Wednesday, February 18, 2015

S/S Captain Cook: A Ship with History

My third cousin once removed immigrated to New Zealand from Scotland in 1958 aboard the S/S Captain Cook, which was owned by the Ministry of Transport and chartered it to the New Zealand government. They ran the ship between Glasgow and Wellington, but she had a rich history before that.

The steamship S/S Letitia was built in Govan by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company. She launched in 1924. By 1925 she was part of the Anchor-Donaldson company and sailed between Glasgow, Montreal, and Quebec during the summer. In the winter months, she sailed to Halifax and St. John's.

The S/S Letitia became part of the Donaldson Atlantic Line in 1935 and that same year ran aground twice -- once at Cape Papas, Greece, and again entering the Belfast Lough.

The British Admiralty requisitioned the S/S Letitia in 1939. She was armed with eight 6-inch guns and two 3-inch guns and flew pennant F16. After performing convoy duty, the Admiralty decided ocean liners were too exposed and instead used the ship for transport duty starting in 1941. The S/S Letitia was badly damaged in 1943 and sailed to the U.S. for repairs. For the rest of the war she was used by the Canadian government to bring wounded soldiers home.

She was sold to the Ministry of Transport in 1946. The ministry renamed her the Empire Brent. A collision in the Mersey river required her to be dry docked for repairs. She was again turned into a troop transport and used between India and the Far East. In 1949 she began immigration runs between the U.K. and Australia.

S/S/ Captain Cook in Wellington Harbor, New Zealand sometime in
the 1950s; photograph courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand

In 1950 she was out of service for six months to be refitted for the U.K. to New Zealand run. She began sailing to Wellington via the Panama Canal in 1952 as the S/S Captain Cook. A fire broke out aboard her in Wellington Harbor in 1957 and caused extensive damage. She was able to limp back to the U.K. for repairs. She made her final return trip to Glasgow in 1959 and was laid up at Falmouth, Cornwall. In 1960 she was sold to British Steel. The company towed her to Inverkeithing where she was broken up.

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