Saturday, February 02, 2008


Great War steam veteran Viola and her bell are back together again - for the first tme on over 85 years


Shetland Today
By Robb Robinson
February 01, 2008

The former steam trawler and whaler Viola at
Grytviken in South Georgia. The bell is held by
Grytviken museum curator Elsa Davidson.

THE OLDEST surviving steam trawler in the world with, with her engines still intact, has been reunited with her original bell for the first time since about 1921.

The Viola, which patrolled the waters around Shetland during the First World War, was later converted for whaling and now lies rusting at the abandoned station at Grytviken in South Georgia.

Built for the Hellyer North Sea trawling fleet of Hull the Viola was launched at Beverley in East Yorkshire in 1906 and fitted with steam engines built by the Hull firm, Amos and Smith. A sister ship, the Antonio, built alongside her at Beverley, was lost with all hands on her second voyage in March 1906.

The Viola was requisitioned by the Admiralty for anti-submarine duties and armed. Between the autumn of 1914 and September 1916 she patrolled the waters around Shetland in the war against U-boats, which threatened to cut off Britain's food and raw material supplies.

She worked regularly out of Lerwick and Scalloway and a regular patrol was between Muckle Flugga and the Shetland Mainland, where she had at least one armed encounter with a U-boat.

Two people involved with the Viola died while she was based in Shetland. One of the crew, Thomas Craven, drowned in Lerwick Harbour in late 1914 and is buried in the Lerwick New Cemetery. The wife of the Viola's skipper, Mary Allum, moved to Lerwick after her husband was based there and died in the town in the late summer of 1916.

After leaving Shetland in September 1916 to patrol from Shields during the Great War, she had a number of encounters with U-boats and was involved in the sinking of the UB-30 and almost certainly the UB-115 in 1918.

She was also involved in the epic rescue of the crew of a French vessel being driven ashore in a great storm off Scarborough in 1917. Her skipper for much of the war, Charles Allum, was mentioned in despatches in 1918.

After the war she was sold to Norway, converted for whaling and then later moved to South Georgia where she was used in the hunting of elephant seals, one of the few examples in the world of sustainable hunting of marine mammals.

She was also used for expeditions in the Southern Oceans for over 40 years ­ longer than perhaps any other ship in these waters. In the 1930s she also managed to relieve the remote Argentinean weather station at Laurie Island when other attempts had failed.

The Viola was at Gryviken in early 1982 when the base was captured by Argentine forces and three weeks later when the British retook the settlement, so must be one of the few ships to have "seen action" in both the Great War and the Falklands War.

The most southerly museum in the world is now based at Grytviken and caters for visitors from the many tourist ships which visit the Antarctic and South Atlantic waters. The Viola is a vessel of international significance, a tribute to her builders and the seamen who worked in her. Her future, however, is uncertain.

The Viola's bell was located on a farm in southern Norway in 2006, almost exactly 100 years after the trawler's first voyage, and many people contributed to a fund which raised money for its purchase and return to Hull. The bell was subsequently placed on display in the auction room of Hull's Fishgate Fishmarket and rung to open the auctions.

However, the South Georgia Heritage Trust decided to mount a display about the trawler at the museum at Grytviken. They contacted the Maritime Historical Studies Centre at Hull University and, after discussions with Fishgate and the Hull Maritime Museum, organised for the bell and the ship's model to be loaned to the museum for the southern summer season there.

The logistics of getting it safely to the South Atlantic ­ South Georgia is one of the remotest places in the world and three days' voyage from the Falklands ­ were achieved with the help of the Paul Escreet, managing director of the Hull firm Specialist Maritime Services.

It took many weeks for the voyage south but the reunion has now taken place as the accompanying photographs show. The bell will return at the end of the season, hopefully in time for the 90th anniversary of the Great War Armistice.

It would be nice to think that at some time in the future a place could be found for this trawler, a symbol of Hull's illustrious maritime past and veteran of the Great War at sea, to return to Hull. It would be nice to see at least this ship return home.

If any readers are interested in more details relating to the Viola they can be found on


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