SS Nomadic (1911)

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For the 1891 ship of the same name, see SS Nomadic (1891).
SS Nomadic in 1911
Career (France)
Name: SS Nomadic
Owner: WhiteStarLogo.svg
Operator: White Star Line
Port of registry: Cherbourg,  France
Builder: Harland and Wolff
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Yard number: 422
Laid down: 22 December 1910
Launched: 25 April 1911
Completed: 27 May 1911
Acquired: 27 May 1911
Maiden voyage: 31 May 1911
Notes: Sea trials 16 May 1911
Career (France)
Name: SS Nomadic
Operator: Compagnie Cherbourgeoise de Transbordement
Port of registry: Cherbourg,  France
Acquired: 1927
Out of service: 1969
Renamed: Ingenieur Minard
Career (United Kingdom)
Name: SS Nomadic
Operator: SS Nomadic Charitable Trust Ltd.
Port of registry: Cherbourg,  France
Acquired: 2006
In service: 2013
Status: Museum ship, Belfast, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
General characteristics
Tonnage: 1,273 GT
Length: 220 ft (67 m)
Beam: 37 ft (11 m)
Draught: 8 ft (2.4 m)
Decks: 5
Installed power: 2 single ended scotch marine boilers
Propulsion: 2 double expansion engines powering 2 triple blade propellers.
Speed: 12 knots
Capacity: 1,000 passengers
Crew: 14

SS Nomadic is a steamship of the White Star Line, launched on 25 April 1911 in Belfast. She was built as a tender to RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic.


Nomadic was commissioned by the White Star Line in 1910, to tender for their new ocean liners RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic, which were too large to dock in Cherbourg harbour. She and her running mate SS Traffic ferried passengers, their baggage, mail and ship's supplies to and from large ocean liners moored off-shore.

The keel of Nomadic was laid down in the Harland and Wolff shipyards, Belfast in 1910 (yard number 422). She was built on slipway No. 1 alongside RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic, which were constructed on slipways 2 and 3 respectively. She was launched on 25 April 1911 and delivered to the White Star Line on the 27 May, following sea trials.


The ship is 230 feet (70 m) long overall and 37 feet (11 m) wide, with a gross registered tonnage of 1,273 tons. She had two single ended coal fired boilers and two compound steam engines, each driving two three-bladed screws of 7 feet (2.1 m) in diameter, which could propel her to a maximum speed of 12 knots (14 mph; 22 km/h).

Nomadic is of steel construction, with steel frames, beams, bulkheads and riveted hull plating. She had four working decks with various hold spaces beneath. She could carry up to 1,000 passengers when fully loaded.

Passenger accommodation consisted of lower and upper deck passenger lounges and open deck areas on the bridge and flying bridge decks. The vessel was divided into first and second class passenger areas, with first class passengers enjoying the fore areas of the ship. A small area in the aft end of the lower deck was assigned for overspill of third-class passengers from SS Traffic.

Internally, Nomadic was fitted out to a similar standard as the liners she was built to serve—Olympic and Titanic. As such, she had more luxuries than most tenders of her day, with cushioned benches, tables, porcelain water fountains, gender-specific bathrooms and a buffet bar. She contained ornate decorative joinery and plasterwork, particularly in the first class lounges of the ship.

She was built in the United Kingdom but as she was operated in French coastal waters by a French crew, she had a number of peculiarities, such as imperial and metric draft marks on opposing sides of the hull.

Service history[edit]

Nomadic arrived in Cherbourg on 3 June 1911 to begin her tendering duties for the White Star Line. On 10 April 1912 she transported 274 passengers to RMS Titanic for the doomed liner's maiden voyage, including Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon and his wife, couturière Lucy (Lady Duff-Gordon), Denver millionairess Margaret Brown and industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim.

During World War I and until 1919, Nomadic was requisitioned by the French government and she saw service as an auxiliary minesweeper and patrol ship, also ferrying American troops to and from the harbour in Brest (France). After the war, she returned to her tendering duties, but in 1927 she was sold and continued to tender under the ownership of the Compagnie Cherbourgeoise de Transbordement.

Following the 1934 merger of White Star and Cunard Line and the opening of the enlarged port at Cherbourg, Nomadic ceased her tendering duties. She was sold to the Société Cherbourgeoise de Sauvetage et de Remorquage (SCSR or Cherbourg Tow & Rescue Society) and renamed Ingenieur Minard.

During World War II, Nomadic again saw service; on 18 June 1940 she took part in the evacuation of Cherbourg. She was subsequently requisitioned by the Royal Navy and based in Portsmouth harbour, she operated as a troop ship, coastal patrol vessel and minelayer for the remainder of the war.

During the war, Cherbourg port was heavily damaged, so large ocean liners could no longer dock there. Nomadic was saved from scrap and again returned to tendering duties for the SCSR from Cherbourg. She served the great ocean liners of the day, such as the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth. She finally retired from these duties on 4 November 1968.

SS Nomadic as she appeared in 2000, docked on the Seine in Paris.

