I became aware of passenger ships about the age of 6 from my father’s books. He was a soldier who had been brought up in Gibraltar and the Southampton area so ships played a large part in his life. He sailed in convoy in 1940 on the Oronsay which was soon bombed, and after returning to Scotland, left a month later for Egypt via the Cape on the Duchess of Atholl. He then sailed on many others troopers returning from WW2, to Palestine in 1946 and Singapore in 1949, presumably in better accommodation as he progressed through the ranks.
My interest initially was in the Queens for their size and the United States for her speed.
But then I saw the Liberte and the comment that it was the former NDL liner Europa. Also intriguing was the Italia, ex-Kungsholm, New York, ex-Tuscania and the Arosa Sun, ex-Felix Roussel. It was clear that ships were changing names; some due to war reparations and others due to emigrant fleets wanting second hand shipping, so these vessels had a history about them. I wanted to know more.
On my 8th birthday we flew as a family to Singapore for my father’s second tour of duty there and a chance for me to start ticking off the ships, sadly defacing the book. The cleaner images above are from a second copy of the Dumpy Book of Ships I bought many
years later. I remember ships that had significant war service such as the Oranje, Canton, Tjitjalengka and Orion but it was during our time in Aden 1965-67 that I was noticing second hand ships such as the Australis, ex-America; Safina-E-Hujjaj, ex-Potsdam and Empire Fowey and the Angelina Lauro – not realising it was the Oranje mentioned earlier.
I bought Colin Worker’s The World’s Passenger Ships in 1967 and began to list the ships and their former names in a book, as schoolboys do. This was a timely read as it was after the Seamen’s Strike of 1966 when ships were often on the news such as the SA Vaal and SA Oranje – ships I’d never heard of. By 1973 I had joined the army and got a car and was making frequent trips to Southampton Docks and saw amongst others the former Matson liners Ellinis and Britanis. My database was vital to me as I’d seen Matson Line’ Lurline, one of a trio of identical sister ships, in Copenhagen in 1960. Later it was renamed Ellinis and the replacement Lurline was her sister the Matsonia, not to be confused with a similar looking Matsonia formerly the Malolo. There are many other examples too, such as the sisters Argentina (also in Copenhagen that day) and Brasil of Moore-McCormack and their nine name changes, including the Argentina being named Brasil at one point. You get the picture.
By the mid-seventies when at university on a young officer’s meagre salary I discovered Arnold Kludas’ 6 volumes and was buying them individually when I could afford to. I remember sitting in a lecture fleshing out my draft database using Kludas’ cut off of 10,000 tons. It would make the task manageable but an obvious problem is that
ships such as the French liner Eridan at 9927 tons (1928-1956) are excluded. In fact this ship would be included if we used today’s definition of gross tonnage but I’ve used the definition at the time of launch or floating out.
In 1991 I left the military to join the aviation industry and lived in a B&B during the week. Using an Amstrad word processor I began to type out my first edition with the ship listed under the original owner and cross-referred them to their subsequent owners. It was published in 1992 with a few coloured photos of my own. Today I noticed a 1994 edition is still available on Amazon!
In 1999 I put the data on a CD using an html format incorporating many photos from friends. I continued to update it until 2008 but more time was being spent writing histories on individual ships, mainly for descendants of immigrants to North America and Australasia. Most of these ships were late 19th Century and below the 10000 ton threshold. With the development of the internet, the availability of free information (not always accurate) and me taking a job in my company’s Head Office which required a lot of travel, I restricted my activity to maintaining data, particularly monitoring new ship news.
However, recent developments have produced another unique opportunity for me. There are informative ship histories on the internet and I’ve linked every former vessel on my database to one of these. The new ship tracking websites have the advantages of providing their current name, the ship’s location and it gets around the copyright issue of other people’s photographs which are posted on these sites. Whilst I rely on various sources to find new ships, the maps are also useful to check routes and to see whether a ship is in service, laid up or at the breakers.
Which leads me to announce the availability of my latest edition – the 2017 Compendium…
It lists 1886 vessels from the Great Eastern of 1858 to the last vessel launched in December 2016. There are 4150 different names with all the changes. They are traditional passenger liners, troopships, and cruise ships. Also the late 1970s saw the growth of ferries which also qualify for entry. When I was at school in Dover, the largest cross channel ferry was the 4000 ton Invicta and now, under today’s rules, the largest are the Spirit of France and Spirit of Britain at 47500 tons. I have also
included 70 ships under construction and on order out to 2026, as well as a full index.
For copyright reasons (to protect my data) I am not selling a copy of my master database but I can provide everyone who buys a paper copy with an electronic file with the ship’s name and the hyperlink, mentioned above.
If you are interested in buying my book, please look at my website at http://www.shiphistory.co.uk for more details and my ship photos.