Ships called Durban

By Allan Jackson - June 2005

In the print version of Facts About Durban I included an article on ships which have been called Durban.Since then I have managed to collect pictures of some of these and I have put them below, with whatever I know about them. I then received words and pictures from Rosemary Dixon-Smith on two ships that I hadn't known about, which were also called Durban, and I have added them on at the bottom of the page.

Click on the picture to view an desktop wallpaper-sized enlargement of the picture. (1024x768px)

Durban Castle

The Durban Castle was built in Belfast in 1938 to serve on Union Castle’s mail run to South Africa and she was converted to an infantry landing ship at the outbreak of the WWII, carrying troops during the invasions of North Africa, Italy and France. She later resumed her role as a mail ship and hit the headlines in 1947 when actress Gay Gibson was murdered by cabin steward James Camb on a voyage between Cape Town and Southampton. Camb claimed that she had died during sex and that he had panicked and disposed of her body by stuffing it through the porthole. He was convicted and jailed until 1959 when he was released on license and then jailed again from 1967 to 1978 after breaching its terms. The Durban Castle was sold for scrap in 1962.

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HMS Durban

HMS Durban was a Royal Navy D-Class Light Cruiser which was launched in Greenock, Scotland, on 29 May 1919. She had a displacement of 4,850 tons and mounted six 6-inch guns , three 4-inch AA guns and four triple 21- inch torpedo tube mountings. The ship was active between the wars, main- ly in the Far East, and on two occasions assisted in the wake of natural disasters. The first occasion was after an earthquake in Japan in September 1923 and the second after a hurricane at Grand Turk in 1929. Aboard ship on her arrival at the island was HRH Prince George who was thus the first Royal to visit the island, albeit unofficially. HMS Durban helped to escort the last convoy of evacuees to leave before the fall of Singapore in WWII. She was scuttled off the beach of Normandy in France in 1944, along with her sister ship HMS Dragon and others, to form a breakwater to protect the prefabricated Mulberry harbour where allied troops and war materiel poured ashore after the D-Day invasion. Her ship’s bell is now housed at the chapel in the Old Fort in Durban.

HMS Durban did actually visit Durban at least once that I know of. See here for details.

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City of Durban

I don't know much about the City of Durban but I believe that the vessel pictured here was launched in about 1953 or 1954. I also have an idea that she may have been the second of her name and that the original City of Durban may also have served as HMS City of Durban during WWII.

Anyone with information on the City of Durban is welcome to contact me here.


City of Durban - Added 11 October 2005

Robert Davies was kind enough to send in more information on the City (Cities???) of Durban and it turns out that there have been three of them.
He wrote:

"With reference to the City of Durban, there have been 3 ships in the Ellerman group named City of Durban, the one you have a photograph of [above] is City of Durban(II), one of a class of 4 ships, the others being Cities of Port Elizabeth, Exeter & York. The details of CoD(II) are that she was launched in 1953, sailing on her maiden voyage London - Beira service in May 1954. In 1971 she was sold along with her sisters to M. A. Karageorgis, Mundail Armadora S.A., Panama, when she was renamed Mediterranean Dolphin. She was to have undergone conversion to a passenger ferry as were the Exeter and York. Durban & Port Elizabeth however remained laid up in Greece until sold for breaking, CoD arrived at Kaohsiung to be broken up on 30 Mar 1974.(ref Duncan Hawes).

"City of Durban(I) was built by Earles of Hull on spec, being purchased by the Ellerman group in March 1921 as a replacement for war lost tonnage. In April 1952 she was renamed City of Gloucester(I) to release the name for CoD(II), on August 7 1957 she arrived at Giants Grave, Briton Ferry, for breaking up by Thos.W.Ward.

"City of Durban(III) was a large container ship built for the Europe - South Africa service and jointly owned by Ellermans and Harrison Line. Built in Germany in 1978, in 1983 she was chartered by Overseas Container Line(P&O) and renamed Portland Bay, 1984 back to CoD, 1986 renamed ACT 8 again on charter, reverted to CoD in Jan 1991, Oct 1991 Ellerman sold it's share to P&O, July 96 renamed Pegasus Bay, July 98 Harrison sold it's share to P&O Nedlloyd Nov 2002 arrived Zhenjiang, Jiangsu Province, People's Rep.of China for scrapping. I sailed on CoD(III) for 4 voyages as 3rd Engineer, Dec 81 to Jan 84, 2 to South Africa (3 round trips completed) and 2 round trips to Australia/NZ when she was Portland Bay."

Robert added that he could not find a reference to a City of Durban having served as a warship.

ADDED 25 January 2012: Reader Mike Thomas, who served aboard CoD(I), has the following to say about her conversion to a warship.

Perhaps a point worth clarifying - I notice a reference to the SS "City of Durban" (launched in 1921) being renamed HMS "Durban" during WW 11! Actually she was renamed HMS “Brutus” In Sept/Oct 1939 on being commandeered by the Admiralty and converted into one of six British "Q" ship's (emulating a WW 1 concept) to help counteract the U-boat menace. Apparently there’s no record of HMS “Brutus” or indeed that any of these ships actually engaged in combat during WW 11 and eventually she was "paid off" and reverted to being an Ellerman Line cargo vessel in 1941. Incidentally, in June 1950 – when trading between Calcutta and Montreal. it was the very first ship I joined as an Junior Apprentice. See here for some of Mike's experiences.

