by Harland Duzen
When most people hear about the SS Californian of the Leyland Line, many would think of her Captain Stanley Lord’s lack of action in responding to distress rockets fired from the sinking RMS Titanic on the night of April 15th 1912, while some might know her as just a simple freighter whose existence might make up a few brief bullet points and dimensions on a ship’s database.
While by modern or even 1912 standards, she was nothing but a small tramp steamer in comparison to the Titanic and other ships of the time, one might be surprised to learn that when built back in Dundee, Scotland in 1901, her name was often prefixed with “Leviathan” or “Monster” and her construction was anything but simple with massive interest and chaos surrounding her.
While today Dundee might be more famous for building the ship used by Ernest Shackleton, the RRS Discovery (also built and launched around the same time as Californian) and others, the following mini-paper should give an insight into the interesting backstory of the SS Californian.
The earliest mention of the ship that would eventually become the Californian was on the 29th September 1900 when the Dundee Evening Telegraph announced the order of a new ship from the Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Company Ltd:
Large Shipbuilding Order For Dundee. A Record
“The Caledon Shipbuilding Company, Dundee, have received from Messrs Frederick Leyland & Company, Liverpool, an order to construct a steamer larger than any yet launched at Dundee. The new vessel is intended for Messers Leyland’s Eastern Trade, and, in addition to carrying 9000 tons of cargo, accommodation will be provided for a number of first-class passengers. The dimensions of the new vessel are:— Length, 460 feet; breadth, 53 1/2 feet; and depth, 34 feet 8 inches. The steamer will be fitted with large single engines, and will be capable of steaming 12 knots…” - Dundee Evening Telegraph, September 29th 1900, Page 4
While this was a cause of celebration for the company, the order also highlighted a severe problem. The town’s docks and shipbuilding facilities hadn’t been updated since their initial construction (between the 1860 and 1880's). With the recent increase in ship tonnage, it was becoming impossible for the shipyards to accommodate these larger vessels. This was an issue which angered Caledon as it was spending £530 a year in rent to use existing facilities. In an interview, an unknown member of a Dundee shipyard explained that:
“…the gates [Lock ways] could not admit ships into the docks of more than 54 feet of beam, and it stood to reason that ships of a greater beam than 54 feet could not be contracted for in Dundee. As a matter of fact, up to the present time the broadest ship built at the port was one of 50 feet beam. Many ships of a far greater beam than that were built nowadays. In, fact, it was not an uncommon thing to see ships [of] 70 feet beam.….There can be no doubt that Dundee would get a good many more orders. Amongst the shipowners for whom one firm is building ships are Frederick Leyland & Co., Liverpool, but it so happens that Dundee builders are not getting their largest class of vessels to build through a lack of facilities at Dundee. Messrs Leylands say—‘ You need not ask to be allowed to contract for our largest class of vessel as you could not put them into dock.’ The ship now building at Dundee for that firm [Californian] would in all probability have been of larger dimensions had there been sufficient accommodation. It is to be 460 feet in length, but there is every reason to believe that had there been sufficient accommodation the vessel would have been 520 feet long. This firm like all others who are abreast of modern requirements, are going in for bigger ships every year, as they have learned that the larger a ship is the better it pays.”
Around this time, the local shipyards began talks with the Harbour Trustees to set up a new jetty and crane to handle larger ships, but this did not appear to be accepted or carried through. A few days later, the contract for the steamer was essentially confirmed by a letter from the Caledon Shipyard read at a meeting of the Works Committee of the Dundee Harbour board:
“…as has already been made known in the public prints, we have contracted to build a steamer [Californian] 445 feet long by 53 1/2 feet beam by 34 feet 8 inch depth, moulded. This vessel is not too large to enter the Harbour of Dundee to be fitted there with her engines and boilers, but she is perilously near the limit. We are now invited to tender for building a steamer 535 feet long by 58 1/2 feet beam by friends who have wished to entrust us with the building of the vessel, but, unfortunately negotiations cannot be entered upon with them, because of the fact the vessel is too long to enter the docks here and consequently could not be fitted with her engines and boilers.”
Eventually, the contract was signed, with the new ship costing £105,000 and, at first, simply known as “Hull 159 ”. This wasn’t the first ship the Leyland Line had ordered from the Caledon shipyard as the year previously the company had also built the Caledonian for them1. It was at the time one of the largest ships built on the River Tay2 being 426.5ft long and 4986 GRT. This next ship, however, would change that being 21.1ft longer and (eventually) 1237 GRT heavier than the Caledonian.
Construction began at some point between November 1900 and January 1901 with her hull being built using imported German steel. (The “extremely high price of coal” in Britain at the time made it cheaper to buy from aboard.) No other notable or major incidents3,4 occurred to her during construction, but between April and June of 1901, the Leyland Line was purchased and came under ownership of the International Mercantile Marine Company (IMMC)5 owned by J.P. Morgan; this possibly led to the ship’s accommodation being expanded to carry more passengers (though this is unconfirmed). On the 21st October, it is reported the Harbour Trustees were again asked to “provide better facilities for the engining and boilering of steamers.” and at this time as well, the first mention of the new ship’s name was revealed:
“It has just been ascertained that consequent on the want of facilities in Dundee the Caledon Shipbuilding and Engineering Company have had to refuse to tender for at least eight steamers which could not have been built and equipped at Dundee on account of a want of equipment at the docks. The crane6 has not been tested for a considerable number of years, and as it will be necessary to use it in connection with the boilering of the new steamer Californian, …”We have two boilers estimated to weigh about 85 tons each, to put on board…we expect to launch about the 26th prox.7, and we think that the 90-ton crane should be retested before we attempt these heavy lifts. It is now over seven years since the crane was tested with 110 tons, and we believe it is the practice of other ports to test similar cranes once every year. We hope you will give this consideration, and carry out the test, as we think it essential for the safety of all concerned.”8 - Dundee Shipbuilding Facilities. The Reliability Of Harbour Crane. Steamers Lost To Dundee.” Dundee Courier, October 21 1901, Page 4
Her name was again mentioned on November 9th:
“A fortnight hence one of the largest launches ever seen in Dundee will take place at the Caledon Shipyard, when the Caledon Shipbuilding and Engineering Co., limited, will float the leviathan Californian. The vessel is the largest ever constructed in a Dundee Shipyard and has a length of 440 feet, with a gross tonnage of about 6000.” “Forthcoming Launches at Dundee” - Dundee Courier, November 9th 1901, Page 6
Her launch was later scheduled for the 26th November 1901, and, the day before, what may have been the first illustration of her appeared:
Dundee’s Shipbuilding Record — Important Launch From Caledon Yard — A Leyland Leviathan.
