On Friday 9th July 1948 Embassy ran aground in Poole Harbour on a falling tide whilst turning on a morning cruise from Bournemouth.
The paddle steamers ran up and down Poole Harbour on a daily basis to and from their overnight berths alongside Poole Quay but were not generally required to turn round on a cruise within the harbour. Generally, but not always, they berthed head in alongside Poole Quay. Sometimes they swung on the berth with the tide helping them round. More usually they backed away from the quay down the Little Channel turning the stern westwards at the Stakes buoy so that the bow was heading in the right direction to set off full ahead towards either the Diver or Main Channel outward bound. Turning round in one elsewhere in the harbour was a real challenge for a paddle steamer given the large turning circle required for such a manoeuvre and given the narrowness of the channels. On this day, and on this cruise, Embassy tried to do it in one and ran aground in the process.
The 128 passengers were brought ashore by Harry Rose on his tug Wendy Anne and there Embassy remained stuck fast until she floated off later in the afternoon. Her master that day was Capt Harry Defrates making his first appearance in command of a Cosens’s paddle steamer relieving Embassy’s permanent master that season, Capt “Pony” Moore who was off possibly doing something in connection with Emperor of India which was running trials prior to her inaugural cruise the following week after her rebuild
I remember Capt Defrates telling me about this incident years later and saying with a wry smile that “it was the mate Eric Plater who had put me aground”.
It was the usual practice for the mate of Cosens’s paddle steamers to be on the wheel in Poole Harbour and Eric Plater was Embassy’s mate at that point. Although he had been a Lt Cdr in the Navy in the war and master of the P & A Campbell paddle steamer Glen Gower Eric did not hold a home trade master’s ticket so could not sail as Embassy’s captain in peacetime himself. But he was very experienced in paddle steamer handling and much more so at the time than Captain Defrates standing in on this day for Captain Moore. And a wise man should be careful of overruling a more experienced seaman’s advice. But there again the more experienced seaman may not always be right. It can be a difficult call. And on this day it led to Embassy running aground.
After serving in the Navy in the war during, which he commanded minesweepers, Captain Defrates ended up living in Seaview on the Isle of Wight having become involved with shore work in connection with shipping control. On being de-mobbed he and his wife set up a hair dressing business in the town but that venture did not prosper so he looked for other work. It may have been Eric Plater, who was a distant cousin, who recommended him to join Cosens initially as mate of their twin funnelled Monarch.
After this work as relief master in July 1948 Captain Defrates continued as permanent mate of Embassy with Eric moving to become mate of the Emperor . It was three years later in 1951 when he gained his first permanent command with Cosens as master of their Victoria.
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 9th July 2021.