Hearts of Oak

Isles of Scilly



The Penzance / Isles of Scilly Mail Packets



[ 26th March 1920 Isles of Scilly Steamship Company formed ]


1917- 1920 LAPWING ON 115771 ( Captain Neil McAlister )

A Chartered vessel, with a gun mounted aft..

Penzance was a WWI temporary Naval base, for repairs, etc.,.

Steel screw steamer.

Built 1903 by Scott & Sons, Bowling

194 GRT

135.2ft L, 21.2ft B, 9.4ft D.

Compound ( two cyl) steam engine and one single ended boiler supplied by Hutson & Sons , Glasgow

One deck

Owners : MacBrayne & Co

Port of Registration : Glasgow.


Glasgow Herald, newspaper writes

" ..........This year ( 1903) ornithological names were

revived when the new screw steamer LAPWING  entered service .

She is utilitarian without any of the gilt apparent in the

older vessels and reputed to be economical but hardy"

1903 She took over from STAFFA on the islands run from Oban.

1917. January.  Ran aground at Oban. Insurance was paid out in full and she became the property of the Underwriters. Sold to Clyde Cargo Steamers Ltd she was reconditioned and converted into a cargo only vessel. One mast was removed and independent cranes were fitted fore and aft in place of the original derrick on the forward mast. After approximately six weeks service for her new owners she was requisitioned by the Government and placed on the mail run Penzance/Scilly Isles.

( 5th February 1920 - PENINNIS came into service on the Isles of Scilly ).

1920 February Moved to Plymouth/Channel Islands for nine months.

1920 December LAPWING Returned to tramp cargo work from the Clyde.

She is reported to have had a severe accident, arriving at Strachur Pier ( Loch Fynne ) and damaging both herself and the pier, gaining herself the title “Accursed ship”, whilst en route from Inverary to Glasgow.

1926  Renamed COWAL Same owners.

1932. Broken up at Troon


( Lloyds Register, Lloyds List, "Royal Road to the Isles" Ian McRorie,

"Clyde River and Other Steamers", and thanks to John D Stevenson )




1920 PENINNIS steamer built Paisley, formerly ARGUS

The Isles of Scilly Steamship Co.; Ltd's first ship, was originally the "ARGUS", a Fishery Protection Vessel and was purchased from the Admiralty Disposals for £8,000. Following the necessary alterations at a cost of £5,000 she was renamed "PENINNIS" and came into service when the Company received its Certificate of Incorporation, giving the right to commence business (dated 27th March, 1920) 

ARGUS Steel screw steamer,
Built by Bow McLachlan Co Ltd., Paisley.
Launched as Yard No 173;  6th December 1904 for Coast Guard Service .

Handed over March 1905.
224 GRT. 130.0ft L, 23.2ft B, 11.5ft D.
Triple expansion steam engine and one single ended boiler operating at
180lbs/sqin pressure supplied by the shipbuilders.
65RHP (650IHP), Design speed 12.5K.
Bunkers 55 tons
One deck.
Owners : Royal Navy.  C 75
Shipbuilders Archive lists her as a "store ship" ,

"Janes" of 1914 has her as a "Coastguard Cruiser"
1917   ARGON  January  Royal Navy.
1914/18.  Examination vessel Borehaven
1920   PENINNIS  ON 144466. 5th February.  Isles of Scilly S.S. Co., Ltd.
( E.N.V Moyle, managers)
The official registered owner of PENINNIS in 1921 Mercantile Navy List (ie
at 31/12/1920) was William H Ward of Woodford, Essex.

Port of Reg Scilly. Cost to buy £8000 plus £6000 to refit.

Sold 5 February 1920 and renamed Peninnis (British Warships 1914-19 - Dittmar & Colledge).

Vessel now 380 tons, 130 x 23 x 9ft

fitted with triple expansion producing 600 ihp giving
12 knots and armed with 2 x 6pdr's.

This information corresponds with that given in Ships of the Royal Navy An Historical Index Volume 1: Major Ships (Colledge).

Commenced service 25th March 1920.
1926.  February 1926 PENINNIS was sold to Alderney Steam Packet Co and renamed RIDUNA.

1931 Sold for Break-up at Plymouth.


From Loyds Register of Shipping, "Janes"

1912/14/19 , Ditmar & Colledge, Shipyard Archive, Glasgow newspapers



There was an earlier SCILLONIAN on the far side of the world

SCILLONIAN   Schooner   New Zealand

37 tons built at Williamstown Victoria in 1863, lost

after sailing from Napier on June 25th 1867 bound for

Christchurch.  Captain Thorburn in command.




