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27th October 1955 Captain Baker’s Plans

Rochester Queen.


Bournemouth manager Captain Baker left Cosens’s employment at the end of the 1955 season. It had been an odd sort of summer not only in the way that the paddle steamers were rostered but also because it was blessed with pretty spectacular and continuing good weather which drew out the crowds.

Emperor of India had been returned to service after the war in 1948 in sumptuous form but operationally she had proved to be difficult. Sitting low in the water with all the extra weight from her rebuild her paddle boxes tended to clog up in any sort of sea reducing her speed. As a result from 1952 – 1954 she was removed from the longer day trips from Bournemouth around the Isle of Wight, to Yarmouth and Southampton and to Yarmouth, Ryde and Portsmouth Harbour leaving them to the more economical Embassy and instead was more generally rostered for shorter trips from Bournemouth to Totland Bay and Yarmouth.

Emperor of India A/S Bournemouth Pier.

Then for some inexplicable reason Captain Baker put her back on the long day trips once again when she started the 1955 season. On these she proved no more successful than in the past often returning to Bournemouth late much to the annoyance of her passengers. This came to a head in July when on a day trip to Southampton she failed to get any further than Fawley which caused more passenger complaints.

This coincided with an extended spell of fine weather which led to an explosion in passenger numbers on the Swanage service with which Monarch struggled to cope. So from mid-July the steamers were switched about with Embassy going back to running the longer day trips as in previous years, Monarch scheduled for the runs between Bournemouth Totland Bay or Yarmouth and Emperor of India, with the largest passenger capacity in the fleet, mopping up the crowds on the Swanage service.

Brodick Castle A/S Swanage.

One visitor to Bournemouth Pier in 1955 was the elderly Captain Shippick who had retired as Managing Director of the New Medway Steam Packet Company to live once again in his old home town of Poole. He had started his career half a century earlier with Cosens and as a young man of 30 had been master of their Brodick Castle.

After she was sold in 1910 he set up on his own account and over the next forty years was a great mover and shaker in excursion vessel services on the Medway and Thames. He continued to visit Bournemouth from time to time over the years and in 1948 wrote a letter to the Bournemouth Echo.

Sir,

Many years ago I had the privilege of being concerned in the running of passenger steamers from Bournemouth Pier, firstly with Messrs Cosens, as master of the Brodick Castle, and later with my own passenger steamer Audrey running a local service to Bournemouth, Swanage, Studland, Poole Harbour, etc.

Capt Shippick’s Audrey A/S Bournemouth Pier.

Unfortunately in August 1914 the declaration of war put a stop to this traffic and, within a few weeks, I left the south coast with the Audrey for war service under the Commander-in-Chief, The Nore, Chatham. After serving with the Royal Naval Reserve and being demobilised in 1919, not being able to re-purchase the Audrey from the Admiralty, I re-formed the New Medway Steam Packet Co in 1920 since when I have spent my time as the managing director of that company.

I paid a visit to my home town of Poole two weeks ago and visited Bournemouth Pier which I left in August 1914. The shore end of the pier which has been reconstructed and completed appeared to me to be an excellent job, but I was amazed to find that the same old landing stage for the traffic of passenger steamers has been little, if in any way, improved.

The time has come, to my mind, when the most up to date town on the South Coast should consider its passenger traffic for the thousands of visitors who take advantage of the splendid services that could be made available in addition to those at present offered during the summer season, but there is little prospect for such improvement until the Council can give the necessary facilities for the class of passenger vessel of the future. In my opinion the present lower landing stage should be raised at least 3ft, the pier itself be lengthened seaward another 200/250ft, stepping the lower landing stage up a further 6ft, including the pile heads such as the piers now being re-constructed in the Thames estuary.

If this were done it would induce the passenger shipping companies to place faster, better and more commodious vessels on their services. There is no doubt the coming type of vessel is the improved twin screw Diesel ship, offering magnificent accommodation with a speed average of twenty knots, but until the pier facilities are considerably improved at Bournemouth I fear no ship-owner will venture to place an order for a modern, up to date vessel such as I have described, until they can be given the necessary facilities to accommodate such a vessel.

The new 1948 Queen of the Channel.

This company is at present building two new twin screw Diesel vessels to replace the Queen of the Channel and Royal Sovereign lost during war service. Both vessels were employed on a daily Continental service to Ostend, Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne from Rochester, Tilbury, Southend, Margate and Ramsgate. The new Royal Sovereign will be in service next season and the new Queen of the Channel the following season.

S J Shippick, Capt MN, High Street Rochester

On his visits to Bournemouth Pier in 1955 Captain Shippick got to know Captain Baker and the two became quite chummy with the latter doubtless revering Captain Shippick for his expert knowledge and experience in the excursion trade gained over half a century and for perhaps having a more go ahead approach, as he may have seen it, than his current employers.

I don’t know what background tensions there may or may not have been between Captain Baker and his masters at Cosens but whatever the case he left their employment at the end of the season amidst rumours that he was planning to acquire Rochester Queen, then owned by Captain Shippick’s New Medway Steam Packet Company, and run her between Bournemouth and Totland Bay in 1956.

Given this link it is hard to believe that Captain Shippick didn’t have a hand in this if only in pointing Captain Baker in the right direction. Here is a boat which is available. Here is an opportunity. Fortune favours the brave. And so on.

I don’t know what thoughts were in Captain Baker’s mind at the time but he must have recognised parallels between his new friend Captain Shippick leaving Cosens’s employment in 1910 and carving out such a highly successful career on his own, starting off with just one small boat, and the opportunity for him to do the same in 1956 with background guidance from the master. Might this lead eventually to large Captain Shippick style diesel boats like Queen of the Channel and Royal Sovereign being built to run from Bournemouth to cross the Channel to Cherbourg? It had been done on the Thames and Medway so why not here at such an “up to date town on the South Coast” as Bournemouth?

The winter passed and for the 1956 season the newly appointed  Bournemouth manager for Cosens, Cdr Johnson RN (Rtd), restored the status quo of 1952-54 with Embassy taking the long day trips, Emperor of India once again mostly running between Bournemouth and Totland Bay or Yarmouth and Monarch back on the Swanage service.

Unfortunately the superb weather of 1955 was not repeated in 1956. The wind blew. It rained day after day and passengers stayed away. Towards the end of the season tensions in the middle east precipitated the UK towards the Suez Crisis with many fearing that we were sliding into another world war. Cosens took the decision to reduce the number of paddle steamers operating from Bournemouth in 1957 from three to two. Emperor of India was therefore sold for scrap having run in her rebuilt form for just eight summer seasons. (Shocking really)

Rochester Queen A/S Southend.

Whatever high hopes Captain Baker may have nursed in the autumn of 1955, whatever negotiations subsequently went on and despite Rochester Queen being available, he never did manage to bring her to sail from Bournemouth. Instead the New Medway Steam Packet Company sold her on in 1956 for further service in Germany under the name Hein Muck and of Captain Baker no more was heard.

Captain Shippick continued to live on in Bournemouth and continued to take a passing in interest in operations from Bournemouth Pier but his dreams, as expressed in his letter to the Echo in 1948 of large diesel boats running in the area, faded as the years rolled on as he saw all the shiny new ships he had built for service on the Medway and Thames withdrawn from the excursion trade in the 1960s and not replaced.

Born on 6th October 1878, Captain Sidney John Shippick died in Bournemouth early in 1975 aged 97.

John Megoran

John Megoran

November 2020
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