Ben Line Steamers of Leith S.S. Benrinnes built in 1914

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With Reuben Goossens

Maritime Historian, Cruise‘n’Ship Reviewer, Author & Lecturer

Please Note: All ssmaritime and my other related ssmaritime sites are 100% non-commercial and privately owned sites. Be assured that I am NOT associated with any cruise or shipping companies or travel/cruise agencies or any other organisations! The author has been in the passenger shipping industry since May 1960 and is now semi-retired, but continues to write article on classic liners and cruise ships in order to better to inform cruise and ship enthusiasts for their pleasure!


Ben Line Steamers Ltd of Leith (Scotland)

S.S. Benrinnes


A superb watercolour large postcard of the S.S. Benrinnes (1) by Maritime Author, Artist & dear friend, the late Mr. Laurence Dunn

With Ben Line 1914 to 1937 & Westcliff Shipping Co, 1937 to 1938

Introduction to Ben Line:

The origins of “Ben Line Steamers Ltd” commenced with the completion of a fine sailing ship, the Barque “Carrara” in 1839 for William and Alexander Thomson. She was built and designed to operate to and from Italy, from where she would bring back to England high quality imported marble.

In 1847 Alexander Thomson retired from the partnership and “William Thomson & Company” of Leith was officially founded, with their new trade having been commenced transporting British coal to Canada, and returning laden with Canadian timber. Soon their fleet increased rapidly, as their services widened throughout the globe, with some ships having space for some first class passengers. For in 1859 their sent their first ship to Singapore, China and Japan and soon after the Far East would become the company's major trade route.

As the company continued to expand, services were extended to the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean regions, but then in the mid-1880’s it was decided that the Canadian timber trade would come to an end.

In 1919 the company was officially renamed the "Ben Line Steamers Ltd" and in 1927 the last of their Baltic Sea ships was sold, but the company grew from strength to strength. In 1976 "Sheaf Steam Shipping Co", of Newcastle was taken over, but by 1991 with the decline in British shipping, Ben Line combined with "East Asiatic Co", Copenhagen commenced to operate a weekly service to the Far East. However, late in 1992 it was decided that they would dispose of all their ships, and by 1996 the only remaining maritime asset left was an oil rig.

I trust the above has given you a brief insight to what was a very successful shipping company for an amazing 146 years, for sadly during the final 7 years the company was falling first into a slow, but then a rapid decline as the bottom dropped out of British shipping, with it being taken over by International giants from Asia and around Europe, including the merger of Nedlloyd, later became the giant P&O-NedLloyd, taken over by the massive Maersk Line. Then there were the Asian and other huge companies, and Ben Line was simply no competition with these companies with their massive fleets, thus sadly this fine Scottish firm had to come to an end after 153 long years!

Reuben Goossens.

Construction of the S.S. Benrinnes:

“Ben Line Steamers” of Leith ordered a new twelve passenger-cargo ship to be constructed by Bartram & Sons Ltd, at their Sunderland yards. The intended name would be the “Benrinnes” and her keel was laid down in Yard 233 around April 1914.

Here we see the ‘Benrinnes’ under construction at Bartram & Sons Ltd, Yard Number 233

Then came the day that the almost completed S.S. Benrinnes was launched at a fine ceremony and she was officially named ‘Benrinnes’ on June 10, 1914 and amazingly she would be fully completed within a month and a half. She became the first of five ships to feature the name “Benrinnes” on their bow, with the last ship being the Benrinnes (V) having been purchassed from “James Fisher & Sons” in 1977, but she was sold just three years later.

Passenger services:

The Benrinnes offered accommodation for 12 First Class passengers in the very best of comfort, for her voyages were long as she would sail to the Far East and also sail as far as Australia at times, depending the cargo’s, and she would and remain in ports for up to 5 or 6 days.

The ship had a beautifully furnished lounge with sofas and tables and chairs providing the ships guests the option to have conversation nooks or private reading areas, there was also a piano located in the centre of the forward wall. Windows were located on all three sides of the lounge providing ample light during the day as well as fresh air when required. Entertainment was generally organised by the passengers and it worked well, and considering these voyages tended to be rather long guests quickly came to know each other well and tended to enjoy them selves on board and when in port would often head off on various excursions together. The lounge being the main public venue on board was spacious for just 12 passengers and it was serviced by a waiter and there was a service bar. However, there was also a small writing room; both of these venues were located in the forward superstructure on Shelter Deck.

