The Routenburn


I was born in 1935 and we lived in a suburb of Swansea. From our house we had a sweeping view across Swansea bay. In 1940 I clearly remember seeing from our windows the two halves of the Protesilaus beached off West Cross. She was one of the first ships to be mined by an acoustic mine which in this incident was dropped off Mumbles head. The Protesilaus was Blue Funnel Line’s first 2nd world war casualty.

Swansea was from time to time bombed, which culminating in the ‘3 nights blitz’ in 1941. However about that time my parents evacuated me to a friend of my fathers who lived in a small cottage at Cartersford in Gower, 8 miles from Swansea. This was to be my home for the next year or so. I was staying with Mr and Mrs Percy Rees. Percy did only occasional work besides running his small farm, which was little more than subsistence farming on about 8 acres I well remember haymaking, the hay being cut with a borrowed finger mower pulled by a horse.

In subsequent years I used to cycle over and call and see them from time to time. Percy Rees died towards the end of the 1940s and one of the last visits I made to Mrs Rees shortly before she moved out of the rented cottage she gave me 2 ships biscuits that were wrapped in tissue paper. I had never seen them before. Both had paintings of a sailing ship on them, one in storm conditions, which has some damage and one a sailing ship in full sail. Unfortunately she did not give me any information about them and regretfully I never asked. Both were of a 4 masted barque. From time to time I would unwrap them to see them.


In 1952 I went to sea as an apprentice with H. Hogarth & Sons of Glasgow on the Baron Herries.

The years passed and I left the sea in 1960. In 1981 I unwrapped the biscuits and on this particular day with strong sunlight my wife looking at them said, “I can see a name”. Getting a magnifying glass we were able to pick out the name of the ship and the initials of the painter. With my interest aroused I wrote to the National Maritime Museum and in due course received some information and a photocopy of a letter that appeared in a nautical magazine of 1932. I now had a name to my ships biscuits. By 1997 I investigated further and in response to request for information I have been able to accumulate considerable information thanks to correspondence.

The 9,528grt Protesilaus was built in 1910 by Hawthorn Leslie at Hebburn for the Blue Funnel Line. On 21st January 1940 she was mined off South Wales. The wreck was scuttled off Skerryvore on 13th September 1940.


The ships name was the barque Routenburn, one of Shankland’s all named after Scottish burns, in this instant the one entering the sea at Largs. The Routenburn was the last British built wool chipper. The initials on my biscuits were F.C.H., Frank Coutts Hendry. He commenced his apprentiship in the Celticburn in 1891 and was on the Routenburn in 1895 when she left Swansea on the 28th June that year. He wrote an account of his time in the ship called ‘Around the Horn and Home Again’. The junior apprentice on the Routenburn F.C.H. records, was a Percy Rees from Swansea. It can only be the Percy Rees with whom I was evacuated in 1941 and whose widow gave me the ship’s biscuits.


Subscribe today to read the full article!

Simply click below to subscribe and not only read the full article instantly, but gain unparalleled access to the specialist magazine for shipping enthusiasts.

Subscribe nowLog In


Sorry, comments are closed for this item