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Valerie corby

Troop ships WW1

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Army records for my relative reveal that he sailed to Singapore on the SS Rohilla in 1910, the Northbrook? from Singapore to India and then the SS Ultonia from India to the WEstern Front in 1914.

Does anyone have any information on whether the SS Ultonia docked in France or England please? He was in the 6 Btn The Buffs.

Cant read the writing on the army form it looks like RY/J M S Northbrook but I may be wrong.

anyone else's relative who was on these ships?

Thank you


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SS Rohilla was converted into a hospital ship. However in the fall of 1914 she was wrecked by grounding during a severe storm on the east side of the coast of England. Many persons were killed due to the shipwreck. There are 2 or 3 booklets on the Rohilla's wreckage.



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Thanks John, I will do some delving in this ship.


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artefacts and the story of the Rohilla can be found in the museum at Whitby.


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thank you dean. Another place for me to visit.



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If you type 'Rohilla' into the search facility on this site you will find some threads relating to the ship.


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Hello Valerie

Here is some info on the ROHILLA


Date of loss: 30 October 1914

Depth: 8m

Reference: 54 29’.977 N 000 35’.360 W

Location: 0.63-n.miles N of Saltwick Nab, Whitby

The ROHILLA (Official No.124149) was a steel-hulled 7,144-ton luxury steamship that measured: 140.28m by length, a 17.14m-beam and a 9.29m-draught. Harland & Wolff, Ltd., Belfast built and completed her as Yard No.382 in November 1906; she was launched as a passenger/cargo steamer on 6 September 1906 for the British India Steam Navigation Co., Ltd., Glasgow. The twin bronze propellers were powered by two 8-cylinder quadruple expansion steam engines that developed 1,484hp using six boilers and one funnel and gave a service speed of 16.5-knots. She had 3-decks, 8-watertight bulkheads, a 108.8m-bridgedeck and an 18.8m-forecastle. Installed in the ship was the very latest recently invented wireless telegraphy. Her funnel, hull and lifeboats were all originally painted black, but the funnel had the insignia of the British India Steam Navigation Co., Ltd. on it, with two white rings around it, about one third of the way down.

The vessel was named after a ruling tribe of Afghan Panthans in Rohilhand, India. (The British Army helped some neighbouring tribal chiefs to depose them in 1773-74.)

Almost from the day she was built, the ROHILLA was used as a troop-transport, ferrying troops between Southampton and Karachi, in what was then India. Her Captain, David Landles Neilson was fifty years old and he had spent the whole of his 40 years career at sea with the same Company. He took command of the ROHILLA on the day she was launched and when war broke out, being a naval reservist, along with his Officers, he remained at his post, but under the command of the War-Office.

In the summer of 1914, the ROHILLA was converted at Southampton from a luxury passenger liner into Hospital Ship No.2, with her passenger accommodation being turned into wards, operating theatres and medical staff quarters and then she was sent to the naval base at Scapa Flow, to join Admiral Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet.

At one time during August 1914, Prince Albert, then nineteen years old and later to become King George V1, spent some time as a patient with appendicitis on board the ship at Scapa Flow.

The ship stayed at Scapa Flow for a few weeks, but there was very little demand for her services, or the 239 hospital beds, so she was transferred to Captain Neilson’s home town port of Leith, near Edinburgh, along with a Royal Navy Gunner who had broken his thigh and was too ill to be moved elsewhere.

Final voyage:

At 1300hrs on 29 October 1914, ROHILLA left Leith Docks bound for Dunkerque (Dunkirk), where she was to evacuate wounded troops from the Western Front and them bring back to England. She left Leith carrying 229 people, including 127 crew, 100 medical staff, a Roman Catholic priest, the Royal Navy gunner, who was still on board and the ship’s cat.

After some two hours of steaming, Captain Neilson ordered a routine boat drill for everyone on board ship, properly testing all of the lifeboats, davits and ropes, etc. The ship rounded Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth and steamed SE at twelve and a half knots, passing St. Abbs Head, but by the time she reached the Outer Farne Islands, a full blown ESE storm was raging. However, being such a large vessel, ROHILLA ploughed on throughout the night, into the teeth of the storm.

