18th September 1964 Captain Defrates

Princess Elizabeth passing through Weymouth Town Bridge


Princess Elizabeth finished her season at Weymouth on Wednesday 17th September 1964 and the following day set off from the Pleasure Pier at 4.30pm up the harbour and through the Town Bridge to her layup berth in the Backwater. Two small workboats were in attendance to help her round the tight bend above the bridge. It was a lovely and sunny afternoon. And my thirteen year old self had the pleasure of being aboard after school at the invitation of Captain Defrates for this last of all trips of the season.

1964 had been a difficult summer for both the Lizzie and the Consul running in competition with each other from Weymouth for what was then a much diminished market. There was insufficient business to support one paddle steamer at Weymouth by then let alone two.

Capt Defrates on the bridge of Princess Elizabeth, 1961.

1964 was Capt H F “Harry” Defrates’s last summer in command of a paddle steamer. He joined Cosens after the Second World War as mate of their old twin funnelled Monarch and in subsequent years commanded Embassy, Victoria, Monarch, Consul and Princess Elizabeth. In 1964 he turned seventy and in those days, and at that age, Trinity House took away your Pilotage Certificates.

However he did keep afloat from time to time in the next few years. In February 1965 he took the Consul from Weymouth to Dartmouth for her new career as the base for a sailing academy. In the spring of 1967 he brought the passenger vessel Thornwick round from Bridlington to Poole in readiness for her first season running from Bournemouth in indirect replacement of Embassy. And in 1967 he was master of the luxury steam yacht Medea sailing on the South Coast and to the near continent. In 1968 he came ashore and spent the summer selling tickets in the booking office of the Weymouth Belle at the entrance to the Weymouth Pleasure Pier.

Captain Defrates spent much of his first summer away from the paddle steamers in 1965 in Beirut which was then very much a playground for the rich before the troubles started. His son, John Defrates was a diplomat with the United Nations living there and he was married to the Goan film star Mohana Cabral. It was a contrast of lifestyles. Captain Defrates eked out a modest living as a paddle steamer captain first with Cosens, who were never great payers, and then on Princess Elizabeth and Consul living with his wife Ethyl in a modest two bedroom rented flat over the top of the RAF Association in Weymouth’s town centre. His son and film star wife lived a life of greater plenty overseas with all the trappings associated with a successful career as an internationally renowned movie star.

Princess Elizabeth had one more season to go in 1965 before her operational career was over too. After a subsequent nomadic life at Hayling Island, on the Thames and in Paris she is still with us today as a static attraction at Dunkirk.

Captain Defrates died in London in 1984 aged 89. His son John died in France in 1998 aged 75 having lost Mohana in 1990 aged just 61. Grandson Mark, who I got to know in Weymouth back then and who was my age, died in America in 2016 aged 66. His sister Clare, so far as I am aware, is still living in France.

John Megoran

John Megoran

June 2021
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