Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: Maritime History

  • A Gross of Pirates by Terry Breverton

    From Alfhild the Shield Maiden to Afweyne the Big Mouth

    Admiral Sir Henry Morgan. (A Gross of Pirates, Amberley Publishing)

    Why write twelve books about pirates and privateers? It simply stems from writing about famous Welshmen. I knew about the privateer Admiral Sir Henry Morgan, but by chance discovered Black Bart Roberts, hardly known in Britain, but by far the most successful ‘pirate of the Caribbean’, taking more than 400 ships, and known across the Americas. From the career of the teetotal Roberts, who dressed from head to foot in scarlet (the origin of le joli rouge, the Jolly Roger), I learned of the greatest pirate trial of all time…

    Men flocked to join him from surrendered ships – I did not know that forcible impressment and cruelty was endemic upon merchant ships as well as the Royal Navy – to escape their miserable lives. The average lifespan of a sailor in the slave trade was 18 months. Life as a pirate, in an elected democracy with agreed rules aboard ship, better food and freedom, was far more attractive. In Black Bart’s words, ‘a short life and a merry one shall be my motto.’ Pringle calls Roberts ‘possibly the most daring pirate who ever lived’, and upon the death of ‘the Black Pyrate’, there was the greatest pirate trial of all time, with 273 men captured, including 72 black pirates who had the same conditions, share of booty and freedom as their white counterparts.

    Bart’s is a magnificent story, well documented like those of Morgan, who successfully led six expeditions against ‘impregnable’ targets belonging to Spain and altered the course of the history of North America. Every maritime country has its story of privateers like Morgan, who were, of course, pirates to England’s major enemy.

    Blackbeard. (Courtesy of Library of Congress, A Gross of Pirates, Amberley Publishing)

    A review of the book reads: ‘It's no use pretending that these criminals do not evoke admiration - even envy. Part of the appeal is the democratic nature of their activities, characterised as far back as the fourteenth century by Klaus Stortebeker thieving in the Baltic - his crew were called the “Likedeelers”, the equal sharers. Author Terry Breverton has brought together the extraordinary stories of 144 pirates throughout history. They include Norman privateers, Barbary Corsairs, Elizabethan adventurers, Chinese pirates, “'the Brethren of the coast” - and of course the pirates of the Caribbean.’

    It was enjoyable writing the book, to research other pirates over the centuries. Some were brave gentlemen who led by example, like Henry Morgan; others experienced sailors who were voted into office like Roberts; some too kindly for their crews, like Edward England; and many simply unhinged and cruel, like l’Ollonais and Montbars the Destroyer. One of the early pirates, Eustace the Monk, may have been the model for Robin Hood, and the privateer Didrik Pining may have been the first to discover America. Some were female, such as Alfhild, ‘the bloody Lioness’ Jeanne de Clisson, Sayyida and Madame Ching. The latter, incidentally, had her pirate husband murdered and married his lover, their adopted bisexual son.

    Some readers may know that the character and tale of the renegade Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now was inspired by the film Aguire – Wrath of God. Both stories were inspired by Lope de Aguirre (8 November 1510 – 27 October 1561), also known as the ‘Limping Conquistador’, ‘Keeper of the Dead’, ‘El Loco’ (The Madman), who styled himself ‘Wrath of God, Prince of Freedom, Prince of Peru, and King of Tierra Firme’. And of course, he’s in the book!

    Terry Breverton's new book A Gross of Pirates is available for purchase now.

  • Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80 by Malcolm Fife

    In the late 1960’s I was interested in aviation, and I purchased a camera to record my visits to airports and air shows. Not long after, I decided I did not wish to restrict myself to photographing a single subject, and I began to build up a collection of colour slides on shipping. Leith Docks, on the northern edge of Edinburgh, was just a 30 minute bus ride from where I lived, and I began to make frequent visits there. In those days security was almost non-existent, and one was free to walk almost anywhere. Health and safety regulations were not rigidly applied like today, and it was possible to stand close to cranes unloading cargoes from the holds of ships. There was, however, no way of knowing what ships were in the port in advance, and every visit would be one of hopeful expectation. Sometimes it would end in disappointment, with an absence of vessels, but generally there was almost something of interest to be seen.

    Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80 Grain Warehouse Standing at the heart of Leith Docks is the large grain warehouse built in 1934 and extended in 1958. (Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80, Amberley Publishing)

    At the heart of the port of Leith was the large grain warehouse, constructed in 1934. Standing 150 feet tall, it dominated the skyline. There was often a continuous stream of trucks racing through the docks to collect their consignment of grain, which was loaded onto them by chutes. Large numbers of pigeons often flocked around the base of the warehouse to feed on any grain that may have been spilt. During the early twentieth century, imported grain was one of the main commodities handled by Leith Docks.

    Standing to the east of the grain warehouse on the northern edge of the Edinburgh Dock was the Scottish Agricultural Industries fertiliser plant. It was a major employer in the area, with a workforce numbering over 300. The building itself was a long featureless concrete structure, with a tall chimney at one end, which spewed out white smoke. The plant imported most of its raw materials, which included sulphur from France and the Netherlands, and potash from Germany and Spain. They were unloaded at the bulk handling quay at Imperial Dock. It was one of the busiest parts of the harbour, with the cranes often continuously at work. Coal for power stations was also discharged there. In the late 1970s some of it came from as far away as China, which was particularly unusual for that time, when little trade was conducted with that country. Coal was also exported from Leith Docks, but the amount had declined considerably from previous decades, as many mines had, by this time, closed in the Lothians.  Another bulk item that was imported in considerable quantity was that of timber. For many centuries, southern Scotland had been short of wood for the construction of buildings, and this was a long established trade. Leith had been the main port for Edinburgh since the twelfth century.

    Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80 Merchant Ship Greek flagged Lendoudis Evangelos at the Riverside Quay. It was operated by Evaland Shipping of Piraeus. Built in 1961, this was a typical design for a merchant ship of that era with the superstructure in the centre of the ship. (Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80, Amberley Publishing)

    Throughout the Middle Ages, ships tied up alongside wooden wharfs on the banks of the Water of Leith. There was a broad expanse of sand, which lay between the harbour and the sea. Merchant ships had to negotiate a narrow channel, carved out by the River running into the Firth of Forth. Despite this natural handicap, Leith in time became one of Scotland’s major ports. Due to its strategic importance, it was also frequently fought over, and the town was burnt on a number of occasions. One of the first improvements to the harbour was a wooden pier extending out to sea, which was later replaced by a stone example in the eighteenth century. As trade expanded and hostilities declined, numerous other improvements were undertaken.

    The first docks were constructed at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Over the next hundred years they were followed by larger examples, which were situated further out to sea. The final and largest one was Imperial Dock, built between 1897 and 1904. Around thirty years later, in an effort to encourage further growth, a large expanse of sea was enclosed by the building of the West Breakwater. This was followed by the construction of a lock gate at the entrance to the docks in the late 1960s, which made the whole complex no longer dependent on the tides. Large passenger ships could now dock at Leith instead of having to anchor in the Firth of Forth. At that time the cruise industry was in its infancy, and only a handful of vessels called at the height of summer. Around the same time, a container crane was erected at Leith. It was hoped that this may be the first of many, with the large expanse of water now enclosed by the West Breakwater being developed to handle the newly introduced containers.

    Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80 Oil Tanker Although Leith saw frequent movements by oil tankers in the 1970s, most sailed past the port and docked at Grangemouth, where there was a large oil refinery. (Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80, Amberley Publishing)

    Throughout the 1970s a number of feeder services operated from Leith Docks, but it was Grangemouth that was destined to become the main container port on the east coast of Scotland. A totally unexpected stimulus to the fortunes of Leith Docks came with the discovery of North Sea Oil at the end of the 1960s. A motley collection of ships assembled here to exploit this resource. Many initially came from the Gulf of Mexico where there was a long established offshore industry. Throughout the 1970s they were gradually replaced by vessels built to withstand the more extreme conditions of the North Sea. They could often be found in the Albert and Edinburgh Docks, which often included several diving support ships.

