Mystery Ship In Belfast May 29th-31st 1911: What Is It?


Harland Duzen

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For the past year, I have been trying to identify this ship that is seen docked nearby the Arrol Gantry between May 29th and May 31st 1911, just days before Titanic’s launch. She can been seen in several photos (ranging from a postcard to a John Kempster Photo) but unfortunately is aways seen from a distance or obscured by the Pump house chimney.
Figure-9-view-of-thompson-dock-from-Olympic-during-sea-trials-29th-may-1911(Maritime-quest).jpg

(Above): Photo taken from Olympic departing Belfast for sea trials May 29th 1911. The ship can be seen off centre.

However so far I can’t find any ships built by Harland & Wolff (or Workman & Clark) in or before 1911 that could match it’s appearance, nor any newspaper reports from the time that mention a ship in for repairs, refitting or delivery to it owners. The closest ships* I could find that might be it are the either the SS Statendam (1899) or the SS Vandyck (1911) BUT:

1) While the Statendam was brought by the Allan Line in 1911, she left for her first voyage in late March or early May so she can’t be in the photo.

2) The Vandyck is not mentioned in any newspapers at the time being in Belfast and there’s no other evidence despite she looks crudely similar to the ship in the photo.

I am now completely stumped as this ship dosen’t seem to exist in any records or match any built or in service at the time. Does anyone know what ship or any sources or features that might help to identify it?

From what I seen by looking though a magnifying glass and “Titanic In Photographs” (page 38), the ship has the following:
  • Has a Black Hull with no well deck on her bow (but possibly one on her stern?)
  • The ship’s has a open promenade and its's Bridge is one deck above the boat deck.
  • The ship has 5 lifeboats on it’s superstructure's Boat Deck.
  • Most Likely has 2 masts.
  • Her Bow / Forecastle deck has 2 very tall ventilation funnels.
  • Her Funnel appears to have the following colours (from top to Bottom): Black, White [with maybe a black line running though it?] and the rest an unknown colour, BUT it’s not certain if this is the colours of the line^ or if the Funnel is halfway though being painted.
If anyone knows this mystery ship's identify or can find any clues to it, It will be greatly appreciated.

Photo on 10-10-2017 at 22.38 #2.jpg
Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 14-1.08.47.png

(Above Left): A enchanted version of the photo shown above, showing the ship in more detail.
(Above Right): A photo of the ship taken the other side of the River Lagan as the Titanic is moved to the outfitting wharf and Nomadic prepares to leave with Olympic.
(Below Left): A enhanced photo of the mystery ship taken from a postcard.
Photo on 05-11-2017 at 21.27 copy.jpg

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Footnotes:

*It could be a Royal Mail Steam Packet ship from the “A-Series” or earlier and that the perspective of the photo makes the gap between the bridge and main structure deck look non-existent. However I’m currently found no evidence mentioning a RMSP ship in Belfast around that time.

^I have so far checked to see if it resembled ships from Lamport & Holt Line, Allan Line, American Line and The Red Star Line with no result.
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Harland Duzen

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Update: Another possibility for the Mystery ship is that the funnel could indicate it's a ship of the British India Steam Navigation Company. I'm going to check out this lead.
 
A

Aaron_2016

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Excellent detective work. Is there any way to find out why the vessel was present in Belfast at that time? e.g. Repairs to a lost blade or mechanical failure, modifications to her engines, construction improvements, or a complete overhaul? There was so much happening in the shipyards, perhaps the company kept logs of every vessel that was serviced in Belfast?

Here is a compilation of footage from the busy Belfast shipyards. Filmed in the 1910's - 1920's.





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Harland Duzen

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Thank you, but in reality, I got no leads (so to speak). Everything leads to dead ends and this ship just doesn't seem to exist. I'm baffled. :(

My current logic (and confusion) is that this ship is docked / moored within the confines of the Harland & Wolff section of the harbour (unless the dry-docks and outfitting wharf was for everyone?) and therefore you would think it was a ship being fitted out after being launched several weeks / months ago. But as stated above, Harland & Wolff didn't build any ships that looked like this, and ones they did were built after 1911.

