Exhibit of the Week: MV Coronia was called up for World War Two duty

Picture of MV Coronia soon after she was built in the 1930s.
Picture of MV Coronia soon after she was built in the 1930s.

The ‘old’ Coronia, which operated in Scarborough from the mid 1930s until the late 1960s, apart from war service, was once owned and operated by the Maritime Centre’s president’s family. Martin Johnson has kept a vast number of documents, photographs, artefacts and memorabilia from that time and they are now on show at the Maritime Centre.

The ‘old’ Coronia was built in 1935 at Warren’s New Holland Shipyard, Lincolnshire, and launched into the River Humber the same year. She was designed to carry 472 passengers (later 509) with a crew of 14. Her displacement was 227 tons with a length of 127' 9", a beam of 26’ and maximum draught of 6' 6". She was engined by two x four stroke diesel engines providing 242bhp each. These are now in the National Science Museum. They powered two x four bladed 51" propellers giving her a maximum speed of 13.5 knots.

Some of MV Coronia's crew.

Some of MV Coronia's crew.

Coronia had six watertight bulkheads, a clipper style bow and cruiser stern. The promenade deck gave access around the ship, with an upper deck suitable for games and dancing. Her decking was pitched pine and the upper works were of teak. The saloons had oak panelling and all staircases were of mahogany.

Initially Scarborough businessman Jack Ellis had the vessel built and he operated her from 1935 until 1939. In 1937 she had a second dummy funnel fitted to make her more attractive to tourists. Between 1939 and 1946 she was requisitioned by the Admiralty for war service, firstly as a boom defence vessel on the River Humber, then as a detention ship on the River Tyne for both recalcitrant sailors and foreign seaman from ships sunk offshore. Her sole armament was a four inch gun. She saw service in the Mediterranean before being engaged as an attendant vessel on PLUTO, the Pipe Line Under the Ocean project, which supplied 
oil across the Channel to 
facilitate the Normandy landings.

From 1946 to 1951 she had returned to Scarborough and from 1951 until 1968 she was owned and operated by Jack Johnson and later his son Martin. In 1958 she had the privilege of escorting the Royal Yacht Britannia past Scarborough when Her Majesty was circumnavigating the British Isles.

We have newspaper cuttings from that time also showing Coronia’s visits to the Endeavour gas drilling rig situated 18 miles offshore, also filmed by BBC. Other regular visitors aboard during several summer seasons were Harry Corbett and Sooty. We have souvenir silk handkerchiefs, button badges and postcards which were sold on board, as well as the original ship’s bell, brass maker’s plate and branding iron used in marking the life-saving rafts. Also ship’s crew caps and badges including the ship’s pennant and the Johnson house flag.

By 1968 business had entered a decline, so due to dwindling passenger numbers she was sold to a business on the south coast and renamed the Bournemouth Queen, operating from Poole in Dorset. Later, sold again, she was renamed the Queen of Scots and operated by Sir Robert McAlpine on the Clyde as a ferry between 1978 and 1980 giving a service from Dunoon, then from Inverness from 1980 to 1981. Her final move came in 1982 when she became a floating night club and restaurant on the River Medway at Rochester under her new name of ‘Rochester Queen’. Some years ago she was purchased by the Medway Motor Sailing Club as their clubhouse and currently rests in the upper Medway.

The Maritime Centre is run entirely by volunteers and public donations. Entrance is free and we are open Wednesday to Sunday, 11am until 4pm.