    In time, every piece of available land on the edge of the quays was occupied by pipes, destined for the seabed. Leith was the hub for the construction of the network of undersea pipelines. Pipes were delivered here on board large cargo ships, to be treated with special protective coating. Once this was completed, they were loaded on to offshore support vessels, to be taken out to sea to their final destination. In contrast to the brightly painted ships that served the offshore energy fields were the N.A.T.O. warships that frequently visited Leith Docks in the 1970s. They were often open to the public at weekends as a goodwill gesture.

    I still visit Leith Docks occasionally, but it has undergone great changes over the last forty years. Cargo ships are now few and far between, with coal no longer being imported, as the power stations that were fuelled by this mineral have closed. The offshore oil industry is now in its twilight years, although vessels associated with it still operate from Leith Docks. The former Henry Robb shipbuilding yard has long since disappeared, replaced by the Ocean terminal shopping centre. On a more positive note, Leith has become a major destination for cruise ships, which bring thousands of tourists to visit Edinburgh each year.


    Malcolm Fife's new book Edinburgh's Leith Docks 1970-80 is available for purchase now.

  • Pirates: Truth and Tale by Helen Hollick

    Pirates. The word conjures a promise of exciting adventure, Caribbean islands, hot sun, blue sea, the Jolly Roger flag, a parrot or two, chests of treasure and a chap with a wooden leg, a patch over one eye and a gold hoop in his ear. Go on, admit it, you were tempted to utter a resounding ‘Arrr!’ weren’t you?

    The truth is, the pirates of the Golden Age, the early 1700s, were very far from our romantic Hollywood image. The truth of piracy is very far from the fictional tales.

    Pirates B) canstockphoto3695931 The common perception of a pirate. (c. jgroup, Pirates: Truth and Tale, Amberley Publishing)

    When Amberley approached me to write a book about pirates I was initially inclined to say no. There are dozens of books and internet blogs about pirates. What could I write that was different? Then I had an idea. I could look at pirates from the factual and the fictional side. I knew many facts because I write my own fictional series about a pirate, written for adults with a lot of swashbuckling adventure and a touch of fantasy (think Pirates of the Caribbean, Hornblower, Sharpe, James Bond and Indiana Jones all rolled into one). Would it be fun to explore these two different angles, using known characters such as Blackbeard, Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny alongside Errol Flynn, Jack Sparrow and Captain Hook, as well as my own creation of Captain Jesamiah Acorne?

    As a writer, once the idea had been conceived I just had to follow it through. The result is Pirates: Truth and Tales.

    Pirates were sea-based robbers, terrorists of the seas. Unkempt, untrustworthy rogues, with most of them ending up on the gallows. Most were originally sailors, either merchant seamen or Royal Navy. Some became pirates because other pirates attacked their ships and forced their victims to join them – especially those with a skill such as carpentry, navigation or best of all, medical knowledge. A surgeon was an enormous prize. Others turned to piracy out of desperation to survive, a wish to get rich quick, or because of plain boredom. One pirate, however, bought a ship, gathered a crew and went off ‘On the Account’ for no other reason than to escape his nagging wife. His name was Stede Bonnet, and he ended up dancing the hempen jig on the gallows. Divorce would have been easier.

    The word pirate comes from the Greek verb, peiran, which means to attack. In Ancient Greek culture pirates were looked upon as heroes, on a par with warriors. By Roman times they were less tolerated, and come the 15-1600s were either encouraged or loathed depending which country you were from and which war was being fought at the time.

    Pirates Map-Sea-Witch3-finalPrivateering was nothing more than legal piracy, but government and monarch sponsored. It all started with Sir Francis Drake and the war between England and Spain. There was nothing wrong, so thought Elizabeth I, with plundering Spanish ships. By the mid-to-late 1600s doing so was actively encouraged because Spain was still the enemy and Spanish galleons were carrying vast amounts of treasure from the Americas back home to Cádiz. That is, if they were not intercepted by the likes of Captain Henry Morgan (he of the rum-brand fame). But when a treaty of peace was signed, vessels were left to rot while sailors kicked their heels in various ports with nothing to do except drink and find ‘entertainment’ with the ladies.

