5 Jul 2011
avatar Author: Nicky Haslam

Out of the blue, I got a letter from David Kampfner, informing me that my Grandfather Arthur Ponsonby had built a steamship, of all things, and named her rather sweetly SS Robin. On September 20th 1890, 20 sailors from Liverpool set out on her maiden voyage under Arthur’s ownership to the South of France. 

For the next decade, Robin plied her trade between Britain and Ireland – with side trips to French ports – hauling grain, coal, iron ore, china clay and railway steel. In 1900, Blanco Hermanos of Oviedo, Spain bought the ship and, her work transferred to the north-west coast of Spain, working out of Bilbao. Ownership changed again in 1913, whereby she shifted to Santander. She ran coal from Gijon to Santander, and played her part in the First World War supplying iron slabs for the French Government, escorted by two destroyers to protect her from U-boats. She continued in original condition until 1966, when she had her first major refit. But it seemed that time had caught up with the coaster when, in 1974, she was finally sent to the breakers.

The director of Britain’s Maritime Trust heard of the ship’s plight and, rushing to Bilbao, inspected the craft and decided she was worth preserving. On May 24, 1974, the sole survivor of the once-mighty British steam coaster fleet was saved for the nation. SS Robin has recently undergone a £1.9 million conservation plan to keep the world’s last remaining steam coaster intact and is due to open soon as a tourist attraction. SS Robin will be temporarily moored in London’s Royal Docks a mile from her original construction dock. Although the London we know will be alien to her after 110 years of progress, it’s reassuring to know that the past is being preserved. Who could have predicted that my grandfathers boat built in an era when Britannia ruled the waves has survived against the odds, he for one would be amused. The Duke of Edinburgh is an honorary member of the SS Robin Trustees.

She sails up the Thames to her new mooring on Wednesday July 13th 2011, further information on her past and future can be found here.

3 Responses to “Grandpa Ponsonby and his steamship.”

  1. avatar Gaye Tapp says:

    what a grand discovery!

  2. avatar paulr says:

    how wonderful is that ?

  3. Wow, that is fantastic. What a wonderful find. You must be so proud.

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