Previous Name:                           DUNOTTAR CASTLE

Subsequent name:

Official Number:                           98152

Class:                                        Accommodation Ship                          

Pennant No:                                M79                

Laid down:
Builder:                                       Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co, Govan           
Launched:                                   22 May 1890                   

Into Service:                               June 1915
Out of service:                             27 September 1915
Fate:                                          Foundered             


Items of historic interest involving this ship: -


Background Data:  Some official lists, marked as  “Lists of RFA’s” show vessels which spent some time as RFA’s during the First World War. These records are extremely sketchy and some of these vessels were “Yard Craft”, partially or wholly Dockyard manned, partly by RNR or Reserve Fleet personnel. Some of the Depot Ships staffed by skilled civilian Dockyard workers were for a time White Ensign. The Director of Stores was understood to be concerned with their manning and operationally they remained under Admiralty control.


Career Data:


22 May 1890 launched by  Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co, Govan as Yard Nr: 348 named DUNOTTAR CASTLE for Castle Mail Packets Co Ltd, London. Was the first Union-Castle liner to have 2 funnels. The Lady Sponsor was Lady Currie, wife of the Castle Line Chairman. 

August 1890 completed at a cost of £169,532. Carried 160 x 1st Class, 100 x 2nd Class and 100 x 3rd Class passengers or 1,200 Troops in an emergency. As built she had yards on her foremast and was barquentine rigged.

8 September 1890 lay for most of the day in Leith Roads open to the public sailing in the evening for London

14 October 1890 commenced her maiden voyage from London via Dartmouth to Cape Town and on made the passage in 17 days 19 hours and 50 minutes, thus setting a new record

20 November 1890 sailed Cape Town for London

6 December 1890 arrived at Plymouth, Captain M P Webster was the Master

14 January 1891 sailed London for Dartmouth

16 January 1891 sailed Dartmouth via Lison and Maderia for South Africa

3 February 1891 at 9am arrived at Cape Town, South Africa - her time on passage was 16 days, 2 hours & 31 minutes. This time was 9 hours better than her previous voyage south bound


14 March 1891 at 11.20am arrived at Plymouth from the Cape and landed passengers, 83 sacks and 1 packet of mails together with 18 cases and 1 bag of parcel post. Sailed for London at 12.55pm the same day

10 April 1991 sailed from Dartmouth for the Cape Town via Lisbon and Maderia

2 June 1891 arrived at Maderia from Cape Town with passengers from Cape Colony and Natal. Sailed the same day for Plymouth

6 June 1891 arrived at Plymouth sailing the same day for London. When approaching Plymouth in fog grounded in Whitesands Bay. Floated clear three hours later

7 June 1891 berthed at East India Dock Basin, London

20 June 1891 inaugurated the Castle Line service from Southampton to Cape Town

7 July 1891 berthed at Cape Town

18 July 1891 sailed Natal

19 July 1891 sailed from East London

29 July 1891 sailed Cape Town for Plymouth via Maderia

14 November 1891 sailed Southampton for Cape Town via Maderia

30 December 1891 sailed Cape Town for Plymouth via Maderia

12 February 1892 sailed London for Cape Colony and Natal

1 March 1892 arrived at Cape Town via Maderia from London

22 April 1892 sailed London for Southampton

23 April 1892 sailed Southampton for Cape Colony and Natal

9 September 1892 arrived at Plymouth from the Cape

7 October 1892 sailed Gravesend for Cape Colony and Natal via Plymouth and Maderia

29 November 1892 sailed Maderia from Cape Town

22 February 1893 sailed Cape Town for England

13 November 1893 at Table Bay, South Africa passenger Ellen Cox discharged dead from natural causes

24 August 1894 in thick fog grounded off the western side of the Eddystone Lighthouse but was refloated by use of her engines. Made for Plymouth where she anchored in the Sound to discharge 215 passengers and the South African Mails. Her Master considered that there was no danger, despite the damage she sailed again later the same morning. Reported the next day in the Times newspaper thus -

25 8 1894 Times Press Cutting Dunn Castle

25 August 1894 arrived at London for dry docking and for repairs to be carried out

18 September 1894 at the subsequent Board of Enquiry, her Master was held wholly to blame and his certificate was suspended for 3 months