“This is the age of records. It is not 12 months ago since by the launch of the Bengali from Camperdown Shipyard the Messrs Gourlay established a shipbuilding record for Dundee. Now we are about to see this eclipsed by the Caledon Shipbuilding and Engineering Company who expect to-morrow to consign to the water the largest vessel built in Dundee, or in fact on the North-East Coast of Scotland. The Californian, as the new vessel is to be christened, is being constructed to the order of Messrs Fred Leyland & Co., the well known Liverpool shipowners. On the stocks she presents a huge appearance, and her stance occupies the full breadth of the Company’s spacious yard. Locally a great amount of interest is being manifested in the launch, and a few particulars about the Californian will doubtless be of interest. She is intended specially for Leyland’s Atlantic and Pacific trades. Of a high type of the modern cargo boats [She] has been provided with accommodation for about 50 first class passengers, and when completed she will be one of the finest of the Leyland fleet…” - Dundee Evening Telegraph, 25th November 1901, Page 3
Artist’s sketch of how the Californian would appear when completed.
Note this is inaccurate as the masts and derricks are unevenly spaced and placed.
(Dundee Evening Telegraph, 25th November 1901)
Following the dredging of the docks (to allow the Californian’s hull to be berthed there once afloat ), the citizens of Dundee gathered to see her launch. The following9,10 description is taken from the Dundee Courier’s account of the launch:
Gathering In Keeping With The Event
“As befitting the occasion the gathering was the largest and most representative that has ever assembled at a launching ceremony in Dundee. Long before the hour of the launch a large crowd had gathered at the yard and vicinity, and from the tops of the neighbouring buildings many persons viewed the proceedings, if not with safety, at any rate with advantage. As the hour of the ceremony drew nigh considerable excitement was manifested amongst the spectators as to how the monster would take the water, but any doubts on this point were soon put to rest. The Californian sailed down the stocks as smoothly and as gracefully as a bird, and the whole proceedings were attended with the greatest success.11 The vessel was christened by Mrs Fry, wife of the superintendent of the Leyland Line12, and the cord was cut by Mrs D. Carmichael, wife of one of the Directors of the Caledon Company.”13
The Vessel Size
“The size of the Californian cannot be estimated by mere figures, but the large crowd which assembled in the yard yesterday could form from the vessel as she sat on the stocks an idea of her magnitude. The vastness of the vessel was the first impression that appealed to the average person, but her dimensions were better illustrated when comparison was made between her and other vessels in the yard, and more forcibly still as she lay at the 90-ton crane—a mammoth among the steamers around. The Californian has been built to the order of F. Leyland and Co., Ltd., Liverpool. She is [a] very handsomely modelled steel screw-steamer of the following dimensions:—Length over all, 464 feet; breadth, extreme, 54 feet; depth to shelter deck, 42 feet 6 inches. The vessel is of the three-decked type, with a complete shelter deck all fore and aft, and also a long promenade dock amidships, and has been built under Lloyd's and Board of Trade special survey, and is much in excess of their requirements. Including erections, the vessel will have a gross tonnage of 8100 tons, and measurement capacity of about 15,000 tons. Like other vessels of this line, accommodation is provided for first-class passengers only, and about 20 commodious state-rooms, to accommodate from 50 to 60 persons, along with large dining saloon, baths, lavatories, &c., are fitted below the promenade deck on port side. The dining saloon is handsomely panelled in Hungarian ash and satin wood, with teak frames, and upholstered in moquette. The whole design has a very pleasing effect. The starboard side of the promenade deck is devoted to the accommodation of officers, engineers, and stewards, &c., along with pantries, bakeries, &c. Above the promenade deck there is a large teak house, containing accommodation for captain; also chart-room and a cosy smoke-room, panelled in oak, and upholstered in embossed leather; while the floor is laid with rubber tiling. The crew are comfortably housed below shelter deck forward. The vessel has ample water ballast, being fitted with cellular double bottom all fore and aft, and also a deep hold tank immediately abaft the engine-room, along with afterpeak tank. She has four steel masts with fore and aft rig and seven large cargo hatches, with double derricks at each; while the deck machinery is of the most modern description and includes eight steam winches, steam windlass and a Wilson Pirrie patent steam steering gear, which is fitted in after deckhouse, and she is thoroughly equipped for dealing rapidly with either cattle or general cargo having a complete installation of electric light, consisting of about 260 lights, by Messrs W.H. Allen, Son & Co., Bedford. The machinery consists of a set of triple expansion engines, having cylinders of 26, 43, and 74 inches with a stroke of 60 inches, supplied with steam from two large steel double-ended boilers working at a pressure of 200 lbs. per square inch. The propeller constructed of manganese bronze, the whole being supplied from the Caledon Shipping and Engineering Company, Limited, Lilybank Engine Works.” - Dundee Courier
Artist’s sketch of the Californian on the stocks before being launched.
