|"PENDENNIS CASTLE" ALONGSIDE IN DURBAN - Courtesy Ray Simes
THIS PAGE ALSO INCLUDES THE CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THE FIRE ABOARD
THE "GOOD HOPE CASTLE" AS RELATED BY CAPTAIN PETER ASHCROFT IN ONE OF HIS MORE SERIOUS VEINS !.
|Union-Castle liners East India Dock circa early 1900s
The painting above is by Simon Fisher and is entitled 'CASTLES
AT THE CAPE'. Resplendant in the fondly remembered Union-Castle lavender-hulled colours, CAPETOWN CASTLE
passes EDINBURGH CASTLE in Capetown Harbour in the 50s, Table Mountain forming a fine backdrop.
|WINCHESTER/WARWICK CASTLE - SM Aug/05
The WINCHESTER and WARWICK CASTLE (sunk in WWII) were the only ships
rebuilt in 1930s to keep their original bows.
The RMMV WINCHESTER CASTLE was built in 1930 by Harland & Wolff.
Of 20,000 grt (1939) she was 657 feet in length and 75.6 feet wide. Twin screw diesels provided a service speed of 20
knots. Her capacity was for 189 First and 398 Tourist passengers.
The second of two sister ships WINCHESTER CASTLE's 1938 refit for the
new mail contract resulted in more powerful diesels installed, a single funnel replaced the original pair of squat ones but
unlike CARNARVON CASTLE, her bows were unaltered. As with her fleetmates her war service was followed by a prolonged
use as a migrant ship to South Africa and it was not until September 1949 that she resumed the Cape Mail.
|ARUNDEL CASTLE - Courtesy SM Aug/05
ARUNDEL CASTLE's 37 years of service on the Cape Mail was without equal
as was her post-1938 appearance above.
She was built by Harland & Wolff's of Belfast in 1921. She
was 19,118 grt (post-1937), 661 feet in length and 72 feet in width. Twin screws gave a service speed of 20 knots.
She held 168 First Class and 371 Tourist (post-50).
The ARUNDEL was the Grand Old Lady of the mail fleet and was transformed
from a 4 funnel Edwardian profile (she and sister WINDSOR CASTLE were the only four funnel vessels outside of the North
Atlantic) to a rakish two funnel, raked bow greyhound in nine months at her builder's from January to October 1938.
New boilers, extended bows and new turbines upped her speed from 16 to 20 knots. She was the last mailship to return
after the war following austerity emigrant service in September 1950. Her 37 years 8 months on the Cape Mail was a record.
The advertisement below appeared in travel agents throughout
the country enticing those young and ambitious enough to rise to the challenge and emigrate to South Africa. Many were
offered assisted passages, especially the professions which prospered greatly in the days of apartheid.
|RHODESIA CASTLE & DUNNOTAR CASTLE at Kilindini 1954 Courtesy Ron Bullock
The Union Steamship Company was formed at Southampton in 1853 and 4
years later the Line secured a mail contract to South Africa. The well known 'Castle' naming policy was started by a
Donald Currie who initially traded to India in 1862. The merged Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company was registered in
|CARNARVON CASTLE - Courtesy SM Aug/05
Crowds on the A-berth bullnose at Cape Town bid farewell to the 1926-built
CARNARVON CASTLE as she heads for Southampton.
She was built in 1926 by Harland & Wolff of Belfast, of 20,141 grt
(1949) 686 feet in length and 73.5 feet wide, twin screw diesels providing a service speed of 20 knots.. She carried
216 First and 401 Tourist passengers (post-50).
She was also the first mailship to exceed 20,000 tons and the first
motor ship on the Cape run. CARNARVON CASTLE ushered in the era of fast diesel-driven express liners on the route, In
1937, along with the rest of the fleet, she was extensively rebuilt for the expedited mail contract with new more powerful
diesels, lengthened and finer bows with a raked stem and a single, large streamlined funnel amidships. Very much
a new ship, CARNARVON CASTLE resumed service in July of 1938 and two months later the record passage to Cape Town of 11 days
21 hours which stood until 1954. After trooping and post-war emigrant service, she was fully refitted and resumed the
Mail service on June 1950.