At about 0330hrs on 30 October, a local Coastguard officer at Whitby, Mr Albert Jefferies on watch duty, saw the ship travelling at full speed, directly in towards the shallow reefs. He signalled her with a Morse-lamp and then switched on the foghorn, keeping it blowing for thirty minutes to warn the crew of the danger, but ROHILLA, seven miles off her course, still ploughed on. Archibald Winstanley, second officer on the ship, had seen the flashing Morse lamp and, although he realised it was a signal lamp, could not read it, or understand why a lamp was flashing at them so far out to sea. He reported his observations to the captain, who told him to have one of the naval signallers, translate it.

Minutes later, at 0410hrs there was a tremendous shudder as the ship’s hull impacted with something in the sea, sending people crashing and reeling about on the ship. (As it was wartime, all of the bells on buoys had been silenced, lighthouses displayed no warning beams and ships sailed without navigation lights.) In the darkness and a terrible storm raging, Captain Neilson believed they were some seven miles northeast of Whitby and his first thought was that his ship had struck a German mine. He ordered the engines ‘Full Astern’ to bring her to a stop, but then decided that she was maybe damaged below the waterline and probably the best course was to take her inshore. He then changed the order to ‘Full Ahead and Helm, Hard-a-Port’, however the captain’s early career had been spent in sailing ships and in a moment of panic, he had given the wrong instructions, the order should have been ‘Helm, Hard-a-Starboard’ to turn the ship to the right, but the helmsman had realised this and turned to starboard. ROHILLA carried on with her engines running at full speed. Within a few minutes, she crashed halfway over and on top of the jagged edge of The Scar, a high submerged reef some 550 metres out from the towering cliffs of Whitby. The impact of hitting and grinding over The Scar caused tremendous structural damage to the ship’s hull and cracked it in two places. She was left with about a third of her stern end hanging over a submerged cliff face and the front bow quarter sloping up out of the water. Conditions were absolutely horrendous and mountainous seas were breaking over the top of her. Coastguard officers set off the maroon rockets to alert the lifeboat crews and Rocket Brigade.

Thomas Langlands, the coxswain of Whitby's No.1 lifeboat, ROBERT & MARY ELLIS, a native of Seahouses in Northumberland, knew that their little boat would be dashed to pieces before it could be launched in the terrible sea conditions and it would not have been practical to try and row the No 2 boat, the JOHN FIELDEN out through the harbour mouth in such a storm, as both boats were rowing lifeboats manned by 14 crew members. All they could do was to wait until daylight and hope the storm had abated a little by then.

The Rocket brigades were quickly on the scene and tried and tried again to reach the ship to set up a bosun’s chair, but the ship was too far offshore for their rocket lines.

At around 0700hrs, the ship broke into three sections and many people were swept to their deaths as the stern end slipped away and went down into deeper water. Most of them had been washed away or smashed up. Most of the ship's lifeboats had also, either been smashed up by the pounding waves or washed away.

The morning brought no improvement in the weather, so the lifeboat crews, helped by local people lifted the thirty-six foot long lifeboat JOHN FIELDEN over the stone breakwater and dragged and carried it over the rocks, taking two hours to reach the Scar, almost a mile away. The boat was holed in two places, but the cork filling helped to keep the vessel afloat and allowed the fourteen man crew to row her out to the ROHILLA twice, taking seventeen and then eighteen people off the stricken ship. By this time many people had been swept away, or had drowned, after attempting to swim ashore through the treacherous currents and huge waves that battered what was left of this once proud ship.

After the second trip to the wreck, the JOHN FIELDEN was too badly damaged and full of water to make any further journeys, so she was just dragged up the beach and left to the elements.

Meanwhile, telephone calls had been made to the lifeboat stations at Scarborough and Teesmouth, asking for assistance. The steam trawler MORNING STAR towed Scarborough’s lifeboat QUEENSBURY out at 1530hrs that afternoon and after battling mountainous seas, arrived off Saltwick Nab at 1800hrs. By then it was pitch dark and they were unable to get close to the wrecked ship, because of the swirling white water, however the lifeboat and trawler both stood-by all night just in case the occasion arose when they could get alongside the stricken vessel. They made repeated attempts the following day, Saturday, but were beaten back each time and with their boat full of water and the lifeboat-men suffering badly from the appalling conditions, both vessels were forced to return to Scarborough.

The motorised 12.8 metre self-righting lifeboat BRADFORD 1V, powered by a 35hp, Tyler petrol engine, stationed 22-miles away at South Gare, Teesmouth, made an attempt to reach her, but as she crossed the Tees bar, the pounding from the huge seas caused a serious leak which stopped the engine after she filled up with water and she had to be towed back to Middlesbrough by a steam-tug.