Nomadic lay idle for five years but was subsequently bought by a private individual, Yvon Vincent, saving her from scrap once again. She was extensively converted into a floating restaurant and function vessel, and in October 1974 was relocated to the Seine in Paris. By 1999, the business was in financial difficulties and Nomadic was seized by the Paris harbour authorities in 2002. The authorities removed some of Nomadic's superstructure in order to tow her below the Seine's bridges. On 1 April 2003 she was towed out of Paris to Le Havre.

Following Vincent’s death in March 2005, the authorities sought to dispose of the vessel and attempted to find a buyer for Nomadic, if no buyer was found, she risked being sold for scrap value. On learning of her fate, heritage and maritime enthusiasts (including the French Titanic Society, Belfast Industrial Heritage, Belfast Titanic Society and the Save Nomadic appeal) began campaigns to raise funds to buy the vessel. These campaigns were well supported by the public, particularly in Northern Ireland, but were unable to raise sufficient funds to meet Nomadic's reserve price.

The campaigns however gained political and governmental support, and on 26 January 2006, the Northern Ireland government Department for Social Development bought the vessel at auction[1] for €250,001 (the reserve price being €250,000).

SS Nomadic left Le Havre to return to Belfast on 12 July 2006, and arrived close to where she was built, on 18 July 2006. The vessel was welcomed back by the Department for Social Development Minister, David Hanson MP and the Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Belfast, Councillor Ruth Patterson and a number of well wishers. Nomadic arrived "piggy backed" on a marine transportation barge, which had been contracted by the department.

Nomadic Charitable Trust[edit]

The Northern Ireland Department for Social Development set up a voluntary charitable trust, the Nomadic Charitable Trust[2] (NCT) in December 2006, to take ownership of the vessel and oversee her conservation and restoration. The NCT has 12 trustees including historians, maritime experts and enthusiasts.

The NCT's stated aim is: To restore the SS Nomadic and to make her accessible to the public, to ensure she can play a key role in the ongoing celebration of the Titanic, ensure a lasting legacy to celebrate our maritime and industrial heritage and as a catalyst for tourism, social and economic development.

Nomadic Preservation Society[edit]

The Nomadic Preservation Society (NPS) was also founded in 2006.[3] Its stated aims include collaboration with the NCT and all other parties involved in preserving Nomadic, including raising and donating funds, conducting historical research and publicising Nomadic as a tourist attraction.[3]

SS Nyanza[edit]

In 2006 the NPS had found and made aware to the NCT of the 1907-built cargo ship on Lake Victoria in East Africa, SS Nyanza, that has boilers and triple-expansion engines of a similar size to those originally installed in SS Nomadic.[4] Nyanza '​s owner intended to convert her to diesel power and scrap her steam engines and boilers, so NPS suggested that NCT buy them, ship them to Belfast and install them in SS Nomadic.[4] In 2008 the NPS alleged that Nyanza '​s owner had heard nothing from the NCT for 18 months and that Nyanza '​s engines and boilers were in danger of being removed and scrapped.[4] NPS therefore launched an appeal for £200,000 to rescue the engines and boilers independently of the NCT.[4]

Restoration and conservation[edit]

On appointment, the NCS began essential maintenance works, fund raising and preparation for the planned restoration.

A study by Belfast City Council estimated the cost of restoring Nomadic at £7 million. The NCS has subsequently secured funding in excess of £6.5 million; major benefactors include the UK Heritage Lottery fund, EU Peace III fund, Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Belfast City Council and Ulster Garden Villages.

In August 2008, Nomadic was considered by National Historic Ships and was entered into the National Register of Historic Vessels as part of the National Historic Fleet.[5] This recognises Nomadic's historic significance as the register includes just a small list of vessels, including the World famous Cutty Sark, Mary Rose and Royal Yacht Britannia.

In August 2009 Nomadic was moved to Hamilton Graving Dock,[6] on Queen's Road, Belfast. This dry dock, itself a piece of maritime heritage, was partly refurbished in a joint partnership between the Belfast Harbour Commission and Titanic Quarter Ltd. The dock is believed to be where Nomadic was originally fitted out and has now been leased as a permanent location for Nomadic.

By late 2009 the NCS had sufficient funding to begin major conservation and restoration works. In February 2010, major works commenced with external blasting and priming of the steel hull, preventing further deterioration of the steelwork.

SS Nomadic as she appeared in November 2011, during her restoration.
SS Nomadic in March 2012, in Belfast Northern Ireland, after the first phase of restoration.