Underneath the bow is a stage for special guests to view the launch.
(Dundee Courier, November 27th 1901)
Unfortunately, just minutes after the Californian’s launch, problems began. The first issue was mooring the hull. The aforementioned docks just weren’t designed for ships of a certain size and the Californian now being the biggest vessel was about to test the docks (and the town) to their limits.
“The inadequate and antiquated facilities at the port for fitting up large steamers was in a degree brought before the public by the difficulty experienced in taking the Californian to the 90-ton crane, where she will be engined and boilered. As has frequently been pointed out, the lock-way between Camperdown and Victoria Dock is far too narrow, but it was not here alone the greatest care had to be exercised in bringing the vessel to the crane. At the gateway at Camperdown Dock the utmost caution had to exercised. It was in getting the Californian through the Victoria Dock lock-way that the chief obstacles were encountered. It was only after a considerable time that the vessel's bow was pointed in the passage, and the task of guiding her through to the dock was no easy one. In fact, there was absolutely no room to spare at all, but, thanks to the skilful handling of the workmen the record-breaker was safely berthed alongside the crane.” - Dundee Courier
After the launch, a luncheon was served for the guests in the shipyard’s Moulding Loft, and Grant Barclay (Managing Director of the Caledon shipyard) went on to toast the launch and said of the Californian that “he felt sure it would prove a very valuable addition to the already splendid fleet of Frederick Leyland & Co.” But he went on to criticise the Dundee Harbour Trust for “the want of energy they displayed in not coming forward to help the shipbuilders. He had, however, an idea that the Harbour Board were lying low, and that they would wake up some morning to find a scheme on foot which would put Dundee in a position to turn out good work as could be obtained in the Kingdom”. After further toasts and applause between Captain Fry and the shipbuilders, the Caledon’s chairman Mr P.S. Brown again warned that “There was, however, a lack of facilities for putting the engines and boilers on board. He hoped the day would come when they could undertake such an order” before W.B. Thompson finally toasted success to the Leyland Line and a Mr Roper toasted the ladies who christened and launched the Californian.11,27a
Just days after the launch and now moored at the Victoria Dock, the next step in completing the Californian was to install her boilers. The Lilybank Foundry, Dundee (also owned by the Caledon Shipyard), produced her boilers and all that was needed was to transport them from the Foundry, through the town and to the docks less than a mile away. This had begun the night before the launch when the Foundry “removed the sole plate of an engine weighing about 51 tons from the foundry to the ship's side”16. However, in doing this, it caused damage in the order of “£500 done to tramways… exclusive of damage done to other streets in the same way.”
At midnight of the 29th November, the Foundry began to move the starboard boiler to the docks (all the moves commencing at night to minimise obstructing traffic). However, the local magistrates, fearful of more damage from the two boilers which would weigh even more, issued a ban - a ban which started the ‘boiler incident’. (“The boiler was about 80 tons in weight, and with the bogie and traction engines made a total deadweight for the thoroughfare to bear of about 120 tons”.)
Damaging Dundee’s Streets Shipbuilding Company’s Responsibilities
“Pedestrians passing along Arbroath Road yesterday were struck by the appearance of a huge boiler on a bogie standing near the foot of Kemback Street. The Magistrates of the city were responsible for its presence there. As is already known, the Magistrates at their meeting on Thursday night adopted an order prohibiting locomotive traffic on that among other streets. Those mainly affected by it were the Caledon Shipbuilding and Engineering Company. The Company on Tuesday had the honour of launching the largest steamer ever built at the port and they have also constructed the huge machinery for her at their foundry at Lilybank, which is at least two miles from the Harbour. On Monday night and Tuesday morning the Company commenced to transport the machinery, and removed the sole plate of an engine weighing about 51 tons from the foundry to the ship's side. There still remained at the foundry two boilers, which weighed 85 tons each, and the bogies necessary for their removal weighed about 20 tons. Early yesterday morning the arduous task of removing one of the boilers was commenced. Some idea of its size may be obtained when it is stated that the boiler was too large to pass under the tramway wires, and the firm accordingly asked the tramway officials to raise the wires at the street crossings where the boiler had to pass.”
The Policeman Interferes
“The journey was commenced by way of Kemback Street, in which Lilybank Foundry is situated, and the operations were superintended by Mr W. B. Thompson himself. The party had not proceeded far when a policeman approached and handed Mr Thompson a copy of the Magistrates' order. Further progress, of course, was impossible. The huge boiler could not be taken back to the Foundry owing to the steep incline, and after some consultation it was decided to leave it in Kemback Street and await developments. Yesterday forenoon Mr Thompson and Mr Mackison, the burgh engineer, visited the scene of the block, and had a long consultation previous to the meeting of the Magistrates one o’clock.”
Meeting of Magistrates
“Over this meeting Lord Provost Hunter presided, and the others present were Bailies Stevenson, Doig. and Nicoll. At the request of the authorities there appeared at the meeting Mr W. B. Thompson, manager of the Caledon Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, and Mr J. P. Kyd, his law agent, along with Messrs Brown & Tawse and Mr Carmichael. The matter was very fully gone into by the Magistrates, and ultimately it was decided that the order should be suspended till 6th December, although it was decided that all claims against the Caledon for damage to the streets both regards the past and future should be reserved. An undertaking was given that in future heavy material would be manipulated so to avoid damage to the streets. An estimate has been made of the damage done to the streets as the result of the removal of the first part of the machinery. A very large number of stones have been crushed, and it calculated that that in all the damage will not be less than £650.”
