RMS Empress of Britain Pencil

This pencil commemorates the Empress of Britain and may well have been made to cash in on its launch in 1930. The ship was built in John Brown’s Shipyard on Clydeside and was made for the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company. At the time it was the largest, fastest and most luxurious ship carrying passengers between Britain and Canada.

The representation of the ship in the pencil is not notable for its accuracy. It’s pretty good all the same on its tiny scale. One of the buildings shown is probably the Canadian Parliament Building. I don’t know what the other one is. The pencil itself is in remarkably good condition. It contains lead and is in full working order.

I’m not sure why the ship is called the SS Empress of Britain on the pencil. So far as I can tell the ship was actually the RMS Empress of Britain. I don’t suppose it matters much except to those who have a particular interest in these things. The way that the clip is attached to the cap reminds me of the construction of some of Conway Stewart’s pens and pencils, but I remind myself that resemblance is not always a good guide to the manufacturer.

Sadly, the Empress of Britain came to a bad end. She was used as a troopship during World War II and was torpedoed off the West Coast of Ireland in 1940. Luckily there was no great loss of life. In fact it was believed at the time that everyone was saved. Apparently, the ship was carrying gold bullion – I don’t know why.

In the 1980s someone planned to carry out a salvage expedition, doubtless in the hope of finding the gold. However, the Department of Transport informed them that the gold had been removed, probably while the ship was being evacuated. Some years later, divers explored the wreck and found that the ship had almost entirely burned-out, leaving only a shell upside down on the seabed. The only part that had survived was the bullion room, probably because it had been reinforced for security. When the divers entered it they found no gold but there was a skeleton, probably one of the men who had been salvaging the gold.

This pencil was never intended to be a reminder of that sad story but that’s what it inevitably is.


4 thoughts on “RMS Empress of Britain Pencil

  1. Looks like the 1950’s incarnation of the ship (single funnel), Deborah. The gold was going to the US to pay for war materials.

    1. She was enroute to from Egypt via Cape Town to Liverpool. Having been disabled by a German bomber she was under tow when U32 torpedoed her. As one of the largest ships afloat it was a major coup for them. Normally those liners were too fast to be caught by a submarine.

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