TheShipsList-L ArchivesArchiver > TheShipsList > 2003-12 > 1071292438
From: "Rosemary Dixon-Smith" <>
Subject: Re: [TSL] My Great Grandfather
Date: Sat, 13 Dec 2003 07:13:58 +0200
While I have at present nothing on your great grandfather Robert
Nicol himself, you may like some background on the White Star
Line as given by Marischal Murray in his "Ships & South Africa"
From p 227 :
The vessels which to-day fly the famous White Star flat are the
descendants of a line of colonial clippers fonded in the 'fifties
of last century by Pilkington & Wilson, shipowners of Liverpool.
Their vessels flew a swallow-tailed red flag, white-starred in
the centre, and for that reason they were soon referred to as
'White Star' liners. George Thompson's Aberdeen clippers which
too were in the Australian trade, also flew a white-starred flag,
and so, to prevent confusion, the one line was generally known as
the Liverpool White Star Line, the other as the Aberdeen White
Many thousands of Australian colonists rounded the Cape in these
early Liverpool clippers, which included famous vessels such as
the Red Jacket and the White Star. In 1867 Pilkington & Wilson
retired from the trade and the ships of their fleet were soon
dispersed among new owners.
Just about this time a certain Thomas H. Ismay, who had been in
ship-owning for some years, was looking for new fields to
conquer. The reputation of Pilkington & Wilson stood high ... so
for the sum of 1,000 pounds Ismay purchased the flag and the
right to the title of the 'White Star Line'. To begin with Ismay
placed one or two sailing vessels in the Australian trade, but
almost at once he transferred his attention to the North
Atlantic. In 1869, in partnership with William Imrie, he founded
the 'Oceanic Steam Navigation Company' so called after the
pioneer steamer which was named Oceanic.
White Star associations with the Colonies were not renewed again
until 1883 when the Ionic and Doric were chartered to the New
Zealand and Shaw Savill and Albion Lines. The Coptic too
subsequently joined the latter service. The White Star Line
thereafter worked in close conjunction with the Shaw Savill and
Albion Company, which eventually became one of its allied
Actually however no White Star service to Australia was commenced
until the close of the century when five 12,000-tonners were
ordered from Harland and Wolff for Messrs. Ismay, Imrie's new
'Colonial' service. These vessels were the Medic, Afric, and
Persic, and two slightly larger sisters, Runic and Suevic. While
specially designed for the Australian meat and produce trades,
they were unique too in their passenger arrangements.
Accommodation was provided for 350 passengers, who were conveyed
at approximately steerage rates. As only one class was carried,
passengers had the run of the ship and the accommodation and fare
provided represented remarkable value for the passage money that
was charged. These White Star vessels were ... the pioneers of
the big one-class ships that are so popular to-day.
The Cape route was taken out and home, and on August 23rd 1899
the Medic, pioneer of the service, anchored in Table Bay on her
maiden voyage to Australia. At Capetown the Medic attracted
considerable attention as her tonnage was 1,500 more than that of
the Briton which was then the largest mail steamer in the Cape
The White Star Colonial Service had been in operation only a
month or two when the Anglo-Boer War broke out and completely
upset the sailing schedules that had been arranged. The Medic
was at once taken over as a transport in Australia and her
sisters, one by one, were soon requisitioned in the same way.
Apart from these colonial liners the Boer War brought several
fine North Atlantic White Star liners to the Cape as troopships,
notably the Majestic and Britannic.
It was only several months after the Peace of Vereeniging that
the 'via Cape' service could be put satisfactorily into
operation, and the five steamers then commenced regular
four-weekly sailings. As was the case with other Australian
lines, Capetown alone was visited on the outward journey, but
homeward bound the vessels also touched at Durban. The Durban
call was inaugurated by the Runic in November 1903.
In March 1907 the Suevic very nearly came to grief off the coast
of Cornwall. Homeward bound with a large number of passengers
and a valuable cargo, she ran ashore during a fog off the Lizard.
(Photos available.) All on board were taken off in safety but
the Suevic remained fast on the rocks and it was expected that
she would break up within a short time. Fortunately ... the
weather remained fine and in consequence a remarkable piece of
salvage was carried out. The bows of the Suevic were
successfully severed from the after portion and leaving her
forepart on the rocks, the truncated vessel was towed round to
Southampton. There she was fitted with a new bow which had been
built at Belfast and a month or two later put out to sea again
little the worse for her adventure.
In 1913 ... the Ceramic was added to the Colonial fleet - at
18,481 t the largest vessel regularly using the ports of Table
Bay and Durban (until in 1921 the Arundel Castle arrived with her
tonnage of 19.023.)
In 1914 the majority of the ships were taken over for trooping
...and regular sailings were suspended. Of the passenger
steamers only one was lost during the War, the Afric, which was
torpedoed off the Eddystone on Feb 12th 1917. Five lives lost.
In 1920 the 'via Cape' service was again put into regular
operation. The passenger vessels were thoroughly reconditioned
and provision was made for considerably fewer passengers than had
hitherto been carried. The accommodation however was vastly
improved and was designated 'Cabin Class' following a recent
innovation in the North Atlantic trade. Slightly higher fares
were charged than was formerly the case, but those who still
wished for the very cheapest passages were able to travel by the
P & O Branch Service, which was now the leading emigrant line to
Australia via the Cape.
By this time the control of the White Star Line had long since
passed from the hands of Ismay, Imrie and Co - the company had
merged with the great American combine, the International
Mercantile Marine, of New Jersey. White Star liners however
continued to run as before and although the controlling interest
was now American the vessels still flew the British flag.
During the Great War and immediately afterwards efforts were
made, first by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company and then by
Messrs. Furness, Withy and Co, to purchase the White Star Line,
which thus passed once more to British control.
In the 'via Cape' line considerable changes followed. The Persic
went to the scrappers in 1927 and in 2 years her 3 remaining
sisters, Runic, Suevic and Medic too were sold out of the fleet.
(Converted into whale-fishery parent ships, these vessels,
re-named New Sevilla, Skytteren and Hektoria, visited Table Bay
altered out of all recognition, with great slipways for hauling
up whales cut in their sterns.)
The Ceramic alone of the pre-War steamers remained to carry out
the Australian service, the demands in which were not so great
owing to the depression in trade which had begun in 1925. In
conjunction with the steamers of the Aberdeen Line (now also
associated with the White Star Co) the Ceramic was then employed
in what was given the new title of 'White Star-Aberdeen Line',
and in this line she still performs her service to Australia via
the Cape. (i.e. at time of publication of this book, 1933)
Note to Bill Nicol - may I ask where and about when your great
Rosemary in Durban Natal
----- Original Message -----
From: "Nicol, Bill" <>
Sent: Friday, December 12, 2003 9:20 PM
Subject: [TSL] My Great Grandfather
> I understand that my Great Grand Father Robert Nicol was a
> the White Satr lines about the time period 1890 to 1900.
> captained at one time or another ships, one being the Cevic,
and I believe
> the Oceanic. because you have this White Star line web page I
> if there was an archive where I might find records of him
> WIlliam Nicol