Steam Ship ‘Robin’ is a typical coastal cargo steamer

of the late Victorian era, powered by steam engine and boiler but built to carry auxiliary sail where needed.

She is now the only complete survivor left of several thousand built to carry cargo around the globe, up until the 1950’s.


Born in London


Built at Orchard House Yard by Bow Creek, Blackwall in 1889, ‘Robin’ and her sister vessel ‘Rook’, were launched from slipways originally built c 1845 for Ditchburn & Mare and later used by the Thames Iron Works and Ship Building Co.

The vessels were built for R. Thomson a shipowner in the City of London by shipwrights Mackenzie, McAlpine and Co. Sent to the East India Docks nearby for final fitting out, the Robin was later towed to Dundee where Gourlay Brothers & Co Ltd installed her boiler, triple expansion engine and auxiliary machinery.

Robin unloading barrels at the      Lerwick Herring Fishing Station, Shetland Islands. C 1893

Crew & Voyages        Triple expansion engine of by Gourlay Bro’s


Sold into service with Arthur C Ponsonby & Co of Newport, South Wales. Her maiden voyage began in 1890 when her crew signed on at Liverpool for a passage to Bayonne, in south-west France, probably to carry out coal and bring back pit props for the coal mines of Wales.


Crewed by a master, mate, two engineers, four firemen and four seamen, life aboard was hard with crew living in basic accommodation with simple table, benches, wooden bunks and mattresses of straw known as ’Donkey’s Breakfasts’. Sharing their space with the muddy anchor chains coming down from deck they would eat their meals by the light of oil lamps. In contrast the master’s cabin was panelled and furnished with a polished table, settee and chair. Lit by a brass gimballed lamp it also contained a hand washbasin in a wooden cupboard; a gallon toilet can to carry water, and a container to catch the water from the basin. Simple food was cooked in a coal fired galley on deck.


Pay for the Master was £2 5s per week with crew at £1 0s who also had to find their own provisions, as a cook was rarely signed on in the UK until after the Second World War. Crew turnover was high, with men staying barely two weeks aboard between ports, but master’s tended to stay on for a year or more.

Robin’s second voyage began at Swansea in 1891, taking her to Rouen, the Mersey, Plymouth, Deauville, Guernsey, London, Rochester, Newport, Swansea, Cherbourg, and back again to the Thames.

This was to be her pattern of trading for the next ten years; mainly between the seaports of Britain and Ireland, with side trips to continental ports, carrying bulk cargoes of grain, coal, iron ore, scrap steel, china clay, and railway steel, as well as general cargoes of casked and baled goods, and even granite blocks for the Caledonian Canal in Scotland.



SS Robin at Coleraine. C 1897.


In 1892 she was sold to the West of England & France Steam Navigation Company, who within a few months sold her on to Alexander Forrester Blackater of Glasgow.


Spanish Adventures


Sold again in 1900, but this time to a Spanish company, the Robin left the U.K. for the last time, taking a new name ‘Maria’.


Her new owners A. Blanco y Cia, employed her on north west coastal trade out of Bilbao

until 1913 when she was sold again to Hijos de Angel Perez y Cia who used her to transport coal from Gijon to Santander for the bunkers of the liners owned by Cia Transatlantica Esanola S.A. During the 1914-1918 War she carried iron slabs for the French Government from a foundry at Santiago to Bayonne and Bordeaux, escorted by two destroyers to protect her from German U-boats.


In 1929 she broke from her moorings at St.Jean-de-Luz and was stranded ashore with damage amidships. In1934 she struck the jetty at Adour and was holed in two places, beached at Montbrun to prevent her sinking she later broke her moorings and capsized. Salvaged and repaired in 1935 she was sold to Mr Diaz Romeral of Castro Urdiales. During the Spanish Civil war she was laid up out of danger at San Estaban de Pravia from 1935 until 1939.




Maria at Gijon, Spain with enclosed wheelhouse C 1930-50

In 1965 Maria was sold to Eduardo de la Sota Poveda of Bilbao, who carried out the first major alterations to her structure since her launch in 1890.


Her whale back aft and mizzen mast were removed, the fore mast, main mast, and funnel were shortened and the fo’castle was extended. Her coal fired boiler was converted to oil firing, and oil tanks were installed in the coal bunker spaces. The watertight bulkhead between the cargo hold and stoke hold was moved aft to give more cargo space.

After her refit, she mostly sailed carrying coal from Gijon to Bilbao and iron ore from Bilbao to Gijon for another nine years.


Maria discharged her final cargo at Bilbao in 1974 and with her owner expecting delivery of a new vessel she was laid up ready to be sold for scrap. By this time Maria was unique, having outlived the many ships of similar design and age which had been destroyed in the preceding twenty years. Her fate should have been sealed but luckily the Maritime Trust based in the UK recognised her significance and stepped at the last moment to save her from the breaker’s yard and preserve her for future generations.


Still in working order, she left Bilbao on the 12 June 1974 and returned back to Britain under her own steam.


Robin, as Maria on return to UK.1974



London Attraction 


Cradled out of the water at Doust & Co’s Slipway yard, at Rochester, she was over several years slowly restored and returned back to her original arrangement as far as practicably possible. In 1980 she arrived under her own steam, to join the Maritime Trust’s Historic Ship Collection at St. Katherine’s Dock, London, where she was opened to all.







            Arriving in London. 1980


In 1986 this popular collection was sadly closed and dispersed, due to re-development of the Dock area, and Robin was moved to South Quay, West India Docks where she was laid up. Funds for maintenance were limited and in 1991 she sprang a leak and it was decided to dry-dock her in Chatham for repair. During this refit a number of hull plates were cropped with new steel let in, while some plates were doubled. The main and mizzen masts, which were of wood and rotten, were replaced in steel.


On her return from Chatham, Olympia & York the developers of Canary Wharf paid for the vessel to be moved to West India Quay. This required the unshipping of the masts, funnel, lifeboats and anchor davits in order to allow her to pass under the Docklands Light Railway bridge. Shortly afterwards Olympia & York ran into financial difficulties and their support for the ship ceased, leaving her with no financial security. The Maritime Trust continued to carry out basic and minimal maintenance, using crew from Cutty Sark, but was unable to find a use for the ship which could generate the revenue needed for her upkeep whilst still keeping to her original appearance. In 2002 David & Nishani Kampfner took the vessel into their care using her as maritime museum and photography gallery under the SS Robin Trust, a registered charity. In 2008 following a HLF award Robin was extensively restored and refurbished and later in recognition of her condition, age and rarity was permanently lifted out from the water and positioned onto a new purpose built pontoon, designed to accommodate museum and visitor facilities. Due to lack of space Robin and Robin II Pontoon were moved from Canary Wharf to a temporary berth at the Royal Docks in 2011.


In the most recent chapter of her history, SS Robin supported by Urban Space Management and Trinity Buoy Wharf will in soon move to a new location so that her internal refurbishment can be completed allowing her to be opened regularly to the public.















Robin and Robin II Pontoon on the move 2011


SS Robin: 143 feet 0 ins (43.50 metres) Long x 22 feet 9 ins (6.91 metres) Wide

Draught 14 feet 9 ins (3.59 metres).

Gross Tonnage 366 tons, Under Deck Tonnage 273 tons, Net tonnage176 tons


SS Robin Trust, 2D & 2E Royal Victoria Place, London. E16 1UQ                               020 7998 1343                     


Registered Charity No.1095884


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