Although this lounge is technically not from the Benrinnes, but it is typical from an identical ship, size and the time built

Outside the door of the lounge there was a small lobby with a staircase going down directly into the dinning room, located below the lounge above. Aft of the lobby there were two passenger staterooms. Whilst further aft on Shelter Deck were the other six staterooms, thus there were a total of 8 passengers Staterooms. In all there were four two bedded rooms and four single bedded rooms, all staterooms had a window that could open, and all were comfortably furnished.

An example of one of the Benrinnes two bedded staterooms

Again as no photographs seem to exist, this is from a ship of an identical style & built around the very same time

When sailing on the S.S. Benrinnes every passenger was assured that ever luxury was made available, for, unlike what many tended to think, travelling on a cargo ship was not travelling on a budget, for this was sailing in sheer comfort and in luxury, eating the best and being well served, for this was “Ben Line Steamships Ltd” who only provided the very best of everything!

Service Record:

Due to her rapid finish by the builders, she was delivered to her owners late in July, 1914, considering most of the work on the ship had already been done, and therefore she was soon ready to sail. She departed and headed for Asia being what would be the regular region she would be sailing to.

S.S. Benrinnes is seen here at full steam ahead

According to reports, passengers and her crew seem to remember her as being “a Happy Ship”

World War Two:

At the outbreak of World War One “Ben Line” operated nineteen ships that included five ships of their Baltic Fleet. From their remaining fourteen, seven ships had been taken up for War Duties by the Government. Of those seven requisitioned two were lost due to enemy action.

The first ship to be requisitioned was the S.S. Benlarig in April, 1915, which for the purpose of War became known as the “Collier” No. 617 and she carried cargoes as diverse as timber, sugar as well as grain.

In December, 1916, the S.S. Benlarig departed the UK and she was bound for Australia, where she collected a cargo of wheat. After loaded her cargo the Benlarig departed Fremantle (Perth) Western Australia on the April 2, 1917, but tragically she was never heard off, or ever seen again. At the time sabotage was suspected but there was no evidence of this and it was impossible to determine. However there was German activity in the waters where she was sailing and it must have been an unexpected attack. After her loss, Ben Line never used her name again.

Between the final two months of 1915 and the end of 1917 the Government requisitioned six further of the Ben Line ships, the; S.S. Benlawers, Bencleuch, Benvenue, Benlomond, Benrinnes and Benmohr.

U-Boat Attack on the S.S. Benrinnes:

On October 2, 1918 the S.S. Benrinnes amazingly survived what was turned out to be the last submarine enemy attack of the First World War, whilst she operated an Atlantic voyage, and a German Submarine had fired to torpedoes and thankfully both missed by just a little, but that was enough, for there was no damage whatsoever! Soon thereafter she was retuned to her owners, and she was restored to her original state.

Back in Regular Service:

S.S. Benrinnes returned to her regular duties and she proved to be a very successful and a profitable ship for Ben Line and in total she sailed for the company a good 23 years.

For her crew and passengers, as well as ship lovers she reported that she was a much loved ship, and as I stated earlier, both passengers and her crew clearly revealed that she was also “a Happy Ship”.

Officers and a special passenger seen on the ships Bridge


The Photographs above & below were kindly provided by Judith Gouw the Granddaughter of Mr. R Simpson who served on board the S.S. Benrinnes


Jnr Officer on the Bridge wing

Thus it was obvious as 1930’s arrived, many began to worry that Ben Line might be soon thinking of disposing of her, due to the downturn in the British Shipping Industry as well as newer ships having come into service.

The magnificent and well maintained S.S. Benrinnes was the very last ship to have been constructed for the company with a magnificent clipper bow and cruiser stern giving her that stunning classic profile of what is now from a long bygone era!

The S.S. Benrinnes is seen just prior to her being sold in 1937

The crew and those who closely followed the ship began to realise that by the mid 1930’s that it began to look like that she would be sold, but although it would still be a number of years, but it did occur in December 1937 when the Benrinnes was sadly sold.