In February 2011, Harland and Wolff were appointed by the NCS to undertake steelwork restoration and repair, rekindling a 100-year link with the ship's original builders. The value of the contract was £2 million and included re-creation of the missing bridge and flying bridge decks, hull repairs and painting of the vessel in her original White Star Line livery. These works were completed in February 2012.[citation needed]

The final phase of restoration works includes conservation and restoration of the luxurious interior, featuring plaster panelling and ornate joinery. Original SS Nomadic timber panelling was purchased from a French museum by the Nomadic Preservation Society, using funds raised during the Save Nomadic appeal. The panelling has since been donated to the NCS for sympathetic restoration and reinstatement back on board the vessel. This phase of works also includes restoration works to the historic Hamilton Graving Dock and pumphouse, converting the dock area and ship into a tourist attraction. These works are forecast to be completed by November 2012.[dated info]


Nomadic originally had just two 20-foot (6.1 m) lifeboats, believed to have capacity for about 28 people each when fully loaded, to serve up to 1,200 passengers and crew in an emergency. They were later supplemented by life-rafts. Nomadic's lifeboats were removed from Nomadic around October 1974 after the then owner Yvon Vincent moved the ship to Paris. The lifeboats were both lowered onto the quay side opposite Nomadic and it was there they laid for 13 years, slowly getting vandalized and having pieces stolen.

In 1987 a man called Jean-Charles Arnult made a deal with Yvon Vincent to loan him the two lifeboats for his maritime museum "Le Musée Maritime Chantereyne". Over the years the lifeboats along with many other "Projects" as Jean would say were left outside the museum awaiting restoration. This is something the lifeboats would never see under his protection. Over time the weight of the boats resulted in them sinking inside themselves, the wood starting to rot away to nothing.

Lifeboat 1 was the first to be lost, exactly when has not been documented but it would have been between 1987 and 2002 that tragically the museum deemed it beyond rescue and burnt it. Speaking in 2002 Jean reflected on Lifeboat 2 saying “The boat is now in poor condition but there is still time to save her, It is still better there than abandoned on the banks of the Seine. This is where I recovered them from the owner of Nomadic with a lease for three hundred years. You see, I think of my successors (laughs) but it still cost me transport!”

For many years leading historians on Nomadic Philippe Delaunoy and Kathleen Neil had been trying to save Nomadic and it was Philippe who rediscovered the lifeboat and sent photos to David Scott-Beddard who had organized the SaveNomadic campaign along with John White which ultimately became the Nomadic Preservation Society. Plans were in motion from 2006 to return the boat to Belfast and attempts were made to try and purchase it from the then struggling museum. It wouldn't be until 2007 that with funds raised during the Save Nomadic appeal the museum sold it on as they were on the verge of closing.

To transport the lifeboat back to Belfast a special cradle was built to support the boat. It was then loaded onto a lorry and taken to Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire before swapping to a second lorry to take it to Petticrew Marine which would become her new home. Over 5 years the boat hung from the cradle and slowly returned to its original shape. This was a slow process as the timbers were very stressed and any attempt to force the wood in any direction would have resulted in damage. All the time funds were being raised to preserve and restore the boat and a grant was awarded from the heritage lottery fund. During this time extensive research was being done to make sure for one they restore her properly but also to document her.

With her shape restored work started on fixing her up, replacing missing timbers and refabricating completely missing parts. One of the stipulations from the Heritage Lottery Fund was that they had to restore her with original materials and precisely that has happened. A conscious decision was made that no modern touches would be added. Sadly not all of the boat could be saved, most notably was the keel, this is the spine of the boat and in essence holds everything together, so using original materials a new keel had to be crafted and put into place for the clinker-wood construction of the boat to connect with. When the keel was complete work progressed restoring the hull, replacing missing or damaged wood with more original materials. Lifeboats Nameplates had been stolen years previous while they were still with Yvon alongside Nomadic, so using archive photos and detailed research the information was passed on to a man called Keith Perry who very kindly reconstructed all the pieces free of charge, as a donation to help complete the lifeboat.

With the boat nearing completion there was trouble arranging to return it to the public, Originally the Ulster folk and Transport Museum was going to take the lifeboat, but after a lot of communications they backed out saying they didn't have the space for it. Attempts were made to return the lifeboat to Nomadic herself, but to be displayed alongside her in a weather proof box, but this was met with little interest. Project Manager David Lawrence continued like this, contacting anyone and everyone, trying to find her a home.

As of 2014 the boat has been structurally fully restored but after investigations it was decided to keep her original paint instead of repainting the entire boat. A new cradle is underway to make it safer and easier for her to travel for exhibition.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McGuigan, Jenny. "Bidding for the Nomadic". Department for Social Development. 
  2. ^ "Nomadic Charitable Trust". Department for Social Development. 
  3. ^ a b "Mission Statement". Nomadic Preservation Society. Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d "7 September 2008". Nomadic Preservation Society. Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  5. ^ "Nomadic Registered on Historic Ships' Core Collection". Nomadic Charitable Trust. 19 August 2008. 
  6. ^ "Nomadic Moves into Hamilton Dock". Nomadic Charitable Trust. 3 August 2009. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Vanhoutte, Fabrice; Melia, Philippe (2004). Le S/S Nomadic: Petit frère du Titanic. Cherbourg: Editions Isoète. ISBN 2-913920-39-X. 
  • Pritchard, Mervyn (2008). The Belfast Child: S.S. Nomadic, Exploring the World's Last Great Link to R.M.S. Titanic. Belfast: Queen's Island Press. ISBN 0-9559314-0-1. 

External links[edit]