celebrate the achievements of Andrew Weir, the Lord Inverforth, between 1885 and recent times, but now includes interesting posts from all around the marine world, old and new. Please explore and enjoy all of the material. Grateful thanks go to all of the contributors.

World Fleets


Not BANK LINE material, but the beginning of original and informative articles written by an ex Bank Line Apprentice who went on to command a variety of ships for many years. His published works include ” A Tramp For All The Oceans” and his numerous articles are in demand by the shipping magazines.


Please click on the button below to download the full article

A special thanks to Captain Geoffrey Walker.

See the interesting maritime site at

BANK LINE Ports…..


Kilindini Harbour

Mombasa in Kenya was a regular and popular port for Bank Line ships. It was on the round trip itinerary of the INCHANGA and the ISIPINGO between Durban and Calcutta. The harbour of Kilindini and the creeks beyond were ideal for sailing or motoring around in the ship’s lifeboats for pleasure.

Apprentices and an engineer on a lifeboat trip to Port Reitz hotel 1952

Kilindini Berths in the 1950’s


Here is an interesting article about a HK shipping company written by Captain Geoffrey Walker who was a Bank Line apprentice in the 1960’s.

“Shun Wah” ex Bradford City

To read the full interesting article, please click on the download button or text below.

Many thanks to Geoff Walker. His maritime site, full of interesting material, articles, pictures, and reflections can be found at



One of the prettiest ports visited regularly on the south island of N.Z. Formed from an extinct volcano in past times. Bank Line ships discharged U.S. Gulf cargo, and phosphate from Ocean Island. and Nauru.

The Maplebank apprentices climbed the peak overlooking the port in 1956. A view looking down.

The Liverpool AB’s of the MAPLEBANK in port in Lyttleton.


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 ran into severe weather and lost part of her masts off of the Australian coast after being caught in a cyclone.    The cyclone caused much damage all along the Australian coast, and the Cedarbank had to return to Sydney for 2 months repairs, sailing again at the end of April. 

Outside of the harbour again, the winds were mainly SE’ly, and it was decided to take advantage and sail the northerly route across the Pacific.   All went well on the long passage until, after 45 days at sea, strong fumes were detected coming out of the ventilators. Some hatches had been taken off to allow painting of the coatings, and then smoke was seen trickling up through the coal cargo.   The temperature was taken by lowering  thermometer down the inside of 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 the crew set to, dumping some 250 tons overboard. This was to make a space, and to get near the seat of the fire.   After three or four days, the men were all overcome by fumes, preventing further efforts, so the pumps were started and water played over the coal.  30 inches of water ws sounded in the bilges when it was then 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 a sudden explosion.   This was in the fore end of number 2 hatch, and occurred whilst a man was down below spraying water around.   The flames burst up through the coal and blue flames danced over the visible surface. 

The man who had been below scurried out of the hold, yelling and shaking, and with good cause. 

At this stage, the nearest land was approximately 1000 miles away, and the situation looked serious.   The Cedarbank at this point was situated in the North Pacific Ocean, above the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).  

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

At daylight, the Master ordered all the boats to be 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, and  where they stayed until the ship arrived in San Francisco. 

The night before making the Farallones, outside of San Francisco, there were several heavy new 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, attempting to contain the fire and starve it of oxygen.   However,  they were repeatedly blown off by the exploding fire!    This happened despite the firm wedging to keep the boards in place.  Despite this, they were nearing port, and the crew began to feel confident 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, to the great joy of those onboard, a tug was sighted 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 they learned of the ongoing fire, they quickly 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.

This is an extract from the ebook:  “ Man The Braces! “ available on AMAZON.


UBC as it was commonly known had an interesting history, being founded at the request of King George V. to serve Poland and the Baltic countries. Shares were equally held by Andrew Weir in the UK, and the East Asiatic Company in Copenhagen. It commenced trading in 1919.

The 1924 built BATAVIA purchased in 1937. Passengers and cargo.

Some vessels of the UBC fleet. For the Bank Line mariners, hooked on world-wide sailing, UBC and the subsidiary company, MacAndrews serving the Mediteranean were sometimes regarded as a bit ‘down market’ – but hindsight suggests that they were a ‘best kept secret,’ offering the most interesting short voyages!

BANK LINE Ports…………


A regular and popular port call for Bank Line vessels with friendly and fun loving locals!

A fairly recent view, but before the container era, a berth near the beach meant access for swimming , especially on layup, as when the IRISBANK had several weeks waiting for a replacement lifeboat to arrive in 1956.

The ‘old’ NAIRNBANK loading flour in Fremantle

The approaches past Rottnest Island.



Readers might recall the ships that ran from the various phosphate islands to Australia/New Zealand. Names beginning with ‘TRI’ and the service often augmented by Bank Line vessels.

An interesting article follows by Michael Smith, who commenced his sea going life on the TEAKBANK and who later served as an engineer on the TRI ELLIS

Please click on the link below for the account of life onboard.

Many thanks to Michael Smith in New Zealand who is a regular contributor.


Below is a link to an article by a regular contributor, Captain Geoffrey Walker. After Bank Line, Geoffrey rose to command of vessels sailing throughout the Pacific and Far East waters and his knowledge and love of the area shines through in his many fascinating articles. A huge thanks Geoffrey for sharing these with Bank Line readers…..

The ill fated LEVERNBANK in which Geoffrey served as an apprentice on an earlier voyage.