The Passage Of The Boiler — Water Main Burst — Dead Halt In Arbroath Road
“Permission having been secured, the Caledon Company last night resolved to convey the boiler to its destination. A crowd numbering over a thousand, congregated early this morning in Arbroath Road for the purpose of witnessing what was undoubtedly to be a stupendous task. Four traction engines had been ordered, but unfortunately only two of these turned up. One of the engines was connected by a strong wire hawser to the boiler, the engines being joined by a thick rope. A start was made about half-past twelve. The boiler was safely swung round from Kemback Street into Arbroath Road. The strength of the brakes, coupled with the fact that there were only two engines working, brought the procession to a halt about fifteen yards from the foot of Kemback Street The traction engines could not move the bogey, and the city's traction road roller was sent for. The united power of the three engines had not the slightest effect. The boiler had stuck fast and sure. To make matters worse, the weight burst a five-inch water main, and the water flooded the street. The burst had the effect of softening the ground underneath, and gradually one of the rear wheels of the bogey sunk to the depth of about four inches. To make progress, heavy logs were placed at the rear of the engines, and strong chisels were driven into the street to keep the logs in position. Meantime efforts were being made by hydraulic jacks to raise the sunken wheel of the bogey, but little impression was made on it, and at two o'clock the boiler was still in the same position. To move the bogie seemed as impossible as to keep back the tide. Along the street sand had been sprinkled plentifully, and a cart from the electric station was in readiness to, if necessary, take down the trolley car wires. Mr W. B. Thompson was attendance superintending the arrangements, and there was a large staff of workmen on the ground.”17
The Progress Of The Boiler — Slow But Sure
“After about an hour and a half's work the efforts of the men were successful. The bogie had been raised sufficiently to allow of an plate to be placed below it, and the engines were enabled to start it again, the boiler being taken to the side of the street away from the small subsidence. On the steel hawser being taken off and the proper coupling connected, a new start was made. It was with some labour that the bogey was swung into the centre of the street, but once here progress was rapid. On reaching the junction of Arbroath Road and Albert Street the engine passed through safely below the electric wires, which were elevated by the men standing on the platform connected with the cart used for repairing the wire. Some excitement was felt on nearing Victoria Bridge, but those in charge feared no mishap, as yesterday forenoon the bridge had been examined by the City Engineer, who reported that the bogie and engine could pass over it without any danger. After the bridge had been crossed an additional traction engine was attached to the boiler to help to brake down the incline of Victoria Road. At three o'clock, so well was the pace maintained that the engine was well on its way to the Harbour, the only mishap having been the detention shortly after the start.”
“The boiler turned the short corner at Victoria Road and Meadowside successfully, two of the engines acting as brakes. When opposite Albert Institute18, however, the boiler stuck, and all the engines had to be detached and the process of raising the boiler by means of jacks had again to be begun. It was believed at that time, nearly 4 o'clock, that considerable difficulty would be experienced in restarting the ponderous vehicle.” - Dundee Courier, November 30th 1901, Page 5
Now stuck in the middle of the Town and leaving a trail of ripped up and scratched bricks and pavement in its wake, the starboard boiler began to attract a crowd:
Artist’s sketch of the starboard boiler on Kemback or Arbroath Street to the docks.
In it, the boiler’s size has been slightly exaggerated.
(Dundee Evening Post, November 29th 1901, Page 2)
Artist’s sketch of the starboard boiler stuck on Reform Street.
The boiler’s size has now been greatly exaggerated!
(Dundee Evening Telegraph, November 30th 1901, Page 5)
The Big Boilers — Extraordinary Scenes In Dundee — Struggle To The Docks
Sky-Scraping In Reform Street
“When the citizens came out of doors on Saturday morning an unusual spectacle existed at the top of Reform Street. There the first of the two boilers lay “stranded.” In consequence of insufficient power, it remained fast there, fortunately clear of the tramway rails, otherwise there would have been serious dislocation of traffic. Thousands of persons were attracted by the sight, and early there was a good deal of alarm by a report that the ground was subsiding beneath the bogey wheels. The boiler was within a few feet of the National Bank buildings, and the authorities had in view the possibility of its tilting over on this property, an event which would have meant disaster. To avoid this, appliances were introduced to negative the concentration of pressure. A barricade was erected to keep people back, and a staff of police officers were on the ground all day. Midnight had been fixed for the resumption of the work, and as the hour approached it was calculated that from 4000 to 5000 persons had assembled. Seldom indeed is Reform Street seen so crowded as it was in the early hours of Sunday morning. Some of the spectators were not even satisfied with ordinary standing room, but perched themselves on balconies and lorries to view the situation with greater vantage. All over the scene was a most animated and memorable one, and impressed one with the idea that the community's interest in fostering shipbuilding and increasing the present facilities was not merely a passing one. The arrival about midnight of traction engines on the spot indicated business, and before many minutes of Sunday morning had gone past there were fewer than five engines on the ground, and these were shunted into Meadowside for the purpose of having the heavy weight pulled in the first instance on to the centre of the street. Preliminary operations occupied nearly an hour. Plates were put in front of the bogey wheels, and a series of hawsers and chains were attached to the engines, which were marshalled in such a manner as to command the greatest amount of force upon the trolley and its weight. At a given signal a mighty strain was thrown upon the cables as the steam was applied simultaneously to the engines.”
