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Tuesday, 4 May 2010


Moored on Lake Malawi is the steamer Chauncy Maples. Built in Glasgow in 1898, she is the oldest ship in Africa still afloat.

The 150-ton steamship was commissioned in 1898 by the British Universities' Mission to Central Africa. Designed by Henry Brunel, the son of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, she was built in Glasgow by Alley & McClellan, at a cost of £9,000. She was then disassembled into 3,481 parts.

The ship's 'Abbott' boiler was built in Newark, Nottinghamshire, and weighed 11 tons. It was transported in one piece on a special carriage fitted with traction engine wheels and shipped to Portuguese East Africa.

The boiler was towed on a barge up the Zambezi River and then hauled overland by 450 Ngoni tribesmen for 64 miles. Up steep hills and across river beds, they averaged three miles a day. The other parts of the ship were carried on the heads of men and women.

Unfortunately, when the parts of the hull were galvanised in Glasgow, the parts numbering system was hidden, so the engineers in Malawi had to work out a huge jig-saw to re-assemble the ship. In 1901, two years after leaving Britain, the Chauncy Maples was successfully reassembled and launched on Lake Nyasa (now Malawi). She had three purposes: a missionary school; an emergency refuge from Arab slave traders; and a hospital ship.

During the First World War she was commandeered to serve as a troop carrier and naval gunboat. After the Universities Mission to Central Africa sold her to the Malawi government in 1953, she became a passenger and cargo vessel.

During her lifetime the Chauncy Maples has had several renovations, the most recent in 1967 when she was refitted as a passenger and cargo vessel, with accommodation for a crew of ten.

The Chauncy Maples was a hospital ship but she has not sailed for a decade. She is owned by the Government of Malawi, which plans to renovate her as a floating clinic.

Lake-side villagers will receive free treatment for common diseases, maternity care, simple operations, dentistry, immunisation for their babies, family planning and information on hygiene and safe sex.

She is constructed with a vertical stem, raked stern, raised forecastle and poop deck aft, complete main deck, boat deck and split level aft deck. Currently there is a large cargo hold on the foredeck, which will contain refrigerators for vaccines. She has a single propeller plant, single rudder, working cargo winch and working capstan. The two lifeboats used for moving passengers and cargo from open shores, are missing. The davits are currently abeam, but will be moved to the bow.

The ship was originally equipped with a steam engine, fuelled by wood collected from the lake shore. In 1967 this was replaced with an in-line Crossley diesel engine fitted with a reduction gear and a fixed propeller plant. Although this engine is still in the vessel, it no longer meets modern environmental requirements. It will be replaced with a more efficient CAT 3406C DITA diesel engine, rated 346bkw @ 2100rpm, which can run on fuel with a jatropha bio-diesel admixture.

The fuel used to run the Chauncy Maples' diesel engine will contain a proportion of bio-diesel made from jatropha – a non-edible tropical plant growing in Malawi. This will also create employment and reduce fossil-fuel imports.

A group of Chauncy Maples fund-raising supporters will be with us on the evening of Sunday 9th May and will start their Lands End to John o’Groats drive/ride the following day. They are doing this for the Chauncy Maples, with the sole intention of restoring the ship to act as a floating clinic going up and down the lake serving the local communities which currently have no medical support.

More information on how you could help them here


1 comment:

  1. Janie Hampton5 May 2010 at 09:47

    Delighted to see this about Chauncy Maples.
    The website now includes a 6 minute video of the ship in Monkey bay on Lake Malawi- take a look at the real live African monkeys!
    Her first crew (1901) were Brixham trawlermen, and Malawians were sent there too to be trained. Good luck with the vintage rally.
    Janie Hampton
    Director Chauncy Maples Malawi Trust