|KENYA CASTLE at Capetown 1954 - Courtesy Ron Bullock
|R.M.M.V. EDINBURGH CASTLE/GOHN - Courtesy John Richardson - SM OCT/77
The Union-Castle fleet consisted of not only the larger mail ships but
a series of 'intermediate' size vessels offering a 'Round-Africa' service. These included the BRAEMAR CASTLE,
DURBAN CASTLE, KENYA CASTLE, RHODESIA CASTLE, WARWICK CASTLE and the little LLANSTEPHEN CASTLE. All
of approximately 17,000 gross tons. Their itinerary would include Las Palmas, Ascension, St. Helena,
Capetown, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban, Lourenco Marques, Beira, Dar-es-Salaam,
Zanzibar, Tanga, Mombasa, Aden, Port Sudan, Suez, Port Said, Genoa, Marseilles
and Gibraltar. A 'best' cabin onboard, with private toilet and bath, cost 100 pounds for the three
and a half week voyage to Capetown.
Smaller ships of the line were known as the 'fruit boats', the
itineraries of which included the Cape ports and the East Coast, returning to the U.K. through Suez and the Mediterranean.
|R.M.M.V. CAPETOWN CASTLE 27,000 grt, Built 1938, Av. speed 20 kts.
The CAPETOWN CASTLE, with the Blue Peter at the foremast, prepares
to leave Southampton at 1600 Thursday (this was to change in 1965 due to the accelerated 11.5 day passage to 1300 Fridays)
for yet another trip to South Africa. She will stop at Las Palmas on the southward journey and probably Madeira
on the home run. Following her initial stay at Capetown she will continue around the coast to Port Elizabeth,
East London and Durban. After a short stay in Durban she will head southwards for another longer stay in Capetown before
the voyage home to Southampton.
Seven lavender hulled ships comprised the Union-Castle mail service.
Ultimately jet travel and containerisation of the South African cargo trade led to the end of this service.
|R.M.M.V. STIRLING CASTLE/GYPX Built 1936, 25,554 grt, Av. speed 20 kts.
The picture of the STIRLING CASTLE above emphasizes the
'yacht-like' profile of the CAPETOWN, STIRLING and ATHLONE CASTLE. Although built in the thirties these three
vessels portrayed an aerodynamic design ahead of their time.
|R.M.M.V. PRETORIA CASTLE - Courtesy A. Duncan - SM JAN/87
|BRAEMAR CASTLE passing at a 'safe' distance - Courtesy Ron Bullock
|Courtesy of Ian McKendrik
|EDINBURGH CASTLE AUTHOR'S PIC. TAKEN IN PORT ELIZABETH.
The EDINBURGH and the PRETORIA CASTLE were the two larger vessels and
were arguably the 'best' of the liners and it seemed that everyone wanted to travel in them. They carried 214 in 1st
Class and 541 in Tourist. By the mid-seventies the Union-Castle liner runs were losing money. While all of the
pre-war liners had been retired there was a joint effort with the South African Corporation (Safmarine Lines) to continue
the service but further decline lay ahead. In 1975-76 the older EDINBURGH CASTLE and, what had become the SA
ORANJE (ex PRETORIA CASTLE), were retired and sold to Far Eastern breakers.
|S.A. ORANJE - Courtesy Peter C. Kohler & SM Aug/05
Launched as PRETORIA CASTLE on August 19th. 1947
by Mrs. Issie Smuts, the wife of the then Prime Minister of South Africa, Union-Castle Line's 28,705 grt mailship was
sold to Safmarine in 1966 and three years was transferred to South African registry. Renamed S.A. ORANJE, she
served with Safmarine until 1975 when she was sent to Taiwan for demolition.
