1933 Royal Mail Steam Packet Company



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Stock Code RMS01

Certificate for 200 of 6.5% debenture stock in this shipping line. Dated 26th June 1933 with the actual handwritten signatures of D I Conradi, company secretary and a director. Issued to Ethel Laura Townsend of 3 Swift Street, Fulham, London SW6. Green  and white certificate with ornate left hand scrollwork incorporating a vignette of a ship. Imprint of company seal showing picture of two sea horses.

Certificate size is 27 cm high x 33 cm wide. It will be double mounted in a mahogany frame, with gold inlay.

The certificate is shown unframed as all items are mounted to order.

Company History

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Company History

On the 26th of September 1839 Queen Victoria granted a charter to carry mails to the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company a company which at that particular moment in time didn't possess a single vessel of any kind, the objects of the Company were stated as thus:

"For the conveyance of the mails to and from Great Britain and the West India Islands and North and South America and other foreign parts and for this purpose to establish a regular supply of steam and other vessels".

The formation of the Company and the concept of carrying mails in specialised ships was the brainchild of James MacQueen who was born in Lanarkshire in 1778. From 1797 to 1830 he was employed as the manager of a sugar estate on the island of Grenada and most of his spare time was taken up visiting many of the surrounding islands. It was during this time that he first thought that the delivery of mails by Admiralty ships was erratic and often unreliable. On his return to his native Scotland in 1830 he became part owner of a newspaper and used this medium to expound his theories as to how the Admiralty service could be improved namely the founding of the Royal Mail Line of Steamers. It wasn't until September of 1837 that he submitted his proposals to the Government for the establishment of services to the farthermost reaches of the Empire. His proposals gained immediate support from many Members of Parliament and on the strength of this interest shown he approached the Treasury in the January of 1838 with the outline of his plan. It was agreed in principle that the Government would sponsor his proposals through the auspices of the West India Committee, its directors overseeing the enterprise. The inaugural meeting of the Company was held in the Counting House of Merchant Bankers Reid, Irving & Co in Tokenhouse Yard, London on the 24th of July 1839. At the meeting it was agreed that James MacQueen be appointed as the general Superintendent of Affairs. Two months later the charter was granted and the Royal Coat of Arms was incorporated into the livery of the Company. John Irving M.P. a partner in the aforementioned Merchant Bank became the Company's first chairman and it had an authorised share capital of 1, 500, 000.

On March the 20th of 1840 the Lords of the Admiralty signed the contract which called for twice monthly sailings to the West Indies the wording of the contract is as follows:

'Between the Commissioners for executing the Office of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on behalf of Her Majesty of the one part and the Company of the other part.. (agree) that one of such steam vessels so approved of and equipped and manned as aforesaid, with the said mails on board, shall twice in every calendar month on such days (but at equal intervals of days), and at such hour, and from such port in the British Channel as the said Commissioners shall at any time or times, or from time to time signify in writing, under the hand of their secretary, to the said contractors, put to sea as soon as the said mails are onboard, and proceed to the Island of Barbados and after such an interval from her arrival there (not exceeding six hours) as the Governor or Senior Naval Officers present may require, such steam vessel as aforesaid shall forthwith proceed, with the said mails on board, to the Island of Grenada, and there remain so long only (not exceeding twelve hours) as the Governor or Senior Naval Officers present may require and thence proceed, with the said mails on board, to the Island of Santa Cruz, from Santa Cruz to St. Thomas, from St. Thomas to Nicola Mole, in the Island of Hayti, from Nicole Mole, to Santiago de Cuba, and from Santiago de Cuba to Port Royal in the Island of Jamaica'

Besides calling at the Islands already mentioned in the contract connecting services were also required to serve all the other Islands in the group with extensions calling at New York and Halifax in Nova Scotia. The contract also required that sailings commenced on the 1st of December 1841 covering an annual mileage of 684, 816 miles. It also required some fourteen steamships and three sailings ships with all the facilities that the Fleet required i.e. coal, water, provisions and repairs, the fledgling Company was given twenty months to complete the task. No mean feat, in fact the Press of the day thought that it was quite beyond the realms of possibility, nevertheless the Company proceeded and on the 30th March stock issued at 60 per 100 which raised 900, 000.

To avoid any possible delays in the building of the Fleet orders were spread between various British shipyards, Caird & Co, Greenock and William Pitcher, Northfleet on Thames each built four, Acramans and Morgan Co, Bristol built two. The following each built one ship: Robert Menzies of Leith, Thomas and John White of Cowes, John Scott and Sons of Greenock and finally James McMillan also of Greenock.

