[From Manx Quarterly, #25]
STEAM PACKET CO. CELEBRATES ITS 90TH BIRTHDAY.
WHAT THE FLEET DID IN THE GREAT WAR.
The following interesting article, commemorating the attainment by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company of the 90th anniversary of its birth, appeared in various English newspapers recently:-
Ninety years ago yesterday the first Manx steamer, Mona's Isle, left Douglas for Liver-pool, and in commemoration of the anniver-sary all the vessels of the I.O.M. Steam Packet Company's fleet were bedecked yesterday with bunting.
The company are the oldest mail carriers by sea in the world, and they now claim the additional distinction of being the oldest continuous steamship traders sailing into Liverpool. They have succeeded in wresting that claim from the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company, established in 1823, owing to the latter's Liverpool service having been taken over last October by the British and Irish Steam Packet Company.
Further to commemorate the occasion the company have restored the tomb of Captain Gill, in Braddan Old Churchyard.
Captain Gill was the first captain of the company's steamships from Douglas to Liverpool and the discoverer of the Victoria Channel into the Mersey port. He charted the channel in 1836, but when the young Queen came to the throne the captain asked that its name might be altered from Gill's to Victoria Channel. The channel formed the basis of the present entry into Liverpool. In honour of his discovery a service of silver plate, subscribed for by shipowners in England and Scotland, was presented to him at a public banquet.
At the present time the Isle of Man Company's fleet consists of 13 vessels, the largest being the Manxman, 2,048 tons. During the war the Manx vessels did splendid service. The Ben-my-Chree, which was the largest and fastest channel steamer the company had afloat at the time, was sunk by Turkish gunfire when attached to the French naval forces on the coast of Asia Minor; the Snaefell was sunk by an enemy submarine; the Empress Queen was lost in a fog off the Isle of Wight, and the Ramsey was sunk in the North Sea by a disguised German cruiser.
We supplement this article by a review of the war work of the Steam Packet Co.'s fleet, written by Mr T. E. Edwardes, of Liverpool and Douglas, who is recognisedly the historian of the Company, and contributes frequently to the Liverpool and Manx Press upon nautical matters. This review appears at the beginning of the Company's handbook for the season 1920, recently issued a publication for which one can have nothing but praise :-
The Ben-my-Chree, the largest and fastest channel steamer afloat, was employed as a seaplane carrier. She took out, amongst other things, the appliances which were used to sink the German warship Konigs-berg in the Cameroons River, steaming all the way from England to East Africa, in-cluding every stoppage for coaling, at a rate of over 22 knots, easily the mercantile record for Africa. She was unfortunately sunk by Turkish gunfire when attached to the French Naval Forces on the coast of Asia Minor.
The Viking was also a seaplane carrier, working for a long time in the North Sea, with Harwich as a base. She then went to the Near East, being engaged in surveying. She is now being reconditioned for the coming season.
The King Orry formed one of the Armed Boarding Fleet on patrol near the Orkneys. On these duties'she covered 53,000 miles and brought in several prizes. The British Admiralty paid her a singular compliment. She was the sole representative of our mercantile marine at the surrender of the Ger-man Fleet at Scapa Flow, November 22nd, 1918.
The Snaefell began as one of the Armed Triangle Patrol. She searched for sub-marines and rendered assistance to Atlantic liners which had been torpedoed. Transferred to the Mediterranean Station, where for many months she performed most important work, she was finally sunk by an enemy's submarine.
The Empress Queen and Mona's Queen were the only Manx vessels detailed for the exact work for which they were best qualifed. They carried troops between Southampton and Havre, the former being the biggest carrier and fastest vessel on that station. She was lost in a fog on the Isle of Wight. On the other hand, the Mona's Queen worked throughout, earning the rare dis-tinction of sinking a German submarine in brilliant fashion, for which Commander W. Cain and the crew were duly rewarded.
The Peel Castle formed one of the famous Dover Patrol. She was selected to tow captive observation balloons for the purpose of locating submarines. Her sister-ship, The Ramsey, was sunk in the North Sea by a disguised German cruiser.
The Queen Victoria and Prince of Wales, the latter being re-christened Prince Edward, had a busy, as well as eventful war career. Early in 1915 they were converted into anti-submarine craft, at Barrow, and went to the North Sea, where the Prince Edward received her baptism of fire, close to Ostend. Transferred to the Eastern Medi-terranean they successfully coped with enemy submarines at Suvla Bap Imbroe Island and the Peninsula generally, being many times under fire and continuously menaced. They worked like Trojans at Salonika, protecting hospital and store ships, colliers and transports. They were at the evacuation of Ga«ipoli and the taking over of Piraeus as well as the harbour of Beirut during Allenby's march in Palestine. They then went up the Dardanelles and landed troops to take over the Turkish Forts, and then on to Isuria to prepare a safe anchorage for the Allied Fleets; after which they landed the guard at Constantinople. In all they worked over the Aegean, Adriatic and Mediterranean stations, and after the armistice did important salvage work at Salonika, Stavias, Isuria, Syra, Ismid, Eci ã and other places. The Queen Victoria then re-commissioned for operations in Black Sea, and the Prince Edward for Baltic, the latter order, however, being cancelled. They were under the command Captains F. G. and A. T. Brown, R.S. who have now returned to the Cunard Line.
The Mona's Isle was the boom ship of the Penzance Patrol. Working under her orders was a small fleet of armed trawlers, which terribly harried the enemy submarines.
The above gives a brief idea of the kind or work done by the eleven Manx steamers,, which were actually taken by the Government. This left three others the Tynwald, Douglas and Fenella for home service. When the U.S. liner New York struck a mine outside the Bar Ship at the entrance to the Mersey, the Tynwald came alongside and took all the passengers off, including Admiral Sims. Again, when the White Star liner Celtic, after being torpedoed, was beached at Peel, the Tynwald, unknown to the world at large, took out from Liverpool, at high speed during the night, the divers and diving apparatus used in repairing the Celtic, and was back again to take up her sailing as usual in the morning.
Thus, every steamer, except the Fenella, was actually engaged in war work, but she earned undying renown by at one time maintaining the double mail service while the others were away.
We may add that the above description also appears in the Official Advertising Guide for this year.
T. E. E.