At 0700hrs on the Saturday morning, the ROBERT & MARY ELLIS was launched in Whitby harbour and Coxswain Langlands took her out to sea to await the arrival of the steam-tug MAYFLY which had come from Hartlepool to help. She got there at 0800hrs and took the lifeboat in tow, however the closest they could get to ROHILLA, was half a mile. Coxswain Langlands discussed the situation with James Hastings, Coxswain of Hartlepool’s No.2 lifeboat, who was on board the MAYFLY and the men decided reluctantly to return to Whitby.

The crew of Upgang lifeboat WILLIAM RILEY knew that it was not practical to reach the wreck from their launch site, some two miles up the coast, but decided it would be possible to get closer to the scene, if they could haul her overland for 3-miles, then lower the eleven metre long boat down the 60-metre cliff, to the Scar where she could then be launched. It was a terrific feat that took about one hundred people and six horses, two and a half hours to accomplish. However despite all of that tremendous effort and repeated attempts to reach the wreck, in the end, totally exhausted they were forced to give up and returned to shore.

In desperation, at 1615hrs, an urgent telephone message was made to Tynemouth, requesting more help and within fifteen minutes the 12.2 metre self-righting motorised lifeboat HENRY VERNON was launched. She was built in 1911 and, although powered by a 40hp Tyler petrol engine, she was also still equipped with oars and an auxiliary sail. She took all night to travel the hazardous 40-miles south in horrendous weather, reaching Whitby harbour at 0100hrs on the Sunday, where she took on barrels of oil to lessen the effects of the heavy seas around ROHILLA.

At 0630hrs the HENRY VERNON headed out of the harbour, with her Tynemouth crew, Lieut. Basil Hall RN, the District Inspector of Lifeboats and Whitby Second Coxswain, Richard Eglon who was to at act as Pilot. (It was now three days since the ROHILLA had ran aground) Gradually the lifeboat made her way out to the wreck and when they were about 200 metres to the seaward side of her, the crew poured gallons of oil on the water's surface. This had a dramatic effect on the foaming white water that turned into a heavy swell, enabling Coxswain Smith, with great courage and determination, to manoeuvre the HENRY MORGAN alongside what was left of ROHILLA’s bridge, despite the little boat being almost swamped by the massive seas. Quickly the survivors lowered ropes and forty men slid down into the lifeboat, but just then two enormous waves washed over ROHILLA and crashed down into the lifeboat. The crew managed to clear much of the water and then took off the remaining ten men, all within fifteen minutes, but then, just as she was clearing the stern end of the wreck, another gigantic wave struck the lifeboat broadside on. The boat rolled right over on her beam-ends and within seconds came upright again and carried on back out to sea, where Coxswain Smith took the HENRY MORGAN back into Whitby harbour, to be greeted by cheering crowds of onlookers.

Many local people risked their own lives by wading chest deep into the raging water to pull half dead survivors out and the lifeboat crews performed some very heroic feats in horrendous conditions. Altogether, some 139 people were rescued from the 7,409-ton hospital ship, with at least eighty-five of them saved by the brave RNLI lifeboat crews. Unfortunately, eighty-four people lost their lives, including sixty-two of the ship's crew, on that terrible day in 1914.

Captain Neilson of the ROHILLA and the ship’s (lucky) cat were the last two to be rescued off the sinking ship.

At the inquest, Captain Neilson and his four senior officers gave evidence and the seven mile calculation error was never satisfactorily explained, however they were all of the same opinion that the vessel had first struck a German mine. Many local people firmly believe that the ship’s course took her over the eastern end of the submerged Whitby Rock and it was that which she first struck.

One other explanation was: that on the day the ROHILLA was wrecked, another vessel, the 159-ton wooden brigantine LAURA, built at Newquay in 1861, was on a voyage from London to Newcastle with a cargo of burnt ore and a crew of six; at 1600hrs on that Friday morning she would have been in the same vicinity as ROHILLA. The boat was never seen or heard of again, however her nameplate was washed up at Sandsend and the wreckage of a fairly large wooden vessel was found amongst that of the ROHILLA’s.

Maybe that was the explanation for the sudden tremendous shudder that went through the ROHILLA, sending people reeling and knocking them off their feet.