The short life of the S.S. Thorpeness:

S.S. Benrinnes was obtained by “Westcliff Shipping Co. Ltd” of London, who renamed her “Thorpeness” and this fine ship which was in perfect order and she was ready to continue sailing. She was placed into the company’s service, but apparently she was also used at times as a blockade runner during the “Spanish Civil War”. But sadly she would only have a very short life with “Westcliff Shipping” at absolutely no fault due to them or anyone aboard the ship.

Whilst S.S. Thorpeness was on a normal merchant voyage from Marseilles to Valencia with her holds filled with a cargo of wheat but the Spanish Civil War was still going on, the ship was suddenly attacked from the air on June 22, 1938, and she was hit and badly damaged. Due to this attack she caught fire and she sank rapidly just one mile off her destination - Valencia.

Sadly 7 of her crew were killed and 8 others were wounded, but the rest of her survivors did manage to get to safety, considering they were not far from shore. The ship sank in deep waters and she remains there to this day.

S.S. Benrinnes Specifications and Details:

Tonnage:…………………………...4,798 GRT (Gross Registered Tons), 3,071 NRT (Net Registered Tons).

Length:……………………………….405 ft - 123,44 m.

Width:…………………………………51.5 ft - 15,67 m.

Draught:……………………………..26,9 ft - 8,15 m.

Power Plant:……………………….Triple expansion 3-Cylinder Engine  435 NHP, by “North Eastern Marine Engineering Co. Ltd” of Sunderland.

Propellers:……………………………Single screw.

Speed:…………………………………12.5 knots - service speed.

Cabins:………………………………..8 First Class Staterooms - 4 twin bedded & 4 singles.




In Conclusion:

We have already read the history of the wonderful “Ben Line Steamers Ltd” company of Leith, Scotland, and now know that the company as an operational shipping line ended late in 1992, when they disposed what was left of their fleet.

But, in this feature, I have only covered one of their earlier wonderful steam ships and then the S.S. Benrinnes, being a ship which was the last of their kind in the fleet a fine looking clipper bow ship. Therefore, I felt it would be good to show you three of their later passenger-cargo liners from the 1960’s & 70’s, and of course they were built in Glasgow, Scotland.

M.S. Benvalla (I):

The first ship is the 11,391 GRT M.S. Benvalla, which was built and completed in September 1962. Also operating on the Asian Service she carried first class passengers is the best of comfort as has been the way of Ben Line from the very beginning. She was sold to a Chinese company in November 1972.

M.S. Benvalla, the four large windows forward is the passenger lounge, and the windows next to it is the dinning room

This series of ships were the last to have their superstructure amidships as you will note with the next ship!

The Benvalla (II) was completed in 1979, but in 1987 she was chartered out to several companies, which continued until early 1993 when she was returned to Ben Line. She was sold within weeks to a Singaporean Company who renamed her ‘Eagle Moon’.

S.S. Bencruachan (III):

The next ship I would like to show you is the last design the company would feature, being the 1968 built, 12,092 GRT, S.S. Bencruachan (III), which unlike her earlier sister above was again a steam ship, but she was given the same engines as the QE2, being the then revolutionary Pametrada Steam Turbine design engines, having 20,000 SHP, giving her a service speed of 21.5 knots. One of this ships features were her twin slim-line upright funnels being almost a steal from the 1960 P&O S.S. Canberra.

S.S. Bencruachan (III) had her superstructure located aft, providing additional passenger deck pace as well as a swimming pool

Her, but she offered a great deal of comfort

M.S. Benlawers (V):

Finally there is the 1970 completed 12,784 GRT, M.S. Benlawers (V). She was of a similar design as the ship, the S.S. Bencruachan (III) above, except it was decided to return to the traditional single funnel. Apart from that her aft layout was very much the same, and her passenger public rooms and accommodations were of the highest standards!

M.S. Benlawers V

In October 1978 she was sold to “Zepconcorde Inc.,” of Singapore and renamed “Globe Express”. She was later sold and rebuilt into livestock carrier. But on September 2, 1996 whilst the ship was on a voyage from Australia to Aquaba, she was abandoned by her crew after a fire had commenced in the engine room, as it had spread throughout the ship. There were 67,488 sheep aboard, all of which perished in the fire and they all wend down with the ship when it sank. All the crew survived.

“Blue Water Liners sailing to the distant shores.
I watched them come, I watched them go and I watched them die.”



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