What a tremendous few days I had in Belfast! Leaving aside the wonderful hospitality shown to me over there, the research went exceedingly well. I spent the first day in the Public Records Office Northern Ireland (PRONI) and most of the second in the Library of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners.
At PRONI they produced Masters’ Log Books – four massive volumes covering the time from when Cormorant arrived in Blefast from Dublin (17 July 1943); took over from a small motor vessel called ‘P.S. Edith Williames’ (Pilot Steamer) on 28 July 1943; up until 1956. The first volume is cloth covered and titled “Log Book P.S. Edith Williams” (incorrect spelling of Williames); in pen underneath is “and Cormorant”; but Cormorant is scored out and “Lady Dixon” written in. (Photo – this is a photo of the photocopies I had made of the books and the page where the takeover is listed). Subsequent volumes are leather covered and properly inscribed with “P.L.V. Lady Dixon” (Pilot Light Vessel).
A close-up of the page for July 1943 shows the actual entry recording the arrival on station of Cormorant, the lighting of the light; and the testing of the fog-horn (Photo). That would have been popular with the neighbours at half-past midnight!
The page headings usually showed the vessel’s name, but between 30 September 1943 and 8 October 1943 the headings are blank. I assume this is because, during this period, the name change from Cormorant to Lady Dixon was being organised.
So I went through 13 years of daily reports by two Masters – J Owens and A.P. Kennedy – who each spent one month aboard before being relieved by the other. Also listed were the names of the pilots on duty and all the vessels which were ‘boarded’ and guided into and out of the harbour. Each year Lady Dixon was relieved on station for a month, presumably to undergo inspection and repairs.
Also at PRONI there were some accounts and minutes of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners. The accounts revealed that Lady Dixon was valued at £18,307 : 1s ; 9d in 1945. That is over £550,000 in today’s money! The minutes proved rather difficult, being loose papers gathered up with ribbons galore. It took longer to undo the old ribbons than it did to read the various old papers! I ploughed on until closing time.
The following day proved even more fruitful. I had intended to return to PRONI for more accounts and minutes, but a friend organised a visit to the HQ of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners. There I was given the run of their handsome library, along with coffee and secretarial assistance! They could not have been more helpful. Their versions of minutes and accounts were properly printed and bound, year by year (Photo – a photo of the photocopies they made for me, including the book covers!).
What a treasure trove of information these proved to be. In June 1942, repairs to the boiler of the P.S. Edith Williams were deemed to be too expensive in view of the age of the boiler – 42 years. It was suggested that a lightship be procured and used as a combined lightship and pilot station. Apparently Trinity House, London had nothing to sell, but the Commissioners of Irish Lights in Dublin had two on offer. By 30 June the two ships had been inspected and, subject to ‘an examination in graving dock’, the lightship Cormorant was judged to be suitable. She was found to be ‘in very good condition’ and the go ahead was given on 14 July at a price of £1,900 (£62,000 today). On 28 July approval was given for the conversion costs of £12,500 (£411,000), work to be carried out by the Liffey Dockyard in Dublin as local firms were unable to undertake the work at that time. The conversion required was detailed in the blueprints, copies of which I obtained back in November and which I reported in my posts at that time.
In June 1943, almost a year later, there is recorded ‘an agreement with Mr John Cooper, Tug Owner, to tow the light vessel “Cormorant” from Dublin to Belfast’ and she duly arrived on 17 July 1943, as I found in the Log Books.
More nuggets next time.