Introduction and Basic Information

Steam Yachts

Stephanotis was classed as a steam yacht. Although there are other uses for the term, we are talking here about a vessel owned privately and used for pleasure or non-commercial purposes. Steam yachts became popular with the rich and famous of Europe from the 1840s and remained so through to the early 20th century. The first British royal yacht was Victoria & Albert of 1843 - a paddle steamer.

Victoria and Albert
Painting of the paddle Steamer Victoria & Albert by Louis Gabriel Eugne Isabey [7]

Although most of these yachts carried rigging and had sails, these were usually an auxiliary method of propulsion with most of the work being done by the steam engines. The sails could be used in the event of engine failure but were to a large extent included for show and as a naval tradition. Apart from the very last of them, they were coal-fired and many had compound engines - though some, like Stephanotis, had triple expansion steam engines. Some were able to lower the funnel when the engines were not in use to reduce wind resistance.

Clydeside was the primary centre for building these vessels with 190 of them being built in 43 Clyde shipyards between 1830 and 1935. Not all were Clyde-built though and Stephanotis was built at Leith.

Discovery of the First Owner of Stephanotis

Stephanotis came to my attention through posts on other forums by Merchant Seamen who took trips on her as cadets at the King Edward VII Nautical College. They knew her by her later name Wendorian.

When I first started researching the vessel little of her history was known - not even her original name or owner. Following up a tip by my friend George Robinson, I discovered her original name and that the first owner was Charles Arkcoll - a businessman from Chatham Intra in Kent. Arkcoll was a keen yachtsman and commissioned the build of his Stephanotis from Hawthorns of Leith.

Few Edwardian steam yachts still exist but there is one in Australia named Ena - built in Sydney in 1900 which is kept at the Australian National Maritime Museum, and another named Medea which is kept at the San Diego Maritime Museum. I had the pleasure of visiting Medea in 2018 and there are photographs and some information about her HERE.

Stephanotis Basic Data

Item Value
Type Steam Yacht
Managing owner Charles Arkcoll, Chatham House, Chatham Intra Kent
Builders Hawthorns & Co. Ltd.
Yard Junction Bridge Yard, Leith
Country UK
Yard number 95
Registry London
Official number 113718
Call sign VBNT (1910 information) GKKB (1940 information)
Classification society N/A
Gross tonnage 143
Net tonnage 31
Length 108 Ft 8" (or 124 Ft in other records)
Overall Length 135 ft including bowsprit
Breadth 17 ft 2 inches
Depth of Hold 9 Ft 6"
Draught 8 ft 9 inches
Engines Triple expansion steam engine with cylinders of bore 9", 14 1/2", 22" and stroke 15"
Engine builders Presumed to be Hawthorns & Co. the builders of the vessel as they were engine and boiler manufacturers
Engine Builder Works Leith
Engine Builder Country UK
Boilers Boilers operating at 190 psi
Power 33 NHP
Propulsion Single screw
Speed 8-9 Knots

Further information about the ship builder Hawthorns & Co., and similar vessels built by them, can be found HERE.

The data shown above should not be considered as definitive as records are contradictory. The information for small and private vessels was not recorded with the same degree of accuracy as for commercial vessels. The GRT figure quoted in the table above was taken from the Lloyds Register of Yachts for 1903. The Miramar Ship Index quotes simply "120 Tons".

Appropriation Books and Initial Registration

One useful source of information proved to be the Appropriation Books of the Register of Shipping. I am grateful to The Mariners List [48] for the following explanation of what they are:

In 1855, the system of registration of British shipping was re-organised so that each vessel was given an unique official number. One purpose of this was to distinguish between vessels which had the same name. The number remained with the ship throughout her life, even if her name or port changed, or if she was sold abroad and then re-registered. It was carved into, or welded onto, the main structure of the vessel.

The numbers were allotted centrally, in batches, to the hundreds of ports of registry throughout Britain and the British Colonies and then allocated to vessels by the port officials.

The initial allotments of numbers up to 40000 covered all ports, including colonial ports, and depended on the size of the port. So, 1 to 1000 were allotted to London, 1001 to 2000 to Liverpool, the next 500s to Shields and Sunderland, and so on. Allocation to vessels began at all ports on 16 April 1855 or soon after.