    And then a Spanish treasure fleet was destroyed by a hurricane. At least eleven ships went down just off the coast of Florida, hundreds of men were drowned and the Spanish had a mad scramble to salvage what they could. As did dozens of others who realised there were easy pickings to be found in the shallows. The 1700s equivalent of a lottery win.


    Pirates ship A pirate's most important asset: his ship. The Lady Washington, better known as HMS Interceptor in the movie Pirates of the Carriddean: Curse of the Black Pearl. (c. Ifistand, Pirates: Truth and Tale, Amberley Publishing)

    The Caribbean trade routes were just starting to flourish. Tobacco, sugar cane and its by-product of rum had to be shipped from the American colonies to England. With little to no defence the ships were easy prey. By 1717 the rich merchants back in England were beginning to feel the pinch, and piracy had to be stopped. The law cracked down, all pirates were to be hanged if caught, and Woodes Rogers, a noted privateer in his own right was sent to be Governor of the Bahamas, based in the pirate haven of Nassau. Using his wits he offered a King’s Amnesty, which most pirates took, and adhered to. Those who did not, Charles Vane, Edward Teach (Blackbeard), Jack Rackham, Edward Low and a few other notables, thumbed their noses and returned to the sea. By 1720 they, and most of the well-known ones, were dead.

    The movies, TV shows, fiction, all depict pirates as heroes, charmers with a touch of redeemable rogue about them. Handsome eye-candy usually with an eye to a wench with a well-endowed chest rather than to a chest of gold. Remember Pugwash, the bumbling cartoon character of children’s TV? What of Hook in Peter Pan, a pirate indeed, but a gentleman character who went to Eton and spoke of ‘good form’. Then there’s Jack Sparrow – oh we all fell for Johnny Depp’s inspired character didn’t we? Although only the first movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl was good; two, three and four in the series were not. I await to make an opinion on the fifth, due out this summer 2017.

    The adventurous tales of derring-do far outweigh the truth. Frenchman’s Creek, Treasure Island, my own Sea Witch Voyages are popular entertainment reading. The romantic idyll of life at sea, a cool breeze blowing in the rigging, the crack of sails, the gurgle of the sea rushing past the hull – the occasional firing of a couple of cannons or making some innocent walk the plank all adds to the adventure. Would we be so keen, though, with the reality of weevil-ridden rancid food, scummy green drinking water, no medicines or medical supplies, no sanitation, no clean clothes – no clean bodies, and the daily threat of the noose to end it all?

    No thanks, I’ll stick with my Jesamiah Acorne and that Sparrer’ feller if you don’t mind! (for more information check out my author community page for my social media links.)


    Helen Hollick's new book Pirates: Truth and Tale is available for purchase now.

  • 'Shipwreck Survivors Caught on Camera' - The Wreck of the SS London by Simon Wills

    What motivates an author to write a book? Well, in my case it was an old photograph.

    the-wreck-of-the-ss-london-simons-first-artefact-the-three-surviving-passengers Passengers Davie Main (left), John Munro (seated), and James Wilson (right) went to Australia to work as miners (c. The Wreck of the SS London, Amberley Publishing)

    I bought it in a junk shop for a few pounds, simply because I liked it. It’s dated 1866, and shows three very stern-faced Victorian gentlemen staring into the lens. The men in question seem unremarkable, but they were the only passengers to survive the sinking of the SS London in January 1866. The year 2016 therefore marked the 150th anniversary of the ship’s loss.

    This was once a notorious shipwreck, as famous in its day as the Titanic or the Lusitania. The SS London was a luxury liner on only its third trip to Melbourne, transporting British emigrants and carrying Australian citizens back home. When it sank, the initial reaction was incredulity; then two nations fell into mourning.

    I was intrigued by the photograph, but my interest was further piqued by the find of another ‘artefact’ connected with this wreck only a few weeks later. Wedged into an old encyclopedia and acting as a bookmark was a slip of paper carrying the autograph of one John King, an able seaman who escaped the sinking of the SS London. The text accompanying the autograph explains that he was the hero of the shipwreck and ensured the safety of other survivors. Interestingly, he’d been wrecked twice before.

