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The Tall Ship Pamir in Shadwell Basin – 1948


One of the joys of living near the Thames is that you occasionally see some of the wonderful tall ships going up and down the river, local writer Alfred Gardner who has lived in the Docklands area all his life remembers the tall ships were a much more common sight and especially recalls the visit of the tall ship Pamir in 1948. Although Alfred was only seven at the time, the visit was considered quite a big event and luckily Pathe News made a couple of films about the visit.


The Pamir had an unusual and chequered history, the ship was built by Blohm & Voss shipyards in Hamburg and launched in 1905. The Pamir was a four-masted barque and  one of the famous Flying P-Liner sailing ships of the German shipping company F. Laeisz. She had an overall length of 114.5 m (375 ft), a beam of about 14 m (46 ft) and a draught of 7.25 m (23.5 ft).

This ship was used by the Laeisz company for the South American nitrate trade, however during World War I she stayed in Santa Cruz de la Palma port in the Canary Islands from 1914 until 1920 when she returned to Hamburg. The homecoming was short-lived because she was handed over to Italy as part of the war reparation, the Italians did not have a skilled sailing ship crew to make us of her, so she was laid up in the Gulf of Naples. In 1924 the F. Laeisz Company bought her back for £7,000 and put her into service in the nitrate trade again. Laeisz then sold her in 1931 to the Finnish shipping company of Gustaf Erikson, which used her in the Australian wheat trade, she often took part in the Grain races for Australia to Europe.
Remarkably, during World War II Pamir was seized as a prize of war by the New Zealand government in 1941 while in port at Wellington.  She then undertook a number of voyages under the New Zealand flag, one of the last was the trip to London via Cape Horn in 1948.


By this time, the Pamir was one of the largest and most famous sailing ships afloat, she docked in Shadwell Basin and attracted a lot of media interest especially with the visit to the ship by Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. A newspaper report gives the bare facts.

LONDON, Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip yesterday visited the sailing ship Pamir, which arrived recently from New Zealand.
Princess Elizabeth told the Pamir officers that she and Prince Philip hope to visit New Zealand. The Royal couple toured the ship, watched the sails being rigged, and had tea with the commander of the Pamir, Captain Collier, his wife, and the ship’s officers.


Pathe News made a short film of the visit that can be seen here, another film which is silent takes more of a look around the ship and showing the ship departing can be seen here.


Although held in high regard by the New Zealanders who sailed in her, later in 1948 she was returned to the Erikson Line who proceeded to send the ship to Australia to load grain to take part in grain race to England. On her 128-day journey to Falmouth she was the last windjammer carrying a commercial load around Cape Horn in 1949. By the 1950s, the ship was considered economically unviable and was sold to Belgian shipbreakers in 1951. It looked like the end for the ship, but a German shipowner who had a great attachment to the ship bought her and had her refitted to accommodate merchant marine trainees who would help to crew the ship on voyages taking various cargoes to South America. In the post war Germany, the ship became a source of national pride and was recognised all over the world.


For all the Pamir’s remarkable history, it was the events on its last voyage in 1957 that would make headline news all around the world. On the 10 August 1957, the Pamir left Buenos Aires for Hamburg with a crew of 86, including 52 cadets carrying a cargo of grain. On the 21st September, she was caught in Hurricane Carrie and began to list to one side which prevented the deployment of most of the lifeboats. Of the 86 crew only six survived, the sinking was considered a national tragedy in Germany and many books were written and a film have been made about the  disaster. There is a plaque in Wellington that celebrates the ship’s New Zealand connections

The visit inspired a watercolour by Richard Howard Penton (1882 -1960) who was a founder member of the Wapping Group of artists  This watercolour dated about 1949 shows the Pamir leaving London.