Above, PENDENNIS CASTLE, after only 17 years of service, departs Cape
Town for the last time in June of 1976.
She was built in 1958 by Harland & Wolff, of 28, 453 grt,
763 feet in length and 84 feet wide. Twin screw turbines provided a service speed of 23 knots. She carried 167
First and 475 Tourist passengers.
In "Mailships of the Union-Castle Line" the PENDENNIS was arguably the
best mailship built and she was the fastest of the fleet. For the first time a mailship had stabilizers which required
a lengthening of the hull from 748 to 763 feet on the stocks. The accommodation layout marked the first departure since
the 1930s but she was the last major passenger liner built that was not entirely air-conditioned. The inspiration for
interiors conveying 'tranquility and airy spaciousness' came from Bernard Cayzer, youngest brother of Chairman Sir Nicholas,
who engaged the famous interior designer Jean Munro. When refitted in 1964, all First Class cabins were air-conditioned
and 21 more cabins were given private facilities.
WINDSOR CASTLE was the largest British-built liner since the QUEEN
ELIZABETH when she came out. She reflected the 1960's trend towards so-called 'superliners' offering unprecendented
size, speed and amenities to compete with growing air competitiion. She was the largest liner ever built
for the Cape run and, after ORIANA and CANBERRA, the largest non-North Atlantic liner built post-war.
For the first time on the Cape run there was entirely air-conditioned
accommodation, a permanent 246 seat cinema and 'stem-to-stern' Tourist Class facilities on 'A' deck.
Equally impressive was her cargo carrying capacity totalling 352,000
square feet reefer, 271,000 sq. feet general cargo and a 26 car garage. In 1968 she was fitted with special bulk
wine tanks (capacity 81,000 gallons) for the booming South African wine export industry.
|R.M.M.V. WINDSOR CASTLE - SM OCT/92
In November of 1977 the Union-Castle flagship R.M.S. WINDSOR
CASTLE of 37,640 grt completed her final voyage, the 124th in 17 years. During this period she had carried
270,000 passengers a total of 1,662,000 miles around the Cape of Good Hope. She is seen below as the MARGARITA
L. at Malta, shortly after being laid up at Eleusis Bay, Piraeus awaiting disposition.
|EX WINDSOR CASTLE AT MALTA Photo G. Spiteri, Courtesy T.W. Scull SM JULY/92
|WINDSOR CASTLE - Courtesy of Peter C. Kohler and SM Aug/05
|WINDSOR CASTLE - Courtesy Ron Bullock
Southbound passengers aboard WINDSOR CASTLE/GVTG enjoy their trip in 1969. A new life awaits for some in
South Africa. In the present socio-political climate, I wonder how many remained in this sad country!
|TRANSVAAL CASTLE AT SEA - Courtesy Peter C. Kohler & SM Aug/05
|Courtesy T.W. Scull - SM JULY/92
The last Union- Castle ship built was the TRANSVAAL CASTLE.
She was advertised as a one-class 'hotel' ship and is seen here in later years as the FESTIVALE of Carnival Cruise Lines.
She then became the ISLAND BREEZE and ultimately BIG RED BOAT III.
|Courtesy Robert Pabst - SM APRIL/91
Above, a picture of two fine liners taken by Robert
Pabst in September of 1963. Shaw Savill's DOMINION MONARCH and CAPETOWN CASTLE are berthed at Duncan Dock, Capetown.
|KENYA CASTLE - Courtesy Peter C. Kohler & SM Aug/05
KENYA CASTLE, BRAEMAR CASTLE and RHODESIA CASTLE were refitted
in 1958 including dome tops to their funnels (adding 12 feet to their height) and in 1960-61 had their accommodation improved,
partially air-conditioned and berths reduced from 539 to approximately 450. 1961 proved to be the last for the full
Round-Africa service with RHODESIA CASTLE, and WARWICK CASTLE being the eastabout ships and BRAEMAR CASTLE and DURBAN
CASTLE being the westabout ones.
