Original QUEEN MARY To Be Auctioned

The QUEEN MARY as seen laid up at Tilbury in 2011. Photo by Kenneth Whyte.

Original Queen Mary (Clyde Steamer) To Be Auctioned


 Shawn J. Dake

The T.S. (Turbine Steamer) QUEEN MARY, one of the most remarkable excursion steamers ever constructed and one of the last of the great River Clyde ships still in existence will be sold at auction on August 24, 2011. She is currently berthed at the Tilbury Docks in London. Plans to have the ship moved to La Rochelle in France as a floating attraction have fallen through. From 1988 until 2009 the QUEEN MARY served as a restaurant, pub/nightclub and site for social functions on the Embankment next to the Waterloo Bridge, along the River Thames in London.

The original QUEEN MARY was constructed in 1933 by William Denny & Brothers shipyards of Dumbarton, Scotland, as yard number 1262. From the outset, the ship was designed strictly as a pleasure steamer with no provision for ferrying cars. She was intended to be the flagship of Williamson-Buchanan Steamers, Ltd., a nautical consort to their earlier KING GEORGE V. The ship is 263.4 feet in length with a beam of 37 feet. The QUEEN MARY was powered by three direct-drive steam turbines turning her triple screws to produce a cruising speed of 19.7 knots with 3,800 S.H.P. Those turbines have since been removed with at least two still in existence.

The QUEEN MARY as originally constructed, seen on the River Clyde in 1933. Contemporary postcard view.

Other than being a grand steamer in her own right, the most notable event that sealed the ship’s place in history occurred in 1935. The director of Cunard White Star Line, Sir Percy Bates contacted E.W. MacFarlane of Williamson-Buchanan to request a name change on their newest steamer, then barely two years old. Cunard wanted to use the same name for their newest liner, Number 534, launched the previous fall from John Brown’s Shipyard at Clydebank. On April 10, 1935, upon application to the British ship registry, the name of the smaller steamer was officially changed to QUEEN MARY II. She retained that name until May, 1976, when the Roman numerals were finally dropped, years after the retirement of the giant Cunarder when the name was finally removed from the register. The first QUEEN MARY regained her original name.

A lovely stern view of the QUEEN MARY leaving Gourock, Scotland in 1968. Photo by Ian Stewart

In 1943, the QUEEN MARY II was fully purchased by the Caledonian Steam Packet Company who had gained a part interest in her operators in 1935. That company itself merged with David MacBrayne, Ltd. in 1973 to form the new Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd., which controlled virtually all public transportation in Western Scotland. The QUEEN MARY was originally designed as a two-class ship but in 1950 all Clyde steamers became one-class. This reduced her complement from 2,086 passengers to 1,820. During the winter of 1956-57 the ship went into the yards of Barclay, Curle and Company for a major refit. The two original funnels were replaced by a single large, modern one. Instead of burning coal, the ship was given an oil burning Yarrow water-tube boiler. Despite changing times, the ship would sail on for two more decades until being withdrawn from service on September 12, 1977. During that final season on the Clyde, she sailed opposite the venerable paddle-wheel steamer WAVERLEY. As happens with so many retired ships, for the next 10 years, the QUEEN MARY struggled to find a stationary role after plans to develop her as a maritime museum at Glasgow fell apart amid government budget cuts. Finally in 1987 the ship was refurbished for her new role as the aforementioned restaurant and pub in London. Work included the restoration of replicas of her original twin funnels. In 2009 she was sold to a private individual, Mr. Samuel Boudon who planned to use her as a floating hotel in France. With nothing further developing on that front Capitol Marine Auctions.com were asked to sell her as is, during an on-line auction, August 24th.

Gordon Stewart who hosts a website about the ship for The Clyde Turbine Steamer Foundation, hopes that the ship will be purchased by someone interested in preserving her for future generations. He and others would ideally like to see the ship returned to the Clyde. However, in one printed report the public relations manager for Glasgow Life is quoted as saying “We do not have the expertise, resources or capacity to host the QUEEN MARY steamer and, as such, have no plans to purchase her.” Mr. Stewart counters with

The QUEEN MARY at Tighnabruaich, Scotland on June 13, 1977. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.

Queen Mary has a hugely important, though largely unrecognized place in world marine engineering history as well as Clydeside social history. She could be purchased relatively cheaply by willing enthusiasts if she could be vested in Glasgow ’s museum collection for safe-keeping. Her large saloons are ideal to allow an improved portrayal of the history of Clyde shipping and shipbuilding than is currently possible – and in a magnificent setting. She was a successful restaurant and function suite in London and could be so again, should a private entrepreneur come forward. Either way, it is probably the last chance for the city to get this beautiful and historically important ship back where she belongs and she is at severe risk of being lost for good.

The QUEEN MARY in her stationary role in London at dusk on January 10, 2004. Photo by Shawn J. Dake.

The price guide from the auction site lists the value at 150,000 to 200,000 (GBP) pounds. Should an American be interested in purchasing the 1,014 gross ton steamer, realistically it could be obtained for less than $300,000 USD; the cost of a median priced home in California. Hopefully, someone with a philanthropic, preservationist philosophy will come forward to save this classic steamer from being another casualty in a world that cares too little for valuable maritime preservation.

Thanks to Gordon Stewart.


QUEEN MARY under Waterloo Bridge, London. Photo Andrew Mackinnon October 10, 2006
QUEEN MARY Auction notice, from ApolloDuck.com

Courtesy ApolloDuck.com


Shawn Dake

Shawn Dake

Shawn J. Dake, freelance travel writer and regular contributor to MaritimeMatters, worked in tourism and cruise industry for over 35 years.  A native of Southern California, his first job was as a tour guide aboard the Queen Mary.  A frequent lecturer on ship-related topics he has appeared on TV programs.  Owner of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel agency, he served as President of the local Chapter of Steamship Historical Society of America.  With a love of the sea, he is a veteran of 115 cruises.
Shawn Dake

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