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Monthly Archives: December 2018

West India Dock Visitors Review 2018

It is that time of the year when people begin to review the past 12 months, carrying on the tradition from previous years, we are listing the ships that have visited West India Docks in the last year.

The development surrounding West India Dock and Canary Wharf seems to have had a considerable effect on the numbers visiting the dock. It has been a very quiet year for visitors in the dock, however we did welcome an interesting mix of ships and boats.

Some old Tall Ships favourites returned with Lord Nelson and Tenacious, other tall ships included Atyla and Marienborgh. We also had the Tall Ships Youth Trust Challenger Fleet on a visit.

Superyachts included the WindQuest Catamaran, Reef Chief, Forever One and the Lady A.

French Navy ships included Lynx, Guépard, Léopard, Panthère and Lion.

The Marienborgh yacht seems to be permanently in the dock and Tenacious has been berthed for several weeks.

The Massey Shaw, The Portwey and the Lord Amory which are permanently moored in the dock provide year round interest.

With all the development, it is unlikely that in the foreseeable future that numbers visiting will pick up quickly but we will keeping our eye on the many different ships that circle around the Isle of Dogs.

This year we spotted Superyacht Elandess, BNS Crocus, cruise liners Viking Star and MV Ocean Majesty.

May we wish all our readers a Happy New Year and we look forward to welcoming new visitors to the dock in the New Year.

Saving Jack – The Story of the Queen Victoria Seamen’s Rest in Poplar

Long time contributor Eric Pemberton has bought to my attention a new book that tells the remarkable story of the Queen Victoria Seamen’s Rest in East India Dock Road in Poplar. The book entitled ‘Saving Jack’ tells the story of the first 175 years of the Queen Victoria Seamen’s Rest (QVSR) and is written by David Hurrell and Alexander Campbell.

Seamen’s missions were institutions that were organised in the 19th Century to cope with the large number of seaman arriving in the London Docks. They were often part of the outreach work of various Churches who tried to provide support to sailors all around the world.

Whilst almost all the Missions founded for Seamen in London have disappeared , one institution still survives and retains its original function after more than a century. This is the Queen Victoria Seamen’s Rest (QVSR) which started life as the Wesleyan Seamen’s Mission of the Methodist Church in 1843.

The Methodists had also supported the work of the British and Foreign Sailors Society, however in 1890s they decided they needed to expand their services and build their own mission the Queen Victoria Seamans Rest in Jeremiah Street in Poplar.

As well as providing accommodation it also provided educational and recreational facilities. Remarkably it still provides accommodation and other facilities for seamen, other forces personnel and homeless people in need.

Eric sent a few of his postcards that feature the Queen Victoria Seamen’s Rest (QVSR) some time ago and feature some of the many facilities available to the residents.

If you would like to find out more about this little known part of Docklands history, you can buy a copy of ‘Saving Jack’ which has been published in a limited edition of 1,750.

To purchase a copy for only £9.99, you can get directly from the mission or visit their website here for further details

The address is

Queen Victoria Seaman’s Rest
121-131 East India Dock Road
London E14 6DF


A Flying Visit to Antarctica by Coral Rutterford

Photo – Joe Mastroianni, National Science Foundation – From Antarctic Photo Library

After last week’s post about the Terra Nova and Captain Scott’s expedition, I was contacted by regular contributor Coral Rutterford who I was fortunate to meet last year when I visited Coral’s hometown Auckland. Coral has lived in New Zealand since the 1960s, however her early life was spent in Poplar and Shadwell.

Captain Scott and the Terra Nova visited New Zealand before moving onto Antarctica, in the decades after the failed Scott expedition, very few people other than scientists and explorers visited the icy wastes of Antarctica.

Remarkably, Coral in the late 1970s had a rare opportunity to fly over Antarctica with one of the most famous mountaineers in the world. Coral takes up the story which begins with a strange request from her husband.

In 1979 my husband asked me to withdraw NZ$380 ​about 190 pounds from the bank and told me to not ask why he needed it, a strange request, but I did as he requested and over time I had forgotten about it.

Then later, on November 13th. after arriving home from work he said we are going out for a meal tonight, this was unexpected and off we went to an Auckland city hotel. After the meal he gave me an envelope and said “open it”, it was an Air New Zealand ticket, with my eyes watering I couldn’t read it properly. It was a ticket to go on a flight over Antarctic on the following morning November 14. I had often said I would love to do that, it was only in November when weather conditions allowed. Four flights were planned over the month.

Sir Edmund Hillary – 1970s

I then attended a pre flight briefing at the hotel presented by Sir Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander who was the first man to climb to the summit of Mt Everest with Tenzing Norgay. Sir Edmund spent a lot of time in Antarctica and gave a presentation and commentary on what to expect to see and saw film of him on the ice driving Ferguson tractors etc.

