From: Richard Walsh, Chairman – The Society for Sailing Barge Research 


The excellent article from Norman Middlemiss about the I.C.I. Fleet may have left the impression with your readership that coastwise and estuarial transportation of explosives under sail was, by the end of the 19th century, a thing of the past. The reality is somewhat different with at least 80 coastal and river sailing barges engaged in these trades, some well into the second half of the 20th century. Their owners included the government, Kynoch Ltd., The Cotton Powder Co. Ltd., Curtis’s & Harvey Ltd. and the specialist explosives carriers T. F. Wood (Gravesend) Ltd., the latter firm coming into being around the time Nobel opened the Ardeer factory, their Harwich built sailing barge Ardeer, joining their already extensive fleet in 1895.

Probably on account of the tragedy of the sailing barge Dorcas in 1920, when a spark from a passing tug ignited her cargo of petroleum in steel barrels, causing an explosion and creating a fire-ship which, carried down the Thames by the ebb, set fire to the ferry Hutton, the sailing barge Durrant, seven dumb barges, two warehouses, a store, railway trucks and three fire-engines at Woolwich arsenal, the Port of London authority introduced much more stringent controls on the movement of dangerous cargoes, prohibiting the use of steel built and internal combustion engined craft until 1958.

Despite a merging of interests over the years, Nobel kept their involvement in T. F. Wood a rather poorly hidden secret, though the partnership of lighterage firm George Austen, which was first funded by Nobel in 1912, with I.C.I. in later years, was much more overt as the above photograph shows, the I.C.I. roundel emblazoned on the jerseys of the crew of the T. F. Wood explosive carrier revival seen after their success in the 1953 Coronation Thames Sailing Barge Match.

With the changes to the London river controls in 1958 the entire fleet of sailing barges was offered for sale, some taken over for motorising and further trading, others sold for use as yachts or houseboats, the 1895 Ardeer being converted to a yacht and surviving until a few years short of her centenary.

From: Geoff Holmes, Committee Member, Friends of the Ferries

There is an omission in Mark Rowbotham’s excellent article on V.T.S. (Shipping July 2015).

On page 31 he states that the World’s “First harbour control system was installed at Douglas, I.O.M. and inaugurated on February 27th 1948”. However, the world’s first marine radar control system was installed at Seacombe Ferry by Wallasey Ferries and commenced operating in September 1947. The Birkenhead Ferries started using this service in 1948. The Ferries did not have radar on board but were in contact with Seacombe by radio-telephone. Initially, one of the pay booths at the ferry terminal was converted to a radar hut.

From: A. D. Frost, Sunderland 

With reference to T. McLaren’s letter about the Australia Star’s lifeboat davits (Colubus type), I can confirm this, as an ex. BSL engineer. I also heard this, which came about on the Canterbury Star class, also on the Afric Star class the ER vent was moved for the same reason. This was one of several anomalies (to many to mention), made by Mr. Vesty including no radar when they were a must and not a luxury.

I have read a. Blackwood Observations, Five Tramps……and a few (there’s) more. It was a well researched feature, but unfortunately three are missing from the list. Island Skipper, island Engineer and island Mariner (789).You could say the contract was fulfilled and more.


From: Jim Inniss, Ashwater, Devon 

I have been reading with interest Simon Hall’s articles ‘Slow Passage’. Your July issue has descriptive accounts of the drinking culture in the Merchant Navy. It is indeed rare for anyone writing books and articles on shipping in the period after the war up until the late 1980’s to even mention this fact and the effect it had on many seafarers.

In my book ‘Hard a Tab Nab’ which also describes my life at sea from Cadet to Master I do also in one chapter give an insight into what was really quite a problem for the owners and managers of ships. Some of the most senior officers were to put it bluntly alcoholics, and the management ashore in some cases well knew of this fact, it also put considerable strain on the other senior officers in handling the situation.

So I take my hat off to Simon Hall for going into print and being honest about what was really a serious problem during what I call ‘The heyday’ of British Shipping.

From: Dick Gorter, Netherlands

Again it was a pleasure to read the monthly contribution of Norman Middlemiss, this time about the Dutch Batavier Line in ST of August 2015. I am sure Norman will appreciate some remarks I would like to make.

  1. When reading the article one might get the impression that the company was named Wilhelm H. Müller & Company, that is Wilhelm in full. However, the official name of the company was Wm. H. Müller & Co. N.V. The name Wilhelm never was used.

  2. It is mentioned that in 1970 Wilhelm H. Müller & Company was taken over by KNSM. In fact KNSM took over all liner activities of Müller’s shortsea company Wm. H. Müller & Co. (Batavier) N.V., excluding the lines to the UK. Müller kept ‘Domburgh’ and ‘Brittenburgh’, the other 6 vessels were sold to KNSM and traded as Scheepvaartbedrijf Kroonburgh N.V. This company was merged internally with KNSM’s own shortsea liner division (8 ships) in 1975 and the new combination was continued as KNSM-Kroonburgh B.V.

  3. Müller became engaged in tank shipping in 1958. Tanker Handel Maatschappij Tahama (‘Tahama’,’ Tamara’) and Nationale Tankvaart Maatschappij (‘Forst Hill’, ‘Forest Lake’ and ‘Forest Town’) were in fact owned by subsidiaries of the famous Dutch shipbuilder Cornelis verolme. However, it might be that Müller had a small financial participation in Tahama, in which the Norwegian Skaugen-company also had an interest.

From: Jim Souter, Aberdeen 

A minor correction to the photo caption “reefers at Southampton” in the August edition.

Coppename the former Morazon of United Fruit Company was transferred to Dutch registry with Caraibische Scheepvaart Maatschappij NV a Dutch subsidiary of United Fruit Company (van Nievelt & Goudriaan & Co, Managers).


Morazon/Coppename was one of a class of nine of which four were transferred to Elders & Fyffes (United Fruit Company’s British subsidiary) and British registry and five to Dutch registry.


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