Military Wiki
PS Duchess of Montrose
Paddle Steamer Duchess of Montrose
Paddle Steamer Duchess of Montrose in pre-war livery
Career (UK)
Name: PS Duchess of Montrose
Namesake: Violet Hermione Graham (1854-1940), Duchess of Montrose[1]
Owner: United Kingdom Caledonian Steam Packet Company
Ordered: 29 November 1901
Builder: John Brown & Company, Clydebank
Cost: £19,572
Yard number: 352
Laid down: 19 December 1901
Launched: 8 May 1902
Fate: Requisitioned by the Royal Navy on 15 February 1915
Career (UK)
Operator:  Royal Navy
Acquired: 15 February 1915
Identification: Pennant number: PP585
Fate: Mined near Gravelines on 18 March 1917
General characteristics
Class & type: Clyde paddle steamer
Tonnage: 322 tonnes
Length: 210.3 ft (64.1 m)
Beam: 25.2 ft (7.7 m)
Installed power: 206 nominal horsepower
Propulsion: Four-cylinder triple-expansion diagonal steam engine, driving paddles
Speed: 16.5 kn (30.6 km/h)

Duchess of Montrose during the First World War (Picture taken sometime between February and May 1915)

PS Duchess of Montrose was a paddle steamer launched in 1902 and operated by the Caledonian Steam Packet Company as a River Clyde excursion steamer. She saw active service during the First World War after being requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted into a minesweeper. She was lost near Dunkirk on 18 March 1917 after striking a mine.[2]


In October 1901 the Caledonian Steam Packet Company invited tenders from six of the Clyde shipyards to build a replacement for the paddle steamer Meg Merrilies. On 29 October 1901 they accepted an offer made by John Brown & Company of Clydebank to build the ship for £19,572,[3] and the keel was laid in Clydebank on 19 December 1901.[4] The minutes of the Caledonian Steam Packet Company for 4 February 1902 record that:

It was agreed, subject of the approval of Her Grace, the Duchess of Montrose, that the new steamer should be named Duchess of Montrose.[3]

Duchess of Montrose was launched on 8 May 1902[4] and achieved the contracted speed during trials on 4 June 1902.[3]


Duchess of Montrose was fitted with a triple-expansion steam engine incorporating four cylinders (two high-, one intermediate-, and one low-pressure) arranged in tandem to drive two cranks. This arrangement was considered more efficient than the conventional two-cylinder compound steam engine and provided greater manoeuvrability at piers. The use of relatively small paddle wheels, intended to save wear and tear, meant that Duchess of Montrose had a diminutive paddlebox and, in conjunction with a very vertical funnel, she was easily recognisable amongst the Clyde fleet. She featured saloons fore and aft and an open bow under the promenade deck.[3]


Excursion steamer[]

Initially employed on the Ayr station,[4] she went on to service both the Gourock and Wemyss Bay routes[5] before being used for general railway connections further upstream.[6]


On 15 February 1915, along with Duchess of Argyll and Duchess of Hamilton, she was requisitioned by the Admiralty as a troopship and spent the first few months of her service ferrying troops from Southampton to France. It is reported that she initially arrived in Southampton in her Caledonian Steam Packet livery but was soon repainted naval grey.[7]


In May 1915 she was given the pennant number PP585 and converted into a minesweeper by Lieutenant Commander W G Rigg. This work involved having the end of her saloon cut away to main deck level and replaced with minesweeping equipment. From 14 July 1915 she was stationed at Dover under the command of Lieutenant Alexander Duff Thomson Royal Naval Reserve and from April 1916 she was stationed at Dunkirk.[7]

Salvage of SS Sussex[]

Between 1 and 3 January 1917, PS Duchess of Montrose, HMS Myrmidon, HMS Nepaulin, HMS Redcar, HMT Security assisted in the salvage of SS Sussex, each ship receiving a portion of the salvage money.[8]


On the morning of Sunday 18 March 1917, Duchess of Montrose left Dunkirk harbour and at 9am began sweeping close to the Gravelines Buoy. She recovered five mines (from Barrage 248 laid by the U-Boat UB-12 [9][10]) before stopping for low water.[11] Around an hour after she resumed sweeping, Duchess of Montrose hit a mine amidships, broke in two and sank in less than a minute.[11] Her wreck lies at 51°03′N 2°07′E / 51.05°N 2.117°E / 51.05; 2.117[10][12]