    I now set about researching the loss of the SS London in earnest. It was a difficult task because the wreck received such intense and prolonged media coverage that there were acres of newspaper coverage to wade through. My task was further complicated by the fact that original archive materials that I needed to see were distributed all around the globe – from Australia to Canada to New Zealand to London.

    I am not superstitious, but it would be easy to believe that someone guided me towards finding the many other artefacts that I stumbled upon over the course of a decade. I found a copy of the ship’s original sailing brochure – an almost impossibly rare item and it’s probably the only one left in existence – and I also managed to get hold of contemporary books about the wreck, official reports and even sermons. I was fortunate enough to meet some descendents of one of the survivors as well.

    the-wreck-of-the-ss-london-mug-commemorating-the-ships-loss Lustreware mug produced in 1866 to memorialise the losee of the 'Unfortunate London' (c. The Wreck of the SS London, Amberley Publishing)

    Yet two artefacts stand out for me. The first is a ceramic mug bearing a picture of the ship and the legend ‘The Unfortunate London’. This intrigues me because it says so much about the Victorian attitude to death. These days, it would be considered enormously distasteful to produce a commemorative mug after, say, a plane crash or a motorway pile up. But the Victorians regarded death differently. It was important for them to honour and remember significant life events – even tragedies like the sinking of the SS London.

    the-wreck-of-the-ss-london-walter-edwards-model-of-the-london Model of SS London, built by Midshipman Edwards (c. The Wreck of the SS London, Amberley Publishing)

    The other artefact that I found, by enormous good luck, was a small model of the SS London made by one of the survivors: fifteen-year-old midshipman, Walter Edwards. It’s more of a diorama than a conventional ship model of the kind we often see in museums. Yet it has a presence and a feeling of movement that I like. I imagine that the making of it was perhaps some kind of ‘therapy’ for poor Walter, who witnessed some appalling scenes as the ship went down. To me it is beautiful, but it also had practical value during my investigation because no contemporary ship-plans for the SS London survive. So the next best thing was a model built by someone who actually worked on the vessel.

    None of the items I’ve managed to find have any real monetary worth. Yet putting them together with contemporary information sources has enabled me to tell the tale of the loss of the SS London. It’s a dramatic tale; a tragedy; but with twists and turns that you wouldn’t believe, and it’s always a very human story. A tale worth telling and I hope those who died would think I had done it justice.


    Simon Wills new book The Wreck of the SS London is available for purchase now.

  • British Paddle Steamers by John Megoran

    My first recollection of being on a paddle steamer is backing out from the Pleasure Pier at Weymouth in 1956 aged five aboard what I came to know well later as our local paddle steamer Consul. It was a sunny afternoon. We were sitting as a family on the buoyant apparatus at the aft end of the promenade deck. There was a wonderful smell of salty sea air combined with Acriflex, a yellowy cream which mothers then spread on their children’s skin to ward off the burning characteristics of the sun.

    British Paddle Steamers 1 Author aged 14, on the bridge of the 'Princess Elizabeth' at Weymouth (Author's collection)

    That started off for me a love affair with paddle steamers which was fostered also by their then seemingly permanent presence in my home harbour of Weymouth. Not only did we go on the Consul in the summer but also other paddle steamers like the Embassy, Monarch and Princess Elizabeth came to lay up in the Backwater in the winter where they sat quietly, their boilers empty of water, their machinery greased up, their deck seats piled high under winter tarpaulins and their brass handrails bandaged with protective rag to stop them corroding.

    Then there was the excitement of spring. Crew would be aboard them. The covers came off and scraping and painting began until the final touch of the handrails which had weathered down to a dull grey received their new coat of paint turning them into shiny sparkling silver. Finally, joy of joys, a whiff of first smoke came out from their previously cold funnels broadcasting the knowledge that the season was about to begin.

    I avidly collected the timetables of all the then operators around the country pouring over what the steamers did, where they sailed and how long it took. Fortunately Dad was a keen amateur sailor and the house was filled with Admiralty charts which helped me to work out the routes, where they could go and the hazards and sandbanks to be avoided along the way.