8 April 1895 at sea at 7.12S 4.19W Joiner Frank Connor discharged dead frpm phthisis

14 August 1895 arrived Maderia from London sailing for Cape Town later the same day

1 September 1895 off South Africa 2nd Bedroom Steward Edward Bryant discharged dead from heart failure

14 November 1895 arrived at Natal from Cape ports and London

10 January 1896 sailed London

11 January 1896 sailed Southampton for Cape Town via Maderia

21 August 1896 sailed Gravesend for Cape Town

17 September 1896 arrived at Natal from London

13 November 1896 sailed Gravesend for Cape Town

3 August 1897 passed Gravesend for Tilbury Docks


RMS Dunottar Castle prior to her 1897 refit

1897 was refitted during which her yards were removed, her funnels were heightened and a wheelhouse was fitted

31 August 1898 sailed Cape Town for Southampton and London

16 September 1898 arrived Southampton from Cape Town

10 December 1898 arrived Southampton from Cape Town

31 March 1899 arrived Southampton from Cape Town. Captain I B Harrison was Master

15 April 1899 sailed Southampton for Cape Town

3 July 1899 sailed Southampton with Col Robert Baden Powell as one of her passengers

25 July 1899 arrived Cape Town

2 September 1899 arrived at Southampton from Cape Town and Maderia. Captain I B Harrison was Master

14 October 1899  sailed Southampton with Major General Sir Redvers Buller VC, Winston Churchill and 1500 troops to Cape Town  Lord Kitchener and to the Boer War

31 October 1899 arrived at Cape Town

23 December 1899 sailed Southampton with Lord Roberts aboard who was on his way to take over from Sir Redvers Buller VC because of concerns about the latter's performance during the Second Boer War then raging.

27 December 1899 arrived at Gibraltar where Lord Kitchener joined to assume duties as 2/I/C. Sir Redvers Buller VC was replaced in January 1900

28 December 1899 sailed Gibraltar for Cape Town

8 March 1900  owners became Union Castle Mail Steamship Co Ltd (Donald Currie & Co, Managers) London name unchanged.

17 March 1900  first onboard unfurling of the new House flag at Southampton.

July 1900 sailed Cape Town with Winston Churchill aboard

20 July 1900 arrived at Southampton where Churchill was greeted as a war hero

12 September 1900 sailed Cape Town with Captain J B Harrison RNR in command

25 September 1900 berthed at Maderia

29 September 1900 berthed at Southampton

17 October 1900 berthed at Maderia

30 October 1900 arrived at Cape Town

21 November 1900 sailed Cape Town for Soutahmpton

7 December 1900 berthed at Southampton with Major General Cole-Carew among the passengers

8 December 1900 before Southamton Borough Police Court three Russain citizens - Ike Kiopper, Samuel Levene and Herman Lebmar appeared charged with being stoways on the DUNOTTAR CASTLE at Cape Town. The three had surrendered to the crew or been found by the crew after the ship had sailed. They each pleaded Guilty to the offence and were sentenced to one month imprisonment

15 December 1900 sailed Southampton to Maderia - Captain H Rigby as Master

19 December 1900 sailed Maderia southbound

December 1900 towed into Dakar by the White Star Line RUNIC and was later towed back to the U.K. after her propeller shaft had snapped off Cape Verde. The initial tow was to Dakar and the 300 miles tow took 30 hours at an average speed of 9½ knots.

11 September 1901 on passage from Southampton to Cape Town sailed Maderia

2 January 1902 arrived at Southampton in tow with her propellor shaft broken

11 February 1902 berthed at Cape Town

24 December 1902 sailed Cape Town for Southampton. Captain R Winder was Master

6 January 1903 arrived at Maderia and then sailed the same day

10 January 1903 berthed at Southampton

18 January 1903 anchored off the River Tyne

19 January 1903 entered the River Tyne and berthed at Wallsend Slipway & Engineering Company for extensive repairs

1904 withdrawn from service and laid up off Netley in Southampton Water.

June 1907  time chartered to Panama Railroad Co for 12 months for passenger work between New York and Panama.

1 August 1907 sailed New York to Colon, Panama

27 August 1907 sailed New York to Colon, Panama

14 December 1907 sailed New York to Colon, Panama

August 1908 chartered to Sir Henry Lunn’s Co-Operative Cruising Co for cruises to Norway and the Mediterranean until 1912

1911 cruised to India in connection with the Delhi Durbar extravaganza - costing £84 for 80 day cruise

Spring 1913  transferred to the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co Ltd, London and renamed CARIBBEAN. Used on the New York - Bermuda and Canada - West Indies services.

