6th May 1960:
Princess Elizabeth

6th May 1960:
Princess Elizabeth
Princess Elizabeth alongside Torquay. // John Megoran

With the arrival of the new purpose built car ferry Carisbrooke Castle for the Southampton to Cowes ferry service in May 1959, Red Funnel withdrew Princess Elizabeth and put her up for sale. Unexpectedly she was bought by a new outfit called Torbay Steamers Ltd, which was fronted by Cdr Edmund Rhodes and his main backer Mrs Barclay-Bishop. They planned to run her from Torquay on morning and afternoon cruises including to Dartmouth and to off Exmouth and Sidmouth and day trips to Lyme Regis and Plymouth. Accordingly she was refitted and slipped at Southampton for her new career and ran trials on Tuesday 26th April 1960 on which she was accompanied by a small group of enthusiasts including a number of stalwarts from the then newly formed PSPS.

A page from Princess Elizabeth’s 1960 Engine Room Log. // John Megoran Collection

With everything ready she set off from Southampton at 6.45pm on the evening of Thursday 5th May for an overnight, 100 nautical mile, run down the Hampshire, Dorset and Devon Coasts to Torquay. Making good time, and not wishing to arrive too early, the Lizzie slowed to half ahead at 12.35am. She ran into some fog at 5.09am and reduced speed to slow ahead but cleared the bank at 5.49am and sped on for the remaining distance to Torquay at full speed entering the harbour around 6.30am. “Finished with Engines” was rung at 6.40am.

She lay alongside at Torquay until the following Wednesday 11th May when she set off just before 2pm for trials calling at Brixham at 2.30pm for about twenty minutes before setting off for Dartmouth. She arrived there around 4.15pm and stayed for an hour before returning to Torquay where she arrived back at 6.45pm.

Princess Elizabeth.

The following day she ran further trials leaving Torquay at 3pm and getting back at 5.30pm. And on Friday 13th she left Torquay just before 5pm to take a mooring for the weekend at Brixham where she arrived half an hour later.

On Monday 16th May she set off from Brixham just before 11am arriving at Torquay around 11.30am and there she remained all day while part of one of her pumps was repaired.

On Tuesday 17th she ran the afternoon cruise to Dartmouth leaving just before 3pm and getting back just before 6pm but that is all she did that week.

Steam was raised on Wednesday 18th and the engine was warmed through before the advertised trip at 2.45pm to Dartmouth was cancelled. The Thursday day trips to Plymouth were not due to start quite yet so she lay alongside that day. And on Friday 20th steam was raised and the steering and telegraph were again tested before the afternoon cruise at 2.45pm to Exmouth and Sidmouth was also cancelled.

The engine room log does not say why these cruises were cancelled. It makes no mention of any mechanical issues either so with the engine being warmed up there must have been an expectation to sail. Perhaps it was the weather or more likely insufficient passenger numbers. The middle of May was very early in the season at Torquay and there was lots of other competition as well for those who were there.

The Lizzie was the largest and arguably the nicest boat running from Torquay that season but there were many other smaller diesel launches, some carrying up to 250 passengers, running to Brixham and Dartmouth. They had much lower operating costs and benefitted from slightly better and more prominent pitches than Haldon Pier, from where the Lizzie sailed, which is a little bit out on a limb and a longer walk to get to.

None of these smaller vessels could run the longer day trips so Cdr Rhodes may have thought that he was safe and would corner the market there. However, once a week in the peak weeks, one of the Weymouth/Channel Island mailboats, usually St Hellier or St Julien, and sometimes St Patrick, turned up at Torquay to offer a day trip to Guernsey. With Passenger Certificates for more than 1,000 they were big boats capable of picking off  a sizable chunk of that market segment. And for many punters the prospect of a day out to the Channel Islands somehow seemed a more enticing prospect than a day out to Plymouth.

This first week was not a good start for the Lizzie. Lots of the readies had gone out on buying her, slipping her, refitting her and generally getting her ready. And lots more was going out on wages, harbour dues and so on. Very little was coming in to balance all the outgoings so it must have been a tense week for Cdr Rhodes and Mrs Barclay-Bishop as they reviewed their cash flow. They doubtless hoped and prayed for the coming weeks to be blessed with endless sunshine to bring the punters out and their wallets aboard.

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.

John Megoran

John Megoran

This article was first published on 6th May 2021.