View Full Version : SWAN RIVER ON HOME TRADE (By Mike Hall)

Doc Vernon
14th August 2016, 07:36 PM

Its Monday 19 October 1959, another cold and wet morning in Maidstone where I live with my parents. It’s time to return to the sea, so after packing my bags I set off on the local bus into town to catch the train. I travel on a commuter train to Woolwich, and the short walk to the ferry, using the ferry to cross the river, I then take the bus to the dock gates, wishing the policeman at the gate a good morning, and here we are at the royal group docks, the federation offices are just inside the dock complex, for another ship. Being just a mere pantry boy of 17, any ship will do. So I was informed that there was a vacancy for me, on the British Empire Steam Navigation, ship Swan River .
She was built at the Greenock dockyard co ltd in 1959, of 9637 gross tones. She was sold in 1971.
She was due to arrive at any time, so I was given instructions, where to join her in the docks, and with a few other new crew members I waited for her arrival. When she docked, we, the shore crew changed over with the incoming crew and almost immediately unloading of the cargo had begun.
On Wednesday 21st October 1959, we the home trade crew signed on, My wages for this voyage was £16-12-6 a month, because the ship was not sailing until the next day, the 22nd That evening, I went home to get the rest of my belongings, returning to the ship next morning, to my single berth cabin. Just in time to help serve breakfast. Later that morning with the pilot on board we set sail for Rotterdam, arriving on Sunday 1st November, where we unloaded and loaded cargo, after six days in port. I spent quite a bit of time ashore in the evenings, where I would walk around just looking. I did not always want to go and spend my money on drink. After a while when all the cargo was on board. We set sail for Liverpool leaving on Saturday 07th November, we had quite a pleasant voyage across the channel and up the Irish Sea and we arrived in Liverpool on Tuesday 10th November, where we all signed off. My wages for this short trip was £6-11-4.

For details of my cabin and job function, please refer to the next page.


I was to stay on the ship for the next voyage, we were loading general cargo for South America.
Whilst in Liverpool I bought some 45rpm records that I liked only to find I had nothing to play them on, so I had to borrow a record player from one of the crew to play them. The records and the player were used quite a bit throughout the voyage.
On Friday 13th November those of us who were staying with the ship, and some of the regular crew returning from leave, signed on for foreign trade, leaving port the next day. Saturday 14th November.
I was still the pantry boy and my job function was the cleaning of the pantry and the surrounding areas, general washing up, with some food preparation. My wages were still the same £16-12-6 a month, this time I sent an allotment of £6-0-0 a month home.
My cabin on this ship was on the second deck up, from the main deck. It was a single berth cabin, and consisted of a bed, a wardrobe, a chest of drawers, a settee with a chair and a sink. All the cabins on this ship were single berth.
With the pilot on board ,we proceeded through the dock complex, and out into the river Mersey, where our pilot disembarked, and on our way to Newport, South Wales, arriving at Newport on Sunday 15th November, and departing the next day on Monday 16th November ,we only loaded a small amount of cargo, and we were soon on our way again, for Swansea arriving there on Tuesday 17th November and after some time spent ashore trying to spend the last of our English money, we were soon on our way leaving on Thursday 19th November, at a steady 13 knot voyage to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. Once we were deep sea, the walker’s patent log was put into use. this was an age old device which streams a 65 fathom line astern ,at the end of which is a bronze 18 inch long streamlined rotator with curved fins .so designed that its revolutions caused by the ships movement forward through the water measured the distance travelled .this was then transferred and read on a special clock fitted to the ships rail .this would then transmit electronically to a similar clock on the bridge .it was as accurate a measure of our progress and speed through the water as could be attained .this item was used every time the ship left a port of call. On our way the alarm bells began to ring, this was to alert us of a fire/boat drill. We would gather on the boat deck and have our names called out, then we would get the fire hoses out and test them, then it was the turn of the lifeboats, with the clamps released and a button pressed, the boats would swing outboard, once satisfied, another button was pressed and the boats would come inboard and with the clamps reset, the drill was over and it was back to our normal duties.
As this trip was only the second voyage the ship had made, everything seemed to be in good working order.
Soon we arrived at Las Palmas in the Canary Islands.
On picking up our pilot outside the port we preceded to our berth on Tuesday 24th November for re-fuelling, the turnaround was fairly quick, lasting for about 12 hours. There was not much time to go ashore and as we were a long way from the town, there did not seem to be much point. Later another pilot came on board to take us out of the port, and then we were on our way, into the north and south Atlantic. The crossing was a normal uneventful voyage, we did not even have a crossing the line ceremony, and because we had all done it before. The usual feature in the south Atlantic was sleeping on deck at night, because it was too hot inside even with the basic air conditioning and skinny-dipping in the pool. The pool was a homemade affair built by some of the crew using heavy wooden boards to make a frame and then using a canvas liner inside, which was then filled with sea water. This pool was to stay on deck throughout our time on the South American coast.
On a Sunday morning the captain would do an inspection of the ship of all the cabins, to see if they were kept clean.
Soon the coast of South America came into view and before long we were picking up the pilot who guided us onto our berth. We had arrived at Montevideo the date Tuesday 08th December.

