Part One

Union Castle Line


Union Line and Castle Line had always been competitors for the lucrative Cape mails but this competition had always been amicable. The South African Government however believed that by fostering the said competition the Cape would benefit because the Companies would have to keep providing bigger, faster and better ships. Therefore until this moment in time the Government had always insisted on a clause in the joint contract which forbade merger between Union and Castle. It also stated that likelihood of the clause ever being rescinded was extremely unlikely, what the Government didn't anticipate was either Company acquiring a controlling interest in the other. When the Government announced the approaching renewal of the joint contract it attempted to improve the service once more by declaring that the contract was up for public tender to all comers and that only one company would be awarded the contract. The Government then sat back and waited for the expected battle between the two major contenders, what the Government failed to realise was that since 1876 both Companies had built their fleets on the basis of complementary sailings so it was impossible for either Company to submit a tender. What happened in the end was that neither of the contract holders was able to tender for the contract and all the rest of the competition was far too small to take on the enormous undertaking.

So through their own ineptitude the politicians handed to Sir Donald the golden chalice and had to agree to his proposal that Castle and Union merge and it was announced in the December of 1899 that the merger would proceed on the following terms:

1. The Castle Mail Packet Co Ltd would take over the fleet of Union (Union 114, 000 tons, Castle 107, 000 tons).
2. The name would become Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co Ltd.
3. The managers of Castle, Donald Currie & Co would manage the new Company.
4. Sir Francis Evans, Chairman and Managing Director of Union plus his Board, would sit on the Board of the new Company, called the Council of Management.

On the 13th of February 1900 the shareholders of both Companies voted their approval, because of the Fleet imbalance Union shareholders received a bonus of £350, 000 and on the 8th of March the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co Ltd was registered.

At the time of merger the combined Fleet was as follows:

 Arab        Briton        Garth Castle        Donolly Castle
 Trojan        Gascon        Hawarden Castle        Raglan Castle
 Spartan        Gaika        Norham Castle        Carisbrooke Castle
 Moor        Goorkha        Roslin Castle        Braemar Castle
 Mexican        German        Pembroke Castle        Kinfauns Castle
 Scot        Sabine        Dunnottar Castle        Kildonan Castle
 Gaul        Susquehanna        Doune Castle  
 Goth        Galeka        Lismore Castle  
 Greek        Saxon        Tantallon Castle  
 Guelf        Galician        Harlech Castle  
 Norman        Celt (on order)        Arundal Castle  

A total of thirty-nine ships which excluded all the Companies' tugs, launches and tenders.

On the 10th of March 1900 the Moor was the last Company ship to depart Southampton in Union's colours and on the 16th of March advertisements for the new Company first appeared in the Press. Although Dunnottar Castle had the distinction of hoisting the new Company colours first on the 17th Gaika had the privilege of sailing first amidst cheers from all onboard both ships. On the 24th of March Briton was the first ship to sail sporting the new Company's livery of vermilion red funnels with a black top and lavender grey hull. In June Celt which had been under order at the time of merger was renamed Walmer Castle whilst still under construction.

The Company acquired four cargo ships in 1901, they were Aros Castle, Corfe Castle, Gordon Castle and York Castle, six more vessels were laid down.

After the Boer war had finished the expected boom in South African traffic failed to materialise in 1902 and fifteen Union Castle ships were laid up at Netley in Southampton. Undeterred the Company ordered two new mail steamers Armadale Castle for delivery in 1903 and Kenilworth Castle for delivery the following year.



Built in 1903 by Fairfields S.B. & E. Co, Glasgow.
Tonnage: 12, 973g, 7, 264n.
Engines : Twin Screw, 2 x Quadruple Expansion, 12, 000 IHP, 2, 212 NHP, 17.5 Knots, Coal 3, 384 tons.
Passengers: 336 First Class, 174 Second Class, 244 Third Class, 250 Crew.
Launched 11th August 1903, completed end November 1903.

On the Isle of Skye Armadale Castle was the seat of the MacDonalds of Sleat.

