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 SOUTH STEYNE - Yard No 267 - Double Ended Steam Ferry - Port Jackson Ferry Co - Built 1938

Leith Shipyards

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SOUTH STEYNE - Yard No 267 - Double Ended Steam Ferry - Port Jackson Ferry Co - Built 1938


The classic Double Ender Ferry
"SS SOUTH STEYNE" not just a great
example of fine shipbuilding, but an
Urban Icon in Australia, also on the   historic ships and places registar in Australia.
Owners    The Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Co. Ltd
Registered    Sydney, Australia Keel Laid    14th Oct 1937
Type of Ship    Double ended passenger ferry Launched    01/04/1938
      Handed Over    
Ship Details          
Length Overall     Launch Details    
Length B.P.    220' 02 Weather   Fine, Light West Wind
Beam    38' 0" Time to Water    
Depth Mld     15' 9"      
G.R.T.    1203      
Engines   Harland & Wolff 4 cyl triple expansion steam engine      
Props    2-one for'd, one aft       
Speed    14 knots (17 knots on trials)      
Other known names   N/A    
Current Status   Floating restaurant in Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia    

Content on The Steam Ship SOUTH STEYNE will be added as and when available. 



The SOUTH STEYNE arrives in Sydney Harbour, after her 64 day journey from Scotland. 


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.

There are not many ships around the world that end up being classed as an "Urban Icon" but the SOUTH STEYNE is one, she is justifiably recognised as instrumental in the grouth of the huge area around Sydney, Australia. She was from an original design from the Henry Robb shipyard, masterminded by the Chief Shipyard Draughtsman John Ashcroft.

"The South Steyne was the grandest Manly ferry ever to grace Sydney's waterways and was everyone's favourite as she plied her trade from 1938-1974, crossing the Heads more than 100,000 times." She was also the only ferry licenced to sail outside the Heads and from 1953 until 1973 made regular trips to Broken Bay each Sunday giving many Sydneysiders their first experience of an ocean cruise. Designed by J Ashcroft; built by Henry Robb and Company of Leith, Scotland.

Some Statistics: 1,203 tons gross/536 tons nett; 67m long with a beam of 11m maximum passenger capacity of 1871. Traditional Manly Ferry style with two passenger decks, built of timber, iron and steel, powered by a magnificent Harland & Wolff four cylinder triple expansion steam engine, her "Scotch" boilers could use coal or other fuels. She could exceed 17 knots. Fitted with radio in 1953 and later radar. Upper deck damaged by fire in 1974. 1988 refitted as restaurant/cruising vessel. Also once used as a Royal Yacht for the Queen.

Statement from NSW government inventory about South Steyne

The South Steyne was the best known of the Manly ferry line which played a major role in the suburbanisation of Sydney and in the development of its recreational patterns. It is a very high quality example of naval architecture and an outstanding example of the plating (having no flat plates) for which Henry Robb of Leith was famous. It is the finest example of the most significant Australian contribution to sea navigation technology - the development of high speed, double-ended operation in deep sea conditions. It has an intact operating example of propulsion by steam reciprocating engine. It epitomised the Manly ferry as part of Sydney's image and its popular urban culture; and remains, like the Harbour Bridge, a powerful piece of Sydney imagery. It is held in high esteem by the local community and remains in the collective memory of the nation. It provides a working example of the propulsion and auxilary functions of marine steam power. (Heritage Office 1992)

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.


 From order to first passengers (approx 3 years)

From original concept to delivery as compiled by Allan Hughes of Sydney, Australia and used here by kind permission, this work was done as part of his original research into the classic ferry South Steyne.

21 December 1936: PJ&MSCo General Manager Walter Dendy leaves Sydney to visit the U.K. to research and source construction of at least one, and possibly two new vessels. 

23 January 1937: Dendy arrives in London and in February orders hull tests at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, using a model made for turbo-electric propulsion (later made redundant and a new model required for steam propulsion).