First purpose built ship for the route;

Read F McFarland’s poem


“Her First Voyage”


“Her Arrival at Scilly”

Was to be named Queen of the Isles, but that name was already in registered use.

The much more appropriate and succinct name of SCILLONIAN was chosen.

Built 1926  Ailsa Shipbuilding Co Ltd in Troon Nr 396

Steel Screw Propulsion

429 gross ton 179 ton net

170 ft 7 ins length

28 ft 7 in breadth

10 ft 8 in depth

triple expansion 3 cylinders

12 knots

400 day passengers

15000 cu ft cargo 215 ton dead weight

She was lively on the water, Captain McAlister soon got the feel of her capabilities.

She could carry a maximum of three hundred and ninety passengers

and served the Islands for 30 years.

170ft 325t ( Captained by Neil McAlister and Joe Reseigh ).

Grounded twice in fog.

R.M.S "Scillonian" also served as troop carrier WWII;

40,000 troop movements being recorded

1956 Renamed Peninnis; sold off and broken up at Ghent June 1957


During 1924 the Directors began considering the purchase of a larger ship and at an Extraordinary General Meeting of Shareholders on the 16th June, 1925, the Directors were empowered to place the order with Ailsa Shipbuilding Co; Ltd. In order to keep their yard open during the slump this work was undertaken at cost, the contract price was £24,500. She was launched and named "SCILLONIAN" by Mrs. A.A. Dorrien-Smith on 17th November, 1925 and made her first trip to Scilly on the 25th January, 1926, sheltering on the way ( at Belfast and Kingstown ) due to bad weather. At 429 gross tons she was considered, by some, as too big and unsuitable for our seas, however she proved to be a wonderful sea boat and a tremendous improvement.


11th January 1950 The Times

Known to many holiday-makers, the Royal Mail ship Scillonian of 435 tons, which for the last 24 years has been employed in a regular service between Penzance and the  Scilly Isles is to be replaced by a bigger and faster vessel. Her captain, Captain J. Reseigh holds the M.B.E. for his long command of the ship,

which is the islands’ chief link with the mainland.


26th April 1954 The Times

The Isles of Scilly Steamship Company have ordered from John I Thorneycroft & Co., Ltd. of Southampton, a passenger and cargo vessel to operate between Penzance and the Isles of Scilly. The new ship which will replace the Scillonian, in service since 1926, will be about 900 tons gross.




1956 SCILLONIAN II steamer built Southampton Thorneycroft 1956; 920t 15knots.





Built 1964 Albion Boatyard, Bristol by Charles Hill & Son's Ltd.

Could take 300 passengers and 60 ton's load,

Launched by HRH Duchess of Gloucester 16th November 1964

Handed over after her trials in April 1965.

Length 156 ft 3 ins. 30 ft W x 9ft 6ins draught ; 515 tons gross; 214 t net

Two 6 cyl. Ruston Hornsby diesels 1.146 shp., twin screws, speed 13 knots.


Planned to operate as a support ship for the SCILLONIAN ( II ).

The seas between the mainland and the Islands proved to be too much for her and it soon became apparent that she was not a viable solution to their needs.

1966 Laid up.

1967 On charter to  the Mersey Docks Board,

1968 Chartered to P&A Campbell which had acquired the L&NWSSCo.

1970 Operated for Norwest Hovercraft between Douglas IOM and Fleetwood.


1970 Sold to the British Government, and subsequently given to Tonga.


1971 She sailed via Panama Canal to Tonga where she was

renamed OLOVAHA for the Tonga Shipping Agency, Nuku’alofa.

She operated within the Tongan group with the occasional voyage to Fiji.


1977 She sailed from Tongatapu ( largest of the Tonga Islands ) heading for the Ha’pai group, a distance of 100 km, an 8 hour voyage. Leaving port, she was listing alarmingly. After a few hours, the engines stopped, she was taking in water, baling operations were undertaken, as she was taking in water badly, and the bilge pump was not working. One of the engines was re-started and the voyage continued to Vava’u. Reaching Tofua, the engine shuddered to a halt and the ship drifted. The radio was not working, there were only two lifeboats. The ship listed even more, the wind and waves were rising. The Tongan Navy at Pangai had recorded her as missing and so had sent a ship to find the OLOVAHA, but with no radio communication this would have been difficult to say the least. A Tongan freighter came upon them by chance, and the 300 passengers were rescued in very high seas, several metres high. The OLOVAHA sank in shallow waters and was later salvaged.