Air New Zealand McDonnell Douglas DC-10 1977

My husband drove me over to Auckland International Airport next morning Nov 14th where I boarded flight 901 on an Air New Zealand DC10. There was some 275 or so passengers including a group of Japanese visitors. One lady in their group had a birthday and a cake was produced and we all had a piece and sang “Happy Birthday to you” I doubt she understood a word but she bowed and put her hands together as a thank you gesture.

We flew over the South Island and Stewart Island of New Zealand and on towards the ice. As we flew on we encountered a lot of cloud and were told to expect this and indeed when arriving at NZ/Scott Base and U.S/McMurdo Base the cloud may well be there too and not see anything, what a disappointment that would be but we hoped all will be good. A champagne breakfast was served, a nice way to start the day. Hopefully other good things would present themselves.

Scott base – Photograph by Andrew Mandemaker

As we arrived over the ice the cloud disappeared and the sun shone. What a breath-taking sight to behold. As we flew over Scott Base we saw the flight ground path for the Starlifter, a giant plane that delivers personnel and equipment and other supplies to both the NZ and McMurdo base which has USA personnel. A huge X-shaped polished area on the ice was clearly seen, the cross formation is to accommodate plane take off and landings based on the wind patterns of the day.

Starlifter and penguins by SMSgt Bob Pederson – Wikipedia

Ahead of us was Mt Erebus, at 13,200 ft high, covered in snow, the sun glistening and a white plume of steam escaping at its top. What a beautiful sight, we flew lower and saw the volcano closely. We had a closer look at the two sites of Scott Base and Mc Murdo. All supplies to these bases are flown out of Christchurch in our South Island.

Mt Erebus, Antarctica

Delicious lunch was served as we approached and the desert was a meringue with a juice spilling from its top to resemble the active volcano. and was called Peach Erebus. We flew around this area for just over a half hour and we were advised of the times and points of interest as the flight progressed. At this point we made our return flight back to Auckland, ending our 13 hour adventure.

The Ross Sea, Antarctica. Photograph 3 News, New Zealand

How could we not forget the sheer beauty of this ice and snow-covered wilderness. The Ross Sea with chunks of ice floating in the water looking like soap flakes from above but would be so much bigger in close up view with aquamarine coloured ice walls beside it.

As we flew over the tall ice mountains we noticed these towering walls were deep mauve or green with craters of water on their tops of mauve, turquoise and green that looked like jewels in a ring setting.

Some have remarked why go there just to see snow, it is surprising just how much colour there is. It was a happy flight. We were allowed to leave our seats and look out of windows all around the cabin, Sir Edmund posed with passengers for photo shoots. He was such a big friendly man and a great sense of humour. He quite happily posed with passengers as cameras clicked.

How much I enjoyed my surprise gift of this flight. There were 4 flights planned during the month of November, one a week and I was on week 2. November 14 1979.

The following week 3, the flight of the month took place and had as its commentator and a mountaineer and close friend of Sir Edmund was Peter Mulgrew. That evening as we watched television, breaking news of the worst kind interrupted the programme to announce that flight was missing and no contact had been made.

Initially Peter Mulgrew was to be on flight 2 and would have been our commentator but was unable to be available that day and he swapped places with Edmund Hillary who was booked on flight 3. Most fortunate for Edmund but so deadly unfortunate for Peter.

Flight 3 as it arrived over the area, in thick cloud cover, had smashed into Mt Erebus, all lives were lost. The pilot Capt. Simpson on my flight had noticed the co-ordinates were incorrect and had the mountain location directly in front of the planes path. This was reported to the authorities but the co-ordinates were never corrected for the next flight. Pilot error was decided the cause but years later he was exonerated. No further flights from New Zealand have been made.

I am sure when Coral was growing up in the backstreets of Poplar and Shadwell, she would not have believed that she would see Antarctica with Edmund Hillary but life often sends us on adventures. Although Coral left these shores many years ago she remains fascinated by the ever-changing landscape of her birthplace and we thank her for her contributions.

Captain Scott’s Terra Nova in West India Dock 1910

Over the last few years, an amazing array of ships have passed through West India Docks. However it is worth remembering that when the docks was in full use, literally thousands of ships would use the docks. I have recently come across a news paper report from 1910 that illustrates that some of the great British voyages and adventures began from West India and East India Docks, Limehouse and Blackwall.

In the early part of the 20th century, the race to the South Pole was one of the great expeditions to undertake and their was plenty of confidence that the expedition led by Captain Scott would be successful. This confidence is shown by the reporter who goes to West India Dock to look over the expedition ship ‘Terra Nova’ and speaks to Scott and his crew.

