Introduction - for the love of ships
My father Murray McGregor was a life-long ship-lover whose main interests in ships and shipping were the four-funnelled cruisers of the Royal Navy (which were in service from the late 19th Century until the middle of the 20th Century) and the ships of the Royal Mail service between the United Kingdom and South Africa. This service lasted for more than a Century and was for that time a much-loved feature of South African sea-ports.
The people of Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban looked out for the arrival of the “mail boats” with keen anticipation and certain of these ships became favourites of the locals.
Murray McGregor grew up in Sea Point, Cape Town, and was not far from the Cape Town docks. He was able to see the passing ships as they arrived in Cape Town, either from around the coast or from the United Kingdom, and of course, when they left for either the coastwise or the deep ocean trips.
As my father mentions in his memoirs, for his whole life he collected picture postcards of ships and masses of information about them. He also collected various odds and ends about ships and shipping, and was particularly fond of Union Castle Line memorabilia. His family was aware of this and so many odds and ends from Union Castle ships were kept for him. The pictures in this Hub almost all come from such sources.
They give a fascinating view of life aboard these ships and the experiences of the passengers. The accompanying pictures are of some of the items which I still have.
The oldest item that I have found among my father’s things was this Fancy Dress Ball programme card dated 15 August 1903.
Kildonan Castle 1903
Kildonan Castle 1903 &1906
I’m not sure who from his family sailed on the Kildonan Castle in 1903, but his Aunt Mina and her husband, the Rev Gerrit du Plessis certainly travelled in her in 1906, when they returned from the United Kingdom after he had been studying there. The almost identical programmes shown below are from that trip, as is the passenger list.
Kildonan Castle 1906
Grantully Castle 1922
Grantully Castle 1922
It seems that members of the McGregor family, including Gerrit and Mina (Mina was the sister of the Rev Andrew McGregor, my father’s father) went to the UK again in 1922, this time sailing in the SS Grantully Castle, an “Intermediate” ship which sailed to Europe via the East coast of Africa, rather than the more usual West coast route taken by the mailships.
The list of passengers in First Class includes the Du Plessis and three Misses McGregor, but I am not actually sure that they are of our family, though the Miss H.M. McGregor listed could be Helen Mary, daughter of Mr Justice Alex McGregor of Bloemfontein, brother of my grandfather.
Arundel Castle 1922
Arundel Castle 1922
The Du Plessis evidently returned to South Africa in November 1922 aboard the RMS Arundel Castle. Unfortunately I do not have the passenger list for that voyage, only some menu cards and baggage stickers, which indicate that they were berthed in cabin 232.
This time the Du Plessis were again travelling Second Class (I guess First Class was cheaper on the Intermediate ships), but their fare and fun were not insignificant for all that. The ship seems to have sailed from Southampton on or around 8 November 1922. The programme of events is shown below.
The Lavender Hull Mob
The above are just some of the Union Castle memorabilia I have kept from my father’s collection. My cousin Owen G. Keen has a website devoted to Union Castle matters. He, and his father before him, sailed for many years in what is called, after the hull colour of the ships the “Lavender Hull mob”.
Owen is the son of my mother’s sister Ruth, who was married to Capt CSG Keen, fondly remembered as Geff. My uncle Geff was for a long time Marine Superintendent for Union Castle at Southampton.
The link to Owen’s site is: http://union-castle.net
Another interesting site related to the Union Castle Line is http://www.allatsea.co.za/union.htm
Interesting links about ships
- Merchant Navy Nostalgia
Wonderful writings about the classic shipping lines, including Union Castle.
lee barnett on November 02, 2016:
I have union castle line menus 4 from sept 1930 and 1 from oct 1930 , these are original , could some one let me know if they are worth anything . email@example.com
France's-Gaye inggs on June 01, 2015:
I have a. Ships of the line book which lists all ships their tonnages how many passengers cargo etc all Union castle ships for 1938 it is handwritten one of a kind. Can anybody tell me what it is worth my email is firstname.lastname@example.org thanks
Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on February 25, 2015:
The Union Castle Line no longer exists. I'm really not sure of the value of these items to be honest
Taranwanderer on February 18, 2015:
Very interesting - are these shipping memorabilia now defunct or something? Are they valuable, as in, could one find any on eBay?
Chris May on February 10, 2014:
My family are looking to sell their collection of SA Oranje memorabilia - are there collectors out there who are interested? If so, please contact me at email@example.com
KAREN on February 12, 2013:
I have a very old roll top desk and I found an old miniature Union-Castle Line pencil in it...
ckanka on August 13, 2012:
i have a triple dipped silver pail from union castle lines during ww11.how valuable would this be?
Gary Kurten on June 19, 2012:
I have a set of Union-Castle Line playing cards still in the original packaging. There is a code, OTW/548 printed on the back of the box. Would there be anyone interested in these?
J H Maarschalk on April 21, 2012:
I have a Union Castle Line Tuesday February 23 rd 1971 menu signed by certain passengers and a list of passengers R M S Pendennis Castle Is there any value on these or collectable?
Margi on April 02, 2012:
Hi Tony, my Dad Norman Baard knew Murray. Norman was secretary for Ship Society formany years. I have LAST voyage of SA Oranje menus (Ship society memebers went on this cruise form CT to Durban) signed by the captian. the cabin key as well. Any idea of the value. I wish to donate funds to Ship Society in memory of Norman. Best regards Margi Daly
ian potter on December 13, 2011:
My Dad worked as insurance dept manager approx 1950/1970
He was member of swimming club..won river race...I have union castle postcards etc..[my dads name Eric Potter]
my email..firstname.lastname@example.org...Would like contact
maxine reeves on July 17, 2011:
i have a few pieces of union castle line inscribed cutlery and i wondered if anyone would be interested in it.e-mail email@example.com
Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on November 19, 2010:
Ian - thanks for the comment and the link. I have added it to the Hub.
Love and peace
Ian Coombe ex U-C R/O on November 14, 2010:
Perhaps your readers would like to see some of the 'lavender hull' mob on my web site.
Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on September 27, 2010:
Josh - you could email the pix to me and I would tell you what I can about them. Just click the "Contact tonymac04" button above.
Thanks for the visit.
Love and peace
joshua on September 14, 2010:
hey there, i have found an old pack of 'Union Castle' playing cards, and i was wondering if i could email anyone some pictures of them, and they might be about to tell me something about them maybe?
Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on July 29, 2010:
Bill - thanks for stopping by and leaving such an interesting comment. I appreciate that very much.
Love and peace
bill flint on July 28, 2010:
my grandfather served on the grantully castle in aug 1937
1938/39 as a lamp trimmer and other boats of that line and am always looking to find bits from ships that i know he was on regards bill
glynhew40 on February 26, 2009:
Some slight problem finding this, Tony, but wonderfully evocative and hugely enjoyable to browse - in particular the links to the other sites too. I love the way you have added in the commentary so clearly and informatively. A real delight to read and work through. I will work my way into hub pages - it is a bit intimdating at first like just trying to find a route into your writing. I shall get there.
Love to you all as always
Gary Anderson from Las Vegas, Nevada on February 18, 2009:
Very nice collection. I am sure it kindles memories. Thanks for being friends, Tony. Gary