Click below to download the full illustrated article

Michael Smith, who commenced his seagoing career on the M.V. TEAKBANK continues his account of serving on other vessels…


Triple Expansion Steam Engine with Exhaust Turbine

The S.S. Triadic was built in 1945 as a service vessel and originally named the HMS Dungeness. I am led to believe that the ‘Dungeness’ was used to patrol the waters around Darwin. She was later converted to a Phosphate bulk carrier and named S.S. Triadic. To the best of my knowledge the ‘Triadic’ was owned and run by The British Phosphate Commissioners (BPC) who managed extraction of phosphate from Christmas Island, Nauru and Banaba (Ocean Island) from 1979 until 1981. British Phosphate owned and ran 2 other vessels, the ‘Triellis’ and ‘Triaster’. During my time with BPC I served on the ‘Triellis’ and the ‘Triadic’.

I joined the Triadic in Fremantle, Western Australia after a 4 hour plane ride from Melbourne, Australia in the early 70’s. This was to be my second (and last) steam powered vessel. At that stage the Triadic was on a semi-permanent run carting Phosphate from Christmas Island to Albany and Geraldton in Western Australia. As some of you might remember, Albany operated as a whaling station in the days of yore. If memory serves me right it took around 9 days to get to Christmas Island and around 12 days on the return trip to Albany. I cannot remember whether we carried passengers on the Triadic, but we certainly took up to 12 passengers back and forth on the same run on the M.V. Triellis.

Taking a look around the engine room for the first time, I discovered that there were two oil fired 500lb per square inch boilers, which made steam for the two 300kw generators and the triple expansion Main Engine. The Steering Gear aft consisted of three steam driven pumps, these operated a somewhat large screw mechanism, which in turn meshed with a large quadrant which when moved, turned the rudder in the required direction. When testing the steering gear prior to leaving port, clouds of steam with the mandatory hissing sound filled the steering gear flat, the three pistons whizzed up and down at a great rate of knots when the wheel on the bridge was turned, and then stopped abruptly when the desired position was reached. I often wondered whether this sudden starting and stopping had any effect on the sleeping habits of the crew.

The main engine itself, was an ‘open crankcase’ design, in other words, there was no outer casing on the engine, and everything that went up and down and round and round were in full view. When under way all three connecting rods and big end bearings spun around at 90rpm for all to see. The 2 nd Engineer suggested that I should look at learning to check the big end bearing temperature by touching the 4 ton big end as it spun around! Needless to say I was never really open to acquiring this legendary skill!

The trip to Christmas Island was relatively uneventful. I do not believe that ‘blowing the tubes’ was an operation that was carried out on the Triadic. This just might have been because the boilers were fire , rather than water tube boilers? Cannot remember.

We anchored off Christmas Island some days later as another vessel was being loaded with Phosphate. We were told that we needed to be at anchor for about 3 days. In the early 70’s the whole area around the island was teeming with fish, and fishing with hand held lines when not on watch, was a favorite pastime for most of us. A line dropped into the water almost always resulted in a tug on the line within a minute or two. Most of the fish were Snapper with the occasional Barracuda from time to time. The R/O on board at that time was a very keen fisherman, and would have up to 4 lines ‘going’ at the same time. He would drop the lines in, tie his lines to the handrail and ask the others to give him a call if any of the lines caught a fish. He would then disappear to his cabin. This of course attracted some of the guys with not much to do, to play tricks on the Sparky. They often would haul his lines up and tie a couple of cans of Tuna on to the hook and then give him a call. On one occasion someone managed to ‘obtain’ a frozen fish from the freezer and tied it to the end of his line and then gave him a call. It was all done in fun and no one was ever terribly upset at all this carry on.

At some stage 3 of the lads got a tad more adventurous, and decided to make a large hook in the engine room with the view to snagging a shark. A lump of meat was stuck on the hook and with the help of a rather stout rope line lowered into the water. Its end was tied securely to the handrail. Due to the abundance of fish in the area quiet a few sharks could sometimes be seen cruising around. Some time later the rope went as taut as a bow string, and with a cry of joy three of them rushed to pull whatever had taken a bite of the hook up to the surface. As luck would have it, a large 4 or 5 meter Bronze Whaler had taken the bait. It took a great deal of cursing, swearing and grunting to haul this shark, who had possibly decided that it would not go quietly! to the surface. Due to the fact that we were ‘light ship’, meant that there was quite a way to go before we got the shark on the deck. So, there was a big shark + gravity pulling one way and 3 aspiring ‘shark hunters’ pulling the other. Gravity played a huge part in this endeavor, and no sooner had the shark been lifted a few feet out of the water when it’s weight overcame the muscles and sinews of the 3 lads, and it flopped back into the water. Some of the others, who were witnessing this unequal duel of wills shouted many expletives, encouragements and many and varied instructions as to how they should go about landing/pulling this large shark up on to the deck. Some even lent a hand with the pulling all to no avail. At one stage there would have been at least half dozen brawny lads tugging on the rope. By this time the rope was starting to chaff the palms of the gallant three. Meanwhile it was up 2 or 3 meters…the shark would give an enormous wiggle and it was down into the water again. Finally, after some time, it dawned on the 3 guys and the others assisting in this capture, that it was a lost cause and that basically they had a ‘tiger by the tail’. With some reluctance they cut the rope and allowed the shark to swim free. A lot of discussion took place as many availed themselves of a couple of cleansing ales after all the huffing and puffing, seeking a way to improve their technique and do better next time.

Thanks to Alan Rawlinson for giving me this opportunity to share my stories with you good people.

May you be well.

Michael Smith


Some details….

