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Southampton, Isle of Wight & South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company
Established in 1861 and understood to have the longest name of any comparable company, the "Southampton" company came to dominate excursion sailings on the south coast of England, eventually taking over Cosens & Co, the Weymouth-based company which had a substantial presence at its home port and at the popular Dorst resort of Bournemouth.

As early as 1885, the company took over a towage operation and from then on, this became an equally important branch of the company's operations. Eventually, it eclipsed the loss-making excursion trade, and with the withdrawal of MV Balmoral in 1968, the company focused on towage and the highly efficient car ferry service from Southampton to Cowes.

The last paddle steamer, PS Princess Elizabeth was sold in 1959 although Cosens & Co, which had operated as a subsidiary since 1946, retained their PS Embassy until 1967.

The company always had a lively packet business and car transport was an increasing feature. To this effect, open foredecks remained part of the standard design for the company even though this gave their vessels a distinctly old-fashioned look. Balmoral and Bournemouth Queen, along with Lorna Doone were the exceptions, being designed primarily for excursion cruises. Many of the company's paddlers spent their later years, suitably modified, on cargo-only services.

Above : The last new-build for the Red Funnel fleet was the short-lived Gracie Fields in 1936. She continued with the design concept of Princess Elizabeth built nine years earlier and looked distinctly outmoded. An enclosed wheelhouse was added - something which was not to be commonplace on paddle steamers until shortly after World War II, during which Gracie Fields was lost when bombed and sunk making her second crossing to the beaches of Dunkirk.

Paddle Steamers
Vessels taken over from the two antecedent companies:

Gem (to 1884)
Emerald (to 1871)
Ruby (to 1872)
Medina (to 1883)
Pearl (to 1875)
Queen (to 1876)
Sapphire (to 1873)

Vessels taken over from the Southampton, Isle of Wight & Portsmouth Improved Steamboat Co

Lord of the Isles (1865-1889)
Lady of the Lake (1865-1887)

Vessels built / purchased after 1861, but not including vessels registered with Cosens & Co

Vectis (1866-1910)
Southampton (1872-1902)
Carisbrooke (1876-1906)
Prince Leopold (1876-1906)
Princess Beatrice (1880-1933)
Princess Helena (1883-1952)
Her Majesty (1885-1940)
Princess of Wales (1888)
Bangor Castle (on charter in 1888)
Solent Queen (1889-1948)
Prince of Wales (1891-1938)
Duchess of York, renamed Duchess of Cornwall (1896-1949)
Lorna Doone (1898-1948)
Victoria (1889-1900)
Balmoral (1900-1948)
Queen, renamed Mauretania, then Corfe Castle (1902-1938)
Princess Royal (1906)
Stirling Castle (1907-1916)
Bournemouth Queen (1908-1957)
Lord Elgin (1908-1955)
Princess Mary (1911-1916)
Princess Elizabeth (1927-1959)
Gracie Fields (1936-1939)
Lorna Doone (1949-1952)
Solent Queen (1949-1951)

Red Funnel and Before - Ships of the Southampton, Isle of Wight & South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company
By : R. B. Adams
Published in 1986 by Kingfisher Railway Productions, 188 Bitterne Road, Southampton, SO2 4BE
ISBN 0 946184 21 6
History of the fleet latterly known as "Red Funnel" with detailed vessel histories covering ferries, pleasure steamers, tugs and tenders.

Pleasure Steamers
By Bernard Cox
Published in 1983 by David & Charles
ISBN 0 7153 8333 7
A survey of pleasure steamers around the England & Wales coast devotes a chapter to developments on the South Coast.

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South Coast