In Parts 4 & 5 we covered the main elements of the
1936 modifications, from which the vessel we now know as ‘Daniel Adamson’
It is unlikely we shall ever know the long term
plans that the Manchester Ship Canal Company had for this vessel back then, but
it is fair to assume that on completion of the modifications the outlook was of
some optimism, albeit the improvement in world trade was to some extent driven
by the gathering clouds of war.
When war came, Britain’s reliance on it’s fleet,
Naval and Merchant, could not have been more dramatically illustrated than by
the loss of the liner ‘Athenia’ on the very day Britain declared war, on 3rd
September 1939. Torpedoed without warning by U30 (Oberleutnant, Fritz-Julius
Lemp) within hours of the announcement, it was a clear foretaste of what was to
come. One hundred and eighteen passengers and crew from ‘Athenia’ were lost in
the sinking, a figure which would ultimately rise to over 24,000 or 1 in 3 of
all MN personnel engaged in the conflict.
Unlike the First War, where the sea war had largely
been confined to the world’s oceans, seas and coastal waters, the aerial
bombardment of ports and harbours the length and breadth of the country, meant
that nowhere could be considered entirely safe. Indeed the port of Manchester
and the industrial sites concentrated along the banks of the ship canal were
frequent targets for the Luftwaffe.
Adamson’ played her part as a traffic tug during the conflict and is pictured
here in this rather grainy photograph, dating from April 1940. It shows her (to
the right of the picture) assisting an unidentified Danish or Norwegian vessel
berthing in Manchester following the occupation of those countries. (Photo.
From the collection of Pat Brennan)
In truth, little is known of ‘Daniel Adamson’s’
war, although it must be reasonably supposed that in both the First and Second
World Wars it is likely she was more actively employed on a regular basis than
at any other time in her long career.
World War II did see her engaged on at least one
occasion, when her passenger facilities would have been put to their intended
use, when she carried the Supreme Allied Commander, General (later President)
Eisenhower on a tour of inspection.
Should any reader have information
concerning the war years (WWI or WWII) of the ‘Ralph Brocklebank’/’Daniel
Adamson’ we would be most grateful to hear from them, in the hope to one day
fully record the vessel’s history. Thank You.
The war over, it seems that the ‘Adamson’ returned
to more or less her normal routine of traffic tug and VIP tender, as the
In 1953, already 50 years old, she was placed into
dockyard hands once more, on this occasion to undergo her ‘final’
transformation. It must be assumed that a decision had been reached on the
economics of extending the life of the vessel, over the possibility of a new
replacement. Fortunately for us, that decision was to conduct a major overhaul
to extend the vessel’s working life, though it seems improbable anyone involved
could have foreseen that ‘Daniel Adamson’ would remain afloat over fifty years
Much of the work was carried out by the Manchester
Drydock Company and it was during this period that ’DAPS’ members and regular
working party volunteers, John Huxley and Peter Irlam, first made their
acquaintance with the ship. As apprentices with MDC they assisted in the
renewal of the boiler and overhaul of the vessel’s main engines during this
The work was extensive and again required the
removal of the funnel and part of the promenade deck. The new boiler, built by
Kincaid of Glasgow is that which remains aboard today and will, all being well,
be returned to operation during the restoration phase. This boiler is in all
probability one of the most important parts of the ship today. Although only
half the age of the vessel itself, it must rank amongst the last coal fired
‘Scotch’ boilers manufactured for marine use in the UK. It is almost certainly
the largest, with three furnaces, of the type afloat in Europe today. While
many examples of ‘Scotch’ boiler remain, most if not all coal fired examples
are of single or twin furnace type. I stand to be corrected, but as far as I am
aware all other, marine, three furnace ‘Scotch’ boilers surviving today are oil
fired. It is one more very important aspect of the vessel, which in my opinion
makes her such a unique example of Britain’s maritime heritage. A point
certainly considered an essential element of the restoration process by
consultants for the HLF.
The question of a ‘conversion to oil firing’ has
been posed on more than one occasion and it may be fair to assume this thought
may have crossed the minds of those who ordered the 1953 boiler replacement. We
can only speculate as to the reasons they opted to remain with coal. Clearly
the installation of a completely new boiler would have presented the ideal
opportunity, although the cost implications must have played an important part.
The boiler aside, the need to make major alterations to bunkers and auxiliaries
would have involved considerable extra work and expense. Coal on the other hand
was plentiful, widely used and competitively priced. All things considered, it
probably was the wise choice at the time. Certainly by this time, oil firing at
sea was commonplace, most certainly aboard vessels engaged in ‘foreign trade’
where a number of advantages could be had, not least the reduced numbers of
crew to tend the fires, but the availability of ‘cheap’ oil fuel abroad being
another major factor.
Neither benefit would have been available to the
‘Daniel Adamson.’ Fuel costs apart, whether coal or oil fired, she still
required one fireman.
