Princess Elizabeth left Plymouth, where she had arrived for dry-docking from Dartmouth on Thursday 20th April, at 8.50am on Thursday 18th May 1961 bound for Torquay where she arrived at 12.30pm in readiness for her summer season of excursions from that resort.
She had a new master, Captain Harry Defrates, who the previous season had been master of Cosens’s Monarch sailing from Bournemouth. Monarch had been sold for scrap but Captain Defrates had been retained within the company and for 1961 was to be master of Consul. However, much to the disapproval of Cosens’s General Manager Don Brookes, he was poached by the Lizzie’s owner Cdr Edmund Rhodes and so ended up on the bridge of Princess Elizabeth for the 1961, 62 and 64 seasons instead.
Captain Defrates had something of an entrepreneurial spirit within him which is maybe one of the reasons why he allowed himself to be poached for this interesting venture on another paddle steamer in another port. For example in 1967 I know that he was considering starting up on his own account and had solicited information from shipbroker H E Moss about suitable passenger vessels then up for sale with a view to basing one of them at Bournemouth. He passed these details on to me in later years and very interesting reading they make including as they do the Bridlington based Thornwick which did end up running from Bournemouth for Bolson after Embassy was withdrawn at the end of the 1966 season and subsequently renamed Swanage Queen.
David and Heather Green have been doing some research into his earlier career and I am very grateful to them for filling me in on a number of fascinating facts about his life of which I was blissfully unaware. I did know that he went to sea on ships trading coal with South America as a youth before the First World War but I did not know that he subsequently worked for the GSN on the Thames. I did know that he had commanded a couple of minesweepers in the Second World War and had been involved with control of shipping on the Isle of Wight towards the end of the war but had absolutely no idea that he had set himself up in business with his wife as a ladies hairdresser just after the war in Seaview on the Isle of Wight. The business was called Maison Francis taking the “Francis” from his middle name Henry Francis Defrates.
This name he shared with his Dad who was also a master mariner and also called Captain Henry Francis Defrates. Confusing eh?! Captain Defrates senior had been mate of the Koh i Noor on the Thames in the 1890s and for the latter part of the 1897 season master of Plymouth Belle running on the Sussex Coast before subsequently coming ashore and ending up working for the Port of London Authority. Maybe the Sussex connection was one of the reasons why Captain Defrates Junior was so keen to take Princess Elizabeth there to run in 1962 and why he did end up taking the Consul there in 1963. A Sussex Coast paddle steamer master just like his Dad.
But I am running ahead of myself here. On Thursday 18th May 1961 Captain Defrates had taken the Princess Elizabeth on his first voyage to sea as her master and berthed her impeccably as usual alongside Haldon Pier Torquay around lunch time. An exciting season on a new paddle steamer in a new resort all lay ahead.
This article was first published on 18th May 2021.