Home » Dock Life » The Dirty British Coaster – The Story of the SS Robin

The Dirty British Coaster – The Story of the SS Robin

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The Dirty British Coaster was  immortalised in John Masefield’s poem ” Cargoes .”

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

The British coastal cargo steamships were the workhorses of the Merchant fleet in the late 19th, early 20th Century around the ports of Britain and Northern Europe. However by the 1960s they had all disappeared.

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Well nearly all ,and that brings us to the story of the SS Robin, a story that takes us as far away as Spain but has many connections to the Isle of Dogs.

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SS  Robin  1890s

SS Robin is a traditional raised quarterdeck coastal cargo steamer built at the famous Thames Ironworks, in Orchard House Yard on the eastern tip of Isle of Dogs and launched in 1890.

She was built to high standards regarding materials and workmanship with her hull fitted out in East India Dock. From there she was taken to Dundee to have her boiler and engines fitted. After trails she was taken to Liverpool to begin her career as a coastal steamer in 1890.

For the next ten years she plied her trade around the ports of Britain and occasionally some of the continental ports carrying the heavy cargoes such as coal, steel and china clay for which the steamers became famous for.

However in 1900, she was sold to a Spanish owner who renamed her Maria and spent the next 70 odd years going up and down the North Atlantic coast, she survived Two World Wars , once getting an escort from the French Navy to protect her from U Boat attacks.

But then at the end of a hard working life and due to be scrapped, there was another twist of fate she was recognised by the Maritime  Trust as a one of a kind and in 1974 was purchased and travelled back to Britain under her own steam.SS_Robin_2005

In West India Dock 2005

From 1974 she was given her original name back and moored in St Katherine’s Dock and her restoration began. In 1991 she moved to West India Quay where between 2003-2007 she was used as a Education Centre and Gallery. When she moved into West india Quay she was barely a mile away from where she was built in Orchard Place therefore she really was coming home.

However more structural restoration was needed, so in 2008 she went back to the coast this time to Lowestoft to prepare for her latest reincarnation as a floating museum in the Royal Docks.

In 2011 she returned to the Royal Docks still only a  mile away from where she was built to prepare to be finally  unveiled to the public in  2014.

She may still be a Dirty British Coaster of John Masefield’s poem but now she is in elite company.

She’s part of the National Historic Fleet and one of only three ‘Core Collection’ (Grade 1) vessels in the capital. The other two ships are the Cutty Sark and HMS Belfast.

And next week she will have a Royal Visitor when The Duke of Edinburgh will visit the ship on June 5th.

The Duke was an important part of the campaign to save her forty years ago and will unveil a plaque to inaugurate the Ships new permanent home.

To find out more about the SS Robin press here

Other Posts you may find interesting.

Water City – The SS Robin Heritage Mural

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