SS Gothic: The final chapter

Gothic in Wellington, around 5 Sep 1968, with fresh paint on her bridge
SS Gothic in Wellington, around 5 Sep 1968, with fresh paint on her bridge.
Photo: Evening Post, Alexander Turnbull Library

After the dreadful fire at sea on 1 August 1968, SS Gothic was repaired in Wellington, New Zealand. Some of the worst damaged areas of the ship were permanently sealed, but the bridge and officers’ accommodation were rebuilt sufficiently for the trip to England.

A new Marconi installation consisting of an Oceanspan transmitter and matching Atalanta receiver were flown out from the UK to be installed and tested before departure. All seemed well, until suddenly the Radio Officer realised he only had one or two High Frequency working crystals, severely limiting his ability to communicate with long distance shore stations, especially Portishead Radio/GKB.

This is where I came in. I was Radio Officer on another Shaw Savill ship, Mystic/GBTH, leaving New Plymouth for England via Cook Strait and the Panama Canal.

Gothic had left Wellington previously and was about 150 miles ahead of us. As all company ships had schedules, we knew of her plight and I had been asked to keep in touch with her by our Master. This I did and for most of the way across the Pacific, I would get the call on 500kHz: “GBTH GBTH de MAUQ MAUQ QSW 512 QSP K.”

Roger Cliffe, Radio Officer of SS Gothic MAUQ
Roger Cliffe
Many messages were relayed free of charge, on HF via Mystic to Portishead Radio and other stations by the best route available. It felt that I was R/O on two ships at once.

Mystic was equipped with AEI equipment, having been manned by AEI radio officers before Marconi took over that company. Being a “Marconi Man,” not one piece of equipment was familiar to me. Out came all the handbooks on the night of my arrival, the candle in the Radio Room burning most of the night, as I tried to familiarise myself. The main transmitter had an 813 valve in the PA and was rated at 250 watts output. At the time I thought “that’s better than an Oceanspan,” and I was later proved correct!

On our final contact, Roger Cliffe on Gothic keyed “When we get home, I’ll buy you all the beer you can drink in one night!”

Anyone knowing his whereabouts, please mention, “I am still waiting, although at my age a couple of pints would suffice. Don’t want to be visiting the “heads” all night!”

– Nigel Hardy

SS Gothic, showing the repair work to her bridge
A sad sight: SS Gothic, showing the repairs which included plating over several windows on the bridge, promenade deck and bridge deck. Photo:

Although she had been made seaworthy again, Gothic was an old ship, and one designed for the old-fashioned passenger/cargo service. Her remaining days were short. Gothic made at least one more voyage to New Zealand and Australia and was then scrapped.

Captain B Agnew, master of Gothic, on the bridge shortly after the ship berthed in Wellington, 7 January 1969
Captain Agnew, master of Gothic, on the bridge shortly after the ship berthed in Wellington, 7 January 1969, five months after the devastating fire that killed seven people.
Photo: Dominion Post Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library

Captain Agnew was awarded an OBE on 1 January 1970 for his efforts in getting Gothic safely back to New Zealand. He died 12 April 2015, aged 82.

SS Gothic
SS Gothic in her prime