Shipping anniversary celebrates end of era
The final departure of the infamous Queen of Bermuda and Ocean Monarch 50 years ago signalled the end of an era for the island.
The Furness fleet brought tens of thousands of visitors from the United States over 47 years, while Furness Withy invested heavily in hotel development in Bermuda. This May a final reunion for crew who worked on the liners will be held in England to mark the 50th anniversary since the ships left Bermuda.
“The Furness ships had a significant impact on people in Bermuda,” Allen Soares, a Bermudian who worked on the Queen of Bermuda between 1961 and 1965, said.
Mr Soares, who was 16 when he got a job on the ship, added: “It was a very different era back then. Everything was silver service and there was even finger bowls.
“The cruise industry has changed a lot since then. For me as a young man this was a tremendous experience and a respected career.
“When I worked on the Queen of Bermuda 140 Bermudians were employed as crew.”
The Furness Bermuda Line service began in 1919 when the first passenger ship Fort Hamilton sailed into the capital.
She was followed by Fort Victoria and Fort St George’s as Furness ploughed money into hotel developments including the St George’s Hotel, the Mid Ocean Club, the Bermudiana and Castle Harbour Hotel.
Meanwhile, Furness embarked on an ambitious project to build two much larger cruise ships, the MV Bermuda and the Monarch of Bermuda.
MV Bermuda made her maiden trip to Bermuda in January 1929, but was ravaged by fire two years later in Hamilton.
Despite efforts to repair her, the vessel was lost at sea while being towed to Scotland to be scrapped.
Within days of the Bermuda being lost, Furness placed an order to build the Queen of Bermuda and the liner arrived in Hamilton for the first time on March 9, 1933.
That year, the Monarch of Bermuda and Queen of Bermuda carried 34,102 passengers from New York to Bermuda. That service continued until both ships were requisitioned for war service.
Mr Soares said: “The Queen of Bermuda went to Belfast, where she was converted into an armed merchant cruiser with seven six-inch guns at first, then later in 1943 as a troopship.
“The Monarch of Bermuda left Bermuda for the last time on September 13, 1939, and headed for Brooklyn. In November she left for Liverpool, stopping in Halifax to embark 962 troops, who must have thought they hit the jackpot because she still had all first-class cabins.
“After her conversion into a troopship the Monarch of Bermuda travelled 420,512 miles and carried 164,840 troops and other passengers.”
In 1947 the Monarch of Bermuda was damaged by fire and abandoned until being rebuilt as an emigrant ship and re-entering service in August 1950.
After an extensive refit the Queen of Bermuda returned to the island on February 14, 1947, while the $15 million Ocean Monarch arrived in Bermuda on May 3, 1951, to take over from the Monarch of Bermuda.
Both liners continued to bring visitors to Bermuda until 1966 when Furness terminated its North American operation.
“The Queen of Bermuda left Bermuda for the last time on November 23, 1966. It seemed even the heavens were crying for the loss of the ship, with a drizzling, persistent rain,” Mr Soares said.
“Many shops closed with a note on the door, gone to see the Queen off.
“Thousands lined the shore to see her departure, including former captains and hundreds of ex crew members.
“A flotilla of boats escorted her out of the harbour and down the North Shore channel. As she rounded Fort St Catherine, the cannon sounded a final salute and she disappeared on the horizon at 6.15pm.”
The Ocean Monarch was relocated to the Mediterranean and Black Sea and even returned to Bermuda on several occasions before being destroyed by fire in May 1981.
The Queen of Bermuda arrived at Faslane on December 6, when demolition commenced.
Roland Skinner (1940-2018)
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