Ovington Court

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Introduction

Court Line used the name Ovington Court for just one ship.

Ovington Court was launched as Amblestone, had a service life of 16 years during which time she changed owner and name, and served in many WW2 convoys. She was stranded on the beach at Durban in 1940 and her wreck is still visible there today at low tides.

Ovington Court was one of three ships purchased from the fleet of Charles Radcliffe of Cardiff who had died in July 1926. The other two were Conistone (later Nollington Court) and Rochdale (later Pennington Court).

Unfortunately I have been unable to locate any photographs of this vessel prior to her loss. If anyone comes across one, please contact me - contact details are at the foot of this page.

Basic Data

Item Value
Type Cargo ship
Registered owners, managers and operators Charles Radcliffe Ltd.
Managers C Radcliffe & Co
Builders Richardson Duck & Co Ltd.
Yard Thornaby Stockton-on-Tees
Country UK
Yard number 685
Registry N/K
Official number 145740
Signal letters N/K
Call sign GCVJ
Classification society N/K
Gross tonnage 6,095
Net tonnage 3,772
Deadweight N/K
Length 400 ft
Breadth 53 ft
Depth 32.7 ft
Draught N/K
Engines Triple expansion steam engine with cylinders of bore 26", 48", 71" and stroke 48".
Engine builders Blair & Co.Ltd.
Works Stockton-on-Tees
Country UK
Boilers Three single-ended boilers operating at 180psi.
Power 425 NHP
Propulsion Single screw
Speed N/K
Cargo capacity N/K
Crew N/K

Additional Construction Information

The 1940-41 Lloyds Register entry for Ovington Court has the following additional information about her:

  • She had one steel deck and one steel shelter deck
  • She was fitted with radio direction finding equipment

Career Highlights

Date Event
5 Feb 1924 Launched as Amblestone
Mar 1924 Completed
1927 Acquired by The United British Steam Ship Co. Ltd. - Managers Haldin and Phillipps - and renamed Ovington Court
1936 Owners restyled Court Line Ltd. - same managers
25 Nov 1940 Stranded and became a total loss

Service Pre WW2

I have found no information about the pre-war service of this ship either as Amblestone or Ovington Court other than that she was laid up for some years at Sunderland during the 1930s depression.

Mersea Museum also has a record 'Ships laid up in River Blackwater' which states that she arrived in June 1932 and departed 23 September 1932.

Service in WW2

Ovington Court took part in 7 convoys during WW2 according to information shown in the table below which is provided courtesy of Convoyweb - External Reference #5.

Departure Convoy/Independent Arrival
Norwegian Waters, Mar 2, 1940 HN.16 (Norwegian Waters - Methil) Methil, Mar 5, 1940
Norwegian Waters, Mar 7, 1940 HN.17 (Norwegian Waters - Methil) Methil, Mar 10, 1940
Tyne, Apr 15, 1940 FS.147 (Tyne - Southend) Southend, Apr 17, 1940
Southend, Apr 17, 1940 OA.131 (Southend - Dispersed)
Freetown, May 9, 1940 SL.31 (Freetown - Liverpool) Liverpool, May 26, 1940
Milford Haven, Jun 26, 1940 OB.174 (Liverpool - Dispersed)
Aden, Sep 19, 1940 BN.5 (Bombay - Suez) Suez, Sep 26, 1940

Loss of Ovington Court

The fate of Ovington Court was sealed when she ran aground at Durban on 25 November 1940.

"Facts about Durban" website

The information in this sub-section has been reproduced by kind permission of Allan Jackson from the Facts About Durban website - External Reference #31. Allan's original article includes a video clip of the stranded ship which is well worth viewing.

Ovington Court
This is a photo taken on the morning of 26 November 1940 - the day after Ovington Court was stranded. Two lines to the from the ship to the shore referred to below are clearly visible. There is a very strong surf and something is hanging from the line to the right near the ship - possibly a breeches buoy. Those in view are holding another line; it is not clear what is attached to it but possibly this is a life line attached to one of the rescuers of the capsized second lifeboat. [1]
The Ovington Court was a 6,000-ton cargo freighter with a crew of 38 which arrived off Durban with a cargo of sugar [worth £22,000] from Mauritius sometime before 25 November 1940 and anchored in the outer anchorage together with a large number of other ships which were waiting to gain entry to the port. [So the current situation is nothing new then!!] The ship's anchor dragged that evening at around 6pm in the very heavy surf and the ship began to drift towards the beach which it struck about four hours later.