The three sailing ships were to be built on the Thames whilst all this proceeded apace the shore installations were established and it was decided that Southampton would be the Home Port. In 1841 six schooners sailed to take up station in the West Indies they were the Lee, Liffey, Forth, Solway, Clyde and Tweed.

In January of 1842 the inaugural sailings took place with the Thames sailing on the 3rd January bound for Berbice-Havana-New York-Halifax, the Tay left on the same day sailing for Barbados. Outward bound the steamers would call at Corunna, Spain and Madeira, homeward bound Bermuda, sailing from Falmouth would be on the 3rd and 17th of each month. Because of the great number of ports which the ships had to visit a round trip would take from anywhere between four to six months.

On the 29th December she made her maiden voyage Gravesend to Falmouth prior to sailing with the first mails on the 3rd January 1842 to Havana with Captain P. Hast R.N. in command. In an attempt to increase her speed she was fitted with feathered paddles which achieved a further two knots in 1850. In 1854 she transported troops to the Crimea and in August of the same year attended Queen Victoria's Naval Reunion at Spithead. She was broken at St. Thomas in the West Indies in 1865.

For identification purposes each ship was assigned its own flag, a total of fifty five were issued during the Company's history using the Marryats code, the flags were flown from the foremast and the Fleet was placed in alphabetical order. At night Royal Mail vessels signalling each other lit a yellow flare and fired three white balls from a Roman Candle, if the other vessel being Royal Mail wished to speak a triangular arrangement of three yellow lights was displayed.

On the 11th of May 1842 the Medina became the Company's first casualty when it ran aground on a coral reef on Turks Island, Captain C.F. Burnley was in command and of the 168 persons onboard no one was lost. James MacQueen retired from Royal Mail this year aged 64 his goal in founding the Company fully realised. The William Pitcher built Isis grounded on an island off Porto Rico on the 1st April, in a damaged condition she was able to make her way to Bermuda but encountered severe weather conditions en route and floundered with the loss of one life. This loss was compounded by the late delivery of the two ships from the Acraman, Morgan yard due to the fact that the company had gone bankrupt this left Royal Mail a ship short for the scheduled service. To fill the shortfall in the Company's requirements they purchased 'City of Glasgow' from Thompson and McConnell of Glasgow and chartered Trident from the General Steam Navigation Co. in January of 1843 this was the only time in the Company's history when they were without the required mail ships. The Solway ran onto the Baldargo Rocks, Sisargo 20 miles west of Corunna on the 8th of April the fault was said to be the lack of navigational aids at Corunna and subsequently Corunna was dropped as a port of call. Of the compliment of one hundred and thirty three, thirty five perished, Captain R.C. Duncan was in command. On the 1st June the Severn made her maiden voyage from Southampton to the West Indies with Captain W. Vincent in command the last of the fourteen ships that had been ordered. In its first full year of trading the Company lost a combined total of approximately 134, 000 of which some 54, 000 was down to the loss of two ships. Southampton became the Company's premier port when Falmouth was dropped from the schedule as per the Company's original recommendation.

On the 15th of January Captain Philip Hart was named as royal Mail's First Commodore of the Fleet, he had the honour and distinction of flying the swallow tailed house flag as opposed to its rectangular counterpart. In these early year passengers embarked by rowing boat and boarded an embarkation tender ready to board the ships which anchored off Netley, the Company's first tender was the Princess Victoria.

Due to the decision to abandon Corunna as a coal bunker port the coaling hulk North Britain returned in July to Southampton and was converted into a repair and depot ship. In October William Pitcher of Northfleet was awarded the contract to refit Royal Mail ships and built a special purpose drydock which could accommodate two ships at the same time. The inter island vessel Actaeon was wrecked on Point Canoas, Cartagena, New Grenada (Colombia) the reason given was that it was due to inaccurate charts! 1845/46 the schooners Larne and Liffey were replaced by Reindeer and Eagle both paddle steamers, and on the 19th of November 1846 the Conway was launched the first purpose built vessel for the West Indies service. The Tweed with Captain Parsons in command was wrecked on the 12th of February whilst en route from Havana to Vera Cruz on the Alacranes Reef, Yucatan, 72 passengers and crew lost their lives out of a ship's compliment of 151. To replace the Tweed Royal Mail purchased the Great Western which had been laid up for a year at Bristol from the Great Western Steamship Company.

In 1854 she became a Troop transport during the Crimean War and in 1856 returned to the Royal Mail. After inspecting the ship it was decided that she wasn't worth the expense of refitting and she was broken up at Vauxhall.

