It was a final farewell from London for the RMS St Helena. After having been moored against HMS Belfast in the London Basin on the River Thames since Tuesday it was time to go. Probably. With a backdrop of lunch at Hayes Galleria awash with its seafaring and commercial heritage, an afternoon at the Tower of London overawed by sovereign history the evening was spent watching the RMS bidding its final goodbye to London marking a final fragment of imperial history. For a potted history of England through the ages the setting had pretty much everything covered when you include the iconic new additions to the London skyline. But just to be sure it was the day of the Queen’s 90th birthday 21 gun salute from the Tower and Prince Philips 95 birthday.
David Kemp’s wonderfully imagined ‘The Navigators’ at Hayes Galleria. ‘High, but not dry, in the Pool of London. The IRON FISH dreams of voyages past steaming through typhoons and ice pack’.
The RMS made her way into the Pool of London on 7th June and has been host to all manner of events before finally leaving it on 10th June. It was the final hurrah for the last Royal Mail Ship that actually carries mail (two others still hold the designation one in Penzance (RMS Sillonian 111) servicing the Isles of Scilly and one in Ontario (RMS Segwun)). Royal Mail Ships having once been the hub of the British imperial machine taking communications around the world they have been overtaken by faster methods; planes and telecommunications. Royal Mail Ships were run by a number of different lines including White Star, Cunard, Royal Mail and Union-Castle Lines but the common link was they were allowed to fly the Royal Mail Pennant including the royal crown although constrained by tight deadlines (relatively speaking). The designation RMS has been around since 1840 when the Admiralty started the first ships but the RMS St Helena is more modern with several ships having operated the route. The current incarnation was built in 1989 with serving the small British Overseas Territory in mind and after over 25years is due for retirement. An airport has been built and recently certified, but is undergoing further wind condition monitoring due to particularly turbulent wind shear conditions making it a challenging landing for larger planes. Whilst the solution is being sought (possibly landing in the other direction on the runway at the right time of day), the RMS will be running a little while longer yet to support the new freight shipping service due to start. And after that there are rumours of interest from Alderney, as a passenger and freight ferry. Ongoing service seems entirely likely for this sturdy work horse. What better way to celebrate it than in it’s setting at the Pool of London to a back drop of the Tower of London and the Queen’s 21 Gun Salute?
Final departure through Tower Bridge:
But I’m sure there will be more reminders of St Helena to come. After months in the cupboard I dug out some shorts this morning and found some thoroughly washed St Helena money in the pocket. This afternoon I had a conversation about the island with a surprisingly well informed optician. In the meantime we’re thinking of friends on St Helena whilst catching up with others who have similarly fond recollections and came to wave the RMS off into the sunset.
See here for a thoughtful piece on what the future might mean for St Helena.