September 2012:
Paddle Steamer Captain Rawle Retires

September 2012:
Paddle Steamer Captain Rawle Retires

In September 1959 Capt Philip St Barbe Rawle, seen here wearing his Cosens’s hat with its distinctive badge with the house flag above the anchor, retired after a long career with that company.

Philip had paddle steamers in his blood and had sailed on them all his life as his father, Capt Lewis St Barbe Rawle, had been senior master with Cosens and captain of their flagship Majestic before the First World War. Sadly father Lewis’s life was cut short early at the age of just fifty three when, whilst in command of the Empress on war service, he was found drowned in Newhaven Harbour on the morning of 6th May 1916.

With a childhood steeped in paddle steamers it is no surprise that son Philip became a paddle steamer captain himself, his first command being Cosens’s paddle tug/tender Albert Victor in 1924, pictured here leaving Weymouth.

In 1929 he transferred as master to the Alexandra pictured entering Weymouth Harbour.

When she was sold he had a couple of seasons without his own ship before taking over the Victoria from Capt Carter, who had moved onto the Monarch, in 1933.

Three years later Capt Carter moved onto the Emperor of India and Capt Rawle succeeded him on the Monarch, seen here leaving Weymouth. He remained with her up to and including the Second World War during which the ship served as an Examination Service Vessel based at Weymouth renamed HMS Exwey. Capt Rawle related that:

The first time I came aboard the Monarch was when I was three years old. I still remember getting into trouble with my mother for getting my white sailor suit dirty playing with the seamen and for copying their language.

He moved to the Embassy for her first post war trips in September 1946 in her partially re-built condition with the extended saloon aft and a new bridge and wheelhouse but still with her old, tall, coal-fired funnel. This was replaced with the large and fat one which became her post war trademark when the boiler was converted to oil firing the following winter. Here Embassy is head out alongside Custom House Quay, Weymouth, in the late summer of 1946, outside what is now the Harbourmaster’s office.

In 1948 Capt Rawle took over the newly re-built Emperor of India and apart from a period in 1953, when he was off sick, remained with her until she was withdrawn after the 1956 season. The Emperor had a bit of a reputation as a problem ship throughout her life with poor handling characteristics and a tendency to wander when going astern. Capt Rawle once described her as “a nightmare for anyone who had to handle her”.

Here he is on the starboard bridge wing of the Emperor of India with the Mayor of Poole, Aldermen S F Lanridge and the Mayor of Christchurch, Alderman E J Slinn in 1948.

From 1957 Capt Rawle moved back to the Embassy for the remainder of his career finally retiring on 11th September 1959, his place on the bridge for the last few trips of that season being taken by Capt Haines formerly of PS Monarch.

Capt Rawle was an excellent, highly experienced and much respected master who had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Dorset, Hampshire and Devon coasts. Some of his commentaries on points of interest are preserved in the Cosens’s archive at the Dorset County Library.

Pictured here with his wife and Cosens’s Bournemouth Manager Cdr Johnson, Capt Rawle was presented with a “handsome clock”, as the Bournemouth Echo described it, as a retirement gift at a ceremony at the Antelope Hotel in Poole during which “Members of the crews of both steamers (Embassy and Monarch) drank a toast to the veteran captain and his wife”.

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