Older members of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society will remember with great affection the popular post war South Coast paddle steamer Captain Harry Defrates pictured here on the bridge of the Princess Elizabeth sailing from Torquay in 1961.
Born in London in 1895, Capt Defrates went to sea on ships trading to South America in 1909 and gained his first paddle steamer command with the Showboat, ex Alexandra, in 1931 running on the Thames from Westminster.
During the Second World War he worked on minesweepers and later was involved with control of shipping on the Isle of Wight and with preparations for the Normandy landings.
After the war he joined Cosens as mate of their veteran paddle steamer Monarch of 1888 running from Bournemouth gaining much experience working with her master, Capt Cooke, who had been with Cosens in the 1930s.
After sailing as relief master of the Embassy, Capt Defrates’ first permanent command with Cosens was in 1951, on the open bridged Victoria of 1888, based at Weymouth but still running long distance sailings to Swanage, Bournemouth and Totland Bay on the Isle of Wight, as well as the local excursions to Portland Bill, the Shambles Lightship, round Portland Harbour and to Lulworth Cove.
In 1952 and from 1957 to 1959 Capt Defrates was captain of the Consul of 1896 based mainly at Weymouth although sailing regularly to Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight. In 1963 he took her for a season on the Sussex Coast in private ownership and for a couple of weeks in September of that year on the Thames. After years of working with experienced crews and engineers, in 1963 he found his new crew somewhat lacking in expertise in all departments and there were constant problems with the engines and the crew in general.
Capt Defrates was captain of Cosens’ second Monarch, ex Shanklin built in 1924, from 1954- 56 and again in 1960 on the Bournemouth station. He was offered command of the Embassy that year but preferred to go back to the Monarch as the bridge of the Embassy was subject to constant vibration from a steam fan engine for the boiler induced draught system which was located just abaft of and just below the wheelhouse whereas Monarch, still being coal fired, ran on natural draught and was without this inconvenient modern addition.
Capt Defrates left Cosens in 1961 to become master of the Princess Elizabeth for her second season at Torquay. The following year he took her on the Bournemouth to Swanage service and in 1964 he was back aboard as her captain at Weymouth. This was his last season as a paddle steamer captain although he was involved in attempts to put the ship back into service in 1967, attempts which sadly came to nothing due to a combination of major structural work being required on the ship by the Board of Trade and an absence of sufficient funds to finance these on the part of her new owner.
Before the 1967 season Capt Defrates brought the Thornwick, which was to replace the Embassy at Bournemouth, round from Bridlington to Poole and later that year was master of the luxury steam yacht Medea which was, so far as I am aware, his last command.
Capt Defrates, pictured here on the bridge on Monarch on a trip from Swanage to Bournemouth in June 1960, was a kindly man, an excellent paddle steamer captain and a much respected figure in paddle steamer circles.
After retiring he lived quietly with his wife in Weymouth. She died first and when he became incapacitated moved first to the local Westhaven Hospital and then to Putney, to be closer to his son, where he died in hospital in 1984. His son, John Francis Defrates, was a diplomat with the United Nations serving as director of UNWRA, the relief agency for Palestinian Refugees, and his grandson, Mark, now lives in America where he has carved a highly successful career designing and creating jewellery.
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.