    British Paddle Steamers 2 The other is of the 'Consul' backing out from Bournemouth Pier (Author's collection)

    It seemed to my childhood self that these paddle steamers had been there forever and would remain ever more a wondrous delight to be permanently enjoyed. There was disappointment when Monarch was withdrawn in 1960 but that was balanced by the optimism of the arrival of Princess Elizabeth in a new life at Torquay, Bournemouth and then Weymouth. The railway paddle steamer Sandown turned up for a refit in 1962 and the Bristol Channel flyer Bristol Queen in 1963. Goodness what a massive paddler she was compared with Consul.

    Gradually I got to know some of the captains including Harry Defrates and Stanley Woods who were very kind to me, encouraged my interest and put me on the wheel for the first time aged fourteen. When Capt Woods was booked to bring the Clyde paddler Jeanie Deans round to the Thames he invited me along for the ride which most conveniently fitted into my school autumn half term holiday.

    Then it slowly started to dawn. As the sixties wore on these lovely paddle steamers were on the way out. One after the other they were withdrawn and sent off to the scrap yards. In September 1966, the last regular south coast excursion paddle steamer, Embassy made her last trip and was towed away to Belgium to meet her end the following May. My childhood dream of going to sea and spending my life working aboard these lovely paddle steamers was beginning to look a bit empty.

    However, never say die. Never give up. By a roundabout and not entirely planned process I ended up running and driving the lovely little paddle steamer Kingswear Castle for much of my adult life. Looking back now I just can’t understand how I got so lucky.


    John Megoran's new book British Paddle Steamers is available for purchase now.

  • Andrea Doria and Other Recent Liner Disasters by William H. Miller

    This year, 2016, is the 60th year of the Andrea Doria sinking.   That number prompted this book, Andrea Doria & Other Recent Liner Disasters, another look back. In addition, I have selected some other passenger ship disasters, but not all. Many liners finish their days at the scrap yard, reduced to rubble, but some have had tragic, very sad endings. This is a record, beginning in 1942, of some of those passenger ship disasters.

    Andrea 1 Andrea Doria departing Genoa (ALF Collection, Andrea Doria and other recent Liner Disasters, Amberley Publishing)

    The sinking of the Andrea Doria remains one of the most famous maritime disasters of the 20th century. Myself, I well remember the television newscasts and newspaper headlines on the morning of 26th July. The Doria had been rammed the night before by another liner, Sweden's Stockholm. It all seemed too sad, tragic, almost incomprehensible. Even I was in disbelief. How could the Andrea Doria sink? Perhaps, it was all a mistake. Still a schoolboy but already a devoted follower and observer of the great liners, I was puzzled. I asked a special favor of my father:  Would he take me by car a day later, the 27th, from Hoboken to the cliffs of nearby Weehawken to make absolutely sure that the Andrea Doria had not arrived. She was due at Pier 84, at the foot of West 44th Street in midtown Manhattan and just across from Weehawken, on the morning of the 26th. Soon after we arrived, I looked across, even in the fading light of a summer's evening, and the berth at Pier 84 was indeed empty. The Andrea Doria had not arrived as scheduled. Yes, she had sunk – the news reports were correct. Some thirteen New York City blocks north, the smallish, all-white Stockholm was in port. She had returned after having made an 11:30 am departure two days before, on Wednesday, the 25th.  She was again at Swedish American Line's terminal, Pier 97 at the foot of West 57th Street. She had not been due back in New York harbor for another month, until late August. The Stockholm was never one of the big, more imposing Atlantic liners – she was actually more of a passenger-cargo ship. But she seemed especially small on that July evening. Like a bad child, she almost seemed to be hiding, in disgrace, fearing punishment. To most, she was already the villain, the less important, little ship that sank the very important flagship of the entire Italian merchant marine and one of the post-Second World War's era finest new ocean liners.

