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Maritime tales – the wreck of the Empress Queen

17 December 2007 by stepheng

This beautiful builder’s model of the Empress Queen is to me, Stephen Guy, one of the finest in the Merseyside Maritime Museum. It may not be the most skilfully made or the most detailed but it perfectly captures the style and dash of the original ship.

model of a long thin ship with a paddle on the side, two red funnels and a couple of masts fore and aft

Image courtesy of Liverpool Daily Post And Echo

Jagged pieces of seaweed-infested and barnacle-encrusted metal clearly visible at low tide are all that remain of the beautiful paddle steamer Empress Queen. The 2,500-ton, 360 ft long Isle of Man ferry boat was built in 1897 and was powered by mighty triple-expansion engines. She was the fastest and most powerful paddle steamer afloat.

The Empress Queen was well known to the travelling public as she was on the regular service between Liverpool and Douglas, when the Isle of Man was known as ‘the playground of Lancashire’. She was a great favourite because of her fast runs and the ease with which she carried her 2,000 passengers to fun-filled weeks or fortnights on Mona’s Isle.

When the First World War broke out the Government saw she would be ideal for transporting troops and she was chartered for this purpose. She saw successful service travelling between Southampton and Le Havre, ferrying troops across the Channel to and from the Western Front in northern France. Everything went well until 1 February 1916 when the Empress Queen met her end. She was returning from Le Havre with some 1,300 “liberty men”, as soldiers returning from the trenches were known. The Empress Queen ran ashore in thick fog at about 5 am on the Ring Rocks at Bembridge, Isle of Wight, about a quarter of a mile from the cliffs.

She ran well up on the flat rocks and lay nearly upright with the bows on the rocks and the stern afloat. The weather was calm, the ship was close to land and there was no danger to life. The troops were taken off by destroyers and all sorts of craft from pleasure boats to fishing smacks which came alongside in reply to her calls for help.

At first it was thought it would be relatively easy to salvage the Empress Queen but it proved an impossible task. All that was retrieved were large amounts of metal from the engine room and other parts of the ship. Details on the model include the paddle wheel cowls decorated with the Legs of Man.

A new Maritime Tale appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo.

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