THE SOUTH METROPOLITAN GAS COMPANY’S FLEET.
From Co-partnership Journal.
It must be obvious that while the War was in progress very little information could be published concerning the Company’s fleet of Steamers; but now that the ban has been removed our duty undoubtedly is to pay the highest possible tribute to those brave men who so quietly carried on in the face of dangers which were sometimes equal to those which confronted our fighting forces.
At the present time a great number of people appear anxious to obtain the maximum amount of personal comfort with amount of effort. The spirit of adventure regardless of hard work has been the backbone of our nation in the past with a large section of our race. As our Chairman told us at the half-yearly meeting, our losses have been very little, -two valuable lives have been sacrificed in order that supplies of coal, whereby providing light and heat for a large proportion of the inhabitants of South London – share with us a debt of gratitude to these brave men.
The bulk of our men are informed of the fact, Chairman, that in more than one way some co-partners had their ship torpedoed under them. By 1915, the shortage of tonnage for the transport of coal was critical andin order to meet the difficulties with which the company was faced the Directors decided to go ahead with a fleet of colliers. And a number of second-hand ships were purchased namely, the Brixton, Effra, Togston, and Quaggy.
Of these, only one – the Effra – remains, the other three having fallen victims to mines or torpedoes, but not until they had done good work for the Company. The three which were lost had carried not far short of half a million tons, while the Effra had, at the date of the of signing of the Armistice, nearly a quarter of a million tons to her credit.
The Directors were also fortunate in securing four new ships, which were in course of construction, and they were at a stage that it was possible to embody in their design many features, which made them eminently suitable for the company’s trade. Large hatches and, holds clear of all obstructions, were provided in order to facilitate the working of the grabs, and to secure speedy discharge of the cargo. Special consideration was also given to the comfort of the officers and crew. In the majority of old steamers the seamen’s and firemen’s quarters are situated in the forecastle; and to those who have been on board them in rough weather it is well known that under such condition this is the most uncomfortable part of the vessel. In the new steamers, however, both the officers and crews. quarters were arranged midships, were even fitted with steam heater; good ventilation, and baths with hot and cold water, and we believe in this respect they were unequalled in the trade.
The first of these steamers to be put into commission in 1910, was the Dulwich, which had a registered tonnage of 1460 and cargo accommodation for about 2,250 tons of OD – her lengthwise 240 ft, breadth 36 feet, and nioul had depth 2″ feet 6 inches. The engines were triple expansion, having cylinders 18, and Ii) inches diameter, respectively, and flinches stroke they developed about 170 horsepower. Steam at a pressure of 180 lbs. per square inch was supplied by two boilers, 12 feet 9 inches diameter by 10 feet 8 inches long. On the occasion of her trials, which were run on the, River Clyde under loaded conditions, she attained a speed of about 1O1 knots.
The second one, the Ravensbourne, was put into commission in July, 1918; the third, the Redriff, in February, 1917; and the fourth, the Lambeth, in November, 1917. while these were under construction, orders were placed on another two, the Kennington and the Brixton, were respectively put into commission in May and November, the end of 1910, the position, owing to the loss of a ii like ships which were running on time charter, became S J 7 , and it was decided to further augment the fleet by the second hand steamers.
A very fine up to-date collier,was obtained in Wales, but, unfortunately, it was mined off Worthing when on was on the way round to take up the work on November 1910. This was the first loss the Company had suffered. The company’s fleet, which up to that time had been. To make up this loss, the Pontypridd was purchased as over thirty years old, but well suited to the work the consequence of its hull being built of iron it was in good presentation for its age.
The next blow to fall on the Company was the loss of the fine new steamer Ravensbourne, on January 31, 1917, and with it the valuable lives, those of the chief and second engineers, and the donkey man. Another fine collier, the Swansea Vale, was purchased second-hand about a fortnight after the loss of the Ravensbourne and about the same time the Redriff, a sister-ship to the Ravensbourne, was added to the fleet. It was only about a month later that the Pontypridd fell a victim to the enemy, and a month after this loss the Quaggy struck a mine and became a total Wreck. By this time it was becoming increasingly difficult to obtain ships of any description, and the prices were out of all proportion to their value; but another old ship, the Giralda, was obtained. and she also did some good work for the Company.
In June, 1917, another very serious loss was sustained by the torpedoing of the first of the Company’s new steamers, the Dulwich, after about fourteen months life. On October 1917, the bad tidings were received of the loss on the previous evening, within three miles of each other, of the Amsterdam and the Togston. This reduced the fleet to four vessels, the Effra, Redriff, Swansea . Until about a month later, when the Lambeth was mined bringing the number up to five.
In March, 1918, the fleet, as far as the company’s business was concerned, was further reduced by the Admiralty requisitioning the Effra and Swansea. At the time the Kennington was nearing completion, and its addition to the fleet was eagerly looked forward to; but it had the misfortune be torpedoed on Jun 12, 1918, during its journey to obtain its first cargo of gas coal. At the time the ship was back in a convoy, and although able to maintain speed of almost eleven knots, she was obliged to steam at 8 knots to go with the slower vessels in the convoy. Her sister the Lambeth, was going round at the same time, but was allowed to proceed without joining the convoy. She was able to maintain her speed, and sailed through unscathed. It was therefore felt that the convoy, instead, of providing protection to our vessels, had in fact exposed them to the attack of the enemy, so strong representations -were made to the Admiralty, with the result that our captains were given the option of sailing without the convoy and choosing their own course.
Very shortly after this, the protection given to the convoys was greatly increased by the attendance of destroyers and aircraft; in August that year news things came to head a that the Swansea Vale had been lost by running on some rocks –while on Government service, and at the end of the year the Giralda was torpedoed whilst close in. The captain managed to beach his ship; but she became a total wreck, and the remains were purchased rocen by a Greek firm for breaking up.
The Effra was returned to the Company in September last year, and she, with- the Redriff, are that make up the present fleet—–all that is left to the company of fourteen vessels. Others are in course of Construction, and it is hoped the Bermondsey, will be added to the fleet after this article is published
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