Emperor had ever been a difficult ship. Built in 1906 as Princess Royal for what became Red Funnel she did not meet her design criteria and so was lengthened in an attempt to try to address issues within a year of being built. She passed to Cosens in 1908, who plated up her foredeck to make her flush decked, and became their long distance steamer from Weymouth up to the First World War and from Bournemouth after that.
After the Second World war, Emperor was converted to burn oil and was rebuilt out of all recognition being fitted with a pretty palatial saloon and a giant modern funnel. This all added extra weight leading her last master Capt Rawle to describe her as being “a nightmare for all who had to handle her”. Like Waverley she was inclined to ignore the rudder when steaming astern even in light airs and therefore always needed a tug to assist her in confined waters including up and down Weymouth Harbour, in and out of Poole Quay and when visiting Cowes. Being on the large size her operating costs were higher than any other paddle steamer in the Cosens’s fleet leading her to ever have a short season, latterly amounting to as little as 60 operating days. Uniquely amongst Cosens’s paddle steamers her engine size meant that she required a fully certificated Chief Engineer where other vessels in the fleet could use engineers with lesser certificates of competency or, in some cases, with no certificates of competency at all but with special dispensations from the Board of Trade to sail as Chief Engineer on specific ships.
Intriguingly issue number 4 of Paddle Wheels for January/February 1961 contains a report suggesting that “although her engines and superstructure were swiftly removed, the hull was found to be in such good condition that it was suitable for conversion to a barge.” Poole tug owner Barry Rose recalled that he had been in Antwerp on a towing job in May 1959 and had been told that “the hull of Emperor of India was moored in Antwerp and used as a theatre.”
Whether any of that is true I don’t know but it is quite plausible. You never know what you might find when you drill down and whoever would have thought that the Jeanie Deans’s paddle box to this day adorns a bar in Genk but it does, there for all who visit the backstreets of Genk to see.
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.