Albert Edward, Hercules, Vulcan, Ajax, Hector Neptune
Registered 10 September 1861, the Southampton, Isle of Wight and South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Limited Company was known during its early years as The Isle of Wight Company. The new company was formed from two exiting firms: The Isle of Wight Steam Packet Company, with offices at Southampton, and the Isle of Wight Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, based at Cowes, Isle of Wight.
The combined resources of the new company consisted of seven paddle steamers of between 64 and 104 gross tons that plied the passenger and freight-carrying route between Southampton and the Isle of Wight. Perhaps because of its somewhat unwieldy name, the company became eventually known as the Red Funnel Line, a name it still holds today.
Four of the companys vessels were named: Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald and Pearl. Their names were incorporated in the colors of the companys house flag formed by four triangles colored blue, red, green and white, respectively.
Eventually the lines services expanded to include excursion routes between Southampton and ports along the English Channel from Brighton to Dartmouth. There was at one time, a twice-weekly round trip across the channel to Cherbourg, France. There was a tug and towage operation. The company provided tender services for passengers and luggage to and from vessels anchored off Cowes or Ryde on the Isle of Wight.
Around 1886 the company acquired the Southampton Steam Towing Company and with it, three vessels which worked routes and provided tug and towage services. To these were soon added (up to 1910), Albert Edward (1886), Hercules (1889), Vulcan (1893), Ajax (1894), Hector (1903) and Neptune (1910). To this day the Southampton Isle of Wight and South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Limited Company operates out of its Southampton office the services begun more than 140 years ago. Historically and currently its fleet list is both enviable and impressive.
But it is the six vessels from its fleet we now consider-six tugs which assisted Titanic when she departed Southampton on her maiden voyage 10 April 1912, two of which helped the departing liner avert an emergency that might have well caused cancellation of the sailing date and the start of her maiden voyage.
- Port of Registry: Southampton
- Flag of Registry: British
- Funnel: Red with black top
- Company flag: Divided by crossed lines into four equal triangles: Blue at hoist, white top, green at fly, red at bottom
- Signal letters: H J C M Iron hull, one funnel, two screws, one deck, sloop rig
- Engines: Compound, 4 cyc. 17 32 x 24 stroke, 1100 h.p.
- Tonnages: Gross 160 Underdeck 149 Net 100
- Dimensions: Length 120 ft. Width 20.1 ft. Depth 9.6 ft.
1886 5 June launched
1898 New boilers
1899 Worked war cargo at the French ports of St. Nazaire, later LeHavre
1900 Returned to company service
1901 Chartered to Sark Motor Ships, Ltd. Used for Channel Island transport and excursions
1934 Renamed Joy Bell III
1938 Sold to Sark Island Motor Ships, Ltd.
1940 Escaped when Germans occupied Channel Islands. Returned to Southampton, taken over by Admiralty and used as barrage balloon tender.
1944 Converted to a mooring and salvage vessel for the Ministry of Transport
1947 Renamed Rafmoor, re- registered and transferred to Air Ministry
1952 June, Transferred to Weymouth for permanent basing
1961 Jan Broken up at Grimsby
© 2005 John P. Eaton all rights reserved.
This item first appeared in Voyage, Journal of the Titanic International Society.