The Natal Mercury on the 26th November gives a brilliant description of the scene as the ship drifted towards the beach with a searchlight on the Bluff casting a "blue glare, silhouetting the foam-topped waves and bringing the vessel out in relief against the blackness of the sea". So many people arrived at the beach that soldiers and sailors had trouble keeping them from hindering the rescue operation.

The port authorities began to fear that the ship would begin to break up in the heavy surf and it was decided to try and attach a rope to it by means of rockets fired from the beach. The equipment was rushed to the scene and two rockets were fired trailing ropes behind them and both were successfully retrieved and made fast to the ship.

It was then decided by Captain George Linsell [Linsdell??] of the Ovington Court to abandon ship and pack as many of the crew as possible into the two available lifeboats which were to use the two ropes to get themselves safely to shore. The Mercury records that a wave of cheering went up from the beach as the first boat was sighted making its way to the beach where a magnesium flare had been lit by rescue workers.

The first boat landed safely but tragedy struck soon afterwards when the second, and smaller, boat capsized soon after being launched from the ship throwing its 12 occupants into the water. Municipal and voluntary lifesavers and members of the public immediately took to the sea with lifelines and eventually managed to recover all twelve of the victims but four of them later died in Addington Hospital. The Mercury lists the dead as having been cabin boy Gordon Hunter, aged 15, Michael Kennedy, Mahomed Abdoo Shaali and Said Ben Said.

The remaining eight men on the Ovington Court waited out the night on board and were then all brought to shore one by one in a breeches buoy. Following the tradition of the sea, Captain Lindsell was the last person to leave his ship and arrived ashore complete with the ship's monkey in his arms. The monkey's name is not recorded but he apparently managed to get loose during the crossing from the ship but thought better of it when he saw the heavy surf.

There does seem to be a bit of a mystery about why there wasn't enough steam pressure to allow Ovington Court to steam away from the beach. Another issue was raised in the Mercury's leading article on the 27th November which asked the hard question why a tug was not made available in the four or so hours while the Ovington Court was adrift. The writer concluded that an inquiry was needed to determine the responsibility for this and for the unreasonable delays experienced by shipping waiting for bunkers [coal].
Ovington Court
This is a photo taken after the stranding with a calmer sea. Despite an attempt at enhancement, the photo is not very clear. Ovington Court does not appear to have broken her back from this angle but it is a distant shot; the landing stage seen in the foreground of this photo appears to the left of the previous photo. [2]
Ovington Court
This shows sightseers wading to the wreck in a calm sea. Some are visible on the deck. The damage to the ship is obvious now with significant damage amidships and it certainly looks like she has broken her back in this shot. [2]

Eyewitness account: Joan Lousada (as recorded by Allan Jackson)

Recently I was very fortunate to meet Joan Lousada who was fourteen years old and living with her family in Sandringham on the corner of Gillespie Street and Tyzack Street near South Beach in 1940 and was an eyewitness to some of the events surrounding the wreck of the Ovington Court. She told me that she often used to walk on the beach with her father who had been a seaman before the mast and still took a keen interest in the sea.

She remembers that there were between 30 and 40 ships moored offshore when they took a walk just before dark on the evening of 25 November. She remembers that the surf was exceptionally heavy that night and noticed that one of the ships seemed to be dragging its anchor but her father reassured her that the crew would soon get the ship out of harm's way and they went home to supper. The Ovington Court ran aground during the night and she said that her family had hurried down to the beach early the next morning to find that ropes (or wires) had been fixed from ship to shore and that the captain was being hauled ashore from the ship in a breeches buoy. The picture at the top of this page [The first on this page] was taken by Joan's mother with a Box Brownie camera just as this was happening.

Joan disagrees with the Mercury's report, above, which said that the four victims of the wreck died in Addington Hospital and asserts that at least two bodies were recovered from the beach.

Eyewitness account: Doreen Monckton (as recorded by Allan Jackson)

Added - 14 September 2003: Since writing the above I have met Doreen Monckton who remembers going down to the beach the night that the Ovington Court ran aground and she said she could clearly remember cars on the beach shining their headlights out to sea in an attempt to help illuminate the scene.

