An appeal for information: Admiral David Beatty’s steam yacht Sheila


Admiral David Beatty, photo from the Wikipedia, courtesy of Ian Dunster

Yvonne Carter in Sydney, Australia, has written to ask for information about Sheila, the steam yacht belonging to Admiral of the Fleet David Beatty, 1st Earl Beatty, on which her father served as a very junior member of the crew.

Apparently Sheila pitched rather a lot and a bad bout of sea sickness in the Bay of Biscay made Yvonne’s father  decide upon another career; she adds that he recollected the Beatty family travelling overland to avoid the Bay of Biscay and met picked up the yacht in the Mediterranean.

The yacht is believed to have spent time in the Mediterranean in about 1918 before leaving for Spitzbergen under a captain named Le Geyt. Would there be any records of the crew or a ship’s log around I wonder?

Beatty was an admiral in the Royal Navy who I gather in the Battle of Jutland used his squadron to lure the German fleet towards the waiting British grand fleet under Admiral Jellicoe.

He’s also remembered for a comment at Jutland that ‘there was something wrong with (his) bloody ships today’ after two battlecruisers exploded and sank due to design faults.

His flamboyant style included wearing a non-standard uniform, which had six buttons instead of the regulation eight on the jacket, and always wearing his cap at an angle, as the photograph above shows.

Yvonne has found this reference in the British Journal of Nursing:

November 21,1914: p 404

‘Princess Christian last week paid a visit to the Queen Mary and Princess Christina Hospital at South Queensbury on the Firth of Forth , where there are at present a numberof sick cases from the Fleet in the wards , and afterwards visited Lady Beatty, wife of Rear Admiral Sir David Beatty, on board the steam yacht Sheila which is now equipped as a hospital ship.’

If you have any information for Yvonne, please use the comment link below or write to me at

PS – Peter High (see comments below) has written to say the vessel’s correct name was Sheelah, not Sheila.

19 thoughts on “An appeal for information: Admiral David Beatty’s steam yacht Sheila”

  1. G'day Gavin. My discs are packed away, but does "Sheila" feature in the steam yacht section of the disc of classic yacts I sent?

    House is virtually finished, but final bill yet to come……..(here assume ominous sounds).

  2. Ethel Beattys steam yacht was the 'Sheelagh'. Note to the spelling. 😉

    When Beatty was at sea, she used to follow him around from port to port and would call on the admiralty and try to get the battlecruisers sent to more desirable ports. Beatty wrote to Ethel chastising her that she shouldn'r meddle in Admiralty routing orders.

    I know the SHEELAGH visited Riga, the Baltic areas and Brest? just prior to WW1.

    Good luck with the search. I'm on a similar quest but my goal is with HMS LION, Beattys ship.

    You should read the biography on Beatty (I've yet to) and see what that says. Also Lions captain (Chatfield) has a (auto?) biography about him. Maybe this mentions the travels and annecdotes of the craft as well?

  3. There is a newspaper article about the Sheelagh’s trip to Spitsbergen in The Fiancier on August 5, 1919. While Beatty seems to have been involved with a mining company here, the article says little about the ship or its crew.

  4. There seems to be a little confusion as to the actual name of the steam yacht. It was SHEELAH, without a ‘G’. She was designated ‘Hospital Ship No.11’ and served as a hospital ship from August 1914 until February 1919. I, too, have a photo picture postcard of her in hospital ship colours (ie a small red cross on her hull). The postcard was written on board and sent from South Queensferry, Scotland 28 September 1914. I would be happy to supply a copy of the photo to anyone interested.

    1. Hi Peter,

      I am putting a book together from my G Grandfathers war diary of his service on the hospital ships and he mentions the Sheelah, although wrongly spelt.

      “Lady Beatty’s yacht The Shelia fitted up and stationed off Queensferry as a Hospital Ship for Officers was still there and I don’t believe that “she” had moved since August 1914.”

      I would love to have a copy of the picture postcard showing her in hospital ship colours for the book. Any chance you could email me a copy?

      best regards


    2. Hi Peter, My mother-in-law was named Sheelah after the yacht as her father served as Beatty’s cabin steward during WW1. I am sure she would love a picture of the vessel. She will be 90 years old tomorrow.
      Kind regards,

    3. My uncle Able Seaman G.W, irving RNR served on Sheelah which I believe was hired by the navy, renamed HMY Ariane and armed with 1 -12pdr and 2-6 pdr guns in 1915. I have his photo his had band is HMY Ariane. An emailed photo of the yacht dressed as a Hospital ship would be interesting. The postcard may have been a method of keeping that ship’s true wartime role a secret.

  5. I can add a little bit of extra information to Peter’s post above. I am currently writing up my great uncle’s war diaries and Jutland account. He served aboard HMS Galatea and I have the following lines in the diary for the beginning of March 1915 while at anchor in the Firth of Forth.

    1st Mon – “Pay Day”. Still in F of F explosion on H.M.S “Cordelia” Quarter deck blown up 4 causalities. Very bad while at anchor close to us.
    2nd Tues – In Firth of Forth West winds blowing cold.
    3rd Weds – Lady Beatty passes our ship on her yacht the “Sheelah” as a Red Cross hospital ship her base up the river.

    Not much but it does seem to match the spelling of the yacht’s name as in Peter’s post. I don’t know if the arrival of Sheelah had anything to do with the explosion two days before on the Cordelia there is no other mention.


  6. Thank you Lindon. All adds to our knowledge. Incidentally, if you come to ‘publish’ your great uncle’s war diaries please let me know as there are several members of the Forces Postal History Society (of which I am currently President) who would be interested in reading them.
    You probably know that the cruiser HMS Galatea had its own censor mark which was applied to letters written in the ship. Collecting such marks on envelopes (or ‘covers’ as we call them) is just one a many interests of some of our members.

  7. My mother is 96 and named Sheelah after admiral Beatty’s yacht. Her father served on it for many years and we have just found the link

  8. If anyone has questions regarding Admiral Beatty’s yacht Sheelah I shall ask my mother who may be able to help as she had links with the yacht.

  9. The King’s surgeon, Sir Alfred Fripp, was made Consulting-Surgeon to the hospital ships of the Grand Fleet – the Garth Castle, Rewa, Drina, Plassy, Agadir, and China. He was put in touch with the Beattys, and, with Lady Beatty’s assistance, redesigned the Sheelah (Beatty’s spelling in letters) for medical purposes. Fripp spent the first six months of the War in Rosyth. Pages 251 to 260 of his biography (1932) by Cecil Roberts describe this part of his life (recorded in diaries, now lost).

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.