KENYA CASTLE was one of the three sister ships built specifically for
the Round Africa service in 1951-52. She was not scrapped until 2001 as Chandris AMERIKANIS.
|Courtesy Barry Ledsom - SM JUNE/88
The TANTALLON CASTLE, off the Pierhead at Liverpool,
is helped to her berth in Birkenhead. Also in the background may be seen a Blue Funnel ship of more recent vintage
at anchor in mid-stream.
These smaller cargo ships of the U-C fleet were known as
'fruitboats', South African fruit being a predominant part of her return cargo.. All were of between 7 and 8,000
grt. Sister ships were the RICHMOND CASTLE, RIEBECK CASTLE, ROCHESTER CASTLE, ROSLIN CASTLE,
ROWALLAN CASTLE, ROXBURGH CASTLE, RUSTENBERG CASTLE and TINTAGEL CASTLE. Their route encircled Africa
with stops on the east coast such as Beira and Mombasa thence through Suez and home.
|Courtesy G.S. Anderson - SM JAN/85
Thanks to Mr. Anderson and a certain quartermaster aboard
the DURBAN CASTLE the evocative picture above was taken of the DUNNOTTAR CASTLE (1936) as seen from the DURBAN CASTLE between
Ascension Island and St. Helena in the South Atlantic on July 19th 1958. DUNNOTTAR CASTLE was homeward bound on
her last voyage as a Union-Castle liner. At that time Mr. Anderson was serving on DURBAN CASTLE (1938) as
a lamp trimmer. The DUNNOTTAR CASTLE sailed on as the Greek cruise ship VICTORIA. DURBAN CASTLE was
broken up in Hamburg in 1962.
|RHODESIA CASTLE - Author's File
The RHODESIA CASTLE was described as an 'intermediate'
in the fleet and satisfied the demands of both passenger and cargo itineraries. She was built in 1951, a
handsome ship of 17,041 grt, she had twin screws giving an average speed of 16 knots.
The picture above was taken by the author from the STIRLING
CASTLE as we were pushing northwards to Madeira and ultimately Southampton. In the unusually calm South Atlantic
the TRANSVAAL CASTLE is seen passing on her way to Capetown. Passengers would rush to their cabins for cameras
at this event. The proximity and thus the pleasure of the passengers would often depend on the combined 'nerve' of the
captains as to how far the two large liners, commensurate with safety, would be apart. The steam
from her whistle may just be seen as she salutes her 'sister'.
|SA VAAL Courtesy Peter C. Kohler & SM Aug/05
S.A. VAAL was sold to Carnival Cruise Lines in September of 1977,
sailed from Southampton on October 29th to Kobe, Japan where she was re-built into the 1,432-berth cruise ship FESTIVALE.
Her maiden cruise was from Miami on October 28 (78?). She was passed to Dolphin Cruise Lines in May of 1996 as ISLAND
BREEZE and continued cruising under the same name for Premier Cruise Lines in July of 1997, including a long-term
charter to Thomson Cruises. With the collapse of Premier, she was lid up in freeport, Bahamas in September of
2000 and was scrapped in Alang in July of 2003. Southampton Castle and Good Hope Castle were sold in February 1978
to Cost Armatori and renamed PAOLA C and FRANCA C. respectively. Both were eventually scrapped in China in 1984.
|GOOD HOPE CASTLE - Courtesy Peter C. Kohler & SM Aug/05
The fastest diesel-powered freighters in the world when completed the
SOUTHAMPTON CASTLE and GOOD HOPE CASTLE were the first non-passenger carrying mail ships. Two eight cylinder Sulzer
diesels developed 34,720 bhp and they made 25 knots on trials. Fitted with heavy lift derricks and extensive reefer
space, their deadweight capacity of 11,200 included special tanks for carriage of South African wine exports.
In October of 1967 both ships were fitted with 12 passenger berths at Cammell Laird of Birkenhead so they could continue the
service to St. Helena Island. This necessitated the enclosure of the Boat Deck, the raising of the original pair
of lifeboats and the addition of another pair.