Armadale Castle differed from her sister Walmar Castle in that the foc'sle extended to the foremast. She became the first mail steamer to berth at Capetown's new inner quay on the 26th of June 1904. She was converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser during the first week in August of 1914 and joined the 10th Cruiser Squadron on the 7th. Further details of her fitting out and early career feature in a link. In 1919 she resumed her normal peacetime role. In 1934 her second class accommodation was removed and in 1938 she was laid up in reserve at Netley, she did one relieving voyage in 1936 before being sold for scrap.

Kenilworth Castle entered service in 1904 sending Dunottar to join Scot in reserve at Netley.



Built in 1904 by Harland & Wolff, Belfast.
Tonnage: 12, 975g, 7, 263n.
Engines : Twin Screw, 2 x Quadruple Expansion, 12, 000 IHP, 2, 212 NHP, 17.5 Knots, Coal 3, 384 tons.
Passengers: 336 First Class, 174 Second Class, 244 Third Class, 250 Crew.
Launched 15th December 1903, completed May 1904.

Kenilworth Castle originally built by Geoffrey de Clinton, Chamberlain to Henry I in 1125. Situated in the Forest of Arden near Stoneleigh.

Another sister to the Walmer Castle the Kenilworth Castle was taken over for trooping duties in the August of 1914. She had an uneventful war until the 4th of June 1918 when she was in collision with the Destroyer H.M.S. Rival thirty miles off Eddystone in the Channel. Some lifeboats had been lowered but a number of the depth charges rolled off Rival's deck and subsequently exploded swamping two of the lifeboats drowning fifteen men Kenilworth was later able to limp into port for repairs. In 1919 she was quarantined at Table Bay for three weeks during an influenza epidemic which was raging through South Africa. In 1934 her Second Class accommodation was removed and two years later she was sold for scrap.



Built: 1904 by Fairfield S.B. & E. Co, Glasgow.
Tonnage: 8, 217g, 5, 177n.
Engines : Twin Screw, 2 x Quadruple Expansion, 969 NHP, 14 Knots.
Passengers: 230 First Class, 250 Third Class.
Completed in the February.

Built around 1072 Durham Castle was the seat of the Prince Bishop of Durham.

She made her maiden voyage as an Intermediate Steamer on the 23rd of March and in 1910 transferred to the Mombasa via the Cape service. During the First World War she remained on her commercial service but usually carried troops northbound. She was placed on the East African service via Suez in 1931 and in 1939 was put up for sale. The Admiralty purchased her for use as a Base Accommodation Ship at Scapa Flow but on the 26th of January 1940 she was mined off Cromarty whilst under tow, later U-57 claimed her as its victim.

In 1905 Gascon carried Engineers and contractors for the construction of the Benguela - Lobito Bay railway. The Chairman of the Company Sir Francis Evans died aged sixty-seven in the January of 1907 and was succeeded by his son Murland who was already a partner in Donald Currie & Co. Being the only Company to tender a bid Union-Castle won the contract for mails to the Cape in July of 1908 commencing in 1910. Sir Donald Currie ordered the construction of Garth Castle and Grantully Castle and they were to become the last two ships which he ordered for on the 13th of April 1909 aged 83 Sir Donald died at Dartmouth. He was later buried at Fortingall in Perthshire and was succeeded by his son-in-law Frederick Mirrielees. Lord Gladstone travelled to South Africa aboard Walmar Castle to take up his post as the first Governor General in April of 1910 and a month later Cape Colony, Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal unite. In the October the Duke of Connaught standing in for the Prince of Wales travelled in Balmoral Castle to open the South African Parliament.



Built: 1910 by Fairfield S.B. & E. Co, Glasgow.
Tonnage: 13, 361g, 7, 512n, 11, 600 dwt.
Engines : Twin Screw, 2 x Quadruple Expansion, 2, 234 NHP, 14 Knots.
Passengers: 320 First Class, 220 Second Class, 270 Third Class.
Launched 13th November 1909, completed beginning of February 1910.

Balmoral Castle is the Royal Deeside summer home of the British Royal family. Bought by Prince Albert for his wife Queen Victoria in 1848 it was orginally a 16th century tower-house.

