Channel steamer aground after mishap in fog off Manx coast (1937)

Four hundred passengers, the majority of them from Northern Ireland, had a thrilling experience during this week in 1937 when the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company’s steamer, the Duke of Lancaster, on her way from Heysham to Belfast, ran aground in a dense fog at the Point of Ayre, Isle of Man.

By Darryl Armitage
Thursday, 16th June 2022, 3:43 pm

The vessel, which had apparently little damage, grounded at high tide, and efforts to refloat her were unsuccessful on the afternoon of Monday, June 14 of that year.

As there was no immediate danger when the ship struck the passengers remained on board. At 12.30pm in the afternoon they were transferred to the steamer Duke of Rothesay and brought to Belfast.

The only incident which created excitement occurred in one of the lifeboats. A passenger dropped his suitcase on a fire extinguisher which was discharged, drenching some of the occupants of the boat with foam.

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Point of Ayre lighthouse on the Isle of Man

Four passengers who had urgent business in Northern Ireland were taken ashore near Ramsay and a special aeroplane brought them to Ards Airport.

Among the passengers were the Countess of Clanwilliam and the Ulster Attorney-General (Sir Anthony Babington, KC).

The Countess of Clanwilliam told a News Letter reporter that she happened to be awake in her berth at the time of the grounding.

“There was an awful grinding noise,” she said, “and of course people left their berths to ascertain the cause, although there was no panic whatever.

“I heard a steward say that the ship was aground, but there was no danger, and so I went back to my cabin.

“Pending the arrival of the Duke of Rothesay we were provided with every comfort, and having recovered quickly from the shock of the accident I must say I spent a pleasant day at sea.

“I don’t want the same experience again,” she added, “because it means the waste of a whole day.”

Miss Dorothy Brown, of Bangor, who shared a cabin with her sister, said that she was asleep when the vessel ran aground and was quickly awakened by the shock of the collision.

“I got up and dressed myself,” she said, “and then went up on to the deck.

“I could see at once what had happened, and it looked as if it might be an easy thing to jump ashore. There was no panic whatever, and only just a little excitement for a few minutes.

“We were assured that there was no danger. Some of us were prepared to spend the remaining hour or two of the night on deck, but it was so cold that I went back to my cabin, and in due course came up for breakfast.

“At breakfast we were informed by an officer that a vessel was coming to our assistance and would take off the passengers.”