Eyewitness account: Derek John Butler-Briggs (as recorded by Allan Jackson)

Added - 31 May 2004: I have had correspondence from Derek John Butler-Briggs who attended the adjacent Addington Primary School at the time of the wreck and who was among the first local kids to swim out to it. He was also on the beach some while later when a heavy sea stove in the ship's side, lifting her rear deck, causing the bridge to collapse.

I was delighted to find your site on the web. I could not believe that you were giving details of the Ovington Court shipwreck. I was a pupil at Addington school and could see the wreck from the upstairs corridor window. I was a Pongo (the name given by Afrikaner kids to us English kids who were evacuated from Egypt to Durban as a safe haven in case the Nazis had reached Cairo). I was also hooked on surfing and despite [its] being dangerous, I was amongst one of the first to swim out to the wreck along with local lads Brian and Raymond Biljoen and Jimmy Naude (other names elude me--I hate old age!) I was 11 coming up 12 at the time.

I was also on the beach the day of a severe storm with huge swells that stove in the seaward side of the ship, then lifted the rear deck over and caused the bridge to disintegrate-an awesome sight and sound as the ship was torn apart. I lived at The Sea Breeze Hotel in Gillespie Street until I had to return (very reluctantly) to the UK in November 1944. DJ Butler-Briggs.

Eyewitness account: Leon Nicholson

A schoolboy's reminiscence of the war years in Durban 1939 - 1945 by Leon Nicholson included on the Facts About Durban website includes the following account in the entry for 1940:

Near the end of the year, as we alighted from the school bus on the beachfront, we were amazed to see a cargo ship beached almost in front of our school. The ship in question was the "Ovington Court," an armed British merchantman. School was completely forgotten as the whole school crowded the beach to the water's edge. Four members of the crew were drowned; their bodies lay on the beach under a canvass cover. During the day a small tug manoeuvred to the stern and removed the gun mounted there. At about 10am our Headmaster and teachers, issuing dire threats, managed to round us up and get us back to school.

After school we immediately headed for the wreck and as it was low tide, we were able to wade out to about 10 yards from the ship, but around the hull there was a deep channel, we soon swam across this and clambered up the sides and explored the interior. It was not clear what the cargo was as the cargo holds were under water; the beach however was littered with piles of timber, and perhaps this was the cargo. Inside the ship, thousands of coconuts were floating around and many large bottles of pickled onions were stacked. Many of us boys took a bottle of pickles and swam to shore to be immediately confronted by customs officers and the pickles were confiscated. In the deep channel around the hull over the next few days on several occasions we saw shark fins circling the ship but this did not deter us from going on board again and again.

Eyewitness account: Malcolm E. Barker

This account was added to the Facts about Durban website on 26 July 2010:

We were at Burlington Court when, in November 1940, the Ovington Court dragged her anchor in a storm and drifted onto the beach, right in front of our balcony. One of the ship’s two lifeboats made it to the beach safely, but the second sank on the way over, drowning four of the crew.

The captain and remaining seven crewmen waited until the morning. It was then that I watched from our balcony as one by one they were hauled to safety along the breeches buoy rigged from the ship to the beach. I’ve carried that memory for 70 years without recalling the ship's name, or details.
Ovington Court
This image shows clearly the damage to the ship. Her back is broken and there is a heavy surf that will inevitably do further damage. People are carrying on their lives as normal and swimming in the sea. As Ovington Court was a coal-fired steam ship there would not have been the concerns about oil pollution that would occur today. [3]

Postscript

The wreck of Ovington Court was never completely salvaged. The wannaDive website - External Reference #32 has the following notes and a colour photo of some seaweed covered wreckage just off the shoreline:

She is visible from the shore at low tide and is a shore entry. There is very little left of her save for the engine block, keel, beams and steel plates. Home to some rather huge crayfish and quite a lot of baitfish. The area from the North pier to the Umgeni River is a marine sanctuary, hence the large crayfish. Maximum depth is 8m and it is very seldom clean.

Image Credits

  1. By courtesy of Mike Rochfort and the 'Facts About Durban' Website
  2. By courtesy of Janine Anderson and the 'Facts About Durban' Website
  3. By courtesy of Jack Cann and the 'Facts About Durban' Website