A Lusty Cheer
“[A lusty cheer] emanated from thousands of throats as the boiler was moved a distance of a foot. A few minutes later another effort was more successful, and the trolley waggon lay longwise across the tramway rails. The engines were next introduced into Reform Street, and there was a deafening cheer as the head of the bogey was swung round, and immediately afterwards the boiler passed down Reform Street at a spanking pace. The spectacle was a memorable one, the boiler taking up a great part of the street, and reaching high into the air. The upper part was, indeed, only inches from the overhead electric wires. Indeed, these at some points were interfered with, and probably damage would have been occasioned but for the presence of staff from the Electrical Department, under Mr Tittensor. With the aid of long rods that pushed the electric wires upwards as the boiler passed along. In view of the large concentration of wires at the foot of Reform Street particular care had to be taken at that point, but there was much dexterity shown on the part of all concerned, with the result that, although momentary stoppage had to be made in order to admit the uncoupling of an engine, progress was most satisfactory and gratifying. At the corner of the Seagate the incline caused some trouble, but having an engine acting as “drag” this difficulty was also successfully met. The procession, for such it was, all the spectators following, continued its way down Commercial Street and along Dock Street, and the Harbour entrance being safely passed the 85-ton boiler was placed alongside the monster Leyland liner at two o’clock.” - Dundee Courier, December 2nd 1901, Page 5
After taking just over two days to travel two miles (a new route was used to defy the ban), the starboard boiler finally arrived beside the Californian with the port boiler following not far behind having begun to be moved later that Sunday.
A Memorable Sunday Scene - Passage Of The Second Boiler
“The removal of the second boiler was attended with greater success than the first. The engineers had profited by experience, and in two hours and a half from the time the ponderous procession started, the port boiler of the Californian was lying side by side with the starboard boiler opposite the 90-ton crane. The removal of the boilers was the subject of general comment all over the city, and the information that the second boiler was to be removed yesterday afternoon had sufficiently leaked out that a crowd numbering nearly five hundred persons assembled in the vicinity of Lilybank Foundry by two o’clock,19 the hour at which it was proposed to start. By 2.30 everything was in readiness for a start. There were five traction engines on the ground, but only four of these were requisitioned to take the boiler into Arbroath Road—two in front and two behind. Amidst great excitement, the bogey with its huge burden commenced the journey, the engines in the rear acting as a powerful brake. Kemback Street was safely negotiated, there being no policeman with a prohibitory notice in his hand to block the passage. The first halt occurred at the foot of the street, when the engines in the rear were detached and marshalled with the others in front. The Corporation's steam roller led the way, and at a given signal the journey was resumed. The approach of the boiler had been heralded all along the route, and the crowds increased to such an extent that there were that there were thousands of people lining Victoria Road.”
The First Hitch
“Breakers, however, were ahead. The traction engines had only dragged their freight some ten or a dozen yards when the bogey passed over a manhole grating, completely smashing it, of course, and bringing matters to a standstill. A big iron plate was brought up, and the gaping hole once more covered. Some difficulty was experienced in restarting the bogey; indeed, it seemed that the wheel had sunk slightly. For two minutes the engines tugged madly, snorting at their very loudest, and filling the air with volumes of smoke and and steam. The bogey refused to budge, and the hawser connecting a couple of the engines gave way under great strain. This difficulty was easily got over, and a connecting chain was immediately secured. All apprehension was relieved when the bogey was seen to be gradually moving, and when it got fully under [way] the spectators cheered heartily. From Arbroath Road the procession passed into Victoria Street, the crowds still increasing, and every window crowded with sightseers. The electric wires at the junction of Albert Street were raised to allow the boiler to pass, and along Victoria Street the engines dragged their burden of 110 tons at a rattling pace. The danger of passing over manhole gratings was being attended to, and one man walked in front warning the drivers of the presence of any. This difficulty was cleverly got over by the drivers, who piloted their engines clear of the dreaded manholes. When Victoria Road was reached, the leading engine was detached, the full power not being necessary. The next halt occurred at the entrance to Meadowside, just little beyond the foot of Hilltown.”
“The most difficult part of the journey had now been reached. One engine alone was thought necessary to take the boiler down this decline, but the power of the one engine was useless. To avoid any further changing, a big block of wood was wedged between the boiler and the leading engine in the rear, and the shoving-off process was successful. Progress at this stage was slow, and at the junction of Meadowside with Commercial Street matters reached climax. From that point to the top of Reform Street more than an hour was necessary to do the distance. This was explained by the fact that huge round iron plates had to be laid right along the car rails, and it was a case of covering a few yards at a time. The boiler, besides, was lying in a position pointing down Commercial Street, and it was a difficult operation to get it into the straight opposite the Albert Institute. Two engines, one the left hand side and the other in front on the right hand, successfully accomplished this, and the dreaded Reform Street corner was neared. Their previous experience had not been lost on the engineers. Three engines were in front at this stage, and they steamed ahead until the boiler occupied a position just in the centre of the street safely removed from the dreaded hollow on the left. The leading engines were detached, and were piloted into Reform Street, where they were again [connected]. The power of four engines was then directed to wheeling the bogey round the difficult angle, which accomplished the journey would be comparatively easy. Complete success attended the efforts of the officials; indeed, the ease with which the bogey was swung round favourably surprised everybody. Amid gathering darkness and the steaming and the snorting of the engines, the journey to the harbour was resumed.”
