Newport has seen a huge variety of ships come and go over the years. From paddle steamers to sailing ships and cable layers - they've all come here. The Argus has often been there to photograph them too. Here MARTIN WADE delves in the archive to tell the stories of some of our sea-going visitors.

Glen Usk

South Wales Argus: SHIPPING CENTRE: The Glen Usk setting off from Davis Wharf in Newport with the twon bridge and castle in the background (49160484)

STEAMER: The Glen Usk sails from the centre of Newport with the castle and town bridge behind

Paddle steamers used to be regular visitors to Newport and ships of P&A Campbell or the White Funnel line would often sail up the Usk as far as the town bridge if the tide was high.

The Usk in Newport today is crossed by four bridges downstream from the town bridge. When steamers last sailed into Newport, there was only the Transporter to contend with. Built to let the tallest of ships pass underneath, vessels could sail into the heart of the town.

The departing paddle-steamer would face south on Davis Wharf with the Art College to its left and the town bridge behind. A floating landing stage would rise and fall with the tide.

The ‘paddlers’ were well-suited to cope with the huge tidal range of both the Usk and Severn Estuaries. Their flat bottoms meant they stayed in service long after paddles gave way to propellers elsewhere on the sea.

One of these striking ships was the Glen Usk. Built by Ailsa Shipbuilding Company of Troon in 1914 she served as a minesweeper in both world wars. She had not long completed her first journey from Weston Super Mare to Newport on 17 July 1914 when she was called upon by the Navy. She was still with them at the war’s end in November 1918 when she was present at the surrender of the Imperial German High Seas Fleet.

During the Second World War, many surrendered their white funnels to be painted navy grey. The Glen Usk was renamed HMS Glenesh.

After the war the Glen Usk was one of the few Campbells steamers that were considered fit for reconditioning, although she needed much overhauling.


South Wales Argus: DOOMED: The Bombay-registered Jalamorari alongside at Newport docks in 1975

DOOMED: The Bombay-registered Jalamorari alongside at Newport docks in 1975

This Bombay-registered freighter was to meet a sad end after it was photographed in Newport Docks in November 1975.

Seven years later, she sank 700 miles off the coast of Oregon in heavy storm seas and gale-force winds in December 1982.

The 500-foot cargo ship began taking on water and the wood pulp and asbestos in its holds became saturated, preventing the crew from pumping the water out. The crew sent a ‘Mayday’ and were rescued by a Singapore cargo ship, the Timur Girl.

At 1am when it came alongside the foundering Jalamorari, it found one lifeboat with 38 people aboard in huge waves and 60-knot winds.

While those survivors boarded their rescue ship, another lifeboat was lowered from the stricken freighter, this one with the remaining 23 crew members aboard. Almost as soon as the second lifeboat was adrift, the Jalamorari sank.

Sadly the chief engineer lapsed into unconsciousness and died shortly after being pulled from a lifeboat. The remaining 60 crew all survived.

Jamaica Producer

South Wales Argus: DOCKING: The Jamaican Producer entering Newport docks in 1980

DOCKING: The Jamaican Producer entering Newport docks in 1980

Typical of the ships that would bring exotic produce from around the world was the Jamaica Producer. Shown here being eased into Newport Docks by tug, she plied the transatlantic routes to bring bananas to South Wales for sale on the British market.

The ship ran from the early seventies from Jamaica to the UK with a mix of British and Jamaican crew.

She was launched at Lithgow’s yard in Glasgow in 1962 under the British flag and met her end at Gadani Beach in Pakistan in 1985, where ships are beached to be broken up. Ships to be scrapped are run aground on the beach under their own power, then gradually dismantled. As the weight of the ship decreases, it is dragged further onto the beach until scrapping is completed.

Scrapping ships at Gadani uses large amounts of cheap, local labour with much of the work done by hand. Workers often earn as little as $12 a day, and are exposed to great danger. It is said to be the world’s most efficient ship breaking yard with ships being broken up within 30 to 45 days.

This is the kind of work which would have been done at Cashmores breakers’ yard in Newport. Had the Jamaica Producer been retired ten years earlier, she might have ended her days on the banks of the Usk at the hands of Newport worker’s cutting torch.

Malcolm Miller

South Wales Argus: STRIKING: The Malcolm Miller at Newport docks in 1973

STRIKING: The Malcolm Miller at Newport docks in 1973

Launched in 1967, the Malcolm Miller is a three-mast schooner designed by Camper & Nicholsons. Half of its cost was donated by Sir James Miller, a former Lord Mayor of London and Lord Provost of Edinburgh. She was named in memory of Sir James’s son Malcolm, who had been killed in a car crash. She was built by John Lewis & Sons in Aberdeen and is one of the original ships used in the 1960s by the Sail Training Association, now called the Tall Ships Youth Trust.

Long after this picture was taken in 1973, her fate took a turn for the worse. She caught fire in 2008 and fell into disrepair. She was found derelict on the River Fal in Cornwall with her deck rotting and interior flooded. In 2012 she was bought for little more than scrap value and taken to Gdansk in Poland, where she has been transformed into a plush superyacht.

John W Mackay

South Wales Argus: CABLE-LAYER: The John W Mackay in dry dock at Newport

CABLE-LAYER: The John W Mackay in dry dock at Newport

Not the typical visitor to Newport was the John W Mackay. A cable-laying ship, she was built in 1924, but was still hard at work when she came here in 1974. She was built in 1922 by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson. If it was a cable ship you wanted, the chances are that it would be built by this firm, based at the Neptune Works in Newcastle.

Submarine cables were first used in 1850 when a one was laid across the English Channel. The first transatlantic cable was put down eight years later.

The John W Mackay was built for the Commercial Cable Company and based at Halifax, Nova Scotia on Atlantic repair duties. Her job was both to lay cables along the sea bed and to repair them. It was thanks to ships like her that transatlantic phone calls were possible. It was such a specialised job that not many of her kind were built, which explains her long working life.

She would carry enormous drums of cables her hold which were paid out by the winches on the ship’s bow and stern. Cables laid this way linked Britain with the four corners of the world from the Victorian age but are still used in a much modernised form.

Later in life, the John W Mackay had a couple of brushes with fame. When Prince Charles and the then Lady Diana Spencer were married in 1981, they were to travel down the Thames on the royal yacht Britannia after the wedding. But the John W Mackay was then moored at Greenwich in a very sorry state. So rather than have the royal couple pictured by the world’s press passing by what was by then a very rusty ship, she was completely repainted.

Another claim to fame for this venerable vessel was an appearance in the 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The John W Mackay appeared during a chase scene through Venice which saw speedboats race past the ship. The scene was actually filmed on the River Thames at Tilbury Docks in Essex.

Sunflower E

South Wales Argus: MODERN: The Sunflower E in Newport Docks

MODERN: The Sunflower E in Newport Docks

The plight of the cargo ship Sunflower E shone a light on the conditions that some merchant sailors find themselves in today.

The ship’s 13 crew from Indonesia, the Philippines and Romania were stranded in Newport docks for nearly four months in 2016 after authorities seized their ship due to unpaid debts.

The crew who hadn’t been paid in more than four months were desperate to go home and see their families.

Speaking to the Argus they said they had no hot water and their fridge had broken and they only had enough fuel to last the week. They had been supplied with food and water by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), but concerns have been growing about the “deteriorating conditions” on board.

See ‘It’s the Weekend’ in tomorrow’s Argus for more pictures of yesteryear.