Lord Elgin (pictured alongside Poole Quay) was built for Galloway, Kidd and Watson of Leith in 1876 for their services on the Firth of Forth. In 1881 she moved to the South Coast having been acquired by the newly formed Bournemouth, Swanage and Poole Steam Packet Company for their services from the rebuilt Bournemouth Pier. She appears to have been such a success that her owners ordered a new and larger steamer the Bournemouth for delivery in 1884.
Sadly the Bournemouth had a very short career running straight into the west side of Portland Bill at about 4pm on 27th August 1886 whilst returning from Torquay to her home port in thick fog. Fortunately there was no loss of life and this remains one of the very rare examples of an excursion paddle steamer being wrecked.
The Lord Elgin and the Bournemouth’s successors Brodick Castle and the giant Windsor Castle operated in competition with the expanding fleet of Cosens of Weymouth although arrangements between the two became harmonious with Brodick Castle eventually passing into Cosens’ fleet and the coal hungry and wholly uneconomic Windsor Castle lasting only from 1891 to 1894. In 1896 the company was reconstituted as the Bournemouth and South Coast Steam Packet Company and from 1899 they operated a joint Swanage service with Cosens. It therefore came as an unwelcome surprise to the latter in 1909 to find that the Lord Elgin had been sold from under their noses to arch rivals the Southampton, Isle of Wight and South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company (later Red Funnel Steamers) who retained her on the Bournemouth station, now in direct competition with them, for a further two years.
In 1911 Red Funnel converted Lord Elgin into a cargo steamer adding a giant derrick and an unusually upright funnel and transferred her to Southampton for the Cowes service on which she ran regularly, usually making one round trip daily, until September 1952 when her regular place was taken by the roll on roll off vehicle ferry and ex tank landing craft Norris Castle.
From 1923 to 1955 Lord Elgin’s master was Capt Joe Sewley, described in the Company’s guidebook “Red Funnel Stuff” in 1939 as “a versatile, razor keen individual, who is as unmoved by the presence of 75 head of goggle eyed cattle on her foredeck as he is of 600 ewes (local pronunciation “yoze” please!) aft”. R B Adams in his book “Red Funnel and Before” estimates that the partnership made 8,607 voyages to Cowes travelling 223,790 miles together!
On her arrival at Bournemouth in 1881, the modern Lord Elgin had easily outclassed her competitors as an excursion steamer but within a decade larger, faster and more commodious steamers easily outclassed her and her stately decline from long distance luxury steamer through the local Swanage service and on to the humble cargo ship quietly plodding backwards and forwards from Southampton to Cowes carrying everything from hatpins to circus elephants is a tale which might have popped straight out of the pages of the Revd Audry’s “Thomas the Tank Engine” stories.
Retained as standby vessel for a further couple of years, Lord Elgin made her last crossing on 11th May 1955 before moving to Pollock, Brown and Company’s scrapyard on the River Itchen for demolition taking with her the ghosts of nearly eighty years worth of passengers, livestock and assorted parcels.