March 1937: Dendy engages Mr Goodwin, a former Director of Napier & Miller, to call tenders, supervise construction, check weights, watch stability tests and attend the sea trials. Specifications are sent to 12 builders however interest is poor because her construction would take up a slipway berth that could be occupied by a far more valuable build. Dendy convinces some shipbuilders not to return the tender documents. The tender called for a price for one vessel and a price for a second identical vessel, each with steam propulsion, plus an alternative price for diesel electric, and a later request for a turbo-electric price.
(It seems possible that the company intended to call the two proposed sister boats "North Steyne" and "South Steyne", reserving the name "North Steyne" for the second boat which would have been the newer vessel and perhaps flagship, but she never came. After confirming two vessels were not possible, the company might have hoped to build a sister to South Steyne at a later date, but WWII changed everything. If reserved for sister vessels, it would explain why the name of "North Steyne", a promenant part of the main Manly beach, was never used).
During the tender period, Dendy inspects several diesel-electric vessels and found their noise generation to be severe. He comments that noise had caused the Belluberra's engines to be fully encased when recently converted to diesel-electric.  (Dendy praises turbo-electric propulsion and makes no comment on steam propulsion in his report when back in Sydney).


22 March 1937: Seven shipbuilders submit tenders to build. Henry Robb Ltd wins the tender with a bid of £96,600 for steam propulsion plus £5,900 for delivery. A second vessel was offered for £94,700 but not accepted. Dendy recieves a cable from the PJ&MSCo instructing him to go with steam propulsion. Steam propulsion prices from all tenderers were some £20,000 less than diesel electric.    
She is designed as Robb yard no. 267, to Walter Dendy's technical specifications. Whilst obviously based upon previous Manly vessels, her lines and proportions appear to be entirely due to Robb's chief draughtsman John Ashcroft as Dendy does not mention any aspect of her appearance except the desire to centre the funnels.
  ~ The hull was squared amidships to increase stability however this was later shown to produce a significant wake. 
  ~ Promenade deckhouse sides were changed from teak to steel to save £200.
  ~ The PJ&MSCo wanted the gross tonnage to be in excess of 1,000 tons to escape Sales Tax .
  ~ Robbs were renowned for their hull plating skill and Dendy agreed to butting plates rather than lapping .
  ~ Deck beams are changed to steel with no pillar supports on the Promenade Deck at no extra cost.
  ~ Promenade deckhouse widened by 2 feet, Main deckhouse widened, beam extended by 3 feet, deck-to-deck heights increased by 3", all at no extra cost .

2 August 1937: W L Dendy writes his report to the Board of PJ&MSCo regarding his U.K. trip.
14 October 1937: Keel (7" depth) laid at Henry Robb Shipyards, Leith, Scotland.
Friday 1 April 1938: Launched by Mrs Robb. 

She slides down the slipway before the ceremony intended.  A bright day with a light west breeze, launched from Robbs No. 4 berth .
23 June 1938: Sea trials over the Burnt Island Mile. 17.23 knots (astern) achieved.
24 June 1938: Inclining Tests, Victoria Dock, Leith (rear of Robbs yard).


7 July 1938: 5am leaves Leith for Sydney. Final price £141,526.
Pedder and Mylchreest Ltd of London bring the ship to Australia in 64 days .
22 August 1938: Partly repainted in Malaysia for Sydney arrival.
Friday 9 September 1938: Arrives in Sydney. Through the Heads at 12:15pm .
September/October 1938: Hull repainted, this time green up to Promenade deck line. Buff colour to promenade deck house sides, cowlings painted brown (were white on arrival). The photo "near new..." below shows the hyphen in "South-Steyne" on her bows still in place. PJ&MSCo crests added to the bow and stern.
Friday 21 October 1938: Sydney Harbour sea trials with Henry Robb (builder) aboard. 17.1 knots .
Sunday 23 October 1938: Afternoon and night excursions for invited guests. 
Monday 24 October 1938: Started service 8:10am from Manly, 11 crew .




Her launch at the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb, 1st of April 1938 (note the side wheel steam tug waiting to take her in tow)  

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.

