The Changing Faces of SS Chieftain

Surely a contender for the most beautiful ship to be built at the little shipyard in Ayr and probably the most travelled ex MacBrayne's ship in history...

SS Chieftain was ordered by Mr David Hope MacBrayne from the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company and was launched by his wife from the Ayr shipyard, which Ailsa took over from Samuel McKnight & Co in 1902 to operate in conjunction with its established Troon yard, on Saturday 11th May 1907. She was Ailsa yard No 182.

The new ship was the first with a traditional clipper bow to enter the MacBrayne fleet since 1881. She was fitted with a triple expansion engine for her service on MacBrayne's' long sea route between Glasgow and Stornoway. Before the Great War she partnered the equally beautiful first Claymore. However, after the War the traffic on this route did not recover to support two ships and it was the newer vessel that was sold in 1919 to the North of Scotland, Orkney & Shetland Steam Navigation Company (Later P&O, now NorthLink) who renamed her St Margaret and employed her on the west-side service until 1925 when the sold her to the Canadian National Steamship Company of Prince Rupert, BC. They renamed her Prince Charles end employed her on the Canadian coast for 15 years, replacing her beautiful clipper bow with a slanting stem, before selling her to the Union Steamship Company of Vancouver. This company renamed her Camosun and she spent the next five years competing with the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company's steamers on the services between Vancouver and the coastal communities. In 1945, she recrossed the Atlantic, having been sold to the Oriental Navigation Company of Tel Aviv. She was renamed Cairo and flew the Palestinian flag on service in the Eastern Mediterranean. Two years later the Zarati Steamship Company acquired her and registered her in Panama. She was employed in a service between Marseilles and Beira but this only lasted until June 1948 when she went back across the Atlantic to the West Indies where she remained for a while before returning back across the Atlantic to Marseilles where she was laid up on 5th April 1950. Nearly two years later she sailed for Spezia where she arrived on 8th January 1952 to commence demolition.

Thus ended the remarkable career of this beautiful Ayr built steamer. Built to serve on the Clyde and Hebridean waters, she saw service on the Pentland Firth and Northern Isles, Prince Rupert Sound and the West coast of Canada, the Mediterranean and West Indies, traversing the Atlantic four times and the Panama canal twice.


This view from the 1911 MacBrayne tour guide shows Chieftain passing Kyle in the Western Isles.


The former Chieftain as the North of Scotland, Orkney & Shetland Steam Navigation Company's St Margaret.


Chieftain following her emigration to Canada and removal of her clipper bow. This is her operating as the Camosun II, camouflaged in grey and armed, on war service to the Queen Charlottes.


The Camosun II performed invaluable wartime service to the queen Charlotte Islands, serving the lumber camps and transporting air force personnel and supplies to the Alliford Bay airbase.


Following Extract From: “Whistle up the Inlet”
The Union Steamship Story by Gerald A Ruston 1974 ISBN: 0-88894-057-2 (Courtesy of Ed Roach)

The new master of the Coquitlam on her Islands run was Captain Alexander Campbell McLennan, a quiet and resourceful mariner with an enviable safety record. Paul St. Pierre once wrote about him in the Vancouver Sun: “…he started sailing in the days of wooden ships iron men,” describing him as “a short, jolly man who’d look well in a Santa Claus suit”. Born at Kyle, Scotland, he shipped as a youth aboard a Hebrides trawler to drag cod of Greenland, and got his ticket in the Scottish coastal trade. Before joining the Union [Steamship Co] in 1921, he served in minesweepers during the war. Angus McNeill, Captain McLennan’s second officer on the old Camosun II, tells of this amusing experience with “Big Mac” in 1943 while running to the Queen Charlottes.

“It was terrible weather, in fact a gale was blowing across Hecate Striate, and Captain McLennan twice turned the ship back into Price Rupert harbour. He set out once more and, greatly to my surprise, as I felt for once the “Old Man” might be losing his nerve, he came back a third time.”

After the storm, when he next went up to the bridge on watch neither of them spoke for a while, and then suddenly the captain turned on Angus: “Don’t look at me like that,” he barked. “If you think I’m going to drown myself, you’re crazy!” Nothing more was said, but the explanation of the skipper’s antipathy to the Camosun II was revealed two years later when the vessel was sold to the Greeks. “Well, I’m very happy to see the last of her,” he told Angus. “Twenty-five years ago I was second officer on that ship when she sailed the Scottish lochs under the name of Chieftain. My captain caught me out making love to a highland lassie one day in the steerage, and that was my finish. I had the strange feeling the ship had followed me out here to get me.” So the sailor’s spell was broken. This consummate mariner died on the job in April 1950. Only two weeks after he had given up his command of the Cardena.

Text from SoC Crew

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