1980 Sold to G.L.Wright at Tonga. The same year sold by G.L.Wright, Tonga, to Trans Tours Gray Line - Morgan Shipping Corporation, New Zealand. Arrived at Whangarei on 27 December 1980 as OLOVAHA, towed by the tug PACIFIC SALVOR.


1982 She underwent an overhaul, refit and a long lay-up at Whangarei.


Tonnage now given:  529 gross; Length 47.78; Width 9.17; Depth 2.89 metres.

Hired by Trans Tours, New Zealand, for 84 passengers, for short cruises around the Hauraki Gulf, but this was unsuccessful.


1985 Operated gambling cruises out of Whangarei, until 2nd/3rd August 1986. She was arrested with several large debts and was sold to an Australian company.


1987 Renamed QUEEN OF THE ISLES, she entered service on 4 October 1987, reported Queensland for Barrier reef work; Operating 7 day cruises out of Cairns.


1994 Renamed ISLAND PRINCESS by unspecified owners in Australia.


1996 Sold by unspecified Australian owners to Western Development Corp., Solomon Islands and renamed WESTERN QUEEN.


1997 Stranded on the beach at Honiara, Solomon Islands.

Owners : Malaita Shipping Company.


Marine News 1983/317. 1996/676. 

Merchant Ships World Built Vol. XIV 1966.

New Zealand Ships Illustrated 1988-1989.

Navicula. Marine News 2004/566

Thanks to Auke Palmhof ( Ships on Stamps Database )

for further information 1987, 1994 & 1996




R.M.V. SCILLONIAN III – Our Current Vessel.

Built Appledore Shipbuilders Ltd. in 1977 

Named by H.R.H. Prince Charles, Duke of Cornwall 17th May, 1977.

68 metres Length; 11.25m Width; 2.98m Depth

Weight 1255.25 tonnes

Cargo 100 tonnes

Passengers 600

Engines : 2 x Mirrlees Blackstone ESL 8 Diesels : 1200 BHP each.

Electrical Generators giving 375kW

Speed 15.5 knots

1.8m Bronze propellers : 1,000 revs per mile.

Bow propeller / thruster : In a tube for manoeuvring and docking.


The purchase of Scillonian III in 1977 left the Company with financial burdens

which were resolved when the Government agreed to make a substantial loan.

In 1998, faced with the immense cost of building a new ship,

the Company formed a contract with Devonport Dockyard

which gave Scillonian III a major refit at a cost £1,700,000.

On Saturday 27 March, the refitted RMV SCILLONIAN III re-entered service. The SCILLONIAN III regained its buff funnel carried until 1992 when it was replaced by a blue/white funnel with house flag logo and for 1992, the hull was also painted blue. SCILLONIAN III's deck life raft and gangway cranes were buff again. The open deck plastic seats were replaced with wooden seating. The galley was moved to the lower passenger deck, which was considered to offer less roll in rough seas. The old galley kiosk was replaced by a full shop. The bar was refurbished with new seating and tables and wooden bar with brass trim. New bow thrusters and generators were fitted.

Plans are still on the table for a new ship, at 20 knots this would bring the voyage down to less than 2 hours, allowing more than the one trip per day. These plans are, of necessity, dependant upon the facilities at Penzance harbour being greatly enhanced. These enhancements are dependant upon European Funding being made available.




Mention should be made, to close this page, of the


Purchased in 1989

She was a Norwegian coastal ship ( pronounced “Gree Mareeta” ).

This is a highly manoeuvrable ship

37.6 m long, breadth 9.82 m and depth 3.63 m,

590 BRT

Cargo on two decks, with a fuel bunker, and cold stores.

As well as a limited capacity for passengers.


List mainly compiled from one made

by my great grandfather Archibald Thompson

and continued ( up to the first Scillonian )

by my grandfather Francis Orlando Thompson

of St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly


My Thanks for

The kind help of the Captain and Crew of the ship, Mariners-L;

Thanks too for material and help from

Chris Marrow ( of the Syllingar )

and Mike Tedstone

for his kind permission to use his article

“The Ship with Five Lives”

as well as The Isles of Scilly Steamship Company,

Roger Banfield and the Isles of Scilly Museum

Other material from

West Country Passenger Steamers by Grahame Farr


Raymond Forward