Contributed by Rosemary Dixon-Smith

Picture courtesy R Dixon-Smith. Click on the
picture to view an enlargement.

The Barque Durban

An early sailing vessel named Durban was one of Bullard King & Co.'s 'clippers'. These 'fast flyers' were built for speed with forward-raking bows and aft-raking masts. The barque Durban was launched in London in 1870 and traded between London and Durban until 1886. Passages to Durban in Bullard King's ships cost 25 guineas, first class, or 16 guineas in steerage. Other clippers owned by Bullard King included the Isipingo, Umzinto, Empress of India and the Palala, which was wrecked off Madagascar in 1882.

Picture courtesy R Dixon-Smith. Click to
view an enlargement.

Clipping courtesy R Dixon-Smith: Click to
view an enlargement.

Union R.M.S. Durban

The Union R.M.S. (Royal Mail Steamer) Durban was built in Sunderland and weighed 2875 tons. She left Plymouth on 23 November, 1877, encountered heavy seas, sprang a leak and had to turn back to port. Her maiden voyage could not be continued and her passengers and mails were transferred to the Roman. Eventually putting to sea, the Durban experienced engine trouble, but despite these inauspicious beginnings, by 1880 she broke the record for the homeward run from the Cape. Being transferred to the intermediate service, she was then taken off the South African route between 1883 and 1888, returning later as a cargo vessel. In 1893, 11 June, she was homeward bound when wrecked south of Santa Cruz, on the south-east coast of Teneriffe. She was carrying no passengers at the time and all the crew were saved.

A clipping, left, from the Natal Witness of 26 June 1880 reports the arrival of the vessel in Cape Town from Britain. The clipping lists the passengers on their way to Natal. There are also some priceless snippets of world news that the ship must have brought with her. They include:

  • Insurrection in Albania continues
  • Position in Afghanistan unchanged
  • In Burmah there is a revolotionary movement

Durban Lines - added 29 September 2005

I recently discovered that there have not only been a nunber of ships called Durban but also a shipping line called Durban Lines. I recently managed to obtain pictures of the Durban Lines vessel Berea (named after an area in Durban) taken while she was alongside in Lourenco Marques (now Maputo). The pictures were taken in September 1973 by Robert Davies who was on his first sea voyage as an engineering cadet aboard a Harrison Lines vessel on the UK to Africa route. The pics show that the Berea had been involved in an accident with a dockyard crane.

Click images to view enlargement

I'll do some research on Durban Lines when I get a chance.

A yacht called Durban - added 1 November 2005

Picture courtesy Clipper Ventures

The yacht Durban is currently a competitor in the Clipper 05/06 Round the World Yacht Race. The race competitors are expected in Durban on 17 November 2005. More details follow.

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SAS Durban - added 29 June 2010

Picture courtesy Trevor Jones

SAS Durban. Taken by Trevor from the Durban Harbour mouth south breakwater in February 1974.

<== Click for enlargement

Added 3 October 2010: Memoirs of the SAS Durban by Dave Sievewright. He wrote:

As you know, the SAS Durban is now a floating exhibit in our Durban Maritime museum. When I was still in the SA Navy, the SAS Durban was sent to Durban. I joined the vessel and was appointed Coxswain (Master-at - Arms) of the vessel. Dates are a little hazy but about 1975-6.

The idea behind the relocation was to take the Indian members of the navy serving at SAS Jalsina and give them sea-going experience. Over a 3-4 week period we took over 350 Jalsina members to sea to find a group who would not get sick to start with, and who were strong enough to handle the duties aboard.

At the same time several ERMs were also taken aboard for engine room duties. We weeded out the guys quite quickly and were left with about 14 who then joined the crew. The original junior rates, mostly seamen, were drafted back to Simons town. We set about train the new crew and spent a lot of time at sea.

There were trips up to the Zululand coast where we did plenty of mine sweeping exercises and there were several trips to the Cape. After about a year or so we took part in a large mine sweeping exercise in the Cape. We fared very well and beat most of the Cape based sweepers in most activities. Our skipper at the time was Commander Fred Marais. The Durban was stationed in Durban for about 4 years before we were sent back to Simonstown where the Durban was decommissioned.

I am not sure if the vessel was ever commissioned again before it was given to the City of Durban for the maritime museum. While I write this email I recall we had a ship's cat... where it came from I cannot remember and the same goes for its name. Once when were in Richard's Bay with several strike craft we sailed and, unbeknown to us the cat had gone ashore. After clearing harbour and setting course for Durban, the question was asked " where is the cat".

The whole vessel was searched to no avail.. The skipper gave permission to radio the strike craft, still alongside whether they could see our cat on the quay. The answer was "Affirmative". The Strike Craft crew were asked to try and catch the cat which they did without too much fuss, and placed it in a large suitcase.

We re-entered harbour and lowered a sea boat (inflatable). The crew motored across to the strike craft that had slipped its moorings by then and was in the main channel heading for the entrance. The suitcase with its valued contents was collected and brought aboard. As the case was opened, the cat jumped out without any acknowledgement of those gathered on deck to welcome her back, and headed inside to the galley.

The SAS Durban was one of several Ton Class mine sweepers built in the UK specifically for the SAN.

Dave S


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