To deal with the thousands of ships which were already registered at that date, a vessel was allocated an official number when she first touched at a port of registry, even if that was not her home port. Thus official number 1 was allocated to a Goole registered vessel at London. A vessel's official number was added to her registration certificate and at some later date added to her entry in the shipping registers at her home port. This catching-up process was mostly completed by early in 1856, but continued into the 1860s.

Newly registered vessels were similarly allocated an official number on initial registration. Again, this was written prominently at the top of the new style shipping registers that were introduced at this time.

At each port, its allotted official numbers and vessel names were recorded in port Appropriation Books. These books can often be found with the shipping registers for the port, at local record offices.

Once a port's allotment was used up, further allotments were made as needed. Especially in the first year, allotments which had not been fully used were re-allocated to other ports.

The ports of registry made returns of vessel registration (register transcripts and annual returns) to the Board of Trade and these were then used to make up the central Appropriation Books. These ledgers contain a list of all the official numbers in order, with the vessel name against each, together with a few other details such as tonnage and port of registry. So far as we are aware, they contain the only single list of all the official numbers and the vessels to which they were allocated. These ledgers are at present held at the Registry of Shipping and Seamen in Cardiff.

The first official record regarding Stephanotis appears in the Appropriation Book for Rochester in 1903. Very little information was recorded.

Rochester Appropriation Book for 1903 [48]

Mercantile Navy List 1910

Rather more information is recorded in the Mercantile Navy List (1910) - an alphabetical list of British Registered Steam Vessels:

Extract from Mercantile Navy List (1910) [48]
Item Value
International code signal VBNT
Port and Year of Registry Rochester 1903
Length 108 Ft 8 Inches
Breadth 17 Ft 1 Inch
Depth of Hold 9 Ft 6 inches
Registered Net Tonnage 31
Registered Gross Tonnage 113
Horsepower of Engines and description of propeller 33 HP
Owner or Part Owner Charles Arkcoll, Chatham House, Chatham Intra, Kent

The Scotsman reported on 28 April 1903 that Stephanotis had completed her trials on the Firth of Forth.

Cutting from The Scotsman 28 April 1903 [25]

Mercantile Navy List 1940

The table below shows data recorded in 1940 that was different to that of 1910:

Item Value
Call sign GKKB
Port and Year of Registry London 1938
Owner or Part Owner Col. Robert G.Llewellyn, Tredilian Park, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

Interior of the Vessel

Below are some photos of the interior of the vessel from an article in Country Life Magazine in 1960. The full article with further background information is reproduced HERE. As far as it is known, very little of the interior had changed since the vessel was built apart from the addition of more modern navigation aids and radio equipment.

The main saloon on Wendorian. [2]
The main cabin on Wendorian. It was formerly the owner's cabin and is later the Chief Officer's. The mahogany-pillared four-poster bed is reputed to have once been occupied by the King of Spain. [2]
The engine room of Wendorian. The original caption reads as follows: The top of the triple-expansion engine can be seen below the handrail and a 1903 charging-board panel is above on the bulkhead. [2]

Career Highlights

Date Event
14 Mar 1903 Launched
1903 Completed as Stephanotis for Charles Arkcoll
1913 Owner recorded as Mr. Douglas W. Graham of Hilston Park, Monmouthshire.
1914 Owner recorded as Norman Clark-Neill of 36, St.James Street London.
1919 Sold to Duque de Tarifa
1934 Owner recorded as the Executors of the late Duque de Tarifa
1935 Owner recorded as William Frothingham Roach
1939 Owner shown as Colonel R.G. Llewelyn and name shown as Wendorian
1947 Owner shown as Mr. George E. Milligen of East Rushton Manor, Stalham, Norfolk.
1951/2 Loaned to King Edward VII Nautical College by George Milligen for training purposes
17 Nov 1961 Taken to be broken up at New Waterway near Rotterdam - breakers not known.


The known owners of Stephanotis were:

  • The Brewer: Charles Arkcoll (1853-1912)
  • The Galloping Major: Douglas William Graham (1866-1936)
  • The Yachtsman: Norman Clark Neill (1884-1935)
  • The Hunter: Duque de Tarifa (1864-1931)
  • The Doctor: William Frothingham Roach (1877-1940)
  • The Organiser: Robert Godfrey Llewelyn (1893-1986)
  • The Collector: George Edward Milligen (1910-2004)
  • King Edward VII Nautical College