News from 1925 Interview with Capt Trant

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Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The Mercury, Hobart, 25 March 1925
Retrieved from the National Library of Australia web site,

No More Gigantic Steamers
Advance of the Motor Ship
Ceramic's Captain Interviewed

That the ships of the future would be, to a much greater extent than at
present, motor driven, and that, for many years at least, the day of the
super-ships, such as the Majestic and Leviathan, was past, were opinions
expressed in an interview yesterday by Captain E. L. Trant, master of the
White Star liner Ceramic, which is loading fruit at Hobart for the United

It is a great responsibility to be the master of any ship, be it cargo
steamer, ketch, coastal freighter, collier, or old tramp sailing ship. It is
a far greater responsibility to be the master of a big overseas passenger
liner transporting thousands of valuable lives and many thousands of tons of
cargo from the Dominions to the Empire's centre several times each year, in
fair weather and foul, and bound to make the different ports of call on
definite dates. The comfort, regularity and safety of the large modern
overseas passenger steamers have come to be taken as a matter of course, but
the pleasures of ocean travelling at the present time, are truly remarkable.
One of the steamers which has enjoyed an untrammelled reputation in the
Australian-South Africa-England trade for many years, and which was until
recently the largest vessel to trade to Australian ports, is at present at
Hobart, namely the White Star Line's steamer Ceramic, of 18,495 tons, and in
command of her is one of the seamen who, from generation to generation, have
built up England's sea supremacy---Captain E. L. Trant, R.N.R.


Captain Trant, interviewed in his fine state-room aboard the Ceramic
yesterday, was in reminiscent mood. He has been at sea for many years, and
has spent 26 years in the service of the Liverpool White Star Line in all
trades. He served his apprenticeship in the old Liverpool sailers Drumpark
and Drummuir, in which he visited Australia on one occasion. From sail he
graduated into cargo steamers, and thence, in 1898, into the service of
the White Star Company. During the war Captain Trant (he is a commander of
the R.N.R.) served for three years in charge of H.M. destroyer Ostrich,
which was engaged in the arduous duty of patrolling in different parts of
the North Sea and escorting merchantmen through the danger zone. After the
war he was placed second in command to Sir Bertram Hayes, of the world's
largest ship, the Majestic, 56,551 tons (formerly the German liner
Bismarck). He was the first officer to hold this position after the ship had
been handed over from the Germans. He commanded the Runic on her last voyage
to Australia, and was then appointed to the command of the Ceramic.

Seated in a comfortable armchair in the captain's stateroom, it was indeed
difficult to believe oneself to be aboard ship, so excellent and so homelike
are the appointments. A telephone rested at its usual place upon the wall,
while an electric radiator stood upon the thickly carpeted deck. Nothing was
secured to the deck, for, as the captain pointed out, there is no necessity
to clamp the ship's furnishings to the deck in such a large and splendid
sea-going vessel as the Ceramic, which very seldom rolls or pitches, no
matter how bad the weather may be.


Discussing the trend of modern shipbuilding, Captain Trant was of the
opinion that no more very large steamers, of the type of the Majestic,
Leviathan, and Berengaria, would be constructed for many years to come. The
cost of building them was very huge, he said, and the cost of operating them
was tremendous. It suited shipping companies infinitely better to build
moderately sized ships which could always be run at a profit---however
small---than to launch out in the huge expenditure necessary to place and
keep in commission another Majestic or Leviathan. Big ships were necessarily
still in the experimental stage---everything, when first put on a huge
scale, on land or at sea, was largely experimental. Scientits [sic] could
reckon out the strains and stresses which would act upon a huge ship in a
seaway, but nothing other than actual practice would prove what was best and
right. That actual practice had now been gained, and there was no saying
what lay before the history of shipbuilding when the world was quite
restored to its normal order.


The captain thought that a great future lay before the motor ship, although
he would not say, by any means, that steamships would be entirely
superseded. The cost of oil fuel was a most vital consideration, for upon it
the economic running of motor ships was greatly dependent. The smaller
engine space, necessity to carry less fuel, and consequent saving in space,
and the greater cargo carrying capacity were great considerations in favour
of the motor ship, and more passenger accommodation could be fitted in a
motor ship than in a steamship of the same tonnage.


The outlook of world trade was on the mend, said Captain Trant, although he
anticipated no boom, or swift and sudden revival. Booms were ruinous things,
in the long run, and it was infinitely better that the revival should be
gradual. British trade was at last commencing to come into its own again,
but it had passed through a most trying period. As master of the Ceramic his
knowledge was restricted practically to the one ship, and he had little time
to study such questions. The Ceramic was practically always a full ship on
the homeward run.


The captain disclosed some interesting information with regard to the
trans-Atlantic passenger trade, which the White Star line carried on with
its huge steamers, Homeric (34,351 tons), Olympic (40,439 tons), and
Majestic (56,551 tons). Southampton was now the starting point for the run
to New York, in succession to Liverpool, as Southampton offered unrivalled
facilities for the embarkation of passengers from London and the Continent.
From Southampton the steamers went to Cherbourg (France), where passengers
from Paris were picked up, and thence they steamed across the Atlantic in
well-known steamship "lanes," or "streets" would perhaps be a better term.
These "lanes" were marked by numbers on all the steamers' charts. There was
a lane for the New York-bound ships, and a different lane (shorter than the
former) for the homeward-bounders. As the ice-line moved south during the
winter months, the lanes were moved south correspondingly, so that there
would be no danger of the ships encountering ice. The idea of the lanes was
to avoid possibilities of collision in fogs and thick weather between ships
outward and homeward-bound. The lane from Cherbourg to New York was shorter
than that from New York to Southampton, because consideration was given to
the prevalent westerly weather encountered in the North Atlantic.


Captain Trant is no stranger to Hobart. He was an officer on one of the
White Star streamers engaged in the London-Cape Town-Hobart-New Zealand
service, and visited the port many times. He was reticent with regard to the
prospects of the revival of that trade, but as the object had been to serve
New Zealand, and not so much Australia, he thought the prospects of revival
were very slight. New Zealand could now be served infinitely better by
steamers using the Panama Canal, whereas when the canal was not in existence
it was impracticable to come out via Cape Horn, so the route via Cape Town
and Hobart was chosen, and used effectively for many years. Whatever
developments in the matter of fast communication took place he thought they
would be either direct to Australian ports or to New Zealand ports. He did
not think the two would be combined by any fast service.

He had been in many ships but never in a more comfortable ship or a better
sea boat than the Ceramic and he had been in many ports but never in a
better one than Hobart. The port was a beautiful one in splendid
surroundings, the approaches were ideal, and the wharfage was excellent.
He had not visited Hobart since 1910 and he thought it had made very
favourable progress.

The Ceramic leaves at noon to-day for Southampton, London, and Liverpool.

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