SS Nomadic (1911)

SS Nomadic is a former tender of the White Star Line, launched on 25 April 1911 in Belfast now on display in Belfast's Titanic Quarter. She was built to transfer passengers and mail to and from RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic, and is the only White Star Line vessel in existence today.

SS Nomadic in 1911
Name: SS Nomadic
Operator: White Star Line
Port of registry: Cherbourg,  France
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
Fate: Sold
Notes: Sea trials 16 May 1911
Name: SS Nomadic
Operator: Compagnie Cherbourgeoise de Transbordement
Port of registry: Cherbourg,  France
Acquired: 1927
Out of service: 1969
Renamed: Ingenieur Minard
Fate: Sold to UK
United Kingdom
Name: SS Nomadic
Operator: SS Nomadic Charitable Trust Ltd.
Port of registry: Cherbourg,  France
Acquired: 2006
Identification: IMO number: 5161110
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-bladed propellers
Speed: 12 knots
Capacity: 1,000 passengers
Crew: 14


Nomadic was one of two vessels 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 offshore.

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


The ship is 230 feet (70 m) long overall and 37 feet (11 m) wide, with a gross registered tonnage of 1,273 tons.[3] Propulsion was provided by two single-ended coal-fired boilers and two compound steam engines, each driving two triple-bladed propellers of 7 feet (2.1 m) in diameter, which gave a service 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.[4]

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 Olympic and Titanic, which she was built to serve. As such, she had more luxuries than most tenders of her day, with cushioned benches, tables, porcelain water fountains, sex-specific bathrooms and a buffet bar. She contained ornate decorative joinery and plasterwork, particularly in the first class lounges of the ship.

Nomadic 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

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 liner's maiden voyage, including New York millionaire John Jacob Astor IV with his new wife Madeleine, Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon and his wife, couturière Lucy (Lady Duff-Gordon), American journalist and United States Army officer Archibald Butt, Denver millionairess Margaret Brown, and mining tycoon Benjamin Guggenheim.[5]

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,[1] 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.[1]

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 the shipbreakers and again returned to tendering duties for the SCSR from Cherbourg. She served the ocean liners of the day, such as Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. She finally retired from these duties on 4 November 1968.

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. A depiction of Nomadic was briefly seen alongside the Titanic in Cherbourg in James Cameron's 1997 film Titanic. 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 2002 she was towed out of Paris to Le Havre.[1]

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[6] 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

The Northern Ireland Department for Social Development set up a voluntary charitable trust, the Nomadic Charitable Trust[7] (NCT) in December 2006, to take ownership of the vessel and oversee her conservation and restoration. 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 Titanic, ensure a lasting legacy to celebrate our maritime and industrial heritage and as a catalyst for tourism, social and economic development".

The NCT transferred ownership of Nomadic to the Titanic Foundation in April 2015. The ship is now run by Titanic Belfast Nomadic Limited and incorporated into the Titanic Belfast visitor attraction.[8]

Nomadic Preservation Society

The Nomadic Preservation Society (NPS) was also founded in 2006.[9] 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.[9]

SS Nyanza

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.[10] Nyanza's owner intended to convert her to diesel power and scrap her steam engines and boilers, so NPS suggested that NCT buy them to install in Nomadic.[10] 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.[10] NPS launched an independent fundraising appeal to rescue the engines and boilers but this never came to fruition.[10]

Restoration and conservation

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.[11] This recognises Nomadic's historic significance as the register includes just a small list of vessels, including Cutty Sark, Mary Rose and the Royal Yacht Britannia.

In August 2009 Nomadic was moved to Hamilton Graving Dock,[12] 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.

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. The ship is still not fully restored, most notably the forward mast and subsequent rigging is still missing, although it is to be installed at a later date.

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.


As far as is known, the remaining lifeboat from Nomadic is one of the last two White Star Line lifeboats still intact in the world,[13] the other being Lifeboat 6 from the Oceanic II.[14] Nomadic originally had 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 around October 1974 after Vincent moved the ship to Paris. They lay onto the quayside opposite Nomadic for 13 years, being vandalised and having pieces stolen.[15]

In 1987 Jean-Charles Arnault made a deal with Vincent to loan him the two lifeboats for Le Musée Maritime Chantereyne at Cherbourg. The lifeboats were left outdoors and, over time, the weight of the boats resulted in their shape collapsing, the wood itself rotting. Eventually, the museum deemed Lifeboat 1 damaged beyond rescue and destroyed it by burning.

Then, Historian Philippe Delaunoy rediscovered the remaining lifeboat. In 2007 it was purchased from the struggling museum.[16] To transport the lifeboat back to Belfast by lorry a special cradle was built to support the boat, and it was taken to Petticrew Marine. Over the next five years the boat hung from a cradle there and slowly returned to its original shape. At the same time funds were being raised to restore the boat, and a grant was awarded from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

With it back in its correct shape, work started on restoration, replacing missing timbers and re-fabricating missing parts. One of the stipulations from the Heritage Lottery Fund was the use of original materials. A new keel had to be made and put into place for the clinker-wood construction to connect with. When this was complete, work progressed restoring the hull, replacing missing or damaged wood with original materials. The lifeboat nameplate had been stolen, so this was reconstructed by a benefactor using archive photographs.

With the lifeboat nearing completion there was some dispute as to how it would be put on public display. Originally the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum had agreed to take it as an exhibit, but they withdrew as there was not space for it. Attempts were made to return the lifeboat to Nomadic, to be displayed alongside her in a weatherproof box, but this was unsuccessful.

As of 2014 the boat has been structurally restored with the original paint finish. A new cradle is being constructed for travel and exhibition.[15]

See also


  1. "SS Nomadic Belfast". Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  2. "SS Nomadic restored as a major maritime tourism attraction - Heritage Lottery Fund". Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  3. Eggert, Nalina (31 May 2013). "The many lives of the SS Nomadic". Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  5. "Famous Passengers". Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  6. McGuigan, Jenny. "Bidding for the Nomadic". Department for Social Development. Archived from the original on 22 April 2012.
  7. "Nomadic Charitable Trust". Department for Social Development. Archived from the original on 22 April 2012.
  8. "Record numbers for SS Nomadic - 106 years after launch". The Irish News. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  9. "Mission Statement". Nomadic Preservation Society. Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  10. "7 September 2008". Nomadic Preservation Society. Archived from the original on 5 May 2013. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  11. "Nomadic Registered on Historic Ships' Core Collection". Nomadic Charitable Trust. 19 August 2008.
  12. "Nomadic Moves into Hamilton Dock". Nomadic Charitable Trust. 3 August 2009.
  13. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 February 2015. Retrieved 7 February 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. "Oceanic lifeboat restoration almost complete". Shetland News. 22 April 2016. Retrieved 15 July 2019.

Further reading

  • Delaunoy, Philippe (2019). SS Nomadic - Titanic's Little Sister. Belfast: History Press. ISBN 0-7509-8807-X.
  • 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.

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