Whatever the reasoning behind the decision to
retain coal firing, I for one am delighted that it’s continued use, will allow
‘Daniel Adamson’ to operate ‘as built’ not only with her original engines, but
using steam generated in a traditional coal fired boiler. In this respect, she
will provide the most fully authentic example of a ship’s machinery of the
‘Edwardian era’ in the UK. Moreover, the commonly used analogy to the machinery
‘fitted to RMS Titanic’ frequently found in reference to other much
later preserved vessels, might in this case, actually have some relevance,
notwithstanding, the fact that ‘Daniel Adamson’ pre-dates the short lived
‘White Star Liner’ by fully nine years!
It is the machinery’s historical and scientific
significance, which to my mind is of far greater relevance. It was the
development of ‘compounding’ or the multiple use of steam that revolutionised
Interestingly, what might be called Britain’s first
practical steamship, the ‘Charlotte Dundas’ dating from 1801, was built to
operate on the Forth and Clyde Canal, near Glasgow and designed to tow barges.
She was in many ways the direct forerunner of ‘Ralph Brocklebank’ built for a
similar role just over 100 years later.
The ‘Charlotte Dundas’ was basically successful and
demonstrated her capability as a towing vessel, however, development was
hampered by concerns over damage to the canal banks caused by her wash, so that
the trials were discontinued. Unfortunately, the untimely death of the Duke of
Brdgewater who had considered an order for eight similar vessels, put paid to
any further development at this time. As a consequence, while names like
Trevithick and Stephenson are well known today as pioneers of steam propulsion,
her designer, William Symington is largely forgotten. (See
www.gsk58.dial.pipex.com/symington/index.shtml for a fascinating insight
into this man’s life)
Great advances were made over the next fifty years,
but it is probably the development of the ‘compound steam engine’ that had the
greatest impact on maritime transport. Until this development, steamships had
been largely restricted to coastal use or service as mail packets, whereby
their running costs were heavily subsidised by government mail contracts.
Quite simply, the process whereby steam was used
twice in the same engine brought about such economy as to make long ocean
voyages, under steam power practical. Combined with the opening of the Suez
Canal in 1869, which itself reduced voyages to India and the Far East by 8,000
miles at a stroke, the new compound engine brought about unparalleled growth in
trade and the rapid demise of sail on the world’s oceans.
While the marine steam engine continued to develop
with the triple and even the quadruple expansion engine, it was the development
of the compound engine, as used aboard ‘Daniel Adamson’ which provided the
great leap forward, to bring about the world-wide network of trade we know
today. That two original examples of these pioneering machines, exist side by
side within the engine-room of ‘Daniel Adamson’ today, must in my submission,
further justify the title of these articles.
The 1953 modifications were not solely confined to
the engine and boiler rooms, but included some minor alterations to the
saloons, principally the provision of two small cloak/store cupboards at the
aft end of the lower saloon, flanking the bar area. These provided storage for
passenger’s coats and/or items of furniture when not in use. Comparison of the
1936 saloon photographs and recent interior views will show the slight
alteration in appearance and saloon dimensions, these changes brought about.
The saloon panelling also received attention
and the addition of a plaque commemorating, the man, Daniel Adamson, at the
head of the saloon stairs (see ‘DA in steam 1984’ for
A new funnel and most noticeable of all, a fully
enclosed wheelhouse completed the modifications. Initially the wheelhouse
retained the varnished teak ‘look’ of the open version and actually comprised
an enclosed ‘top’ fitted to the 1936 structure. The promenade deck screens
remained detachable, but did receive some glazed panels to provide added
shelter, while retaining a clear unobstructed view for guests.
The two apprentices, John Huxley and Peter Irlam
went on to become marine engineers, John ultimately rising to the position of
Chief Engineer with Cunard Line.
Both ultimately held senior engineering positions
with Shell (UK) at Stanlow Refinery before retiring. They were reunited with
the ‘Daniel Adamson’ when they became amongst the first members of ‘DAPS’ in
early 2004 and I am delighted to report, remain two of our most enthusiastic
and energetic volunteers.
On occasion it is necessary to remind them that
over 50 years have elapsed since their first encounter with the ship, such is
their enthusiasm, which of course seems infectious throughout the working party
members, many of whom (I hope they will forgive me for saying so!) are of
It has proved difficult to fix on a date when
the promenade deck screens were made permanent, the wood and canvas structure
being replaced by glass fibre and plastic panels and most noticeably the
adoption of the ‘peppermint green’ colour scheme. Consultation with members
known for their close ties with vessel can only provide a rough estimate of
between 1960-65 and no firm date for the change of funnel colour from
traditional black to blue. Once again if any reader
can assist, we would be glad to hear from them.
The site contains numerous views of the vessel
depicting her in this familiar appearance, so I will not repeat the procedure
here. Instead I will close this penultimate instalment with another view of
Stalbridge’ showing her on builder’s trials in 1909.
This great shot from the collection of John Slavin,
shows her in the colours of the Shropshire Union Railway & Canal Co. whose
pennant she flies from her masthead.
Generally similar to ‘Ralph Brocklebank/Daniel
Adamson’ I think the fine lines of these vessels, are shown to advantage in
this atmospheric shot.
In the concluding part of this series, I hope to
discuss more recent times and perhaps a vision or two of what may lie ahead