Encyclopedia Titanica

Nomadic Returns

How the Nomadic was saved and returned to Belfast


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The SS Nomadic is the last White Star Line vessel still afloat and the last real maritime link with Titanic. Built on No.1 Slip by Harland & Wolff Shipyard, Belfast, and fitted out in the Abercorn Basin, Nomadic attended the departure of Titanic-s older sister, the Olympic, on 31st May 1911; the same day Titanic was launched!

Crafted by the same men who built the Titanic, this not so little tender was created to carry upwards of one thousand 1st and 2nd Class passengers from Cherbourg onto the -Olympic- Class liners. She was launched on 25 April 1911 and delivered to the White Star Line on 27th May. Overall Length: 71.1708m. (233' 6") - Width: 11.3m (37.3 ft); Speed: 12 knots; Gross tonnage: 1273; 2 screws (3 blades) - diameter: 1.8 m (5.9 ft).

During WWI Nomadic ferried American forces around the coast of France and in WWII she participated in the evacuation soldiers and citizens from Cherbourg, and of British forces from Brest, before being returned to Britain when France was occupied. There she acted as a coastal patrol vessel, troop carrier and mine layer. After WWII when the White Star Line was absorbed by Cunard, Nomadic (by then renamed Ingenieur Minard) returned to Cherbourg, in 1945, and continued to carry passengers to the Cunard liners - including the two great Queens: Elizabeth and Mary. After serving the Queen Elizabeth in November 1968, Nomadic was sent to the breakers yard. However, she escaped an inglorious end when she was acquired and converted into a floating restaurant on the river Seine, near the Eiffel Tower.

Yvonn Vincent
Yvonn Vincent, owner of the Nomadic beside the 1st class staircase

When the owner experienced financial difficulties and Nomadic was once again threatened with the scrap yard, Belfast Industrial Heritage Ltd. (through diplomatic contacts), with others, were instrumental in persuading the French authorities to put a twelve-month preservation notice on the vessel to give the owner time to resolve his financial position. When he failed to do so the French government seized the Nomadic in lieu of outstanding mooring fees - hence the auction.

Belfast Industrial Heritage Ltd. successfully campaigned for nearly five years to bring the SS Nomadic back to Belfast, the city of her birth - ably assisted by Mr. Philippe Delaunoy of Belgium, Mrs. Wendy Hood of the NI Tour Guides Association, Maja Ferguson, Peter and Simon Smyth of Smyth-s Irish Linens, Bangor Old Gaffers Association and, during the last few months, by John White and David Scott Beddard of White Star Memories - who, to help BIH-s campaign, launched the website www.savenomadic.com.

Endless -phone calls, meetings, letters and e-mails by Belfast Industrial Heritage Ltd., with and to the NI Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Belfast City Council, all Councillors and Members of the NI Legislative Assembly, a petition containing ca. 3,000 signatures sent to the Mr. Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the UK and to Mr. Bertie Ahern, Taoiseach of the Irish Republic did not bear fruit. However, a personal appeal by myself to Mr. Alan Shannon, Permanent Secretary to the NI Department of Social Development in December 2005, culminated in the DSD purchasing Nomadic at auction in Paris on 26th January 2006 and Nomadic arrived back in Belfast on the 15th July.

Arrival at Belfast
Nomadic arriving at H&W's Ship Repair Dock, 15th July 2006.
© K. Neill

The monies raised by public subscription towards Nomadic's acquisition and restoration was, with DSD's permission, used to acquire magnificent original paneling and artifacts removed off the vessel during her conversion to a floating restaurant. These include a considerable quantity of her original paneling, including the wonderfully ornate bulkhead, with its apertures for clock and etched mirror, from behind the first class buffet, an original door with grills intact, and an original table (complete) and the legs from five others.

The Buffet backdrop

Original door and paneling
The table
Above photographs courtesy of David Scott Beddard and John White

We have also purchased her sole surviving lifeboat from the Chantereyne Museum. Originally Nomadic had two lifeboats; unfortunately, these were left to deteriorate and one was in such a poor state of disrepair that it was burned by the museum. The surviving one also is in poor condition but, if it is not restorable, it will be preserved for all time and it will act as a template to create replicas. To our knowledge this is one of, perhaps, only two White Star Line original lifeboats still in existence and it may well now be the only one.

The Lifeboat

Grateful thanks are due to John White and David Scott Beddard of White Star Memories and to Rupert Keyzar who went to France to recover the paneling, doors, and the tables.

Since her return to Belfast, Nomadic has undergone some repair work by Harland & Wolff Shipyard (the yard that built her) to the hull where holes had been punched through to accommodate pipes for air conditioning etc.

Nomadic in dock
Nomadic in the Main Building Dock, H&W; floating free in Belfast waters for the first time in 95 years.

All removable fixtures and fittings have been taken off her and she has undergone a cleaning out - our thanks to members of the World Ship Society, the local community and the Nomadic Preservation Society for their voluntary work in this respect - these fixtures and fittings are all in store until it is decided what to do with them. They consist mainly of the 1970-s style floral chintz covered furniture - from the days when she was used as a restaurant.

Nomadic has also undergone several surveys in order to determine hull integrity. We are thankful to report that she is in remarkably good condition. Her hull has lost little, if any, density and she has now been moved from Harland & Wolff across river to the Barnett Dock which will be her home for the next eighteen months or so while work continues on her.

Arriving at the Barnett Dock

Nomadic is letting in water from the decks, not from the hull. The decks have not been properly maintained over the years; rather, new layers of decking have been laid on top of old. These act as a sponge - taking in the rain water, holding it and then releasing it in considerable quantities. This is currently being attended, as is the replacement of the glass in the windows.

The Nomadic Charitable Trust has now been set up in order to oversee the restoration of the Nomadic. The Trust includes representatives from Belfast Industrial Heritage Ltd., Belfast Titanic Society, World Ships Society, Belfast City Council, together with Government and business representatives. The Nomadic Charitable Trust has agreed on a vision to restore the Nomadic and make her accessible to the people of Northern Ireland so that she can play a key role as a celebration of the Titanic and Northern Ireland-s maritime heritage as well as acting as a catalyst for tourism and social and economic development. The Trust has started the fundraising needed to meet its ambitious plans and hopes to make the Nomadic at least partially accessible to the public as early as April this year.

The Trust is currently engaged in First Aid repairs including providing temporary covers to protect the vessel from any further damage from rainwater ingress whilst the exciting plans for a comprehensive restoration are being developed. We all look forward to the day the Nomadic takes her rightful place as a major cultural and tourist attraction in her home city.

Kathleen Neill

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Belfast, Ireland

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Kathleen Neill


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Encyclopedia Titanica (2007) Nomadic Returns (Titanica!, ref: #5436, published 5 January 2007, generated 22nd March 2023 05:28:04 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/nomadic-update.html