Balmoral Castle was the first Company ship to be fitted with Marconi wireless telegraphy and made her maiden voyage at the end of February on the mail service. She acted as the Royal Yacht when the Duke and Duchess of Connaught travelled to South Africa for the opening of Parliament in the October. For this one special trip she was painted white overall, had yellow funnels, flew the White Ensign and had a Royal Navy crew. At the beginning of the First World War she remained on the mail service but carried troops northbound to Europe. During March through to May 1915 she carried troops to the landings at Gallipoli. After the Armistice she assisted in the repatriation of the Australian and American troops. She made two trips from Liverpool to New York on charter to Cunard in 1919 and then reverted to her normal mail service where she remained for the next twenty years. She was broken up at Newport in Monmouthshire in June of 1939.



Built: 1910 by Barclay Curle & Co, Glasgow.
Tonnage: 7, 612g, 4, 798n.
Engines : Twin Screw, 2 x Quadruple Expansion, 647 NHP, 13 Knots.
Passengers: In three classes, numbers unknown

Garth Castle in Perthshire was built by the Earl of Buchan, also known as Wolf of Badenoch.

She was delivered in the March of 1910 for the Intermediate Service. In 1915 she was used by the Royal Navy as a Fleet Supply Ship and during this time transported crews to bases such as Scapa Flow, she was used later as a Hospital Ship. On the 24th of June 1917 her Naval surgeons and nursing staff were presented to King George V during a Fleet inspection. She once more continued in her commercial role after the war and remained as such until being broken up in 1939.



Built: 1910 by Harland & Wolff, Belfast.
Tonnage: 13, 326g, 7, 395n.
Engines : Twin Screw, 2 x Quadruple Expansion, 2, 234 NHP, 14 Knots.
Passengers: 320 First Class, 220 Second Class, 270 Third Class.
Launched 27th January 1910, completed 28th April 1910.

Edingurgh Castle built on an extinct volcanic outcrop over looking the city was the residence of the Scottish Kings and Queens.

She entered into service in May and arrived in Capetown on the 7th of June after her maiden voyage. On the 14th of August 1914 she left the Cape with mail and Government employees, mid-voyage she was ordered to call at Gibraltar to embark garrison troops and was escorted for the rest of the voyage by HMS Minerva. On the 12th of September she was taken over and converted for use as an Auxillary Cruiser for the South Atlantic Squadron. She left Devonport in January of 1915 joining the Ceramic of White Star Line in a search off South Africa for the German Raiders Karlsruhe and Kronprins Wilhelm. Her armaments were upgraded at Simonstown in 1916 and in 1918 she spent time on North Atlantic Convoy Patrols. She underwent refit after the war in January of 1919 and carried General Smuts who had served in the British War Cabinet back to South Africa. In 1928 her passenger capacities changed to 120 First Class, 68 Second Class, 200 Third Class and in 1938 she was withdrawn from service for lay up at Netley.

She was requisitioned in 1939 to prevent her from being scrapped and in January the following year was purchased by the Admiralty for use as an Accommodation Ship. For this purpose she was anchored at Freetown, Sierra Leone and was used by both the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy survivors from sunken ships. She was released from war service in September of 1945, towed 60 miles out to sea by Empire Lawn and sank by gunfire from the Armed Trawler Cape Warwick, HMS Porchester Castle and HMS Launceston Castle, rather an ignominious end after thirty-five years of service.


Built: 1911 by Fairfields S.B. & E., Glasgow.
Tonnage: 7, 999g, 4, 991n.
Engines: Twin Screw, 2 x 4 Quadruple Expansion, 13 Knots.
Passengers: 871 First Class, 130 Second Class, 195 Third Class.