From the deck of the EDINBURGH CASTLE, moored at
Capetown, the mail ship WINDSOR CASTLE is seen leaving the port on a very tranquill morning. She will turn
south shortly and thence along the coast to Port Elizabeth, East London and then her turn around port of Durban.
While many passengers would disembark at Capetown,
others would join th ship for a coastal voyage which was very popular with South Africans.
Picture above taken by the author at the stern of the EDINBURGH
CASTLE having just left "A" berth for a run up the coast stopping at Port Elizabeth, East London and then the turning
point at Durban. A member of our catering staff gazes across at his colleagues aboard the PENDENNIS CASTLE
moored at "A" berth and loading for the U.K.
Some flushed faces are seen above in the dining saloon
of the "STIRLING CASTLE" following 'happy hour'. From the left, Sally Kempthorne-purserette, Ian McKendrick-4th
officer, Betty Hutcheson-children's nurse, purser, purser and radio officer (author). The pursers
will soon be occupied with games such as horse racing (on a ship!), bingo and dancing. Also their
supervising of the entertainment programme which was excellent aboard these larger mail ships. The 4th mate will
try and get some 'kip' before going on watch with the 2nd mate for the 12 to 4. I would relieve the 2nd R/O for
duty on the 8 to 12. No satellite systems (GMDSS) or GPS navigation systems aboard these ships but
reliable and efficient communications none the less. Union-Castle mail ships had regular radio schedules
once a day whilst at sea and much company traffic would be passed for delivery at the first port of call of the receiving
In a light moment above the 4th R/O is seen adjusting the
3rd R/O (author) aboard STIRLING CASTLE. The 'hard working' radio department (for the benefit of ex mates and/or
engineers!!) was the envy of most departments as the station was normally shut down in port thus freeing up the members for
sight seeing. Often, however, depending on the Chief R/O, radar, radio, battery, antenna maintenance
and accounts would be required . Some antenna work is (was) being performed here. The author in coveralls and
Fraser Sharpe, 2nd R/O is to my right.
FIRE AT SEA WAS AND REMAINS THE BIGGEST NIGHTMARE FOR CREW MEMBERS.
THE FOLLOWING DESCRIPTION AND PICTURES HAVE BEEN SUPPLIED BY CAPTAIN PETER ASHCROFT, FORMERLY OF UNION-CASTLE MAIL STEAMSHIP
COMPANY. OTHER MORE HUMOROUS 'TALES' ARE PROVIDED ON HIS OWN PAGE.
|"GOOD HOPE CASTLE" - Courtesy Peter Ashcroft.
From the South Atlantic island of St Helena on 1st
July, 1973, came a message that the 'GOOD HOPE CASTLE', which should have arrived there the previous evening, had been in
radio silence, since leaving Ascension Island in the afternoon of 29th June.
Neither could her sistership, 'RMMV SOUTHAMPTON CASTLE', which was in the vicinity, raise her on radio telephone, and anxiety
increased as the 'GOOD HOPE CASTLE' became more and more overdue
Fears were confirmed
in a later message from Ascension that the ship was ablaze and had been abandoned, burning and listing, but that everyone
aboard was safe. The only tragedy was a little dog, that was too frightened to come out from beneath the Old Man’s bed!
The fire had broken out
on 29th June, when the ship was only thirty-five miles from Ascension and bound for Cape Town, via St
Helena. A broken lubricating oil pipe to the starboard main engine turbo-blower sprayed oil onto an exhaust
manifold, and before the resulting fire could be extinguished, it spread through the engine-room casing into the accommodation.
The eighty-two passengers and crew took to the boats, spending some thirty-six hours in them before being taken on board the
steam tanker, 'GEORGE F. GETTY' and
landed at Ascension, where the passengers were accommodated in Georgetown,
and the crew quartered at the United States Air Base.