We now have the following story about the SOUTH STEYNE as told to the website by 92 years young Bill Fields and his recollections of wartime in Sydney Harbour and trips on the magnificent Ferries of Sydney at the time.

To see these vessels one could not do better than to view them from the decks of a ferry. The incident which I endeavoured to relate follows: One Sunday afternoon in 1942, I was a passenger on the magnificent ferry, South_ Steyne returning from Manly to its terminal at Circular Quay . As we were abeam of the Sydney Heads the ferry slowed and finally hove to just short of the boom gate of the anti submarine net which protected the harbour. This was to permit the Hospital ship ORANJE to leave harbour. At approximately 02:00 the next morning the harbour erupted with gunfire and depth charges in response to the Japanese midget submarines having entered the harbour and seeking to torpedo the US warship USS Chicago. The torpedo missed and travelled across harbour where it exploded under a small ferry which had been requisitioned by the RAN to accommodate young sailors, 19 of whom died. I have often wondered if the Japanese had taken the opportunity to enter the harbour while the Oranje was in transit....who knows.?

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


Here the South Steyne sails through a heavy swell just inside the mouth of Sydney Harbour on her way to Manly.


The following three photographs were taken September 2012 by the Curator of the Australian National Maritime Museum Dr Stephen Gapps and we appreciate his time and interest.



The Australian sun sparkles of the bow of the SOUTH STEYNE and shows some of the fine hull plate work that was crafted in 1937/38 by the Shipbuilders at the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb.Instead of the traditional riveted type of "in" and "out" arrangement of hull plates her hull plates were flush fitting, a form of fabrication that took much more accuracy and which was to be followed by the Aircraft industry as a flush fair shape has less resistance of course to air or water.



The old and the new in Sydney Australia, with the Steam Ship SOUTH STEYNE in the foreground with the modern backdrop of the Sydney buildings.

For more info on this famous Australian Icon please visit the Australian National Maritime Museum  


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 #3 Garry Ford 2017-11-09 01:59
Twice each year [1930s-70s] my family would drive 626 miles to Sydney from Brisbane to visit relatives for Christmas and Royal Easter Show. Travelling time gradually reduced from a week to 8 hrs as cars/road became better and petrol more available. I joined them from 1949 onwards. The Highlights of these trips for me was Sydney's coupled toastrack trams AND trips to Manly and Broken Bay on the Steyne. Dad was a mechanical/elec trical engineer with a steam ticket working for the Brisbane Tramways in New Farm Power House. Trips on the Steyne usually involved a close up view of the triple expansion engine from the viewing platform on the lower deck or sometimes even below it! I was always fascinated watching the engine methodically plough the Steyne onwards. The rougher the crossing of the portion of open ocean between Bradley's and Middle heads, the better. Compared to Brisbane's small "dingy" sized cross river ferries, the Steyne was a magnificent ship, even having a piano on board!
0 #2 PAUL FITZGERALD 2014-04-13 13:20
Thankyou for presenting this piece of Manly history in the South Steyne,
My first "run on her was 1968 shortly after her collision with HMAS MELBORNE off Garden Is. the Bulwark section had been repaired but the timber capping was yet to be replaced, my second adventure was the SUNDAY ocean cruise to Broken Bay, my first out the heads experience
If you could add some photos of her bridge interior and her engine room otherwise a great review, finally a preservation lottery is going to be the only finiancial , was to KEEP her
+1 #1 Willie Beedie 2013-03-19 22:15
Hi, My name is Willie Beedie and I now live on west of Scotland.The Master who sailed the South Steyne 1x cousin 1x removed.Robert M. Beedie was a missionary's son 1891 census Office Boy and 1st Nov 1901 master foreign going certificate.He was torpedoed 2 times in WW.I.ON CARGO boats. SS.Hurst. 3, Oct 1917 then again 12,Nov.1918. He was awarded O.B.E IN 1921 FOR WAR SERVICE.He was born 31 mar.1875 in Partick Glasgow. and died of cancer. Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. 15 Aug.1955.

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