In 1847 a new service was introduced by the Company Southampton-Bermuda-New Orleans and the Teviot made the first trip, also Conway having been completed replaced the City of Glasgow on the inter island service. The last sailing ship owned by the Company, Lee, was lost on the coast of Honduras near Belize, Captain Greaves was in command and no lives were lost. On the 14th of January 1949 'The Forth' became the second Company ship to fall foul of the Alacranes Reef and was wrecked fortunately with no loss of life.

In 1850 the replacement for The Forth was launched at the yard of William Pitcher of Northfleet and was named Derwent she was a paddle steamer of some 794 gross tons and spent most of her life as a reserve ship on relief duties.

The Company purchased The Esk in anticipation of a new contract being signed with the Admiralty for a new service sailing from Southampton to Rio De Janeiro calling at Lisbon, Madeira, St. Vincent (bunkers), Pernambuco, Bahia and finally Rio which was also a bunkering port. A feeder service was provided by the Company to Montevideo and Buenos Aries. With the contract duly signed the Teviot made the inaugural mail crossing to Rio in January of 1851 with the Esk already on station in readiness to take up the feeder service, the Esk only remained until May being replaced by the Company's newly built Prince an iron ship built in Sunderland, once relieved the Esk then became an inter island steamer.

The new Rio contract required the addition of new tonnage and to this end the Company ordered five new ships, Orinoco, Magdalena, Parana, Amazon and Demerara, in fact the latter never entered service she grounded and broke her back in the River Avon whilst en route for engining.

On the 4th January 1852 the misgivings voiced to the Admiralty the year before tragically came true when the Amazon caught fire on her maiden voyage. Royal Mail had wanted to build the five ships constructed in 1851 of iron but the Admiralty had insisted on wood. The Amazon had sailed from Southampton on Friday the 2nd of January, Captain Symons was in command, there was a crew of 109, one mail agent and 50 passengers. The bearings had been overheating on the paddle shaft and on two occasions at least the ship had stopped to inspect them. The second Officer McTreweeke who was on watch reported that flames were visible above the forward stokehold, down below the Fourth Engineer Mr. Stone had been driven back by flames which were emanating from the boiler casings. At about a quarter to one in the morning the ship's midship section was well ablaze and fire fighting proved fruitless. All the passengers had been assembled in the aft section of the ship unfortunately most of the crew were in the forward section with no means of escape. Their plight was exacerbated when the Captain turned the ship away from the wind in an attempt to protect his passengers. Amazingly the Amazon was still underway with no means of stopping the engine and it was amidst this chaos that attempts were made to launch the lifeboats. In sheer panic the passengers filled the available lifeboats but there was insufficient crew to hoist them from their cradles and lower them into the sea. In all just three boats and a dingy were launched successfully any others being capsized because the ship was still underway. One of the lifeboats returned to the Amazon searching for more survivors but arrived just in time to see her finally sink. Twenty-one survivors were picked up by the Marsden, a further twenty-four by the Dutch ship Gertuida and finally another thirteen were picked up by a Dutch Ketch. The death toll was 104 which included all of the Officers and two midshipmen, after the disaster the Admiralty relented and agreed that all future ships would be built of iron. To make the three remaining ships of the class safer extra fire precautions were implemented by the Company. A new Company was formed between Royal Mail and the Pacific Steam Navigation Company the new Company was to be called the Australian Pacific Mail Packet Company and it ordered five new ships, the Menura was to be built by Miller and Ravenshill in London. The remaining four were to be built in Scotland, two at the yard of Robert Napier of Glasgow, Emeu and Black Swan, the Dinornis at Reid 1 Co;, Glasgow and the Kangaroo at Caird of Greenock.

Bunker stations were placed at Panama, Tahiti, Wellington and Sydney to serve the fleet of five ships which were due for delivery in 1854, Head Office was set up in Panama City and PSNC were appointed as managers.