SS Triadic 7461 tons Built 10/1945 by West Coast Ship builders, Vancouver, BC. 426.8 x 57.2 x 34.9. 3 cylinder up & downer built by Canadian Allis Chalmers. 2 WT boilers. DF, ESD,GyC, radar, 2 decks, cruiser stern, O/No;181713.
Owned by British Phosphate Commisionaires. A H Gaze MBE as managers.
Registered London British flag.


Newcastle N.S.W. Australia

Newcastle in NSW has been a regular port of call for Bank Line ships, and the friendly and welcoming shoreside has remained in the memory of many of the visiting crews.

This was Newcastle around 1910 when coal to S America was a huge export. The Bank Line fleet were regular callers, and some paid the price for being nominated for this sometimes deadly cargo and routing.

The CASTLEBANK lost after loading coal in Newcastle. A purchased ship, the ELLISLAND also was lost after laoding here in 19010.

The CASTLEBANK lost after loading coal in Newcastle. Another purchased ship, the ELLISLAND also was lost after loading coal here in 1910.



An aerial view of the river Hooghly

Of all the world ports, Calcutta was visited most by Bank Line ships, loading cargoes for Africa and S. America among other destinations. A feature of a visit was the long haul, sometimes 2 days, up the river Hooghly.

An early pilot vessel
Chowringhee some time ago

Bank Line ships in the docks and on the river moorings


CASTLEBANK and LAURELBANK crews take part in a ship’s regatta


An account of a regatta between the ship’s crews in 1896 in Newcastle NSW. Taken from a Sea Breezes issue of 1937.

The Castlebank crew won the last race – for copper punts. See the last paragraph. She then loaded coal for Valpairiso in August and disappeared with it at sea in September.

It was quite common that ships loading coal out of Newcastle would go missing. Sometimes due to weather, but often fire or capsize, coal being a risky cargo.

The Laurelbank also disappeared at sea 2 years after this event.


Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha)

Loading Soya
The ‘old’ FORRESBANK was lost close to Port Elizabeth in 1953

Comment from


Loved Port Elizabeth, visited on Beaverbank and Ruddbank and remember spending a lot of time in a bar/hotel owned by a couple from Maghull near Liverpool where I lived – can’t remember name of it though


Did my first trip to sea on Cloverbank, renamed Siena, On a E A C charter in 1977 ,6 month trip ,joined her in Hong Kong , paid off in Bangkok .sailed to Busan,Pusan in Korea, Yokohama & Kobe in Japan across to Vancouver, Seattle,Portland & Astoria in Canada, then down to L A & San francisco ,then Manilla, Singapore,Bangkok then back to Hong Kong . Did 3 round trips on that run . WOw what a trip that was !!!

Many thanks to William Petch for this great recall..

kildonan1 commented on cloverbank comment

CLOVERBANK Did my first trip to sea on Cloverbank, renamed Siena, On a E A C charter in 1977 ,6 month trip ,joined her …

I was 2nd engineer on that trip, BJ Peterson was the old man, Eric Nixen 3rg eng, Garry Russel 4th eng, Fridel was the Chief. What a trip that was, when we left in Bangkok the Samson derrick was lying on the wharf after being dropped and smashed through one of the winches. What position were you onboard? Do you have any photos?



Comment by William Petch…

Whilst standing by in Sunderland at Crestbank new build, the funniest thing I ever saw was when I gave Captain C B Davies a lift on a Friday lunchtime to the train station as he was going home to Wales for the weekend he was standing on the platform waiting for his train , with 4 prize winning leeks under his arm.The previous night 4 of the shipyard workers had taken him out to the local Southwick working mens club leek show.& he was wined &dined there & presented with the 4 leeks. Talk about coals to Newcastle.!!!!


William Petch commented…

Sailed on maiden voyage of RUDDBANK in 1979 , had an eventfull trip up to China with Steel cargo from Spain, picked up 134 Vietnamese refugees off the coast of Borneo had them on board for over a month , finally landed them ashore in first loading port on next charter in Japan where we loaded for the Persian gulf. Captain C B Davies being our leader , best captain I ever sailed with .!!!! Very sad end for vessel in Venezuela.!!!!

NB: She was later called, ” Global Mariner” owned as a seafarers training ship, and sank on the river Orinoco in 2000 after a collision.

BANKLINE devotees, stop here!

You have reached a sheltered anchorage full of good things. Ships passing in the night, and casual visitors alike – you are all WELCOME!

See thousands of entries – ship pictures, stories, records, and memories old and new. Wartime accounts and fascinating history from 1885 onwards. Explore the surroundings, and for the lucky ones who spent time in the company, wallow if you like in nostalgia, recalling the heady days that will never, ever, be repeated. Best viewed with rose tinted glasses and your favourite tipple to hand! Now scroll on…..

Commander J.R.Stenhouse

Joseph Stenhouse served his apprenticeship in the Bank Line, spending 4 years on the sailing vessel SPRINGBANK. The book called ” Cracker Hash” tells the most interesting story

A short extract describes Melbourne in around 1900

Commander J.R. Stenhouse went on to become famous as Master of Shackleton’s ship AURORA , and later, the DISCOVERY. He was killed in the Red Sea in WW2.


Bank Line’s ALYNBANK after conversion to HMS ALYNBANK

A comprehensive article by Captain Geoffrey Walker follows, and an extract reads:-

Click on the Download button for the full article. Many thanks to Geoff for permitting this posting on the Bank Line site. Interested readers should also see his site at


William Petch. commented….

The Fish class vessels were in my opinion the best bankline ships built .Their Doxford 4 CYLINDER 670 J type engineswere a joy to sail with, once you got used to the starting & manouvering technique. Also working on the engine units for unit overhauls was quite labòur intensive. BUt boy did you enjoy a few beers afterwards!!!!


