On Thursday 20th April 1961 Princess Elizabeth spent the morning raising steam and generally getting ready to leave her winter lay up berth at Dartmouth for her annual refit at Plymouth. The engine was warmed through after lunch. The steering and telegraph were tested and at around 4pm she set off to sea arriving at Plymouth around 8pm.
This was to be her second season at Torquay for Torbay Steamers under the management of Cdr Edmund Rhodes who ran the outfit with financial backing from his close friend Mrs “Money Bags” Barclay-Bishop.
To try to improve the performance of the ship Cdr Rhodes wanted a captain with paddle steamer experience and so was fortunate to persuade Capt Harry Defrates to leave Cosens of Weymouth and join him at Torquay.
I have a very clear recollection of Capt Defrates visiting my parents around this time and telling them what a difficult decision it had been for him particularly as, with the recent sale of Monarch, he had been moved back to Consul displacing her master in 1960, Capt John Iliffe, who had been sacked. He said that he had been round to see Capt Iliffe to ask if he would come back but was told that he already had another job as master of a yacht in the Med so that made the going all the harder. He went on to recall that on his last day with Cosens, General Manager Don Brookes had shaken his hand and said that he wished him good luck but that he didn’t really mean it. Given the circumstances you can sort of understand that but it played badly with Capt Defrates who was cut to the quick.
The 1961 season at Torquay turned out not to be an easy summer for the Lizzie. Competition from smaller boats was fierce. Regular weekly visits from a Weymouth mail boat offering an excursion to Guernsey creamed off the day trip market. The ship was aground twice at Lyme Regis. Money was tight and there were weeks when Capt Defrates wasn’t paid as there just wasn’t enough cash coming in to do so. The season ended badly in a dispute with the Torquay Harbourmaster which made the national press and led the Lizzie to retreat to lay up in Weymouth Harbour for the following winter.
On 20th April 1961 all that lay in the future as Princess Elizabeth steamed out of Dartmouth between the castles in the late afternoon on her way to Plymouth for refit.
She would return to Torquay in sparkling form on Thursday 15th May to take up her summer schedule on Whit Sunday 21st May 1961 with an 11am morning trip, a 2.45pm non landing afternoon cruise to Dartmouth plus an 8.15pm departure for an hour and a quarter run round the Bay.
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 20th April 2021.