Also the mention to it possibly being of the British India Steam Navigation Company seems unlikely and I barely find any info on any the ships going in for check-ups or repairs.
 
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Harland Duzen

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Thank you B-rad, but I'm afraid I've already checked for ships of the Red Star, American, Dominon, Allan and Holland American Lines all without success. :(
 
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Aaron_2016

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Perhaps the ship is berthed in a location reserved for that specific shipping line as she loads or unloads her cargo? Here is a photo from 1933 which I believe shows the same berth as the 1911 photo. The Titanic gantry can be seen on the left and the Thompson dry dock can be seen on the right. There are two ships berthed in between which have a similar funnel. Perhaps they belong to the same shipping line as the vessel seen in the 1911 photo and that space was reserved for that company?


1933_Belfast1.png


1933_Belfast2.png



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Harland Duzen

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Here are two slightly clearer photos of the mystery ship taken from a Belfast Postcard "Entrance to Belfast Harbour" taken from the internet.
s-l1600-7.jpg
s-l1600-5 2.jpg


I forgot to mention it in the first post, but it seems the bridge is designed similar to the Californian's bridge in which it has a metal railing / scaffolding around it to hang a weather cloth in bad weather.
 

Mike Spooner

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The photo of Olympic next to the Thompson drydock. Was taken on the 1 April 1911 Olympic waiting to enter. If leaving the drydock would be full and dock gate a flowing caisson parked on the right hand side. If you can visited there well worth the climb down into the dock.
The ship between Alexander drydock and Arrol Gantry the single funnel has the colour of Red Star or American lines. Could well be Lapland built by H&W launch 27/06/1908.
 

Harland Duzen

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Was it? If it wasn't taken May 29th as first thought, then that changes everything and it could be the Statendam (1899) as I read it was brought by the Allan Line and converted to them around that time. However, it would't explain why it was still there on May 31st 1911 (as shown in this photograph below right) as it commenced voyages in early May unless it's a different ship.
Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 14.08.47 2.png
 
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Aaron_2016

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I've seen one description on the internet which says the photo (at the very top) was taken when the Olympic was first launched, but I've seen another description which says it was taken when the Olympic was leaving to complete her sea trials. However, we can see shipyard men are standing by the entrance to the dry dock and the Olympic is tied to the moorings of the dry dock which could suggest they are about to bring her in, especially as the tug boats are moving towards Belfast and not away.

Here is a photo taken in October 1911 when the Olympic returned to Belfast for repairs following the collision with HMS Hawke. The Titanic had to be taken out of the dry dock and moved to one side. You might notice the mystery ship with the same funnel is still there, and the Titanic has now been berthed right beside her as the Titanic had to be moved out of the dry dock to allow the Olympic to come in.




1911_Titanic1.png




On a related note - In November 1911 there was a gunfight aboard the Olympic with shots fired. Perhaps a stray bullet struck the mystery ship or even the Titanic.


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There are lots of reasons why a vessel can be along an empty length of wharf. Just as a car parked in a store paking lot does not indicate that the auto was built by the store. Be careful in assuming the "mystery ship" had anything directly to do with either H&W or one of the International Merchantile Marine companies. It could have been their for repairs, or awaiting official dry dock inspection. Or, maybe some company was paying for berth space while the ship was simply unneeded for service.

-- David G. Brown
 
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Mike Spooner

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Perhaps the ship is berthed in a location reserved for that specific shipping line as she loads or unloads her cargo? Here is a photo from 1933 which I believe shows the same berth as the 1911 photo. The Titanic gantry can be seen on the left and the Thompson dry dock can be seen on the right. There are two ships berthed in between which have a similar funnel. Perhaps they belong to the same shipping line as the vessel seen in the 1911 photo and that space was reserved for that company?