After the disaster of the Amazon the Atrato became the first iron hulled ship built for the Company at the yard of Caird & Co, Greenock in 1853 due to the fact that the Prince and Esk were proving too small for the Rio - River Plate service Royal Mail purchased Camilla from Samuel Cunard. In 1854 the planned joint operation between Royal Mail and Pacific Steam Navigation Company foundered and the five ships built for the service were sold, Menura, Black Swan, Dinornis to Messageries Imperiales of France, Emeu to Cunard and finally Kangaroo to Inman. During the Crimean War the Company had eight ships requisitioned as troop transports, they were Orinoco, Trent, Medway, Magdalena, Thames, Tamar, Severn and Great Western the Severn was eventually converted for use as a hospital ship. In 1858 Royal Mail took over the contract for mails to Australia via Suez from the European and Australian Company who were experiencing difficulties. Eventually Euro-Australian had all its vessels sold with Tasmanian and Oneida going to Royal Mail as compensation the mail contract went back to P & O who had operated the service prior to Euro-Australian. A new ship called the Mersey built by Thames Ironworks of Blackwall specifically designed for the Rio de Janeiro- Buenos Aires route entered service replacing the Camilla which was sold to the Brazilian Government. On the 7th of November 1861 the federal warship San Jacinto stopped the Trent when it was nine miles off Cuba and forcibly removed two Commissioners for the Confederate States of America to France, Mr. Slidell and Mr. Mason. The Commissioners were later imprisoned in Boston but after four months were released following threats by the British Government that it was prepared to declare war on the Northern States. In 1862 the Avon was lost at Colon and the following year the Company took delivery of its first two screw steamers, the Douro and Rhone. The Company made a second attempt at forming a new service to New Zealand and Australia via Panama in 1865 and built four ships for the purpose, Kaikoura, Rakaia, Ruahine, Mataura a further ship Prince Albert was purchased as reserve. The new operating Company for the service was called The Panama New Zealand and Australian Royal Mail Company Limited.

On the 29th of October 1867 the Island of St. Thomas was struck by a hurricane trapping sixty ships in the inner harbour the following morning just two remained afloat. Royal Mail lost Rhone, Wye and Derwent with the Conway being driven ashore, the Solent and Tyne weathered the storm as they were at the other anchorage but both were demasted, in all over a thousand men perished. In 1868 Royal Mail's second attempt at the new Zealand-Australia service via Panama failed and in compensation took over three of the ships out of five built for the service.

In 1875 the mail contract was renewed but at a reduced rate with various ports being omitted from the schedule. In an attempt to still offer a service Royal Mail instituted its own surcharge on mail to the uncontracted ports, the Postmaster General objected and the omitted ports were reinstated. In August and September the Company lost a further two ships, the Boyne which grounded at Molene, France and the Shannon which was wrecked on the Pedro Bank inbound from Colon. To replace them the Company purchased two ships from Pacific Steam Navigation. The Humber was pressed into service in 1881 during the Ashanti War and carried the 2nd West Indian Regiment with mules to Cape Coast Castle. The Company lost a further two ships in 1882, Tiber at Porto Plata, San Domingo and the Douro off Finisterre Royal Mail's original charter was extended for the third time.

Royal Mail finally sold its last paddle steamer Eider to the Government of Haiti in 1883 she was converted to a gunboat and renamed La Patrie. She later took part in putting down a local revolution before running aground in Port-Au-Prince harbour and remained there for the next forty years.

In 1884 the Company introduced a new service Santos-New York via Rio De Janeiro, Barbados and St. Thomas, the same year the Dart was wrecked on the Zapato Rocks near Santos all onboard were saved except the Captain. And finally this year the Company recorded record profits on its operations, some three-quarters of a million pounds.

Whilst homeward bound from the West Indies the Humber sailed from New York on the 15th of February 1885 never to be seen again with the loss of sixty-six lives. The Company closed down the New York-Buenos Aires service after losing the Guardiana on the 20th June when it ran aground onto the Paredes Rocks, Brazil. Always keen to innovate the Company entered into service its first ship with triple expansion engines and electric lights on the 2nd December 1886 she was the Orinoco, second ship to carry the name. The following year was Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee and the Company were represented at Spithead by the Tagus on the 23rd July.

Another new innovation for the Company occurred in 1888 when it introduced the new Atrato and Magdalena which had their passengers' accommodation in the superstructure as opposed to below decks. In the October of 1891 the Mostelle was lost along with its Captain in a gale off Colon, Cuba. The Nile and Danube entered service in 1893 and by 1895 the Company could boast some twenty-seven ships with a combined gross tonnage of just over 80, 000 tons.

Unfortunately its average age was thirteen years far older than that of its main rivals P & O, Union or Castle Lines, if it was to maintain its service Royal Mail had to embark on a new ship build program. During Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 at Spithead the Company was represented by two ships the Danube and Orinoco. All ships at anchor were entertained by the Turbinia which sped up and down the assembled lines of ships at thirty-five knots introducing to the world Parsons Steam Turbine.

In 1899 the Company took delivery of the second Tagus and third Nile both marginally smaller than the Nile and the Danube. During the Boer War the Nile, Tagus (transport 101), Minho, Ebro and Severn were all requisitioned and at some stage the Tagus remarkably transported Boer prisoners of war to India. For the first time the Company started to use the now famous yellow funnels in 1900 when its ships Eden and Esk were painted in the new livery. Bizarrely the Government decided to subsidize a service from Bristol to the West Indies in open competition with Royal Mail, subsequently Royal Mail's profits began to slide.