15 November 1913 sailed Bermuda to New York

Autumn 1914 hired by the Admiralty and used as a troopship in the first Canadian Transport Convoy to Europe during October and November of that year

23 November 1914 Commander Frederick H Walter Royal Navy appointed as Commanding Officer

7 December 1914 Temporary Chief Engineer Alfred Nettleton RNR appointed as Chief Engineer Officer

12 December 1914 commissioned at an Auxiliary Cruiser but was in poor shape and soon proved to be unsuitable for such work and was paid off

17 December 1914 at Brocklebank Dock Liverpool

25 December 1914 sailed Liverpool to patrol

27 December 1914 steering gear noted as very troublesome

28 December 1914 some repairs undertaken by the ships engineers on the steering gear

30 December 1914 steering gear reported as still causing trouble though one watch

1 January 1915 steering gear still not working correctly

3 January 1915 ships log noted that the steering gear was 'working bady'

9 January 1915 returned to Liverpool and went to anchor midsteam. The starboard anchor let go would nor run out and appear jammed port anchor let go instead

10 January 1915 moved into Morpeth Dock, Birkenhead for Harland & Wolff engineers to make good defects

13 January 1915 1,450 tons of bunker coal loaded

14 January 1915 Signalman Richard Tanner discharged to detention - details of his offence not shown in the ships log

15 January 1915 starboard quarter life boat sling bolt carried away badly damaging the life boat

18 January 1915 achored off Morpeth Dock. The waterboat Skirmisher alongside delivering 236.5 tons of water. As the water boat cast off it fouled the Caribbean's port quarter damaging her deck structure

19 January 1915 sailed from Liverpool on patrol in the North Atlantic - despite repairs from H & W engineers the steering gear was still found to be defective. So much so that the aft steering position had to be used. Anchored in Bangor Bay and H & W engineers arrived by tender to make further repairs to the steering gear.

20 January 1915 Fireman John Meath logged as discharged as being objectionable

21 January 1915 while further tests were being carried out on the steering gear the Chadburn helm indicator carried away. It was noticed the ship was dragging its anchor. 

25 January 1915 sailed Bangor Bay to Liverpool

27 January 1915 entered Brocklebank dry dock

29 January 1915 Brocklebank dry dock flooded up and ship moved to Canada Dock

7 February 1915 sailed Liverpool to patrol in the North Atlantic

16 February 1915 arrived at Loch Ewe

17 February 1915 received 600 tons of bunker coal

1 March 1915 arrived at Gourock, River Clyde and onto Princess Dock, Glasgow.

3 March 1915 received 1,243 tons of bunker coal

9 March 1915 steering gear being overhauld by Brown & Co

10 March 1915 sailed Glasgow to patrol the North Atlantic

25 March 1915 arrived Tail of Bank

28 March 1915 received 1,164 tons of bunker coal

30 March 1915 sailed Glasgow to patrol the North Atlantic

7 April 1915 at 62.00N 03.00W sighted by the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS OROTAVA

9 April 1915 to 11 April 1915 at 61.00N 01.00W on patrol with HMS LANCASTER

2 June 1915 at 62.10N 02.08W challenged by the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS INDIA and allowed to proceed

June 1915 commissioned as a Miscellaneous Vessel after having been purchased outright by the Admiralty.  Was fitted out as an RFA accommodation ship for workmen at Scapa Flow.

26 September 1915 having sailed from Liverpool in very heavy weather she got into difficulties off Cape Wrath and sent out distress signals. The light cruiser HMS BIRKENHEAD and tugs were despatched from Scapa Flow and attempted to tow her to safety.

27 September 1915 most of her crew were taken off but she foundered about 0730hrs with the loss 6 Naval Ratings, 7 Merchant Seamen and 2 Canteen Staff. Those lost are remembered with pride on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, the Chatham Naval Memorial, the Plymouth Naval Memorial and two in the Sandwick Cemetery, Ross & Cromarty



image courtesy Flickr-user ADB41



2004 her wreck was discovered undisturbed apart from fishing nets



Sir Donald Currie, the Company Chairman, presented the first British rugby team to visit South Africa on the ship’s maiden voyage with a large gold cup  which he requested they hand to their South African hosts  to use as a trophy for an internal rugby competition. Thus the Currie Cup was introduced to South African rugby and is still contested to this day.

Additional information

Copyright © 2008 – 2018 Christopher J White

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