The Loftsman
Leith Shipyards

A history of the Ships built at the Henry Robb Shipyard in Leith, Scotland. Also a testimony to the men who built the Ships and to all who sailed in them.
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Home Ships Built in Leith 1918 to 1939 LAFONIA - Yard No 189 - Passenger/Cargo Vessel - Falkland Islands Co Ltd - Built 1931

Leith Shipyards

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LAFONIA - Yard No 189 - Passenger/Cargo Vessel - Falkland Islands Co Ltd - Built 1931


The SS LAFONIA was renamed as SS FITZROY while still serving the Falkland Islands.

This tribute stamp was released to mark her sterling service in the cold waters of the deep south.

Owners    Falkland Islands Co Ltd
Registered    Leith Keel Laid    
Type of Ship    Passenger/Cargo Launched    18/08/1931
     Lloyds A1  Handed Over    Sept 1931
Ship Details          
Length Overall     Launch Details    
Length B.P.    165' 0" Weather    
Beam    32' 6" Time to Water    
Depth Mld     13' 6"      
G.R.T.    768      
Engines    3 Cyl - Triple expansion steam engine, built by W. Beardmore & Co. Ltd., Coatbridge, Scotland, producing 355 nhp      
Props    1      
Speed    10 knots      
Other known names    1936-RMS FITZROY    

She was lengthened in 1949

Current Status    Broken up at Grays, Essex, England in 1957    
Content on the SS LAFONIA will be added as and when available. 


This great photograph of the RMS FITZROY was sent into the website by The Falkland Collection custodian R. Rowlands

RMS Fitzroy ready to depart on perhaps her most noted voyage to commence Operation Tabarin in Antarctica 1944

Interesting to note the position of her liferaft at the stern, there really is nothing new when it comes to ships and the sea.

Ships History

Once a ship had been built and launched she then had to be out-fitted, and then complete sea trials
before being handed over to her new owners, who would look to have that ship at sea, as long as possible to pay for her build costs and of course to make the company good profits.

To this end one company may have had no requirement for a particular ship after a time and would then sell her on just like any other disposable commodity.

Hence a ship may have had a few owners and would go through many changes and names during what was hoped for a long and successful working life.

We try here to give as full an account of her history as time and research permits, if you know of missing info
or you have any photographs of her, then please get in touch and we shall update her story as we go along.


The photograph above shows the SS LAFONIA being readied for her long journey down to Port Stanley, Falkland Islands in 1931

(Photograph is from the Falklands Collection and shown here by kind permission)

 The SS LAFONIA had a very varied and interesting history which also included service during World War 2 in a very secret wartime operation to establish a British Base in Antarctica.


On the 9th of November 1931 she arrived for the first time at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands.

She underwent a name change to RMS FITZROY during the Autumn of 1936 pending the arrival, on December 29, 1936, of a new Lafonia.


She operated a mail and cargo service between the islands, Montevideo, South Georgia and Graham Land until 1957.


During 1949 she was converted to burn oil fuel and her hull was lengthened, increasing her cargo carrying capacity by 20 per cent.



Tales from the Ship

Here you will find the stories from the men and women who sailed on the ships, what was it really like to be working on a ship in a raging sea and in the pitch dark of night, the real stories some funny some sad, some good and some bad.

Operation Tarabin

Operation Tabarin was conceived at British Cabinet level in 1943 when there were fears of German naval involvement in the Southern Ocean and of Argentine and Chilean attempts to assert sovereignty in the Antarctic whilst Britain was involved in the Second World War. A carefully selected party of naval men was formed under the command of Lt.Commander James Marr, a veteran of Shackleton’s ‘Quest’ expedition and of the ‘DISCOVER’ investigations. The secret Operation was code-named after a Parisian night club, Bal Tabarin, in view of the long winter darkness of the Antarctic (its establishment also needed a lot of night work with some consequent chaos).

A Norwegian wooden Arctic sealing vessel was chartered and re-named HMS BRANDSFIELD to carry the Party and equipment to the Falkland Islands, but she developed a leak and had to be abandoned, resulting in a switch of personnel and supplies to the Royal Mail liner HIGHLAND MONARCH which was already scheduled to sail to the Island!
Although arrangements were made to detach to the operation the Antarctic Research Vessel, later converted to be a minesweeper, HMS WILLIAM SCORESBY this was clearly insufficient to transport all the cargo and men.
So, upon arrival Lt. Commander Marr was able to requisition the
Island’s mail ship FITZROY, the only link with the outside world. The FITZROY was neither ice-strengthened, nor insured for operation in the Antarctic. Her loss would have isolated the Colony, which had already lost ‘LAFONIA’, the other mail ship, following a similar requisition.

Captain D. W. Roberts, the Colonial Manager of the Falkland Islands Company, strongly resisted the requisition but to no avail and therefore insisted on accompanying the Captain (Keith Pitt) and sailing with the ship. He was the most experienced mariner in the areas south of the Falklands. HMS WILLIAM SCORESBY was commanded by Captain Victor Marchesi. The operation was successful and established two Antarctic Bases, complete with Post Offices to enhance sovereignty. Without the FITZROY or Captain Roberts it is questionable whether the mission would have been such a success.

To be continued:

Dedicated to all the brave men and women who sailed the vessels from the Leith Shipyards.

Should you know of anyone who may have sailed on her, then please feel free to get in touch so that we can add the story here.

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0 #2 Peter Hunt 2015-05-11 07:56
I had a converted lifeboat from the Lafonia as a cruising yacht in the late 70s. It was called Skim but when we removed the paint you could clearly see the name Lafonia on the bow.

We would be happy to see any photo's of your conversion Peter.

+1 #1 james g skinner 2014-03-23 09:37
I remember her as a mail ship supplying the Falkland Islands from Montevideo on its monthly voyage. The period was 1953/56. ¿Am I correct?

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