Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ships of the Union Castle Line

Date of Issue: December 05, 2007
Artwork: Peter Bilas
The South African Post Office celebrates the romance of traveling by ship with a set of stamps and a commemorative envelope issued on 5 December 2007.
The Union-Castle Line, famed for it’s lavender hulled liners that ran on a clockwork timetable between Southampton and South Africa, began as two separate companies: Union Line and Castle Line. The two amalgamated in March 1900.

The following ships of the Union Castle Line are featured on the stamps:

RMS Scot: Of all the steamships built before the Union - Castle amalgamation, the Scot stands out as the most famous. She was built on the Clyde and launched in 1890 and her early career marked the high-water mark of 20 years’ rivalry between the Union Line and Donald Currie’s Company. In 1893, the Scot had established a record time for the passage from England (14 days, 8 hours, 57 minutes), a record which stood until 1936, when the Stirling Castle reduced the time to 13 days 9 hours. In outward appearance her clipper bow, tall funnels and graceful lines easily made her one of the most handsome vessels afloat and she was popularly described as the `Albatross of the South’. Because of her reputation for speed, the Scot was a good advert for the Union Line. However, she proved to be a terrific coal eater and expensive to operate and was sold within a few years of the amalgamation of the Union and Castle lines. After changing owners a few times, she ended her days in 1927 at the shipbreaker’s yard.

The Dane: is depicted here after departure from Southampton in September, 1857, with the Needles off the Isle of Wight in the background. She arrived in Cape Town on 29 October. The Dane was the first Union Line mailship on the run and symbolises the beginning of an era. The Dane was moved from the mail service to the Mauritian service in 1864. During the following year she was used as an admiralty transport vessel in the naval operation to suppress slave trading on the East African coast. En route from Simons Town to East Africa, she was wrecked on Thunderbolt Reef near Port Elizabeth on 1 December.

Kildonan Castle: was built in 1899 by Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. She was the last mail ship to be completed for the Castle Line before the merger, but commenced her career as H. M. Transport 44 for use during the Boer War. On her maiden voyage she carried 3000 troops to Cape Town and in December 1900 was used as a prisoner of war ship at Simonstown. During 1901 she returned to Fairfields for completion before undertaking her first commercial mail sailing on 7th December. At the end 1920 she was refurbished and returned to the mail run where she remained until replaced by the Carnarvon Castle in 1936 and put in reserve. When the building of the Dunbar Castle was delayed in January 1930 she was deployed on the Intermediate run until May when she was laid up at Netley pending disposal. In May 1931 she was sold for £11,250 and broken up in Norway.

The Edinburgh Castle: was built in 1910 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast. Sister of the Balmoral Castle, she was the last of a group of almost identical ships. On 14th August 1914 she sailed from Cape Town with mail and government-only passengers to Gibraltar, where she embarked troops before being escorted to England by HMS Minerva. She was then taken over as an auxiliary cruiser for the South Atlantic patrol and in January 1915 sailed from Devonport for South Africa with White Star’s Ceramic to hunt for the German ships Karlsruhe and Kronprinz Wilhelm. Edinburgh Castle resumed commercial operations in 1919 after a refit and during that year carried General Smuts back to South Africa. She was withdrawn from service in 1938 and laid up at Netley until she was bought by the Admiralty for use as an accommodation ship in Freetown, Sierra Leone for Naval personnel and survivors of sunken ships. In 1945, as towing back to England would not be cost effective, she was towed 60 miles out to sea and sunk by gunfire and depth charges.

Windsor Castle: Built by Cammell Laird in Birkenhead, the Windsor Castle was launched on June 23, 1959 by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. At the time of the launch, she was the largest liner built in England and the largest liner owned by the Union-Castle Line. Windsor Castle’s maiden voyage was from Southampton on August 18, 1960, arriving in Durban 11.5 days later. In December 1967 she celebrated her 50th voyage, having steamed 700,000 miles and carried 35,000 passengers with no breakdowns or delays. The great vessel was the flagship of the Union Castle fleet, but sadly her career was short lived. By the 1970s, with the advent of the jumbo jet and economy air travel to South Africa, Union Castle began to phase out its money-losing passenger services. August 12, 1977 saw her 124th and last sailing from Southampton. It was also the final mail sailing for Union Castle Line.

The Transvaal Castle later SA Vaal: The Transvaal Castle was launched in 1961 by John Brown & Co, Clydebank. She was delivered to Union-Castle Line, and served on their route to South Africa from Southampton from 1962. She remained in Union-Castle Line colours only until 1966, when she was transferred to the South African Marine Corp (UK), remaining on the same service under the British flag, with Union-Castle Line crew and management as S.A.Vaal. In 1969 she was transferred to the South African flag.

I thank my swap friend, Mr. Johns, South Africa for sending me both the mint set and the same on envelope.


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