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Ships Gallery

The fascinating images below are featured in the Society’s 2017 Nautical Heritage Calendar, which is available to purchase online.

These images, and detailed descriptions and histories of each vessel, are reproduced here with the kind permission of the British Mercantile Marine Memorial Collection.

Explore the gallery now…


    The passenger liner UMBRIA was built in 1884 by John Elder & Co. of Fairfield for the North Atlantic service of the Cunard Steam Ship Co. of Liverpool, she and her sister-ship ETRURIA being the final two ships of that celebrated company to be built rigged with auxiliary sail. She is shown here post-1892, by which date all her yardarms had been sent down with the exception only of her foremast-gaff. The three-flag signal flying therefrom is indecipherable, but clearly to be made out are the Cunard house-flag at her mainmasthead and at the fore, in the traditional courtesy to the country of her next port of call, the ensign of the USA. In 1900 UMBRIA was employed as a troop transport for the Boer War but thereafter resumed her previous service until being laid up in Liverpool in 1908. In 1910 she was sold for scrapping at Bo’ness.

    By Charles Edward Dixon (1872-1934), one of the foremost marine artists of his day, whose extensive and varied output is perhaps best exemplified by his atmospheric scenes of shipping in London River.


    Feb 2017

    The iron paddle-tug GRANVILLE was built in 1876 by Westwood, Baillie & Co. of Blackwall for the Dover Harbour Board, in whose livery she is shown in this portrait. In 1906 she was sold to James Irwing et al. of Sunderland and subsequently was either owned or chartered successively in Seaham Harbour, on the Tyne and in Blyth before being broken up in Dunston in 1952 after a working life of no fewer than 76 years.

    By the unrecorded artist J.W. Lessey, all of whose few known works are portraits of steam vessels associated with the port of Dover.


    March 2017

    The coastal steamship JARRIX was built in 1916 by Cochrane & Sons Ltd. of Selby for Humber Steam Coasters Ltd., one of three such companies owned by the Rix family of Hull, she being only the third of their ships to incorporate in her name what was to become the well-known ‘-rix’ suffix. Still today J.R. Rix and Sons Ltd. maintain interests in shipping, bunkering and offshore servicing and are among the 100 leading private limited companies in the United Kingdom. JARRIX was sold in 1939 to the Ribble Shipping Co. Ltd. of Liverpool, who renamed her GORSETHORN, but in December of the following year, when under tow after being disabled in Liverpool Bay while on passage from Preston to Cork carrying coal, she foundered near the Bar Light Vessel.

    By Reuben Chappell (1870-1940), originally of Goole on the Humber and later of Par in Cornwall, the most prolific of the so-called ‘pierhead’ painters who chronicled the teeming coastal shipping of their day.


    April 2017

    The barquentine-rigged steamship LAPLAND was built in 1872 by Barclay, Curle & Co. of Glasgow for the Leith, Hull & Hamburg Steam Packet Co. controlled by Donald Currie, two of whose ships were at that time on charter to George H. Payne’s Cape & Natal Line for its low-cost private mail service to the Cape in competition with the official Royal Mail steamers. When Payne became insolvent, Currie took over the service, his ships being known in South Africa as the London Line and in Britain as the Colonial Mail Line. LAPLAND was initially employed in this service but was later transferred to South African coastal routes, on which she remained until 1882, when she was returned to Currie’s original North Sea trades. In 1902 she was sold to Glen & Co., who renamed her SHUNA, and eventually, on 19th July, 1917, following five further sales and while in Greek ownership under the name of VARVARA, she was torpedoed and sunk by a U-boat in the Mediterranean.

    By P.H. Siems, who is thought to have been South African but of whom no biographical details are known. Here he shows LAPLAND wearing at her mainmasthead Donald Currie’s house-flag, later to become widely known as that of the Castle Mail Packet Co. which he formed in 1876 and with which he maintained his share of the mail services to the Cape until 1900, when it was merged with its long-standing rival, the Union Steam Ship Co., to become the renowned Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co.


    May 2017
    The steam trawler JOHN DONOVAN SN52 was built in 1914 at Willington Quay on the Tyne for R. Hastie & Co. of North Shields, but in December of that same year she was requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted for minesweeping. She survived the war to be returned to Hastie’s in 1919 and she remained in their ownership until being sold for scrapping in 1958.

    By Alexander Harwood (1874-1943), whose peacetime calling was that of ‘lumper’, or porter, on the fish dock in Aberdeen, but who is known to have spent at least part of the First World War serving aboard one of the many trawlers-turned-minesweepers in attendance on the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet in its anchorage in Scapa Flow.


    June 2017

    The cargo- and coolie-carrier NADIR was built and engined in 1889 by Harland & Wolff Ltd. of Belfast for the Asiatic Steam Navigation Co., which was formed in 1878 by the Liverpool merchants Turner & Co. and their associates in Calcutta, Turner, Morrison & Co., to develop steam shipping in the Bay of Bengal. Like most other members of the A.S.N.Co. fleet, NADIR was registered in Liverpool but, having loaded outwards for India on her maiden voyage, was based in Calcutta and never returned to a UK port. In 1912 she was sold to the first of two successive owners in Japan, who renamed her TEMMEI MARU, and on 10th August, 1916 she was torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean.

    All that is known of the artist are his initials, W.D., but he would appear to have been thoroughly conversant both with NADIR and with the International Code of Signals in operation from 1901. Here he shows NADIR displaying to the keepers of the adjacent lighthouse the A.S.N.Co. house-flag at both stem and mainmasthead, the signal ‘Report me’ at the fore, at her bridge halyards the letters L.M.K.S. of her identification hoist and from her triatic stay, uppermost, flag ‘B’, indicating that the ship is carrying explosives and, below, flag ‘J’, signifying ‘I am going to send you a message by semaphore’.