For their bravery Coxwain Thomas Langlands, Coxwain Robert Smith and Captain H.E. Burton RE were awarded the RNLI's gold medal for conspicuous gallantry and silver medals were awarded to Second Coxwain Richard Eglon, Second Coxwain James Brownlee, Lt. Basil Hall RN. The silver medal was also awarded to George Peart who bravely went into the violent surf repeatedly to help people who had attempted to swim ashore from the ROHILLA. The RNLI's ‘Thanks on Vellum’ were awarded to Coxswain Pounder Robinson and to Second Coxswain T. Kelly of the Upgang lifeboat, while the crews of the lifeboats involved, were honoured by some extra cash.

Captain Neilson was even honoured with the Bronze Medal of the ‘Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ for saving the ship’s cat.

The rescue of people from the wreck of the ROHILLA still remains one of the RNLI’s greatest achievements. The men who died, include:

Anderson, Thomas Pte RMLI

Anderson, William Edward Senior Res Attdt RNASB/Res

Barron, W. Saloon Pantrymn MM

Barter, J. Jun Reserve Attendant RNASB/Res

Birtwhistle, Milton Senior Reserve Attdt RNASB/Res

Brain, George Carpenter’s Crew RN

Burney, Albert Howard Shipwright 2nd Class RN

Daly, William John Senior Reserve Attdt RNASB/Res

Dunkley, Frank JunResAttdt RNASBRes

Elsworth, Alfred Carr Senior Reserve Attdt RNASB/Rer

Gover, G. AsstTrpStrkpr MM

Hare, J. TrpCk MM

Harrison, Frederick Senior Reserve Attdt RNASB/Res

Hodkinson, Harry Senior ResAttdt RNASB/Res

Horsfield, Thomas JunResAttdt RNASB/Res

Horsfield, Walter JunResAttdt RNASB/Res

Mardell, Charles Henry Sick Berth Attendant RN

McBride, Henry Thomas SIupsCpll C1 RN

Milner, Charles William Montgomery Sick Berth Attdt RN

Morgan, F. W. (MM) Master at Arms

Morris, Sidney SBS RN

Neville, Maurice Alfred Senior ResAttdt RNASB/Res

Nicholson, L. Quartermaster MM

Nisbet, David Able Seaman MM

Page, Alfred SB Steward MM

Parsons, George Edgar Sick Berth Attendant RN

Paton, D. Fireman MM

Paton, J. Fireman MM

Petty, Arthur Senior Reserve Attendant RNASB/Res

Petty, Tom Senior Reserve Attendant RNASB/Res

Pickles, John Thomas SenResAttdt RNASB/Res

Robbins, Harry Master at Arms RN

Rose, C. E. Carpenter’s Mate MM

Ross, G. J. Sick Berth Attdt MM

Sellars, James Senior Reserve Attendant RNASBR

Shute, A. E. Sick Berth Steward RN

Smith, I. Fireman MM

Tarbet, Matthew GenServant MM

Weatherstone, Henry Geneal Servant MM

‘Into the Maelstrom’, Colin Brittain 2002 - CWGC - Starke Schell - ‘History of Teesmouth Lifeboats’ by J. Morris - LCR 1914 Page.7 (g) - The Cross of Sacrifice Vol’s II, V & IV - ADM 1/8401/401


The wreck of ROHILLA is quite substantial, but also well broken up over a wide area of a reef called ‘The Scar’ some 500-metres off shore. The inshore part of the wreck lies in about 6m, however bits of her can even be found amongst the rocks at low water, while the seaward end sits in around 15m. There are lots of battered and bent steel framework, ribs, plates and pipes, etc., strewn around her very large boilers and what remains of its steam engine. The bows of the ROHILLA are mixed up with the scattered remains of the Belgian steamer CHARLES.

Cheers Ron

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Ron, what a lot of information! Cheers. My relative sailed on this troop ship then probably from India (karachi) to Southampton. As he was killed on the Somme in 1916 he must have heard about the fate of this ship. I am gradually piecing together bits of his life with the help of very kind people on this site. What a terrible end to this ship and the loss of so much life.

Thank you so much



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I reckon it was the RNLI's finest hour. Imagine running a lifeboat under a massive listing vessel in the knowledge that at any moment it is likely to roll back on top of you.

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There's a photo of the RIMS (Royal Indian Marine Ship) Northbrook here:



You have explained a puzzle thank you. Now I know what RIMS means - the photo is great.

Cheers Valerie

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