A Memorable Scene
“The electric lamps in the city streets had just been turned on, and, with the dense crowds in the streets and the crowded windows of the houses, the scene was decidedly picturesque. Matters proceeded with the utmost smoothness right down to the foot of Commercial Street, when the drivers of the engines, who certainly deserve great praise for the manner in which they conducted their part of the business, experienced some difficulty in keeping clear of the deep railway lines. Fortunately all trouble in this respect was averted, although a light mishap occurred which was not generally observed. One of the traction engines, which belongs to the Corporation, had been acting as a brake on the journey down Commercial Street, and at a point opposite Exchange Street it was uncoupled. The driver proceeded to follow up smartly with the object of getting in front of the trolley waggon to give assistance to the hauling operations. In view of the congested state of the streets, he had not much room in which to pilot his engine along, and just as he had entered Dock Street he collided with the boiler, and some slight damage was occasioned to his engine. Beyond this nothing untoward occurred, and just as and five o'clock was striking the memorable proceedings came to a close, and the bogey and boiler were safely piloted to a position on the quay opposite the Californian. The scene will long be remembered by those who witnessed it, and the story of the Californian boilers will live in Dundee shipbuilding history.” - Dundee Courier, December 2nd 1901, Page 5
By the end of December 2nd, both boilers were lifted and installed into the hull of the Californian, ending the incident. A month later, Mr W. Mackison summited a report to the Town’s Works Committee about the damage done and he said the following: “…a water main was broken in Arbroath Road and gas main pipe at the top of Reform Street, where the progress of the first boiler was stopped. During the removal of the first boiler from Reform Street and the second from Lilybank Foundry the Burgh Engineer was present, and made particular observations of the injurious effect of this traffic to the streets. Great damage was done to the paving and material, and a large number of the setts [paving stones] were crushed, fractured, or broken. Several manholes were broken, and had to replaced. The weight of the boilers on the streets was 1 1/4 ton per inch width of tyre, which was very excessive. This was particularly so on account of the nearness of the wheels of the bogey to each other and the smallness of their diameter.20 The fact that five traction engines were required was in itself conclusive evidence of the exceptional, extraordinary, and excessive character of the traffic in question. He estimated the damage tramways at about £631 18s, and to streets, £180 5s Water Commission damages, £1 6s 5d; and to Gas Commissioners, £16. The total damage outwith the tramways was £197 11s 5d, and the total damage within the tramway limits was £631 18s, making a total of £829 9s 5d .” This charge later made the Caledon Shipyard threaten to shut down and move elsewhere which reportedly put the jobs of between 1600 - 1700 men at risk.
Tuesday 26th November 1901
Between midnight and midday: Californian’s engine moved to docks.
Midday / Afternoon: Californian launched from Caledon Shipyard and moved to Victoria Dock next to 90- Ton Crane.
Thursday 28th November 1901
Evening: Local magistrates order ban prohibiting locomotive traffic among other streets to
Friday 29th November 1901
Saturday 30th November 1901
12:00 — 12:30AM: Work resumes on moving starboard boiler.
Sunday 1st December 1901
Midnight: Work resumes on moving starboard boilers.
Monday 2nd December 1901
Early Morning: Starboard boiler Lifted into Californian’s hull. Port boiler lifted sometime later that day.
After the boilers, outfitting continued on cabins and the decks and Californian was moved into the East Graving Dry Dock to have her masts fitted. Yet again, however, the size of the Californian caused yet another mini incident.
Another “Californian” Difficulty — Fitting The Masts — Telephone Wires Broken
The Dundee Harbour Trustees have received an excellent object lesson as to the capabilities of Dundee docks in the case of the monster steamer Californian. The vessel has taxed the facilities of the docks to their very utmost. Immediately after her launch the docking process was carried out under the greatest disadvantage. Next came the episode of the big boilers, and now today an incident was witnessed in connection to the fitting out of the vessel. The four masts of the Californian have now been placed on board, but owing to the great length of the vessel and the comparatively short distance between the crane and the entrance to the East Graving Dock much difficulty was experienced in fitting in the fore and main masts. The difficulty was got over opening the gate of the Graving Dock and moving the after part of the steamer into the dock until the fore part of the vessel was opposite the crane. A rather exciting incident took place as one of the spars of the masts was being hoisted on board the vessel. Owing to the great length and unwieldy nature of the spar it swung about while being lifted, and became entangled amongst the telephones which run alongside the road. Despite efforts of the men to get the spar clear, they did not do so until several of the wires had been broken.” Dundee Evening Post, December 10 1901, Page 4
Graph comparing the Californian (3rd from Right) to other ocean liners of the time.
This graph, however, doesn’t count the White Star Line’s Celtic which was the largest ship at the time of writing.
(“The Story Of The Steamship”, Dundee Courier, December 2nd 1901, Page 6.)
After winter and now 1902, the Californian was nearing completion and her sea trials were set, but again an accident with the 90-Ton Crane led to the trials being postponed:
Accident to 90-Ton Crane
“Owing to an accident which happened to the 90-ton crane at Dundee Harbour on Tuesday, the work of coaling the large steamer Californian was greatly retarded.21 A piece of the mechanism of the engine got out of order, and it was six o’clock yesterday morning before the damage was repaired. The trial trip of the Californian was arranged to take place, but as the stock of coals has not yet been placed on board, it will likely have to be postponed until Friday.” [Trials were actually postponed till Thursday 23rd January.] Dundee Courier, January 16th 1902, Page 3
By January 19th, the Californian was reported to be finished and opened to the public with large crowds assembling at the docks to see her and “several hundreds of people went on board and made an inspection of her.”
After being removed from the Camperdown Dock, with a further delay from a log preventing its removal,22 on the 23rd January the time came to test the Californian in the River Tay. By one report, she was “gaily bedecked in bunting.” Afterwards, the town’s newspapers posted their accounts of the trials:
Afloat With The Californian — Scenes And Incidents On The Trip — Remarkable Vessel
(Evening Post Special.)