View attachment 41502

View attachment 41503


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Hi Aaron,
The photo showing H&W and the lower right hand side the Thompson drydock? I have been there and think is the Alexander drydock as the Thompson drydock is further west from Alexander. Which is still there today with a very good example of the Royal Navy second longest service ship HMS CAROLINE over a hundred years old and afloat too. Engine design was years ahead what was used the Titanic. Another story. The drydock and ship is open to the public. O though I have to say the drydock is very wet and could not see any signs of the floating caisson gate.
 

Harland Duzen

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Hi Aaron,
The photo showing H&W and the lower right hand side the Thompson drydock? I have been there and think is the Alexander drydock as the Thompson drydock is further west from Alexander. Which is still there today with a very good example of the Royal Navy second longest service ship HMS CAROLINE over a hundred years old and afloat too. Engine design was years ahead what was used the Titanic. Another story. The drydock and ship is open to the public. Oh though I have to say the drydock is very wet and could not see any signs of the floating caisson gate.

I think the mystery ship was docked next to the Alexandra Dry dock?
29ogb53.jpg


Also (I think) the floating Cassion Gate your referring to has been placed with Nomadic in the same dry dock?
004.JPG
 
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Aaron_2016

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I believe the floating gate in the photo above was for the Hamilton dry dock and is currently in there with the Nomadic. I have the good fortune of living just outside Belfast, although the Titanic was rarely discussed for many years until the Hollywood film was released and worldwide interest accelerated.


I noticed there is a loading pier (blue) which is no longer there. If the funnel (red circle) belonged to the mystery ship then she is either berthed very tight against the Titanic's side, or she has been moved into the Alexandra dry dock so that the Titanic could take her berth as it was wider.


Titanic and the mystery vessel are both on the inside of the pier / jetty (blue).

angledock.png



Here are several more angles with different vessels berthed beside Alexandra dock on both sides of the pier / jetty.


1950docks1.png


1950docks3.png



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Harland Duzen

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I believe the floating gate in the photo above was for the Hamilton dry dock and is currently in there with the Nomadic.
My mistake.

Back to Topic, and there is this map of Belfast Harbour (circa 1909) that shows the jetty and land being owned by Harland & Wolff and no slipways built there yet.
Belfast 1909.jpg


Maybe it was a berth for either Belfast or Railway related steamships? The Midland Railway (as a example) did services to Belfast and their funnels had similar liveries.

Midland Railway - Services From Heysham - Simplon Postcards
 

Mike Spooner

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I think the mystery ship was docked next to the Alexandra Dry dock?
View attachment 41516

Also (I think) the floating Cassion Gate your referring to has been placed with Nomadic in the same dry dock?
View attachment 41515
The Floating Caisson is in the Hamilton drydock were the Nomadic Is east or left of H&W. If the photo was turned 180 degree you can see the name plate. Harling and Wolff 1867 GRAVING DOCK SIDE. built for Hamilton drydock. Its regard the oldest built vessel by H&W W/O No 50. Yes in rather a poor state but plans to refurbish it.
The other photo show with three drydocks marking in red is a much later one as the drydock west or right of Thompson is show is were the two yellow cranes Samson and Goliath built 1969 and 1974. The Olympic would of been just right and ready for Thompson drydock. Why the caisson gate was not open for her I have yet to find out as nobody on my visit last September could tell why? I do know there was lots of disputes and arguments in the building of the dock landing up costing twice as much and twice a long as to planned. As you can see in the photo how too close to Alexandra drydock resulting the dock clasping into the entry and putting the dock out of action for over two years!
Now I hope you can help me here. I see I am not with technology you and other members have within enclosing photos which makes much more interesting. Can you please guide me through the process as I have loads on my iPad from the last September visit.
Mike.
 

Mike Spooner

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As I understand the drydocks came under the Belfast Harbour Commissioners and was not an easy task to control . Drydocks are costly to build and usually the money came from London. William Pirrie became a member in 1893 and left in 1906 under controversial circumstantial in the building of Thompson drydock!
 

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