The Grave of Donald John MacLennan on the Scottish island of Scarp

Thirty-one of the crew of Duchess of Montrose are reported to have been rescued,[11] but twelve men were lost in the sinking.[13]

Name Rank or Rate
William James Brown 2nd Engineer, Mercantile Marine Reserve
William Fair 3rd Engineer, Mercantile Marine Reserve
Thomas Edward Gibbon Trimmer, Royal Naval Reserve
Robert Houston Steward, Mercantile Marine Reserve
Gerald Lawrence Lesmond Temporary Sub-Lieutenant, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
Norman MacDonald Deck Hand, Royal Naval Reserve
Archibald Macelwee Temporary Engineer Sub-Lieutenant
Donald John MacLennan Deck Hand, Royal Naval Reserve
Alexander MacPherson Assistant Steward, Mercantile Marine Reserve
Cyril Hambly Panther Ordinary Telegraphist, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
Alfred Robert Tuffin Petty Officer (Pensioner) (Lifeboatman, Coastguard)
Christopher Warden Deck Hand, Royal Naval Reserve

Nine of those lost have no known grave and their names are recorded on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.

  • Norman MacDonald is buried at Dunkirk Town Cemetery (Grave Ref: I.I.7) [14]
  • Cyril Hambly Panther is buried at Lewisham (Hither Green) Cemetery [15]
  • Donald John MacLennan is buried at Scarp Burial Ground[16]

The grave of William Earnest Sparkes is located at Dover (St James's) Cemetery; he is reported to have died of heart disease on 8 July 1917, four months after the sinking.[17]

Bravery awards[]

Lieutenant Alexander Duff Thomson RNR received the Distinguished Service Cross on 2 July 1917 for minesweeping operations carried out in Duchess of Montrose between 1 June 1916 and 31 March 1917. His citation read:

His zeal and attention to duties are above the average, and I have had personal experience of his coolness and resource. He was blown up in P.M.S. Duchess of Montrose and 10 days afterwards, as soon as a ship could be found for him, he was again sweeping in the area in which he was blown up.

The London Gazette, 29 June 1917[18][19]


  1. "Violet Herminoe Graham, Duchess of Montrose at". Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  2. "Lists of Naval Losses". Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Paterson, Alan J.S. (1969) The Golden Years of the Clyde Steamers (1889-1914). David & Charles Ltd. ISBN 0-7153-4290-8
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Launched 1902: PS Duchess of Montrose". Retrieved 2008-09-18. 
  5. McQueen, Andrew (1923) Clyde River Steamers 1872-1922, The Strong Oak Press, ISBN 1-871048-17-6
  6. "Duchess of Montrose at Paddle Steamer Resources website". Tramscape. Retrieved 2008-09-18. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Bacon, Sir Reginald (1919). The Dover Patrol 1915-1917. George H. Doran Company.
  8. Smith, Gordon. "ROYAL NAVY SHIPS RECEIVING NAVAL SALVAGE and PRIZE BOUNTY MONEY". Naval History. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  9. Spindler, Arno.(1941) Der Krieg zur See, 1914-1918: Handelskrieg mit U-Booten, Volume 4. E.S. Mittler und Sohn.
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Ships hit during WWI - Duchess of Montrose". Retrieved 2008-09-18. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Dorling, Captain Taprell (1935) Swept channels: being an account of the work of the minesweepers in the Great War. Hodder and Stoughton Ltd. ISBN 978-0-19-822496-9
  12. "HMS Duchess of Montrose (PP585)". Retrieved 2008-09-18. 
  13. "Royal Navy Casualties, killed and died, March 1917". Retrieved 2008-09-18. 
  14. "CWGC: Casualty Details, MacDonald N". The Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 2008-09-18. 
  15. "The War Graves Photographic Project, Cyril Hambly Panther". The War Graves Photographic Project. Retrieved 2008-09-18. 
  16. "CWGC: Casualty Details, MacLennan D J". The Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 2008-09-18. 
  17. "The War Graves Photographic Project,Sparkes, William Ernest". The War Graves Photographic Project. Retrieved 2008-09-18. 
  18. ADM 171 / 84 Q 025 Recommendations, Honours & Awards to RN, RNR, RNVR, RM, RFC, RNAS, RAF. The National Archives, Kew.
  19. "Honours for Service in Mine-Sweeping Operations". The London Gazette. 29 June 1917. 

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