“Large and majestic-looking, the Californian lay at anchor in the Tay. A bleak, unpromising sky and a thick and murky mist allowed of only a circumscribed vista, while, swept by a bitter south-westerly wind, white-crested waves lashed against the tall sides of the great vessel. It was the day of the trial trip of the Californian, a vessel already famous as the largest vessel sent from the Dundee stocks, and also as having been a factor in that historic event in modern Dundee life, known as the “Passing of the Big Boiler.” At Camperdown Jetty the tug Renown23 was moored. On the deck forward of the bridge a crowd of the “black squad” stood shivering in the cold, while aft an equally numerous company of waterproof garbed men were huddled together. Grim defiance was writ upon their visage. They, at all events, were determined to see the matter to the end. The last of the company having got aboard, the tug cast off her moorings, and was soon ploughing her way through the surging waters towards the leviathan Californian. As the paddle steamer ran alongside of the huge Leyland Liner the magnitude of the latter vessel’s proportions were brought forcibly home to the observer on the smaller craft. Towering high above were the great sides of the steamer, to get on board of which a gangway had to be requisitioned. The party24 was soon transferred to the steamer, and exploration of the vessel promptly entered upon. The Head of the Caledon Shipbuilding and Engineering Company and the officers of the steamer courteously showed the visitors round the steamer and explained its many mysteries.”
Exploring The Ship
“At every turn there was some item of interest. The accommodation for the ship’s company was inspected, and elected much praise. Then the rooms of the passengers under the scrutiny of the visitors, and these were also the subject of much commendation. The saloons, smoke rooms, chartrooms, master’s room &c., were in turn visited. One item with which the guests were much struck was the cooking galley. This a very large and spacious compartment, in which are a number of fires and oven, with all necessary accessories, and in which several cooks were busily engaged all day. The average British mind is easily fascinated by mechanics, and the engine-room of the Californian was the point which the attention on board the vessel was chiefly concentrated. Away down in the bowels of the ship was a great mass of wheels, cranks, rods, cylinders. The great engines are indeed a wonderful sight. The machines moved throughout the day with great satisfaction to the builder’s and owner’s representatives. The cranks of the shaft are huge masses, the three totalling about 25 tons. The connecting rods and the other apparatus are in like proportion. Situated in the engine-room is the dynamo by which the electric lighting of the ship is controlled. From the engine-room access is easy to the stokehole, and here are to be seen the massive boilers, over which the Town Council of Dundee were perplexed. The boilers appear, however, to have lost some appearance of their gigantic size, this being due to the equally large size of the ship.”
“Back on deck again, a visit was paid to the bridge. The steering done from this part of the vessel, and the ease with which the man at the wheel was able to turn the great rudder was the cause of some surprise to the uninitiated. Steam steering gear on the Wilson-Pirrie principle has been fitted on board by Messrs Hastie & Co., Greenock, and the machinery is situated in a special deckhouse erected in the stern. The slightest movement of the wheel on the bridge is answered by the machinery in the stern, and the rudder and gear, weighing many tons, is turned with great ease. As a precaution in the event of accidents to the machine, a two-wheel, hand-steering apparatus is fitted. An idea can be formed of the huge size of the rudder and its gear from the fact that when the steamer is going at full speed twelve men—six at each wheel—would only be able to move the rudder to something like ten degrees, whereas it should go over to an angle of forty-five degrees.”
“The Californian was now under steam, Captain Farrow being in charge on the bridge. Dundee was being left behind, and when near West Ferry the New York trader came abreast. The Californian sent the season’s greeting in the form of three great blasts from the whistle. The New York skipper replied with a “Same to You.” There was no mistaking the fact that the Californian was holding high holiday. This truth she demonstrated to the inhabitants of Broughty Ferry by a few selections on the “whistle.” The blasts were loud and long, and awoke the echoes as well as all those fishermen who were indulging in the luxury of “forty winks.” Running at fair speed, the Californian was soon past Broughty Castle, and headed out for the bar. On the way several Broughty fishing boats were encountered running for home. The steamer soon left them far behind, and presently came abreast of the Lightship . To all on board the 51 Californian sent her greetings in the orthodox nautical style, and back came the answer in a merry peal of bells. Southward-ho was the order, and the steamer skirted along the Fife coast. The breeze was still fresh, but the weather had cleared greatly, and all on board were thoroughly pleased with the outing. The turning-point was reached when off Crail, and the Californian was headed home25. All the way the vessel behaved splendidly, and gave promise of being a capital sea boat. The Tay was reached about four o'clock, and as a termination to the trip several rockets were sent up.” - Dundee Evening Post, January 24th 1902, Page 2
Another account by the Dundee Courier reads that after turning back to Dundee, the guests sat down for a luncheon in the Californian’s Saloon with catering provided by “Mr J. Rickard of the Royal British Hotel”. Afterwards began the toasts and honours.
Orders Lost To Dundee
“Thereafter Mr Barclay said he had a toast to propose which he felt certain they would all agree on that occasion was of the utmost importance. The toast was "Success to the Steamship Californian.” He did not think it would be egotistical for him to say that many of them had never been on a finer ship than they were on board that day. The Californian had been built for the well-known Leyland Line—a Company that was at present in a state of transition. They were not sure whether the line was British or American. Whatever nationality it might belong to, he was certain the nation that owned the line would find that in the Californian they had one of the best vessels that the line possessed. (Hear, hear.) The Californian was the largest vessel that had been built at Dundee or on the East Coast of Scotland. When the Caledon Company undertook to build the steamer they had to build her to her present dimensions, because he did not think they could build her any bigger. The Company were able to have built her fifty feet bigger and with greater beam, and he had great hope that before long they would be able to publish to the world that they were going to build a ship that would be fifty feet larger than the Californian, and from what he heard from Evans, the Leyland Line had such confidence in the work turned out by the Caledon Company that they would have no hesitation in placing the order for a vessel of the largest dimensions with them. The difficulty they had to face was that Dundee was not quite suited for the work. He did not know whether it was because of its geographical position or not.”