William Petch commented…

I remember in Sydney in 1982 on TROUTBANK, ashore with some shoreside friends went to a late night Jazz club down some dark stairs in the city some place ,went to visit the gents urinals standing there and suddenly the band started playing and I could watch them perform from where I was standing. The toilet was right next to the stage with no side wall to it , talk about blowing your own trumpet.!!!!

FORTHBANK memories

FORTHBANK memories

William Petch recalls the FORTHBANK.

I joined the Forthbank in Hull in March 1981 as 3eng afte obtaining my 2nd eng ticket at South Shields marine college . She had just carried out a quadrennial survey at Boness in Holland where unfortunatly after leaving the drydock on a cold foggy winters day she collided with a bridge on her way out to sea.!! ( See the report on this site). So she was turned around & back up to a layby berth for foremasts replacement & some deck repairs .The master was Harry Barber, but the collision was totally the pilots fault as they were talking in Dutch only to the tug & a misunderstanding caused the pilot to try &take the vessel through an unopen section of the bridge.Sutch is life’s surprises.!! This was my first Sopac copra run, down through the Panama canal & back up through the Suez canal a round trip of 4 months back to Rotterdam & payoff. My shortest trip after 4 voyages with the company. On our return from the south Pacific to Europe we carried a dug out canoe with outrigger attached which was a gift to Prince Charles on his visit there from the king of Tonga. The boat was located on top of containers down the aft end of vessel on the poopdeck , we took great pleasure in throwing our empty beer cans into the canoe on our voyage homewards. Needless to say it was full on arrive back in Europe!!!! Good job they were only cans & not bottled sp beers.!!!!

Below is the full report of the bridge collision – a highly technical examination with diagrams etc!

Tales of the deep, continued.

The career of Michael Smith in N.Z. who started out his career on the TEAKBANK


S.S. Hemiglypta

3 Stage Parkinsons’ Turbine

An extract….

During my 22 or so years in The Merchant Navy most of the vessels I served on were Diesel powered. The only two vessels that happened to be Steam powered, were the Shell Tanker Hemiglypta, and the Phosphate Bulk Carrier S.S. Triadic.

See the full article by clicking on the link below. Many thanks to Michael.

William Petch commented..

JOINED Clydebank on a floating drydock in Hamburg in early 1985, loaded around Europe, then off on the Sopac service. On our rundown to New Guinea, the captain asked us if we could build a wooden bar outside on the aft accomadation deck as we were expecting to have several ship board social events with shoreside guests, as the captain was C B Davies, NO sooner said than done was the order of the day .WE all devoted our spare time to the task & a very impressive wooden structure including a fine display of imaginitve lighting, provided by the electrian Steve Davies !!! Needless to say the bar was a roaring sucess around the islands ,even the superintendent John Mackenzie was impressed.!!!! ON the voyage back to Europe we had acummulated so much beer ,wine & spirits as all excess bar stock had been acquired by us .& the superintendent put the cost of all socialising6 down to ships account for entertaining clients.!!!! Fine Fellow Sir.So all the way home it was a free bar for all on board.!!!Unfortunately on arrival in Europe we heard that passenger accommodation was to be added to the after structure so our deck bar had to be
removed ! That’s life I suppose !!!

A treat….

Bank Line Ports….Islands and Atolls

Here is a remarkable and original article by Captain Geoffrey Walker about Islands and Atolls. The Bank Line ships regularly traversed many of them and called for Copra, e.g. Fanning Island. There was a love affair with the Maldives which claimed the old Laganbank as a victim.

An extract…

See the whole illustrated article by clicking on the download button. Grateful thanks to Geoff Walker for permission to post here. See his site


The SPRINGBANK was in the fleet from 1894 TO 1913 before being sold on

Barque “Springbank”

“Upon the arrival In Sydney on Saturday last of the four-masted barque Springbank, it was reported the wife of the captain and two of the crew had died from natural causes during the trip from Vancouver. In other respects the trip of the vessel was also remarkable; her great deck-load of timber making her so tender that she would not stand a heavy press of sail. Consequently her movements were necessarily slow, the voyage occupying 97 days.

The vessel brought over two million feet of lumber.”

“The Argus” 01 Dec 1909. Melbourne, Victoria

BANKLINE – regular ports



William Petch comment….

Remember in Sydney in 1982 on TROUTBANK, ashore with some shoreside friends went to a late night Jazz club down some dark stairs in the city some place ,went to visit the gents urinals standing there and suddenly the band started playing and I could watch them perform from where I was standing. The toilet was right next to the stage with no side wall to it , Talk about blowing your own trumpet.!!!!

Chapter 2 – A Bank Line Tale

A fictional story, by John Wale & Alan Rawlinson

Cocky decided that a club may be a good idea as there was bound to be other people about. Anything to get out of this awful limousine.

The girls were delighted and told the driver to head for the Cave. He flicked through a number of cards in a rubber band on the dashboard.

‘Ah yes, I think I know where it is, lots of hippies and pop music.

Fifteen minutes later they arrived, disembarked and entered descending the stairs to the basement.

The music was deafening but the onlookers were riveted as act after act took to the stage.

His escorts seemed confused at first but soon got caught up in the mood so Cocky even found himself quite impressed by what he heard.

During an interval of sorts, Corky excused himself for the loo. 

He was hoping to find a fire escape or window where he could make a quick exit.

He engaged his neighbour in a casual chat.

‘Not really like a Cave is it?’

‘Well it’s not, our kid, or should I say Jock. I suppose a cave is not far removed from the actual name of the Cavern!’

‘Oh , sorry I got the name a bit wrong, but the music’s not bad. What is the name of that last group?’