Completed in August of 1911 but with a slightly different profile to that of the three previous 'G' type ships. In September of 1914 she was requisitioned for use as a Hospital Ship having 410 beds and in 1915 took part in the Dardanelles campaign carrying amongst others the Portsmouth Battalion of the Royal Marines. On the 30th of March 1917 whilst in full hospital livery she was torpedoed by U.B.-32 when en route Le Havre to Southampton carrying 399 wounded. Three died during the transfer of survivors to attendant trawlers and it took a further two weeks to tow her to port for repairs. She returned to her owners on the 9th of April 1919 for service on the intermediate routes and later served on the round Africa service earning the nickname Go Slowster Castle because of her inadequate speed. In 1926 she was relieved by Llandaff Castle and reverted to her more familiar role of intermediate steamer. Approaching retirement age she was laid up at Netley, Southampton prior to selling but the outbreak of war rejuvenated her once more for active service. She sailed from Birkenhead on the 21st of June 1942 bound for Capetown with Captain R.H. Rose in command carrying cargo, mail and passengers. Numbered amongst the passengers were twelve women and a number of children set to join relatives at Simonstown Naval Dockyard. Initially Gloucester Castle sailed in convoy but after a few days the convoy scattered heading for their individual destinations. However she was never to reach South African waters and the Shipping Casualty Department told Union Castle in August of 1942 that the ship was gravely overdue and must therefore be presumed lost. It wasn't until the latter part of the war that the Red Cross received news that some Gloucester Castle survivors were prisoners of the Japanese. The ship had in fact been intercepted by the German raider Michel during the night of the 15th of July when off Ascension Island, 1, 300 miles South East of Freetown. The first shells from Michel destroyed the Bridge and Radio Room and consequently no S.O.S. was transmitted. Within ten minutes Gloucester Castle had sank taking with her 82 crew, 3 male passengers, 6 women and 2 children. The remaining sixty-one survivors were picked up by the Michel, later transferred to the supply ship Charlotte Schliemann and eventually were landed at Yokohama for interment. After repatriation the survivors graphically detailed the appalling conditions under which they were forced to work and live. The Michel's Commander Von Ruckteschell was jailed for War Crimes in 1946 and served his time in Spandau.

In 1911 the Post Office in South Africa passed an act which stated that no company who operated the rebate system which Union Castle did could be awarded the 1912 mail contract.

However because there were no bidders Sir David Graaff, Minister of Posts and Telegraphs was forced to travel to London to seek out an operating company.

Speculation on the London Stock Exchange led to sharp increases in the shares of Union Castle, possible purchasers were thought to be either the South African Government or Lord Pirrie on the behalf of the International Mercantile Marine Company. It did come as some surprise when the interested party turned out to be Royal Mail Line and its subsidiary Elder Dempster. A condition of the purchase was that the firm of Donald Currie & Co had to resign as managers furthermore they had to give an undertaking not to enter into any trade with South Africa. By way of recompense each of the seven partners of Donald Currie & Co were to receive £100, 000. Royal Mail took over control of Union Castle on the 18th of April 1912 five days after the sinking of White Star's Titanic. Sir Owen Phillipps was appointed Chairman and his Board comprised Lord Pirrie, James Head, Edward Norton, Albert Hunt (ex-Castle), R.F. Gibb and H.J. Gandar (ex-Union) and finally Sir Owen's private secretary A.H.Milbourne.

On taking over Sir Owen telegraphed the South African Authorities outlining his intensions to negotiate for the new mail contract. In September the new contract was signed which not only covered the mails but freight and cool chambers for the carriage of Cape fruits the contract was to run for ten years. Not only were Llandovery Castle and Llanstephen Castle ordered this year but Sir Owen also announced his intention to build six new mail ships each of 15, 000 tons.

At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 Carisbrook Castle which had been laid up at Netley was the first Company ship requisitioned and took on the role of a Hospital Ship. Dunvegan Castle and Norman landed the first troops of the British Expeditionary Force in France. The second week in August both Kinfauns Castle and Armadale Castle began conversion to Armed Cruisers. On the 15th of august Galician was intercepted by the German Raider Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse, because of the women and children onboard the Commander, Captain Max Reyman signalled that the ship be allowed to proceed, two days later the German Raider herself was sank by HMS Highflyer. The largest convoy to date sailed from Capetown on the 27th of August carrying the British garrison with their families, all the ships were Union Castle and were as follows:

Balmoral Castle
Dunluce Castle
Guildford Castle
Kennilworth Castle

Gascon took up the first wartime mail service and by the 4th of September 19 of the 41 Company ships had been requisitioned.

On the 15th September Galway Castle and Gaika escorted by HMS Kinfauns Castle and HMS Armadale Castle landed South African troops at Swakopmund, the beginning of the invasion on German West Africa.

During the Gallipoli campaign Galeka and Alnwick Castle landed troops at Suvla Bay, Braemar Castle, Dunluce Castle and Gloucester Castle served as Hospital ships.In the September of 1915 Balmoral Castle carried the first South African troops to Europe and by the end of the year Union Castle had thirteen of its Fleet in service as Hospital ships.

