Empress Queen was the first twin screw turbine steamer built for the otherwise paddle steamer loving P & A Campbell. And I think that it is fair to say that her origin owes something to our old friend Captain Shippick who we have met from time to time in these pages. A young master of Cosens’s Brodick Castle before the First World War he set himself on his own account, latterly on the Medway and Thames and had a transformational effect on the excursion business there and elsewhere.
It was Captain Shippick’s impetus which spawned Queen of the Channel, Royal Sovereign and Royal Daffodil for the day trip market from the Thames across to the near continent in Calais, Boulogne and Ostende. P & A Campbell also operated a cross Channel day trip in their case from the Sussex Coast resorts mostly to Boulogne with their paddle steamers. Captain Shippick had taken the view that such services required big and modern ships with much more enclosed accommodation to service the needs of intending passengers, and keep them warm and dry, on these long day trips than ever could be provided by the existing paddle steamers.
With these three new ships running on the Thames by 1939 P & A Campbell’s Managing Director Mr Banks saw the light and decided that they too should have one for this market for the cross Channel trips from the Sussex resorts. He decided decided to go for propulsion by steam turbine rather than diesel. Bristol Shipbuilder Charles Hill was asked to quote but in the end an order was placed with the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company in Troon.
Timing plays a part in all our ventures and here good luck ran out. Ordered in 1939 by the time of the launch of what was to become Empress Queen in February 1940 the world was at war with the excursion business closed down for the duration.
Renamed Queen Eagle the new ship was initially converted for use as an anti-aircraft vessel on the Thames. By the end of 1943 she had been released from this military duty and, renamed Empress Queen, was put to work on the Stranraer to Larne ferry service.
Now on 11th June 1947 she was back at her builders in Troon once again being converted this time for the civilian role for which she had originally been designed.
Kingswear Castle returned to service in 2023 after the first part of a major rebuild which is designed to set her up for the next 25 years running on the River Dart. The Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle Trust is now fund raising for the second phase of the rebuild. You can read more about the rebuilds and how you can help if you can here.
This article was first published on 11th June 2021.