‘Your obviously not from round here. Everyone knows the Beatles.’

They returned to the auditorium. Cigarette smoke filled the air and the two men joined a group nearer the stairs.

Cocky saw an opportunity as the girls hadn’t seen his return. He waited until three people were leaving and tagged along without being noticed.

Out back on street level he continued to mingle with his unknown companions until he rounded the corner where he took off at a run. Hailing a black cab he settled back with relief and told the driver to head for the docks.

Hamish and the third apprentice had finished dinner and asked the watchman if he had seen Cocky.

‘Acha sahib,’ the watchman replied, ‘he caught a cab about a couple of hours ago, he didn’t say where he was going.’

‘Let me know the minute he gets back.’

The two apprentices adjourned to the smoke room for a game of scrabble and were halfway through when the watchman came in and announced that he had seen Cockygetting out of a cab. They found him in his cabin.

‘Where have you been?’ Hamish asked in a demanding tone.

‘Just with a couple of local girls,’ Cocky replied nonchalantly.

‘Went clubbing and saw a really good group called the Beetles.’‘Yeh. Yeh,’ Yeh, “    Hamish replied with unconscious irony.

‘Tomorrow first first thing, you can get yourself down below and move those tea-chests out of the locker. You can use your vivid imagination to figure out how to open them. Knowing you, you’ll claim they are full of contraband or something. As it’s Saturday we are both going to explore.’ He said looking at the third apprentice.

‘ Maybe we’ll take a look at this club of yours!’

In the morning, all hell broke loose.    Before long, there were police everywhere and all before breakfast!  Charlie had listened with incredulity to the yarn that Cocky had unfolded the night before.   They were sharing a cabin and a bond was forming between them despite their vastly different backgrounds.  Charlie liked Cocky’s outward confidence and tried to overlook or ignore the accent.  He didn’t believe the story about the Cavern, but put it down to his shipmates wild imagination.

The cause of the early morning rumpus was the discovery of raw heroin in plastic bags scattered around the tweendecks.  It looked like bags of useless tar, but it was later explained that each bag was worth thousands, and even more in the wrong hands.   It had been consigned to the hospitals. During the homeward voyage, the locker in the tweendecks had been broken into but not discovered due to the copra cargo filling most spaces, and the fact that the locks and clasps securing the doors had been carefully put back to look intact from a distance.  Inside, beneath the dunnage the cases showed clearly where the breakin had occurred.  Now, the young apprentices were set to, combing the decks and collecting all the bags, placing them in a pile in the ship’s hospital, guarded by an armed policeman.   Charlie thought he looked a bit gormless with his shiny leather holster and a blank stare.  He was also hungry, very hungry.  He wandered hopefully past the bhundarries preparing delicious smelling fare for the crew, also out searching the ship.  His efforts secured him a still warm chapatti, enough to satisfy the immediate needs, and he made a mental note of this potential new source of goodies.

At the head of the gangway, a chalk board was displayed announcing a sailing time of 0600 for the following day, and up in the Captain’s cabin, the Chief Steward was grovelling as he explained that due to an error in ordering, he only had enough meat for a week in the deep freezer.  “ Well, there’s not enough time to order more now”, grunted Macdonald.   He had his own problems to deal with. Back home, his wife of 10 years was threatening to leave home unless he quit sailing on those blasted long Bank Line voyages.  

He thought she meant it this time!  


The Levernbank was lost in Peru in July 1973

The coast at Matarani

As I recall, Matarani wouldn’t accept vessels at night, so the plan was to stop and drift until daylight, it seems anchoring was not possible, not sure why, but the Chief Engineer reckoned the sea was too deep – don’t know myself. Anyway as we tracked along up the coast there seems to have been an understimation of our actual distance from shore. The turn to seaward to drift was interrupted by a bump, which I took to be a collision with a fishing boat but which was in fact our first contact with the Peruvian mainland, the engine was still full ahead at this time, when we suddenly got standby followed immediately a double full astern ring followed, and then by a major bang and the engine stopped dead. I ran down the tunnel to see the tail shaft about three feet out of line with the last two bearing pedestals tipped over by about 30 degrees. I reported this to the second who considered the best thing to do was put the kettle on!

An extract from a first hand account. See Levernbank account on this site.

A Bank Line tale

(Fiction – maybe)

by Alan Rawlinson and John Wale

Unknown to the lads onboard, hungry and salivating over the dinner to come, their shipmate Cocky was in trouble.   It had started out alright when he had spruced himself up and gone ashore to ring a cab.  The phone was inside the shed on the quay, and without realising it he had called what turned out to be a dodgy number.  The corrugated wall was plastered with garish cards and advertising of all sorts and he had carefully picked a pink one saying, “ TAXI – We take good care of you and all your needs”.   He should have known, he reflected later.  The clue was in the wording. Anyway, here he was, feeling somewhat trapped on plush leather seating in the back of the limousine, swaying through the streets of Liverpool with a girl either side and brightly painted fingernails grasping his inner thigh.  Music blared out from the boom boxes, and he vaguely wondered if this really was a regular taxi.  It was reggae blasting his ears but his immediate and most pressing thoughts and concern were for his nether regions!    Suddenly, a hand with a glass was thrust in front of his face and he heard the girls giggling.  “  What’s a handsome boy like you doing on a dirty old ship like that ”, a voice said.     It sounded far away, but maybe it was down to the combination of the scented interior, the drink, and the singing that had started up.    He recognised the Scouse accent, but the tune was not “ Maggie May”, far from it.   He looked out from behind the grubby curtains.  They should have reached the Liver building where the Agents were, but instead the Limo seemed to be heading for the Birkenhead tunnel.   Cocky wondered idly what the Captain would say.  “ How about a club, La?” ,  said a disembodied voice in his ear.  It was a statement more than a question and Cocky realised he was in deep trouble.   It was time to assert himself, but how?

to be continued……

Dipping the Ensign

Many thanks to ‘jungle’ for this account. One of his earlier ships, above, painted by him – the “WEYBANK” in Thailand


It is a tradition at sea that when a merchant navy vessel crosses path with a warship, the merchant ship shall dip its national ensign (flag) as a mark of courtesy/respect.