The preparations for the South, Polar Expedition are going forward, and the following graphic account is given by ‘The Daily Chronicle’

‘Ware open hatchways!’

The cry might have been heard ringing out every other moment from a stout, square-rigged wooden barque of some 760 tons that lay in West India Dock. Outwardly there was little t0 distinguish this particular boat from others of its class ranged along the opposite quay. But on closer view one noticed signs of special activity.

Besides the men that were working lustily the blazing sun, swinging stores and pig-iron ballast into the thick-ribbed hold, one saw strange figures in top hats and frock coats, and others in elegant mourning gowns being escorted over piles of rope, oil barrels, casks, crates, half-sawn -beams, and newly-painted ladders, by guides whose white caps and gold-braided jackets betokened them undoubted officers of His Majesty’s senior service.

The secret of it all was soon solved by the Inscription on the bow, boats and belts— ‘Terra Nova R.Y.S.” For this plain and unassuming craft is, indeed, the very one in which Capt R. F. Scott and his gallant comrades are going to make yet another effort to capture for England the honour of being first at the South Pole.

She sails under the command of Lieutenant Evans— Captain Scott himself going on later by liner and joining the ship at New Zealand and something like seventy tons of provisions will have been got aboard. She will first go to Portsmouth to take in the scientific Instruments, then, onto Cardiff for coaling purposes, and then southward ho!

Accordingly, what with the loading of the stores, with reception of a constant stream of visitors, distinguished and otherwise, and the fixing up of all sorts of alterations that this latest raid of the Antarctic calls for, the Terra Nova was a scene of mingled, cheery activity, of hammering, and shouting that may, perhaps be remembered through many a silent vigil in the Polar solitudes.

With it all Captain Scott himself, who flitted in and out quite informally in a simple lounge suit and straw hat and Captain Evans and the other officers, welcomed everybody who had the remotest right to be there, and guided each round the tough little craft, which is to be their home for so many weary months, with unfailing patience, and courtesy.

Nothing, indeed, could be farther from the truth than any notion that the polar explorer must be necessarily a ‘rough customer,’ shaggy, gigantic, and unsociable, These officers of the Terra Nova, who are going to do things that have baffled the buccaneers and desperadoes of the centuries are neat, dapper, quick-witted young officers, boyish and keen and gentlemen to the core. They are without exception light and ‘wiry in physique— the very antithesis of the John Bull type. They are, in fact, picked men of a new and fine English breed. Behind their cheery modesty there is a determination that is not of cast-iron but of steel.

Shown round by Captain Scott. and Lieutenant Evans, ‘The Daily ‘Chronicle’ representative inspected every corner of the good ship from the tiny laboratories that had been specially built, to the cosy forecastle and the mighty beams beneath which the crew’s hammocks will swing.

Although It is twenty-five years old, the Terra Nova is, Captain Scott explained, in perfect condition. It has already proved its soundness in several voyages, both north and south. It flew the American flag at Franz Josef Land. It was relief ship to the Discovery, itself, which curiously enough now in the service of the Hudson Bay Company is lying in the very same dock.

As for the stores, their variety was bewildering. A specially interesting shipment was case upon case of lubricating oil for the motor-sleighs that are to play so important a part in the actual dash for the Pole. The pemmican and cocoa that are to be the staple food of the shore-party had been already stored away as they would be wanted last.

But as there are to be no less than three different expeditions to ‘cater for as’ soon as the ship touches the ice barrier the needs are infinite. One saw at least twenty crates of biscuits being heaved into the hold, huge stacks of boxes of sardines, a great stand by on account of the oil, casks of beer and crate after crate of mineral waters, dried vegetables of all kinds, beetroots, brussels sprouts, artichokes, broad beans, spinach, French beans, petis pois extra fine, asparagus, cauliflowers, ‘celery au jus, young carrots, cabbage, cheeses, pickles, soups, marmalade, lard, tinned fruits galore, tobacco and cigars, Christmas puddings—the list would have no end.

As it happened, the very last package to be taken aboard when the sheds closed was a large gramophone. By its means doubtless, many an Antarctic night will be charmed away with the songs of the old country, the silence of the ice-floe broken with Recollections of Harry Lauder or a Tetrazzini record.

Terra Nova in the Antarctic

Unfortunately, although Scott and four companions reached the South Pole in 1912, they discovered that Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, had got there first. The expedition group never made it back to safety being overcome by frostbite, starvation or exposure.

If you would like to see some of the relics from Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic expedition (1910 – 1913) they are on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich in their Polar Worlds gallery. They include Captain Scott’s overshoes, Captain Scott’s sledging goggles and Captain Scott’s book bag in which he kept his famous diary.