Streamlined South American Saint Line Cargo-Liners

The 6,855grt St. Essylt was built in 1948 by J. L. Thompson at North Shields. (FotoFlite)

The red streamlined funnels of this pair of cargo-liners with a black top bearing a white central houseflag with a red diagonal cross and a badge of a yellow, red and white rose were a welcome bright sight in the austerity year of 1948 of post-war Britain. The South American Saint Line of Cardiff was owned by the Street family and had previously been formed in 1926 as the Barry Shipping Company with old steam tramps engaged on long voyages of worldwide tramping as well as coal exports to Buenos Aires returning with grain. Their trade was initially coal out to Canada from South Wales, then ballast to the Plate to load grain for the homeward voyage to the U.K. Passengers began to be carried in May 1939 to South America, and shortly afterwards the company name was restyled as the South American Saint Line.

Design and Specification

This Cardiff fleet had lost eleven tramps in World War II, and this pair with a streamlined superstructure and funnel were part of a major post-war building effort. The pair would operate as cargo-liners with luxury accommodation for a dozen passengers on a regular run from London, Antwerp, Bremen, Hamburg calling at Lisbon and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to Rio de Janeiro, Santos, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, returning to the Thames with grain via Las Palmas de Gran Canaria for bunkers.

In 1965 the St. Essylt was sold to John Swire’s China Navigation Co. and renamed Yunnan. (Chris Howell)

An order for two vastly improved and streamlined five hold motor tramps with very good crew and passenger accommodation was given in December 1945 to the North Sands yard of Joseph L. Thompson and Sone Ltd. in Sunderland. The company Marine Superintendent, John Church, had won the Watts Prize from the Institute of Naval Architects for a paper he had written for the necessity of improved crew accommodation in British tramps. Great strides had been made in the design of hull and engine power but virtually no consideration had been given to the comfort of the crew, who in a poor ship would leave after a voyage or two and seek better accommodation with liner companies. The profits and efficiency of tramp fleets was thus compromised by the continual loss and changing of disgruntled crew members.

The design of this pair of ships was a joint collaboration between the naval architects employed by R. Cyril Thompson, Managing Director of Joseph L. Thompson and Sons Ltd. and John Church. The provision of superior accommodation for the 54 crew members, including six cadets, as well as for the dozen passengers was on a scale that was only ever seen elsewhere in the revolutionary tramps of Watts, Watts, with very comfortable Main Lounges for Passengers, Sun Lounges for Passengers, Dining Room with carver armchairs and well laid out tables for four and six passengers and all decorated with fresh flowers. The Dining Room was on the Upper Deck across the full width of the ship and had seating for 38 people, to include all of the passengers, Master, navigating and engineer officers, and cadets at a single sitting. There were spare seats for wives and other visitors signed on as ‘supernumeraries’. The double staterooms for passengers and roomy officer and crew accommodation were a very great credit to the South American Saint Line managed by the Street family and backed by the finance of Lord Howard de Walden.

In 1971 the Yunnan was sold to New Asia SS Co. and renamed Lucky Two. On 23rd January 1979 she arrived at Kaohsiung to be broken up by Kao Yunf Steel Enterprises. (Chris Howell)

This pair of cargo-liners were of length between perpendiculars of 437.5 feet, overall length of 472.5 feet, moulded beam of 59.3 feet, and moulded depth to Upper Deck of 39.5 feet. A service speed of fifteen knots was provided by a five cylinder Doxford opposed piston oil engine of 5,300 bhp with the cylinders having a bore of 670 mm and combined stroke of 2,320 mm. The hull had two complete steel decks with a third deck for the upper ‘tween decks of numbers 1 and 2 holds, subdivided by seven bulkheads into the following compartments :-

  • Aft Peak of length 19.0 feet
  • No. 5 Hold and deep tanks of length 64.0 feet
  • No. 4 Hold of length 80.0 feet
  • Machinery spaces of length 62.6 feet
  • No. 3 Hold and deep tanks of length 67.6 feet
  • No. 2 Hold of length 66.6 feet
  • No. 1 Hold of length 56.3 feet
  • Fore Peak of length 24.3 feet

Whereas a comparable cargo-liner of 1948 engaged on liner charters might have had one or two deep tanks for carrying latex, edible and vegetable oils, St. Essylt and St. Thomas were fitted with seven deep tanks to port and starboard of the lower parts of numbers 3 and 5 holds, and were capable of carrying 1,500 tonnes of liquid cargo, or alternatively water ballast of 2,700 tonnes when travelling ‘light ship’. Gross tonnage worked out at 6,855 and they carried a deadweight of 9,640 on a loaded draft of 26.8 feet. The upper ‘tween decks were subdivided into five sections by transverse bulkheads, in which tonnage openings were arranged. They had cruiser sterns with non balanced rudders, with the rudder frame and stern frame manufactured by the Sunderland Forge and Engineering Co. Ltd.

The 6,855grt St. Thomas was built in 1948 by J. L. Thompson at North Shields. (Chris Howell)

The collision bulkhead extended upwards to the upper ‘tween decks, and the very long fo’c’stle was an important feature of the design and held the paint and lamp stores. This extended as a side to side erection to the mid-way point between numbers 1 and 2 hatchways, while the central portion was stopped only one frame from the forward end of number 2 hatchway. The cellular double bottom extended from the collision bulkhead to within a few frame spaces of aft peak, and was subdivided into seven sections. Number 4 cellular double bottom space was reserved for feed water for the auxiliary boilers, while all of the rest of the double bottom spaces carried either fuel oil or water ballast. The cargo capacities of the holds, special cargo spaces and deep tanks, as well as the non cargo spaces, were as follows:-

Compartment Grain (Cubic Feet)
Number 1 Hold 38,323
Number 2 Hold 70,427
Number 3 Hold 62,744
Number 4 Hold 113,604
Number 5 Hold 40,766
Lower ‘tween decks 61,973
Upper ‘tween decks 154,667
Deep tanks, special cargo spaces 90,358


Fo’c’stle 3,175
Fore Peak 3,684
Paint Room 1,020
Lamp room 484
Carpenter Shop 1,020
Electrician store 1,122
Engineer Workshop 1,963
Cabin store 3,326
Lock-up store 1,863
Bonded stores 205
Beer store 355
Flour store 951
Baggage Room 550
Meat Room 1,221
Vegetable Room 773
Fish Room 242
Dairy Room 262
Food Handling Room 475

In 1965 the St. Thomas was sold to John Swire’s China Navigation Co. and renamed Yochow. (Chris Howell)

The ‘midships structure comprised three decks in descending order as the Boat Deck, Bridge Deck and Upper Deck, with the Upper Deck housing the crew in individual cabins, and the ship’s hospital and crew mess rooms, while the forward section of this deck was the spacious passenger Dining Room seating 38 people. Although hardly visible externally from a distance, the Upper Deck was actually composed of two houses with a gap made by an athwartships alleyway above the forward part of number four hold. There was a small deckhouse aft, and winch motor houses at each of the two masts and at the forward pair of derricks to complete a pleasing profile.

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