On Tuesday 7th June 1911 work was continuing on putting the finishing touches to the Southampton, Isle of Wight and South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company’s (later rebranded Red Funnel) latest paddle steamer Princess Mary. Built by local shipyard Day Summers she made her inaugural cruise with passengers from Southampton ten days later on Saturday 17th June 1911.
She was an ever so slightly larger version of Duchess of York, of 1896, and was intended for the company’s services from Southampton to Cowes carrying vehicles on her foredeck as required, excursions in the Solent and beyond, as well as for tender work to liners anchored in the Solent.
Unfortunately she had a pitifully short career. Called up for war service in the Mediterranean in 1916 she was sunk in August 1919 when she inadvertently ran over the wreck of the Battleship HMS Majestic which had been mined in the Dardanelles campaign. And in case anyone thinks that there is an irony here in a South Coast paddle steamer running over the wreck of another South Coast paddle steamer so far from home then this was not Cosens’s Majestic. This one was built in 1895 as a pre-Dreadnought Battleship, 421ft LAO and with heavy armaments giving her major fire power.
It was not until 1927 that the company built a replacement in the form of Princess Elizabeth which came from the same builder with pretty much identical dimensions and overall design. She had a much longer life remaining in service until 1965 and still being with us today as a static exhibition and conference centre in Dunkirk. So there is still around a direct link back to the short lived Princess Mary of 1911.
The first two pictures above were given to me by the late Mrs Eileen Pritchard whose husband Laurence Pritchard was a naval architect involved with the building of Princess Elizabeth.
Mrs Pritchard was a key figure in the PSPS in the 1960s encouraging, goading on and tirelessly working for the best interests of paddle steamers. She even put her own money where her mouth was and invested in Consul bought by fellow PSPS stalwart from the 1960s Tony McGinnity in 1963.
Both were very much in favour of the PSPS buying Alumchine and Kingswear Castle. Both were very positive doers ever trying to find reasons why something should be done to help paddle steamers rather than hiding behind carefully constructed excuses for inactivity. For me they remain two giants from that era.
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 7th June 2021.