Sunday 13th September 1959 was Captain Phillip St Barbe Rawle’s last Sunday in command of a paddle steamer retiring as master of Embassy the following Friday according to the Bournemouth Echo.
Captain Rawle’s father had been a master with Cosens so Phillip had been out and about on paddle steamers all his life. He was promoted captain as a young man and went on to notch up 34 years in command of Cosens’ paddle steamers plying on the South Coast in an area bounded by Torquay and Dartmouth in the west and the Isle of Wight in the east. His knowledge of the area was encyclopaedic. His ship-handling skills in all circumstances second nature. And he was a great help and support to newer captains as they were promoted over the decades.
Why he retired and left Embassy a week or so before she was scheduled to finish her 1959 season anyway I don’t know. But it does come across to me as a tad odd. Why not wait another few days until the end of the season after a whole life time on paddle steamers?
I have heard it said that he may not have been so well which of course may have been the case although he was clearly not so unwell that he couldn’t continue in command of Embassy until the end of that week and attend a presentation.
This was around the time that his Chief Officer, Eric Plater, who had been with him on Emperor of India as well as Embassy, and who, with all his experience, might have been seen as an ideal candidate to step into his shoes as master of Embassy had been refused paid leave by Cosens to study for and take his Home Trade Master’s ticket. Maybe there had been background tensions about that.
Then there is the question of his pension. He would of course have qualified for the Government’s State Pension which isn’t now, and wasn’t then, very much. The Merchant Navy Officers Pension Fund wasn’t founded until 1938 when Captain Rawle was already in his forties. And by no means all companies signed up to it then or in later years with many smaller businesses feeling that the costs of membership were just too high to justify it for them.
Captain Rawle would have been aware that Cosens had occasionally granted a modest pension to a handful of key workers who had given long and loyal service to the company in the past. Did he ask Cosens if they would provide a pension for him and was he refused? I don’t know. But I do know that the Cosens’ minute books in the Dorset County Archive contain occasional references to the granting of a pension here and there but, so far as I can see, make no reference to granting a pension to Captain Rawle.
Anyway back to the ships. Bournemouth steamer notice number 5 hedged its bets on how much longer a two ship service might continue by stating that it was valid from “Monday August 31st Until Further Notice”. However it was anticipated that Monarch might finish her season on Friday 11th September leaving Embassy to continue to sail alone but the weather that week was exceptional and the forecast for the start of the following week also good so Monarch was kept going for a few more days to milk a bit more revenue out of the Swanage service with steamer notice number 6 declaring its validity from “Monday 14th September Until Further Notice” and showing a two ship service up to and including Wednesday 16th September. Steamer notice number 7 was issued a couple of days later valid from “Thursday September 17th Until Further Notice” and showing just trips on Embassy.
On Wednesday 16th Monarch was set to finish the Swanage service at Bournemouth at 6pm at which time she would normally have been advertised for a single trip back to Poole Quay. However the steamer notice makes no mention of this trip so I think that we can take it that the plan of campaign was for her to sail straight back to Weymouth that night without passengers where she would have arrived around 9pm.
High water at Weymouth that evening was at 7.43pm so the tide was falling on her arrival. She might just have got there in sufficient time to pass through the Town Bridge to the lay up berth that night. Otherwise she was then well placed to pass through the bridge first thing on the Thursday morning with high water at 8.01am.
Monarch’ master, Captain Haines, then returned to Poole to take over Embassy.
That same evening, after Embassy had returned to Poole Quay at 8pm, the presentation of a clock was made to Captain Rawle by Cosens’ Bournemouth Manager Commander Johnson at the Antelope Hotel in Poole with this gift described by the Bournemouth Echo as “from members of the crews of the Embassy and Monarch and the Piermasters”. After that he was gone.
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 13th September 2020.