PS Embassy 1911 – 1967
Waverley’s cruise on 22 September 2016 celebrated the centenary of Embassy’s launch as Duchess of Norfolk, back in 1911. She became a very significant ship – the last of Cosens & Co’s famous “Buff Funnel Fleet’, and the very last paddle steamer to be based at Bournemouth.
Waverley’s route retraced the chief services operated by Embassy and the other Cosens steamers and, from Ryde to Portsmouth, also followed the ferry route for which Duchess of Norfolk was originally built.
PS Embassy, the last of Cosens & Company’s famous Bournemouth excursion steamers, began life on 25 August 1911 when she was launched as the Duchess of Norfolk from the shipyard of D&W Henderson, Glasgow. Designed for the Portsmouth to Ryde ferry service, she was the last vessel to be ordered by the pre grouping London & South Western/London, Brighton & South Coast Railway “Joint Committee” fleet.
For the first part of the Great War she remained on the Isle of Wight ferry service, until requisitioned by the Admiralty on 7 May 1916. By July she had arrived in Malta, in company with a number of south coast paddle steamers, and had been converted and armed for use on the Malta coastal patrol. Sometime later she was commissioned as a minesweeper and remained on this dangerous work in the eastern Mediterranean until July 1920, when she returned to Portsmouth.
Reconditioned in Portsmouth dockyard, she returned to the Portsmouth – Ryde service in 1921 and continued until 1936 when the arrival of the new Southern Railway paddle steamer Ryde rendered her redundant and she was advertised for sale.
She was purchased by Cosens & Co. Ltd. of Weymouth in May 1937, named Embassy, and made her first excursion from Weymouth to the Isle of Wight on Sunday, 26 July. Based at Weymouth, she spent the next two years on the company’s longer excursions to Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight, as well reinstating the much loved cruise around Portland Bill and westwards to Torquay. Upon the outbreak of the Second World War she was immediately put to work as an examination vessel on the contraband patrol service at Weymouth. At the beginning of 1940 she was renamed HMS Ambassador and sailed to join the 10th Minesweeping Flotilla at Dover, where she remained until June. She was then attached to the 60th Minesweeping Training Flotilla at Port Edgar on the River Forth, and spent the remainder of the war as a minesweeping and stokers training vessel.
At the end of the war she was returned to Cosens and underwent a major refit at Weymouth. Her main aft saloon was extended to the full width of the hull and a wheelhouse replaced the open bridge. She re-entered service on 2 September 1946, sharing the honour of re-opening Cosens’ sailings from Bournemouth with her fleet mate Monarch of 1888.
During the winter 1946-7 Embassy underwent further, more radical alterations. She was converted from coal to oil burning and, in the process, her tall, thin funnel was replaced by a shorter, oval-shaped one. To provide the necessary draft for the boiler furnaces, a large fan engine together with its associated ducting had to be erected forward of the funnel, and this did nothing to improve her appearance! A minor but awkward defect in the new oil-burning system also led to the ship emitting large volumes of black smoke which became her trade mark until the problem was finally rectified during the winter 1963-4.
From 1950 onwards, following the withdrawal of the veteran Monarch, Embassy was based at Bournemouth. Initially she maintained the Swanage service but, from 1951, was relieved by her former Portsmouth-Ryde fleet-mate Shanklin which Cosens had purchased and renamed Monarch (II). Embassy was then able to join Emperor of India on the longer day trips to the Isle of Wight.
Emperor of India was Cosens’ largest vessel in post war years but proved both slow and expensive to run. As each season passed she appeared for a shorter period and following the 1956 season she was withdrawn completely and sent to the breaker’s yard. Monarch (II) followed at the end of 1960, leaving Embassy as the last Cosens steamer to be based at Bournemouth. When Cosens sold their veteran, Weymouth based CONSUL of 1896 at the end of the 1962 season, Embassy became the last representative of this famous fleet, which had been operating steamers along the Wessex coast since 1849.
From 1961 onwards, Cosens came to a working agreement with Crosons Ltd of Poole whereby the latter company’s small motor vessels would maintain the Bournemouth to Swanage service, assisted from time to time by the larger paddler. Embassy settled ‘into a routine of full and half-day cruises to Totland Bay or Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, with connecting optional coach tours of the island available on most days. This pattern was enlivened by trips to view the annual Cowes Week regatta; a revival; of occasional Round the Isle of Wight sailings during 1964, 65 and 66; and special sailings to view the laid up shipping at Southampton during the 1966 seamen’s strike.
The 1966 season, which proved to be Embassy’s last, was marked by a number of incidents. On 28 July, during a return sailing from Totland to Bournemouth, a float on the port paddle wheel broke loose off Hurst Castle and did considerable damage to both the paddle box and wheel before Embassy could be brought to anchor and eventually towed home to Poole. Repairs were quickly completed but throughout the summer there were a series of gales which led to the cancellation or disruption of an unusually large number of sailings, including the vessel’s final Round the Isle of Wight charter on 24 July when heavy seas made it impossible to call at Ventnor pier.
On Thursday 22 September the ship made her final sailings of the season, departing from Totland for the last time at 1715 and arriving alongside Bournemouth pier at 1954. With her passengers safely ashore she backed away from the pier and, with the customary farewell blasts on her steam whistle, set course for Weymouth and winter lay-up. She was never to return to Bournemouth again. Despite reports in the local press that the ship would be sailing in 1967, Cosens’s directors announced, on December 19th, that the ship would be sold and services discontinued. On 25 May 1967 Embassy was towed away to be broken up by Van Heyghen Freres of Ghent, bringing to an end 119 years of paddle steamer operation by Cosens & Co Ltd.
The text has been reproduced from the pamphlet “Paddle Steamer Embassy 1911-1967 Centenary Celebration Cruise On board PS Waverley on Wednesday 7th September 2011″ by Richard Clammer. The heading photograph, taken at Bournemouth Pier in the early 1960s, has been drawn from the Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle Trust website where PS Embassy was Paddle Steamer of the Month in September 2006.