1902 was the year that the Boer War finally came to its conclusion and also Edward VII Coronation took place, on the 16th August a Naval Review was held at Spithead and Royal Mail was represented by Clyde and La Plata.

In 1903 Owen Phillips (Lord Kylsant) became the Company's new Chairman and he initiated a new ship build program raising capital by calling up unsubscribed stock, six new cargo ships were ordered and a new 'A' class passenger service to South America was planned.

The Aragon first of the new ships for its passenger service to South America was commissioned and Imperial Direct Line won the Avonmouth-Jamaica license with Royal Mail still operating its own service but totally unsubsidised, it would be interesting to know who the Chairman of I.D.L. was and which peerage he held!

Two smaller 'A' Class ships were ordered in 1906 for delivery in 1909 the Berbile and Balantia. The Company also changed its name to that of Orient- Royal Mail after purchasing from PSNC's its interest in Orient Lines. Four ships changed hands they were Oroya, Oruba, Orotavo and Ortona.

To strengthen its Brazil cargo service the Company also purchased two Bucknall ships renaming them Marima and Manau it also introduced a new service from Southampton to Mexico via Cuba buying two Union Castle ships and renaming them Sabor and Segura. The three 'A' Class ships entered service this year they were Amazon (second ship), Araguaya and Avon (third ship).

In 1907 the Australian contract for mails came up for renewal and Orient Line won it from Orient- Royal Mail and at the same time announced its intention to terminate its joint operation agreement. In April the Company bought an interest in Jenkins Shire Line and purchased three ships, the Monmouthshire, Denbighshire and Flintshire the vessels operated under the Company name of Shire Line of Steamers Limited. Royal Mail, Jenkins and Co and Thos & JNO Brocklebank held the shares in the Company between them but three months later Jenkins & Co dropped out.

In 1908 the Asturias made her maiden voyage on the Australian service and the Company bought the Forward Line along with its routes to Gibraltar, Morocco, Madeira and the Canaries. In the purchase were two ships, the Agadir and Azila Royal Mail also sold La Plata out of the Fleet and she went cruising for the Polytechnic Touring Association. With the dissolving of its partnership with Orient Line Royal Mail withdrew its service to Australia in 1909.

The Oroya was sold to breakers in Italy, the Ortona was converted for cruising and renamed Arcadian (second ship), the two remaining ex-Orient Line ships Orotava and Oruba joined the Company's West Indian service releasing the Orinoco to scrappers on the Firth of Forth. The Company ordered five new 'D' Class ships in 1910 for delivery in 1911 and 1912 they were to be used on the Liverpool- South America meat run.

Two of the 'D' Class ships entered service in 1911, the Deseada and Demerara (second ship). The Thames and Agadir represented Royal Mail at King George V's Coronation Review at Spithead on the 24th of June, the Nile was sold out of the Fleet to the Pacific Mail Steam Ship Company. Royal Mail purchased the remaining shares of Shire Line from Brocklebank and took delivery of the five remaining ships. Five Brocklebank ships were surplus to the Company's requirements and those were sold to Glen Line. In April of 1912 a supplement to its Royal Charter was added extending the Company's field of operations and its power. The three remaining 'D' Class ships entered service, the Desna, Darro and Drina, the 'A' Class Arlanza also entered service making her maiden voyage from Southampton - River Plate and Royal Mail purchased Elder Dempster Line.

In 1913 Royal Mail upgraded its service from Canada to the West Indies it reassigned two of its ships and renamed them for the service, Segura became Chignecto and Sabor became Chaleur. It further purchased two more ships from Union Castle, the Goth became Cobequid and Guelph became Caraquet, all four ships now had names of Canadian rivers and operated a fortnightly service. The Company also had a brief shortfall in its South American service so it took over the Vauban from Lamport & Holt and renamed her Alcala.

The Alcala was to substitute on the Southampton - River Plate service until the Almanzora was completed, her relief duties were short-lived however and she returned to her previous owner and became the Vauban once more on their New York - River Plate service. In May of 1919 she was charted by Cunard for their Liverpool - New York service and Royal Mail briefly chartered her in 1922, she reverted back to Lamport & Holt and continued in their service before being laid up in 1930. She was eventually sold for scrapping in January of 1932 by Thomas W. Ward of Inverkeithing.

source: www.merchantnavyofficers.com


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