On This Day

19 August

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1947 Pretoria Castle launched by radio telephone


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The 28,705-ton passenger motorship Pretoria Castle (Yard No. 1332) was launched today for the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co., Ltd., London.

In a unique experiment Mrs Smuts, wife of General Smuts, Prime Minster of South African, over the radio from Irene Farm, twelve miles from Pretoria in South Africa, conducted the launching ceremony broadcast over load-speakers in the shipyard at Belfast.

The General and his wife were represented at the launch by their daughter Mrs Bancroft Clark, acting as the ship’s godmother, who was presented with a bouquet by Dixon Moffett, the yard’s newest apprentice.

As 1.20pm approached the interest of the platform party centred on a small box, described by a shipyard official as a ‘magical box’ to which was attached a bottle of South African wine for the naming ceremony, three microphones and three coloured bulbs. The device contained a magnet which, when the radio signal was received, released the wine bottle and simultaneously released the launching trigger. At precisely 1.20 Sir F. Vernon Thompson, Chairman of Union-Castle approached the ‘magic box’ and said ’Good afternoon, Mrs Smuts. Everything here in Belfast is ready for you to name and launch our new mail ship for the South African service. If you please now.’ The voice of Mrs Smuts came back ‘I name this ship Pretoria Castle. May God protect the good ship Pretoria Castle and all who sail in her.’ Mrs Smuts then repeated the message in Afrikaans. There were two or three whistling noises over the radio, transmitting the releasing signal, suddenly the wine bottle struck the bow and smashed as the liner quickly moved down the ways.

Pretoria Castle was intended for the Southampton-Cape Town service and was the largest ship built in Belfast since before the Second World War.

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1879 Sailing ship Ulster built at forgotten Belfast shipyard

The 300-ton wooden sailing ship Ulster was launched this morning from the shipbuilding yard of Alexander M’Laine & Sons, Corporation Street, Belfast.

The barquentine, built for W. P. Coleman & Co., Liverpool and classed A1 at Lloyd’s of London, was intended for the Brazilian trade. Her dimensions were: Length, 129 feet; Breadth of beam, 27 feet; Depth in hold, 12 feet, 11 inches.

The launch was witnessed by ‘an immense number of spectators, who thronged every point from which a view of the launch could be obtained, and special interest was taken in it owing to the fact that the building of wooden vessels in Belfast has declined of late years.’ Alexander M’Laine also served as a Belfast Harbour Commissioner; he sold his yard later in the same year; the new owners resold part of the old yard to the Harbour Board who laid railway tracks through it destroying it as a shipbuilding yard.

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1940 HMS Hyacinth

The 723-ton ‘Flower’ class corvette HMS Hyacinth (Yard No. 1071) was launched today for the Admiralty. 

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1943 HMS Pincher

The 1,084-ton ‘Algerine’ class minesweeper HMS Pincher (Yard No. 1202) was launched today for the Admiralty.

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1963 Rimfonn

The 50,677-ton oil tanker Rimfonn (Yard No. 1620) was launched today for Sigval Bergesen.