Hopes For The Future.
“He hoped that in the future, after the dunning and driving they had had at the Harbour Trustees, they would not be quite so callous as to see more work chased out of Dundee and sent to a river like the Tyne. They could build ships as good in Dundee as they could do on the Tyne. At the present day the tendency was to build large vessels, and unless the shipbuilders in Dundee could compete with other centres they were going to be left in the lurch. It gave him very great gratification to hear how pleased the owners were with the work turned out. The Caledonian, which was the biggest ship built on the Tay, until the Californian was launched, had proved an unqualified success. Her hull was almost without blemish, while her engines had no blemish in the least. He wished the Californian like success, and coupled the toast with the name of Mr Evans. The toast was honoured with much acclamation. Mr Evans, in responding, thanked the company for the great cordiality with which they had received the toast. He thanked them on behalf of Messrs Leyland & Co., Ltd., and also on behalf of Mr Pierpont Morgan.' ("Hear. Hear," and laughter.) He hoped the vessel would prove a success to the owners and also the builders. The one thing he regretted was that the did not have a figurehead of Mr Roper, who had been instrumental in bringing the Leyland Line and the Caledon Company together. (Laughter.) Mr Evans then gave the toast to "The Builders”. In replying. W. B. Thompson said hoped they would soon have another vessel of the same kind to build in Dundee.”
A Name Of Good Omen
“Replying to the toast of his health, proposed by Mr S. M. Low. the Hon. J. C. Higgins, American Consul, said he was greatly gratified in being present on that occasion. The Californian had been from the time her keel was laid a matter of very considerable interest, upon his part. He was glad the vessel had been named Californian, as he thought it was a name of good omen. California was a most remarkable State to this day, on account of its crops, whether cereal or fruit, and of its splendid climate, as well as its gold and oil fields. Another point was that if America was to come into serious competition with this country in shipbuilding—some of them might say long distant may that day be—it would come from California. Mr Barclay proposed the toast of the health of Mr William Morrison and Mr Robert Howie, Lloyd's Surveyor, and Mr Adam Watt, Board of Trade Surveyor. These gentlemen, he said, had been of the very greatest assistance in enabling the Caledon Company to turn out that creditable vessel, and the company saw that day the result of their efforts. They did [not] pay much attention to the inner or artistic arrangements, but to what was far more important, namely, the plates, rivets. &c. Every rivet in [the] vessel had been tested, and he did not think there was a single spot in the ship that their fingers had not been on. Mr William Morrison replied on behalf of his colleagues, stating that, so far as Mr Howie and himself were concerned, they had as Surveyors to Lloyd's Register—which only recognised one class of workmanship, and that was the best—merely done their duty. Any suggestions made by them had always been attended to, and concluded the hope that the Caledon Company would secure many more orders from the Leyland Line. Mr Roper proposed the health of Captain Jaffer, the commander of the Californian,26 and the toast of the "Visitors," proposed by Mr Tawse, was replied to by Captain Yule. The Californian arrived in the Tay, and dropped anchor off the Stannergate, shortly after four o'clock. The party were taken ashore by the Renown, all thoroughly pleased with the trip.” - Dundee’s Shipbuilding Record. Question Of Improved Facilities. Will Harbour Trustees Move? Trial Trip Of Californian, Dundee Courier, January 24th 1902, Page 5.
The next day — on the 24th, while docked at the Eastern Wharf —the Californian was again opened for public inspection between 2 - 6 PM with a charge of sixpence made with all the proceeds been given to the Royal Infirmary Dundee.54,55 Now, with everything done, on the 30th January Californian bade farewell27 and left her city of birth commencing her maiden voyage to New Orleans. Nearly a month later, Dundee received a final report of how her maiden voyage had gone:
“The Dundee-built steamer Californian has completed her maiden voyage. The vessel left Dundee 30th January and arrived at her destination—New Orleans—on 20th February, having thus been 22 days on the passage. The Californian, it is understood, behaved splendidly on the trip, and proved herself to be a fine sea boat.” Dundee Courier, February 22nd 1902, page 5
While, amongst maritime historians, the Californian might be forever associated with the sinking of the Titanic, her connection to the city of Dundee and impact otherwise should never be forgotten. Caledon-built ships were well known for their longevity and, for the next 14 years, Californian sailed between Europe and America carrying various cargoes and passengers back and forth — though not without incident (see separate Appendix: Summary of the Californian’s Career 1902-1915).
During the First World War, on November 9th 1915 while in use as a troopship, the Californian was torpedoed by U-34 and shortly after sunk by U-35. To this day, her wreck28 lies off the coast of Cape Matapan, Greece at 36.23N., 22.29E.
Coincidentally, the wreck of the Titanic’s sister ship HMHS Britannic (mined in use as a hospital ship) lies nearby. Meanwhile, also in the Aegean and in the vicinity of Cape Matapan, the ruins of a temple built to honour the Greek Titan Poseidon and other gods can be found looking out to sea where the Californian sank. Therefore, even in death, the two are forever linked.
Dundee-Built Steamer Sent To Bottom
“Lloyd’s report that the British steamers Californian and Moorina have been sunk. The Californian was a four-masted steel screw steamer of 6223 tons, built in 1902 by the Caledon Shipbuilding and Engineering Co., Ltd., Dundee. She was owned by F. Leyland & Co., of Liverpool.” Dundee Courier, November 11th 1915, Page 3
Appendix 1: Summary of the Californian’s Career 1902-1915
Appendix 2: Author's Acknowledgements and Bibliography