OUR latest maritime heritage story, by Roy Pedersen, takes a look back at the story of the hard-working Ardrossan-Arran steamer, the Marchioness of Graham.

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AFTER our family had flitted to Aberdeen, we remained regular visitors to Ardrossan/Saltcoats and the Clyde coast to maintain relations with grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends.

On one such occasion as a wee laddie in the early 1950s at Largs, I spied a steamer approaching from the south.

“Aye,” confirmed my father, “that’s the Marchioness of Graham, the Arran understudy.”

That is my first memory of the Marchioness of Graham, but in truth the term understudy was unfair for, as we shall see, while most of the more glamorous members of Clyde fleet spent the winter slumbering snugly in sheltered berths, the sturdy Graham carried on year-round battling winter gales as a given part of her lot.

She was versatile, a hard-working steamer.

Designed as a replacement for Atalanta for the Ardrossan Arran service, Marchioness of Graham was of 585 gross registered tons and her length between perpendiculars was 220 feet.

She was launched on March 6,1936 by Fairfield Engineering & Shipbuilding Co, Glasgow and named by Lady Graham.

She was propelled by twin screws, driven by two sets of turbines through single reduction gearing supplied by steam provided by a coal fired Scotch boiler, the combination of which gave her a mean speed on trials of 17.65 knots.

With well-proportioned and raked single funnel and masts, the Graham had in profile somewhat similar to the appearance of the then recently commissioned paddle steamers Mercury and Caledonia, although the positioning of the bridge above the forward deckhouse somewhat marred the overall ensemble.

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She had a winter class IIA passenger capacity for 300 and up to 1,300 in summer on a Steam V certificate, first class accommodation being aft and third class forward.

There was clear space on promenade deck amidships for cars, cargo. Her crew complement was 32.

Before World War II she was closely associated with the Ardrossan – Arran station, running in consort with the elegant turbine (the second) Glen Sannox in summer and providing the winter service on her own.

She was also employed on cruises from Gourock on Sundays and other special sailings.

Marchioness of Graham remained on the Clyde during the war, painted black and ochre, with her name blocked out and with just M of G’HAM on a temporary board.

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She mainly served Wemyss-Bay – Largs – Millport – Kilchattan Bay and other upper firth links, but also providing supplementary sailings to Arran from Fairlie on certain occasions.

Immediately after hostilities ended, Marchioness of Graham had a short spell on the Holy Loch run, then back on the Millport station, until relieved by Durchess of Fife, thereafter providing cruises from Gourock.

Then on Saturday, June 29, 1946, when 200 Arran bound passengers were left behind at Ardrossan by Glen Sannox’s 10.25 sailing, the Graham was brought back to the Arran run to augment peak sailing days.

As the post-war fleet was restored to something like full strength, albeit well below pre-war levels, sailings from Ayr were recommenced on Monday June, 17, 1947 by Marchioness of Graham.

She continued to be based at Ayr thereafter as well as assisting on the Ardrossan – Brodick route at peak times until replaced on the Ayr station in 1954 by Caledonia, of fond memory and on which I have written in the past.

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With the withdrawal of the turbine Glen Sannox in 1954, and pending the arrival of the new side loading car ferry Glen Sannox in the summer of 1957.the Graham returned to Ardrossan to replace her as the main Arran boat, supplemented in summer by Caledonia.

Thereafter Marchioness of Graham played second fiddle, including providing the early Monday morning “death run” from Brodick.

It was around this time that I had my last and most notable encounter with the Marchioness of Graham.

As mentioned in a previous article, I had been invited to Lochranza by Finlay Murchie, erstwhile third engineer on the doomed Hudsons Bay ship Baychimo to go sea-fishing off Skipness Point.

The outward journey was by the new Glen Sannox, Finlay urging me to tell my parents that I would (like a real deep-water sailor) bring back a parrot.

On the return journey the following day, running late, we missed the Sannox’s last mainland-bound sailing of the day, but managed to catch a late sailing by the old Graham to either Ayr or Troon, I can’t now remember which; the later I think.

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It was not a parrot that I returned home with. But a very large cod, which like all fishermen’s tales, has grown larger with the telling.

We took the AA bus to Saltcoats where Finlay delivered cod and me late to my somewhat anxiously awaiting parents.

After the introduction of the new Glen Sannox, the Graham operated cruises from Largs and Rothesay including reviving “up-river” cruises to Glasgow, then on July 7, Caledonia broke down and Marchioness of Graham, took over her Ayr cruises.

That is without doubt how it was her and not Caledonia that Finlay and I caught on that memorable evening.

But it was near the end for the old stager.

The Marchioness of Graham was laid up during 1958 at the end of which she was sold to Greek owners, departing on January 5. 1959 for service out of Piraeus and renamed Hellas.

Two MAN diesels were installed in place of her turbines, she was lengthened and her superstructure was completely rebuilt such that she was unrecognisable.

Her ownership changed several times before she ended up as a private yacht, surviving into the 1970s.