    July 2017

    The paddle-steamship STIRLING CASTLE was built and engined in 1884 by S. & H. Morton of Leith for the passenger excursion services of the Forth River Steam Shipping Co. of that same port. In 1886 Forth River S.S. Co. was dissolved and re-registered as the Galloway Saloon Steam Packet Co. and it is wearing their distinctive new house-flag and livery that STIRLING CASTLE is shown in this portrait. Also clearly depicted are the telescopic funnels and forward-lowering mast which enabled her to pass under the Caledonian Railway’s swing bridge over the river upstream at Alloa. In May, 1898 STIRLING CASTLE was sold to owners in Constantinople, who renamed her ANATOLI, and she was employed on ferry services on the Bosphorus until she was lost during the First World War.

    Attributed to the unrecorded artist G. Thomson, who himself may well have lived in Leith, as all his known works are portraits of steam vessels which
    either were based in or traded to that port.


    August 2016

    The brigantine-rigged steamship ALBATROSS was built in 1884 by Palmer’s Shipbuilding & Iron Co. Ltd. of Jarrow for the General Steam Navigation Co. of London, the first of what were to become four successive ships of the company to bear her name. Originally employed between London and either Hamburg or Bordeaux, she later traded to the Mediterranean, principally to ports in Sicily or on the west coast of the Italian mainland. She is shown here in the Bay of Naples with Mount Vesuvius abeam, wearing at her mainmasthead the distinctive G.S.N.Co. house-flag and at the fore, in the traditional courtesy to the country of her next port of call, the ensign of the then Kingdom of Italy. Also clearly depicted are the blue-hulled lifeboats characteristic of the ships of the G.S.N.Co. In 1923 ALBATROSS was sold to owners in Italy, who renamed her RACHEL, and a year later she was broken up.

    Attributed to Salvatore de Angelis of Naples, one of the foremost of the numerous artists who carried on the age-old tradition of ship-portrait painting in ports throughout the Mediterranean. By the unrecorded artist R.N. Duffield, himself possibly a seaman, whose only other known work is a portrait of a tramp steamship built in West Hartlepool in 1899.


    September 2017

    The passenger liner ORONTES was built in 1929 by Vickers-Armstrong Ltd. of Barrow-in Furness for the UK-Australia service of the Orient Steam Navigation Co. of London, she being the second successive ship of the company to bear her name. During the Second World War she was requisitioned as a troop transport, following which she was extensively reconditioned by John I. Thorneycroft & Co. in Southampton before resuming her pre-war routeing. In 1962 she was sold for scrapping in Valencia.

    By the American-born, later British-domiciled, marine artist William Minshall Birchall (1884-1941), who depicts ORONTES outward bound from London, passing south of The Needles, Isle of Wight.


    October 2017

    The steam trawler MACFARLANE H997 was built in Beverley in 1908 by Cook, Welton & Gemmell for the Neptune Steam Fishing Co. of Hull, in whose livery she is shown in this portrait. In 1915 she was requisitioned by the Admiralty, converted for minesweeping and assigned to the Dover Patrol. In his post-war history of his two years in command of the Patrol, Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon included specific mention of the exceptional life-saving assistance rendered by the MACFARLANE to survivors of the steamship SHENANDOAH when, on 15th March, 1916, she was mined and sunk off Folkestone. MACFARLANE was restored to her owners in 1919 and resumed fishing until, in November, 1933, she ran aground in the Pentland. Firth and became a total loss.

    By Joseph Arnold of Hull, who himself may have been a trawlerman and whose few but active years as a marine artist would appear to have been confined within the second decade of the 20th century.


    November 2017

    The steam coaster BRILLIANT was built in 1901 by Scott & Sons of Bowling for the Gem Line of William Robertson of Glasgow. From January, 1915 until August, 1919 she was requisitioned by HM Government and she is shown here wearing camouflage grey and carrying on her poop the armament permitted to merchant vessels purely for defensive purposes. On the forward face of her upper bridge is inscribed her requisition number, HMT1162, and although she is sailing under the Red Ensign of the Merchant Service rather than the White of the Royal Navy it is this number, in the Naval flag code, rather than her civilian identification hoist in the International Code of Signals, that she is flying from her bridge halyards.
    In 1939 BRILLIANT was sold to owners in Estonia, who renamed her GAMMA, and in the following year she was expropriated by the USSR on its annexation of that country. On 28th August, 1941, during the Russian evacuation of Tallinn in the face of ‘Operation Barbarossa’, she was sunk by German artillery.

    By George Laidman (1872-1954) of King’s Lynn, who from an early age served at sea in coastal sailing vessels before joining HM Customs & Excise as a Water-Guard Officer. He painted ship-portraits on a semi-professional basis, working usually on a small scale but always in meticulous detail.


    December 2017

    The first motor vessel in the then 111-year history of Thos. & Jas. Harrison of Liverpool and their first new construction following the Second World War, the cargo/passenger liner HERDSMAN was built and engined by Wm. Doxford & Sons Ltd. of Sunderland and sailed on her maiden voyage to South Africa in January, 1947. In June, 1960, while homeward bound from Cape Town to Liverpool, she was diverted to the assistance of her sister-ship INTERPRETER, disabled by engine failure south of Liberia, and in six days towed her the 850 miles to Dakar. In 1965 HERDSMAN passed to owners in
    Hong Kong who renamed her HOCK AUN and in 1973, owned in Singapore and named KOTA SELAMET, she was sold for breaking up in Whampoa.

    By the Australian-born, later British-domiciled, marine artist Arthur James Wetherall Burgess (1879-1957), for whom HERDSMAN is known to have constituted the subject of at least three portraits.

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