    Newspapers and television followed-up for at least a week with further reports, recollections from survivors, tales from heroic rescue ships like the legendary Ile de France and the freighter Cape Ann. Rather quickly, Life magazine even rushed out an issue about salvaging the Andrea Doria. Could she be dragged to shore by a huge chains? Could she be systematically pumped-out and slowly float to the surface? Or in deeper imagination, could she be filled with the likes of thousands of ping pong balls and be refloated? In fact, the Italians wanted nothing of salvage. In deepening silence, the Company – both in New York and at its Genoa headquarters – slipped into total retreat on the subject of the Andrea Doria. Almost immediately, it was announced instead that a bigger, more luxurious replacement would be built – dubbed the "super Andrea Doria" by one newspaper – and would be in service in less than four years. The Italians focused on the positive, the future, the continuing of its famed trans-Atlantic liner service.

    Andrea 2 The Stockholm is on the left in this view from the harbor in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Albert Wilhelmi Collection, Andrea Doria and other recent Liner Disasters, Amberley Publishing)

    The Stockholm went into its own kind of hiding. After landing her passengers, survivors and most of crew, she was towed stern-first by Moran tugs from Pier 97, south along the Hudson and over to the bottom end of the Brooklyn waterfront, to the Bethlehem Steel shipyard at 56th Street. Placed immediately into dry dock, the Stockholm would need serious surgery: four months of repairs and the replacement of her raked, ice-strengthened bow. Tucked in an inner floating dock, the Stockholm was not easily seen (or photographed) from, say, a passing ship or Staten Island ferry.

    In the summer of 1988, I arrived in Genoa and had a short stay before heading off on two Mediterranean cruises, both on Italian liners, by the way – the Achille Lauro and the Ausonia. While in a Genoa hotel, I came across a newspaper. A headline read "Death Ship Arrives". A small, all-white passenger ship had arrived and was to be converted and made over as a contemporary cruise ship. Then over forty years old, it was the former Stockholm. The "villain" in 1956 was now an Italian ship.

    Andrea 3 A view of the badly damaged Stockholm. (Moran Towing & Transportation Co., Andrea Doria and other recent Liner Disasters, Amberley Publishing)

    In April 2001, I traveled to the Caribbean, to Montego Bay on Jamaica, to board a rather special cruise. It included three days in otherwise remote Cuba:  two days in Havana and a day at a beach resort called the Isle of Youth. The ship was the specially chartered Valtur Prima, the former Stockholm. She had been, however, so completely rebuilt that there was very little trace of her earlier Scandinavian heritage. I searched all through the passenger areas. While using the ship's tenders, however, we would pass the knife-like bow. Upon looking closely, the slightly raised but very faint lettering was visible – it spelled Stockholm.

    Five years later, in 2006, I was a board member of the Ocean Liner Museum, an on-going project then based at Lower Manhattan's South Street Seaport Museum. Along with a permanent exhibit, we offered periodic lectures and programs.   We decided to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the sinking of the Andrea Doria. There was a half-day exhibit of memorabilia, artifacts and photos of the Italian liner as well as a series of talks. John Moyer talked of his various salvage efforts, others spoke about the Italian Line and its ships, and still others recalled personal memories of the tragedy. One lady traveled from New Jersey and spoke, often with high emotion. She was a teenager in 1956 and was sent by her family to begin a new life by living with relatives in America. Her parents brought her to Naples and where she boarded the Andrea Doria. She shared a four-berth room in tourist class and was looked after by the three older ladies sharing the same room. On the night of 25th July, she was suddenly awakened and told to hurry – the three ladies would take her to the lifeboats up on Boat Deck. She described the great commotion, the sense of the unknown but fear as well and the crowds of frantic passengers on stairwells and in corridors. She was guided to a lifeboat, but then was deeply embarrassed. She was wearing only pajamas and slippers, but in front of a Catholic priest, who was joining the same lifeboat. That, she told us, was more upsetting than the drama unfolding with the ship itself.   The ship already had a great list as she was herded into a lifeboat and then, in the dark of night, went off to a rescue ship, the liner Ile de France. Seeing the ship sink the following morning was "horrifying". Later met by relatives at New York's Pier 88, she never forgot the Andrea Doria, that night and the sinking. Nightmares haunted her for years. To that morning in 2006, she was never again able to board another ship, not even a harbor ferryboat.


    William H. Miller's new book Andrea Doria and Other Recent Liner Disasters is available for purchase now.

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