Warships never dip their ensigns, except in answer to such a salute by a merchant vessel.

Generally, when a merchant vessel leaves port for the open sea, its national ensign, flown usually from the flag staff at the stern of the vessel, called the jackstaff or jack for short, is taken down and only raised again when entering the next port of call. There are a number of reasons why this is so, one of them being that when underway the combination of wind and saltwater causes the ensign to slowly disintegrate. One would often see such ensigns hanging in tatters from ships’ jacks where their crews couldn’t be bothered to lower them at sea.

A flag salute from a merchant vessel consists of dipping its ensign, by lowering it by a half of the length of the jackstaff. This dip should be maintained until the warship responds by first dipping its own ensign and then raising it again to the truck (full mast position) wherefater the merchant vessel responds by raising his own ensign back to the truck.

In the US Navy the jackstaff ensign is never flown while a ship is underway, the exception being in response to a dip from another ship.

The following incident occured aboard a German freighter as we were cruising majestically along through the Caribbean Sea on a beautiful sunny early afternoon. The officers aboard our ship were German but most of our deckhand crew were Spanish.

The early afternoons were Siesta time for most of the off-watch crew. I was in the wheelhouse “shooting the breeze” with the 2.Offz. who had the watch when we saw a ship popping up on the horizon. We switched on the radar to get an idea of its course and observed it through binoculars. As it got a bit closer we were able to see that it was a warship. Tracking it with the radar we reckoned that it was on a course at a tangent which would eventually bring her to pass crossing astern of us. She was moving fast so the 2.Offz. grabbed our national German ensign (folded up) from the flag locker and called one of our Spanish bridge wing lookouts over. He stuck the folded-up ensign in the Spaniards hand and told him, in his best Spanglish to run aft and hoist it on the jack, thereafter to wait for a hand signal from him to dip it and for another when to raise it again. “Si, Senor” answered Manuel, who then galloped off down the companionways to the main deck and all the way to the poop deck.

I have named him Manuel here because he bore a remarkable likeness to Manuel, the Spanish waiter in the “Fawlty Towers” TV episodes. We watched from the bridge wing as Manuel clipped on the ensign to the jack’s halyards, raised it and then struck the colours. The flag billowed out in a blaze of black, gold and red. “Scheisse!” said the 2nd. and started shouting at Manuel in the distance – “Zieh’s ‘runter!, Zieh’s ‘runter!! (abbreviated German for “pull it down”).Instead of the German flag flying proudly it was that of Belgium (which has the same colours as that of Germany). Manuel obviously couldn’t hear or understand so he outstetched his arms with his palms up in the air as in “what the hell do you want now?” The 2nd mate also changed over to hand signals which however were misinterpreted by Manuel as “get down”, which he promptly did by crouching down low at his haunches – like a Chinese rickshaw coolie waiting for a fare. The 2nd. mate blew a fuse “Komm zurueck Du Idiot” he shouted while simultaneously making relevant hand signals. Poor Manuel got the message and galloped all the way back up to the bridge wing. On his arrival he was rewarded by getting another flag jammed into his hand together with an order to get his ass moving and exchange the ensigns “Muy Pronto” (along with some unprintable German expletives).

The other Spanish lookout and I exchanged grins. I then heard a single “Whooop” sounding, the kind you hear in movies featuring US warships. I looked across at the warship which was now really getting close and then saw the “Stars and Stripes” being struck from her jackstaff.

Down came the Belgian flag. Manuel, fumbling in panic, hooked on the German ensign and then hauled her up to the truck. By now the warship, which was a big modern US destroyer, was just about to cross astern of us. She was so close that we could almost hear the camera shutters of half of her crew who had gathered on her port side to watch the event.

Manuel, after having raised the ensign, immediately noticed his mistake – he had clipped the flag on upside down to the halyards and so he immediately started lowering it again. It was at this moment when the destroyer passed us astern, dipping her own ensign and then raising it again followed by three long “Whoop” blasts from her klaxon – the “as you were, carry on” signal.

The destroyer’s bridge command officers had undoubtedly viewed the whole pantomine unfurl (pun) through their binoculars from start to finish. What they thought of it is anybody’s guess – an episode from a German version of “McHale’s Navy” perhaps?

Tales of the Deep continued…

I would like to, if I may, share some of my adventures on board the M.V. Geopotis. A Single Trailing Suction Dredger which operated in the area of Chilichup in Indonesia for about 6 months.

For the next 10 to 12 weeks we continued to dredge the allotted area, and to the best of my memory,  were able to increase the depth by about 15 to 20 m.   Watch followed watch as it does,  dredge for 4 hours, travel to the dump ground and deposit ‘cargo’ and back around again for another bite at the sea bed.  On Saturdays we returned to the wharf at around 14.00hrs and shut everything down and connected to shore power.  Minor repairs were carried out and everyone took a break.  Chillichup was, at that stage anyway, a very small village, and had the ‘mandatory’ bar/hotel which we often frequented.