On the night of 1st-2nd
July, the 'GOOD HOPE CASTLE' was sighted by the 'SOUTHAMPTON CASTLE'
some twenty-four miles off Portland Point, Ascension, with a thirty degree starboard list, but no sign of fire or smoke, and with the port propellor visible
in the swell. Two days later, on 4th July, the motorship 'CLAN MALCOLM',
on a voyage to India arrived at the scene with the intentions of picking up part of the crew and putting
them back aboard 'GOOD HOPE CASTLE', the remainder to be repatriated to Britain in 'SOUTHAMPTON CASTLE'. At dusk that
evening, the 'CLAN MALCOLM' circled the 'GOOD HOPE CASTLE', reporting evidence of further severe fires, with No. 6 Hatch covers
glowing red, No 5 & 6 hatch deck cargo alight, flames on the portside of the accommodation and in the vicinity of No 4
hatch, and with the Bridge front collapsed.
Next day, the 'GOOD HOPE
CASTLE' was drifting in a-near gale some 100 miles WNW of Ascension, still
on fire. An afterdeck cargo of drums had exploded, mail in No 5 & 6 hatches was burning, the midship accommodation
was gutted, but the hull beneath the weather-deck was still seemingly intact and in good condition.
THE "GOOD HOPE CASTLE", HAVING MORE OR LESS BURNT HERSELF OUT, IS AWAITING THE CONTRACTED TOW FROM MT "ALBERTROSS" OF HAMBURG.
THE "CLAN MALCOLM", BOUND FOR INDIA, IS STANDING BY TO RENDER ANY ASSISTANCE REQUIRED, WHILST THERE'S ONE OF HER WALLOWING
IN THE VICINITY OF THE MAIL BOAT, AND ONE QUIETLY SLEEPING ALONGSIDE AT ADEN.
SOME OF THE DECK CARGO AROUND HATCHES 5 & 6 MAY BE SEEN IN THIS PICTURE.
At this time, the West
German ocean salvage tug 'ALBATROSS' (871 grt, 1965) was called on for assistance, and on 7th July 'GOOD HOPE CASTLE'
was boarded by a Union-Castle Superintendent,
albeit, briefly, to report that there were no flames or smoke, but that the deck was severely buckled and hot, with the Bridge
and accommodation completely gutted.
Two days later, the tug
was alongside, able to put pumps aboard, and prepare a towing connection.
HOPE CASTLE' was taken in tow
for originally Dakar, at an average speed of 5 knots, with every indication that the fire ravaged areas
were starting to cool down, and the list reduced to 5-7 degrees. Dakar was by-passed with intentions of calling at Las Palmas,
but permission was refused to enter port, but stores taken on board. Antwerp
was eventually arrived at safely on 18th August.
revealed that fire had destroyed the entire midships structure, including the Bridge deck, and Navigating bridge, with only
the funnel and internal uptakes intact. The weather deck and poop were buckled and cracked, and hatch covers, deck machinery,
masts and derricks and their housings were fire-damaged.
There was also distortion
to the shell-plating in the way of the engine-room and ‘tween decks. Generally, the machinery spaces were found to be
relatively undamaged, and a subsequent dry-docking showed no twisting, hogging or sagging of the hull structure.
Tenders for repair were
invited, a 1000tonnes of steel renewals being estimated as necessary.
On 28th September,
'GOOD HOPE CASTLE' departed Antwerp, under the tow of another Bugsier tug 'HEROS' ( 479 grt
1964 ) bound for Bilbao and the ship repair yard of Astilleros
Espanoles.SA arriving on the 9th
After extensive repairs,
'RMMV GOOD HOPE CASTLE' departed Bilbao on 19th May 1974, and arrived at Southampton
to resume her position in the mail service to South Africa,
Departing Southampton on 31st May 1974.
THE GUEST BOOK MAY BE FOUND AT THE FOOT OF THE
PLEASE SCROLL TO THE TOP FOR ANOTHER