Many trips were made ashore for sightseeing and visits to the local bars. All this time the stevedores were gradually unloading the ship. We left here on Monday 14th December for Buenos Aires, arriving on Tuesday 15th December and with the help of tugs, into the old docks (the old docks consisted of four basins with a bridge over each end), we ended up in basin four.
Once tied up, those of us who had not been to Argentina before, had to line up on the dockside, to have our photographs taken for the Argentine Identity card. I have since lost mine. This card had to be carried with us every time we went ashore.
Whilst in Buenos Aires our crew got together to form a football team, I was goalie, we played against a local team and the crew of a south American Saint boat, I think it was the St Essyalt and we beat both teams. On another occasion ashore was a trip to the local fun fair, this fun fair was located on the edge of town near the docks and a ride on the roller coaster, which was of a wooden construction, so every time the train went around the top corners, the whole lot moved, scary. I think the actual movement of the structure had put me off for life, because I have not and will not go on one again.
A sad incident I will not forget was a local man came on board looking for work to help with unloading the ship, when he was told there was none, he jumped into the dock, at the stern of the ship, and drowned himself. Divers looked for him but could not find anything. His body later floated to the surface, after a few days, what a sad way to end your life. He knew what he was doing, because they found he had sewn stones into the lining of his coat.
After unloading what we had for Buenos Aires we were ready to sail, date Wednesday 23rd December, and the pilot on board, we were on our way out of the docks towards Rosario to start loading grain, this port was a fair way up the River Plate, we had to travel fairly slow in places, otherwise our wash would flood the homes of the locals, on the river bank, even then their little boats bobbed up and down violently.
When we reached our loading point, Thursday 24th December (Christmas eve) we tied up alongside the riverbank, the ship had to be turned around, so that the bow pointed downstream, this was to make it easier when we departed. Towering above the ship, were great big silos, from which we were to load grain, into holds 1-3-5.its amazing when loading grain, the dust gets everywhere it even gets into cupboards and drawers that have not yet been opened, and how the heck did it get into a closed fridge I will never know. We were all forever cleaning. It was also difficult getting ashore as we were so close to the silos. There was just enough room to lower the ships side gang plank.
Shore trips here were made to the local bars and into the town for some sightseeing. Whilst in port one of our crew, would volunteer to stay on board as watchman, because he was saving up to get married, I wonder if he managed it. We were due to leave here on Friday 15th January. Having spent Christmas and New Year there. With the many locals who made our stay, as pleasant as possible, I being part of the catering team had to work most of the time, but when we did get ashore we made the most of it.
Once loading was complete and all shifting boards in place, these boards stopped the grain moving about in the hold. And with our river pilot, we were on our way back down the river to Buenos Aires arriving here on Saturday 16th January, to complete our loading. We were to load the famous Fray Bentos corned beef into holds 2-4, this cargo was shipped down from the factory in small river coasters, manned by a crew of five. Numerous other items of goods for England were loaded into the holds, where did it all go.
On shore trips, I would visit the tourist attractions, like the “San Martin Monument”, the “Obolisque” and the “Palace Tribunates”, to name just a few. I would walk for miles around the city; I never had a dull moment ashore. And no one bothered me when I was seen on my own.
With the pilot on board, Tuesday 02nd February we were on our way home, after dropping the pilot off, we were on our way across the Atlantic and settling down to the sea routine, for another uneventful voyage. Full use of the deck pool was made along with more trying to sleep on deck in the terrible heat. How did the engineers survive in the engine room? All too soon the coast of

the Canary Islands came into view and we arrived at Las Palmas, on Thursday 18th February, picking up the pilot, we were on our way to the berth for more re-fuelling, some of us made it ashore that evening but as we were a fair way from the town, many did not attempt it. Once re-fuelled we were on our way home, leaving on Friday morning 19th February.
All to soon the coast of England came into view and as we proceeded up the English channel passing the seven sisters and the white cliffs of Dover, to pick up our pilot, who would take us up the river to Gravesend, where he changed with our last pilot, who would take us to the royal group docks.
Once tied up and “paid” my wages for this voyage was £33-7-4 and I had spent £9-12-8, during the voyage. We were on our way home, the date Wednesday 24th February, and a voyage of just over 14 weeks.
For me it was not far to go home, but for some who joined the ship in Liverpool, they had further to go. for me, it was ashore, out of the dock gates, feeling elated that I was going home again onto the ferry, then, The train, and a taxi, I was home, which I would spend visiting old mates and family.
Isn’t it funny, as soon as you get home, everyone asks you, “when are you going back“? With my leave over, it all starts again.
Another ship, another trip, another country,


BUILDER------------------Greenock Dockyard Company, Greenock
YARD NO.-----------------493
ENGINES BY.-------------Hawthorne Leslie. Newcastle
YEAR BUILT.-------------1959
PROPOLSION.------------Doxford 2SA
TYPE.-----------------------Cargo Vessel
REGISTERED AT.-------Newport
OFFICIAL NO.------------183369

1959 Built for, British Empire Steam Navigation Co.
1965 Transferred to Houlder Line Ltd
1970 Transferred to Empire Transport Co Ltd.
1971 Sold to premier shipping, Renamed PREMIER ATLANTIC
1973 Sold to Weymouth shipping Renamed CONFIDENCE EXPRESS
1979 Sold to Strathmore Freighters Renamed BACHLONG
1980 Sold to Humber Shipping Renamed EASTERN CONCORD
1981 Sold to Everjust Shipping
1983 Sold to Eastern Metal Traders for breaking up