The dredge carried two ‘drag heads’ both around 9 tons each.  I was led to believe that there was always a spare drag head, due to the fact that it was always possible to ‘lose’ a drag head if it snagged whilst a dredging operation was being carried out.     At around 14.00hrs one afternoon whilst we were doing the last dredge run for our shift, and doing about 3 to 4 knots, we felt a distinct lurch to the starboard, almost came to a stop, and then as if ‘released’ from some obstacle start to slowly move forward again.  I remember noticing that the ‘sound’ of the main suction pump in the engine room had changed somewhat.  Bridge brought the vessel to a halt and the anchor was dropped.

We went up on deck to see what the fuss was all about, and found that drag head had indeed snagged something and had been ripped off.  The suction pipe, which by this time had been raised to deck level, looked a sorry sight with no drag head at the end.  The whole drag head had been ripped off and lay somewhere beneath the waves!  We returned to base camp so to speak, and a dozen or so shore side fitters descended on to the Geopotes.  My memory is hazy about how long it took to ‘bend’ the now slightly oval pipe back into a circular shape, and attach the spare drag head back on.  Methinks it took about 3 days, after which we went back to doing the dredging thing!!

There was another ‘minor’ incident that I would like to share which caused a bit of a heart flutter!  As mentioned earlier a fair few munitions would be dragged up on each run, and it was quite common to find ‘clips’ of two pounders which I assume, were used on what are/were called ‘pom-poms’ during WW2 along with small to medium land mines in the holding tank.  On this particular occasion we were on deck taking in the sights (!) when dredging was stopped, and the pipe raised to deck level.  A large round lump of metal had blocked the drag head.  The head was brought in above the deck and a couple of deck crew were pointing and talking about this piece of metal.   One of them decided to try to remove it by picking up a 38lb hammer and giving it a few good wallops to dislodge the errant piece of metal!  Most of the Mates standing watching all this carry on, howled disapproval and quickly, well actually at great speed, ran the other way screaming a number of expletives, basically questioning the IQ of the person who was wielding the hammer!  This gentleman was thereafter nick named ‘Kamikaze’.   The said piece of metal turned out to be a ‘small’ WW2 land-mine about 18inches in diameter.  As one can understand, all work came to a grinding halt, and we were told the local Army guys would be over shortly to evaluate the situation.  About an hour later, some gentlemen in Uniform came on board and stood around the drag head, looking, pointing, shaking their heads and  rubbing their chins, as they do!   Sometime later it was declared that the land-mine was ‘live’ and should be removed.   Understandably, there were not a lot of volunteers for this daunting task.  Even  Kamikaze did not seem too keen  to put his hand up!  Once again we ended up at base camp where the blocked drag head was replaced with the spare one.   I seem to remember that great caution was taken whilst loading the blocked drag head onto a large flat bed truck, which slowly moved away.   How the Army guys removed the land mine was never shared but it was back shortly prior to setting sail for Adelaide.  Meanwhile it was back to doing the dredging thing.

It is said in the classics that all good things must come to an end sooner or later.    I think it was in the 11th week that the ‘higher ups’ decided to cease dredging in Chillichup and relocate the vessel to Port Adelaide, where we could have more fun rearranging the sea bed for vessels with a higher draft.

A couple of days prior to leaving Chillichup the ‘village’ organised a bit of a party for the ships crew.  And for those of you who think is was just one big ‘pis*up’, it was not!  We all drank sensibly that night and a good time was had by all.   Music as such! Was provided by an electric gramophone, most songs were Indonesian songs, we had 4 ‘English songs’, the favourite song was “I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill-by Fats Domino and this track was played many many many times that night.  Being an ex Bank Line- Doxford-Andrew Weir type of person I taught the locals and a few others the soul stirring benefits and mind boggling capacities of the “Doxford Dance’ to the tune of Blue Berry Hill!  and I wonder whether it became part of the village scenario?    Whenever I hear that tune these days it takes me back to my halcyon  days at Chilichup doing the dredging thing.

This story ends on a somewhat sombre note.  A couple of hours after we left Chilichup and headed for Port Adelaide, the bridge slowed the engines down and appeared to take a hard turn to starboard, this continued till we were basically going back to where we had started.   At times like these rumours fly left right and center!  One was that the Port Adelaide trip had been cancelled and we were to do another 3 months at Chillichup.  The truth of the matter was that a young Indonesian lad of about 18 had stowed away and hidden himself in the 2.5M diameter suction pipe.  The story goes that the 2nd Mate started to do a deck inspection shortly after we left Chilichup.  Whilst ensuring that drag heads and suction pipes were battened down correctly etc, he had spotted the lad in the pipe.

Much (heated I might add) discussion about the stowaway followed whilst we drifted off Chilichup, but the final decision was that the Captain had no choice but to ‘hand him over’ to authorities. This occurred and we finally turned and headed out towards Port Adelaide.   I signed off at Port Adelaide and was flown home to Brisbane.

As all of us who have travelled the open spaces know, it is not the ship itself, but the human beings that we have interacted with in the course of its great wanderings that make all the difference.

Perhaps Tennyson puts it better:

“There gloom the dark broad seas.  My Mariners, Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—-”

Thanks to Alan Rowlinson for making it possible for me to share a small part of my sea going career with you good people.  May all be well with you.

Many thanks to Michael for sharing the interesting memory above


These are memories from Michael Smith, who started his sea-going career as 6th Engineer on the M.V. TEAKBANK.

He later served in other interesting vessels, including a suction dredger – as related below.