On the 28th of October 1916 whilst entering the Port of Le Have Galeka struck a mine, even though the seas were heavy the Captain managed to beach his ship at Cap La Hogue. Fortunately there were no patients onboard but nineteen Royal Army Medical Corps staff lost their lives, later the ship was considered a total loss. On the 1st of February 1917 unrestricted submarine warfare was declared and the following month the introduction of the Liner Requisition Scheme. The Alnwick Castle was torpedoed and sank by U-81 310 miles off Bishops Rock en route from Plymouth to Capetown on the 19th March with a loss of forty lives. Here follows a quote by the Author of Union Castle's tribute to its own men published in 1920.

'I knew that one of the young officers whom I met on the liner had passed through a terrible experience after the torpedoing of the Alnwick Castle. The disaster had happened over three hundred miles from the land. It was before the system of convoying had been introduced and there were no vessels near to pick up survivors. Crew and passengers took to the boats and for many days endured great privations, many died of thirst and exposure, and some of the boats were never heard of again. The officer of whom I am speaking sailed the boat, of which he was in command, safely through a dangerous sea until a vessel came to the rescue. But what he had endured appeared to be to him simply all part of the day's work, and the incident that seems to have left the most lasting impression on him was the following: After he got home he received a case of pipes, a present from his boat's crew, as a token of their appreciation. He was prouder of this than of any high honour that could be conferred on him, and well he might be.'

On the 20th of January 1917 the Kildonan Castle carried an allied mission to Russia to try to convince the Russians not to sign a Peace Pact with Germany, the Mission was unsuccessful in its endeavours. A consequence of this failure allowed German troops to be released from the Western Front, reinforcing the Western front and thus prolonging the War. On the 1st of February Germany announced unrestricted submarine warfare and in the March the Liner Requisition Scheme was introduced. On the 19th of March the Alnwick Castle was torpedoed and sank and an account of her demise can be read on the link. The Dover Castle was torpedoed by UC-67 in the Mediterranean when en route from Bone to Gibraltar. All 632 patients were rescued and most of them continued their journey onboard British India's Karapara, the Dover Castle was finally sank by a torpedo from an escort ship. In June the convoy system was fully adopted and in November the Aros Castle was torpedoed by U-90 300 miles west of Bishops Rock whilst en route London to Baltimore. The Company purchased the Hova, renaming her Crawford Castle and Carlow Castle from Northumberland S.B. Co of Newcastle.

In January of 1918 the Braemar Castle which had been converted for use as a Base Hospital ship sailed to Murmansk and was to remain there until January of the following year. Carlisle Castle was torpedoed and sank by UB-57 on the 14th of February adjacent to the Sovereign Lightship when on passage for London from Portland, Maine. Six weeks later the Broderick of Blue Star was sank also by UB-57 and her wreck settled astride that of Carlisle Castle. The Glenart Castle, ex Galician of Union was en route for Brest to embark Portuguese sick repatriates when she was torpedoed and sank by U-56 off Lundy Island in the British Channel. Of the ship's crew and medical staff totalling 206 only 38 survived. A far bigger disaster occurred on the 27th of June when Llandovery Castle was sank by U-86 when en route from Halifax to Liverpool, this story is covered as a link. The Company's final war loss was that of Galway Castle when she was torpedoed by U-82 two days out of Plymouth bound for South Africa. Onboard she had 400 South African wounded, 346 passengers and 204 crew, the ship didn't sink immediately but remained afloat for three days with her back broken. It was thought at the time however that she was about to sink and the order to abandon ship was given, with heavy seas many of the lifeboats were swamped and the occupants thrown into the sea. The U-82 had surfaced and it was believed that she was about to attack the ship once more but it eventually turned and left the scene leaving hundreds of survivors still in the sea.

In answer to the ship's distress signals destroyers eventually arrived and commenced to pick up survivors which were eventually landed at Plymouth. A skeleton crew which had remained onboard were finally taken off by HMS Spitfire and Galway Castle sank three days after she had been torpedoed, of the 950 persons onboard 143 lost their lives.

Go to     Union Castle History Part Two