ARMADALE CASTLE (was built in 1903 by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co at Glasgow with a tonnage of 12973grt, a length of 570ft 1in, a beam of 64ft 3in and a service speed of 17.5 knots. )
Sister of the Walmer Castle and the first ship to be ordered by Union-Castle she was, in fact, a development of the Union's Saxon.
On 26th June 1904 she became the first mail steamer to use Durban's new inner quay.
She was requisitioned for conversion as an Armed merchant Cruiser on 2nd August 1914 and joined the 10th Cruiser Squadron on the 7th August.
Resuming commercial service in 1919 she continued until 1935 when she was laid up at Netley.
She undertook one voyage as a replacement for the Winchester Castle in 1936 before being sold for scrap.
June 26, 1904, was a momentous day in the history of Port Natal. At 1130 am the Armadale Castle, 13,000 tons, with Captain J C Robinson in command, was sighted from the Bluff.
Three tugs went out to meet her, including the Titan, which had on board Mr Robin Wisely, the Durban agent of the Union-Castle Line. The Armadale Castle was at that time among the largest steamers in the world; she was drawing 22½ feet; and she was brought safely alongside ‘E’ Shed at the Point.
That night at a banquet on board the menu bore the following:
Flagship ‘Armadale Castle’
Welcome on board to our friends of Durban to celebrate the historic occasion of the first Royal Mail Steamer crossing the Bar; and Farewell to the Basket!
Union-Castle Chronicle by Marischal Murray
From Natal Mercury 25 June 2004
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the day when the first large ship was able to sail into Durban Bay.
The vessel was the Armadale Castle and she docked at E Shed on 26 June 1904. She was the new flagship of the Union-Castle Line and was 174 meters long and weighed 12976 tons. She was piloted into the harbour by Pilot Jones and escorted by the harbour tugs Harry Escombe and St John and a private tug, Titan, which was owned by the African Shipping Company.
The the docking caused considerable interest with 20,000 people visiting the harbour to see the vessel over the next few days. Her master, Captain J C Robinson, even gave a party for schoolchildren in the town.
The painting used by the Mercury on the front of the supplement was painted in 1994 by Durban artist Benjamin Barnett.
Before 1904 , the entrance to the bay had been blocked by a sandbar which had severely limited the size of ship which could enter it. The sandbar had been a danger and hindrance to shipping ever since vessels first started calling here. Sporadic efforts were made from the early 1850s to beat the sandbar. At that time, Scottish Engineer John Milne proposed a solution very similar to that which eventually worked fifty years later.
As chairman of Durban's Harbour Board in 1887, Harry Escombe probably played the major role in initiating efforts to defeat the sandbar. Harbour Engineers Edward Innes, and later Cathcart Methven, oversaw the dredging of the harbour mouth and the building of piers on either side of it.