M.V. Geopotis


I would like to, if I may, share some of my adventures on board the M.V. Geopotis. A Single Trailing Suction Dredger which operated in the area of Chilichup in Indonesia for about 6 months.  The vessel had been tasked with ‘deepening’ part of the harbour so that ships, mainly Tankers, with a deeper draft could enter and discharge various cargoes at Chilichup.  The vessel was powered by Two Twin Bank Mirrlees-Blackstone Diesels.  A single Turbo-Charger was fitted to each engine.  Normal running revs were around 900rpm.  The single propeller shaft was also ‘attached’ through a separate gearbox, to the ‘suction pump’ which ‘sucked’ in vast quantities of sea water and silt (and anything else that happened to be lying on sea bed) from the sea bed and pumped this into a  large holding tank.  The sea water would drain off from this tank, leaving the silt and other ‘objects’ in the tank.  When the tank was ‘full’ we moved further out to sea, and by means of hydraulic operated bottom doors ‘dumped the cargo’ into a deeper part of the surrounding area.  The vessel operated 24 hours, 6 days a week.  Watches were 12 hours stints.

It was about a month after the ‘run job’ to Singapore on the M. V.Lake Barine, that I got a call from the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers in Sydney, inquiring whether I would be interested in doing a stint on the Geopotis.  The vessel at that stage was in dry dock at Sembawang in Singapore, going through a refit in preparation for dredging at Chilichup.  I was pleased to find that some of the guys I had done my 2nd’s ticket with in Melbourne, were on the same flight to Singapore, as was  The Chief Engineer Bill Hoskins who hailed from Invercargil in New Zealand and Phil Parker, the Electrician, from Perth in Western Australia.   One of them was Louie Salvagno, who at that stage lived in Melbourne.  Both Louie and I were to be the Senior 2nd’s on the Geopotis.   Two Junior engineers completed the engine room crew.  After a nine hour flight we arrived in Singapore and were housed at The Cockpit Hotel which was a very pleasant hotel to stay at.  Our working day started at 09.00hrs and finished at 16.00hrs.  We were driven to and from the hotel each day, 6 days a week.  We were at the drydock for about a week.  My memory of these events and times are a bit hazy.  Other than basic tasks of packing glands on various valves, checking/testing correct functioning of equipment and assisting Singaporean shore-side marine fitters to complete various tasks, it was not a demanding 7 hours a day.  It was however the height of summer in Singapore, and thus the engine room temperature tended to be over 40 degrees most days.  The humidity did not help!!  

Coming out of dry-dock we anchored at Singapore Roads for about 2 days and then finally left and headed for Chilichup.  The voyage to Chilichup was more ot less uneventful and the Mirrlees ran smoothly.  We were cautioned to check the lube oil level on the two Mirrlees every 2 hours.  The reason behind this was; the diesel fuel pumps were actually ‘positioned inside’ the crankcase, the injectors were as per normal, placed outside in middle of each cylinder.  Any fuel leakage from the fuel pumps would result in the crankcase filling up with a mixture of lube oil and diesel.  I seem to remember being told that the crankshaft on both of them had been replaced some months prior, when a fuel pump had leaked, and diesel had filled the crankcase.    During the 4 months I served on the vessel this never occurred.  

We finally started to dredge.  It basically consisted of lowering a large long pipe/cylinder which had ‘drag head’ (weighing about 10 tons) at/on the end of it that looked very similar to a household ‘vacuum cleaner’ head.  This head was lowered to the sea bed and the vacuum pump started, the main engines were engaged and the vessel moved (slowly—4 to 5 knots) dragging the head along the bottom and sucking up anything in its path.  At the end of a preorganised ‘path’ the vessel turned around and took another suck of the sea bed.  I seem to remember that during any 12 hour watch we did 3 to 4 trips to the ‘dump site’ further out to sea.

What amazed me no end was ‘what was actually dredged’ up from the sea bed.  Being an area which experienced a whole lot of action during WW2 one can only imagine what ended up in the holding tank!!  Previous dredging crews had seen bits and pieces of what turned out to be a Japanese Zero, and other bits of aircraft which no one could identify.  Munitions of various types, rifles, parts of machine guns…cars, many motorcycles, etc, most of them not easily recognisable, and the list goes on.  

Some of the crew decided to ‘salvage’ some of the munitions as keepsakes, until some senior person from the Army informed them that the munitions could very well be alive!!  This put a stop to ‘salvaging’!!  (I think!!)  As always there were ‘tales and stories’ of what had been collected in the past trips.  Herewith a few of them:  Huge number of 2” gold coins made in Spain (apparently).  Gold bars with unknown stamps on them.  A smallish treasure chest containing jewels, diamonds and other valuable ‘stuff’.   The story goes that the key was still in the lock, (?) and so, no issues were experienced when trying to open the chest!!   No one telling these stories seemed to know what actually happened to all this wealth.   

To be continued:

Many Thanks, Michael.


One of 18 sisters built in 1925/6 in Govan. Served for 35 years, through WW2 and beyond. Here is an account, written in a ‘factional’ style, of her last trip.

Second trip continued having negotiated the Panama Canal-M.V. Comliebank

The ship headed due West for about two to three days before altering course to Port when due south of Clipperton Island at the start of their long and not uneventful journey across the Pacific Ocean. After a further two days the port engine stopped and soon after, this was followed by the starboard engine.

Fortunately, the seas lived up to their reputation and were as clear as glass. This lasted for well over the week it took for the engineers to mend the engines. Less fortunate was the over-worked generators that succumbed, causing both freezers to fail. The order was given that to preserve the produce as long as possible, access was limited to once a day or more accurately, once at night when it was a little cooler.

In 1957/60 all merchant ships had to be as self reliant as possible