Friday 5th January 1962 marked the end of the first week of retirement for Captain Noah Rothwell Larkin after a long career as master with Red Funnel. He was sixty-nine.
He joined the Southampton Isle of Wight and South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, later branded Red Funnel, in 1923, aged thirty, as mate and gained his first command, Princess Helena, in 1929 which by this stage in her career was running pretty exclusively on the Southampton to Cowes ferry service.
He moved to Duchess of Cornwall for one season in 1932 also running mostly on the Southampton to Cowes ferry.
In 1933 he transferred onto the then seven-year-old Princess Elizabeth which, as well as taking her place on the ferry with her ability to carry a handful of cars on her foredeck, that season also ran summer excursions from Southampton particularly on the link to Ryde and Southsea.
He must have been thought well of by his masters as he was given command of the brand-new Gracie Fields in 1936. She was pretty much a repeat of the Princess Elizabeth with both being 195ft LOA and with a beam of 24ft but with enhancements. For example she had a fo’c’sle to help keep the spray off the cars parked on her foredeck on rough crossings to Cowes. She had a bow rudder so that she could steam in and out of Cowes astern if she so wished. And she was fitted with an extra rubbing band around the top of her paddle boxes. One issue when tendering flat sided liners was that when the paddlers had a list whilst loading/unloading the top of the paddle boxes tended to rub on the liner’s side causing damage. This fendering sorted that one out.
Running also on the Cowes ferry Gracie Fields had a more adventurous excursion programme than Captain Larkin’s previous commands appearing at both Brighton and Bournemouth, where her namesake was appearing in a summer show, in her first season.
Sadly Gracie Fields had a very short career. She was called up for service as a minesweeper at the outbreak of the Second World War and had the misfortune to be bombed and sunk on Wednesday 29th May 1940 whilst evacuating troops from Dunkirk.
Captain Larkin went to war with his Gracie Fields and was aboard her for the Dunkirk episode. That experience quite understandably affected him and he did not return to military action but instead spent the rest of the war as master of Princess Helena once again on the Cowes ferry.
With a return towards normality as the war wound down he became master of Duchess of Cornwall in 1945 for her first post war excursions from Southampton to Ryde.
Then in 1946 he took over Princess Elizabeth once again and brought her on the first post war excursion from Southampton and Yarmouth to Bournemouth and Swanage on 19th August 1946 to reopen Bournemouth Pier for passenger services once again. In this press cutting he is pictured on the bridge of Princess Elizabeth with Bournemouth Mayor Alderman R H Old.
Captain Larkin was given command of the newly purchased Lorna Doone in 1949 which was rostered to run excursions from Bournemouth to Swanage, the Isle of Wight and further afield both that summer and in 1950. Unfortunately in the run up to the 1951 season her sister Solent Queen caught fire so she was brought back to Southampton to take her place.
These two steamers turned out to be white elephants. They were already elderly by this stage in their careers and in need of major structural work. They were big with commensurately high operating costs. They gobbled up cash and did not produce a surplus of income over expenditure. So they were sold for scrap in 1951 with Red Funnel’s General Manager, who had master minded their purchase, going with them.
For 1952 and 1953 Captain Larkin did not have his own ship but relieved around the fleet.
Then in 1954 he was given command of the six-year-old Balmoral. She also ran on the Cowes ferry accommodating a handful of cars on her aft deck and in the summer was by then Red Funnel’s principal excursion vessel generally operating the day trips from Southampton to Ryde, Southsea, Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor. Sometimes she retraced her route in the afternoon. On two days a week she carried on round the Isle of Wight. Until the mid 1950s sometimes she called at Bournemouth. Captain Larkin remained in command of Balmoral until he retired at the start of January 1962.
Born in Toxteth Park Liverpool in the summer of 1893, Captain Noah Rothwell Larkin died in Southampton in December 1965, aged seventy-two, three years after he had retired from his long career as master with Red Funnel.
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 5th January 2021.