Does anyone know the story of the steam yacht Lady Nell?

Liz Jones has written to ask for information and photos about the steam yacht Lady Nell, which was built 1884 for Lord Shrewsbury, as she has a gavel inscribed with the yacht’s name. If you have information you’d like to share, please email me at and I’ll pass on the message.

Here’s what she says:

‘As you can see, the gavel is wooden, and is about 30cm long.

‘Lady Nell was sold to the Uruguayan Navy in about 1890 – her new owners fitted her with guns. She then becamse a training ship, then the headquarters of a local rowing club, then a heap of wood in the mud of a tributary of the main river in Uruguay in 1950, so she had a long life.

This link includes some information, although Google translates it quite amusingly. The letters ‘ST’ are for ‘Shrewsbury Talbot’ – Talbot is the Shrewsbury family name.

‘Lord Shrewsbury (great grandfather of the present earl) use to run hansom cabs in London, which also had ST painted on them. But that doesn’t explain why a gavel…

And now I think I’d better clean it up.’

I Googled about a bit and found a website that had this to say:

‘Ceremonial gavels (right) are presented to recognize a person or commemorate an event. These typically have an inscription attached to the gavel on a metal band, or lettered in paint directly in the wood. As collectibles, they are worth more if the recipient was a famous person or if they commemorate a significant historical event.’

It also seems they were sometimes made from the timbers of famous vessels. Since the Lady Nell ended her days so far from her original home, I’d guess this is a ceremonial gavel, rather than one made from her timbers.

SY Gondola and the grandeur of Coniston

Gondola 34

The third largest lake in the Lake District, Coniston Water is a gem, with its slate-grey water surrounded by lush green gardens and meadows, and dark green trees, all overlooked by the glowering mass of the mighty hill known as the Old Man of Coniston.

It makes a wonderful backdrop for the outstanding Steam Yacht Gondola, which is operated on the lake by the National Trust.

SY Gondola is a screw-propelled passenger steamer originally launched in 1859, and built to carry passengers from the Furness Railway and from the Coniston Railway, and was in commercial service until 1936. She was designed by naval architect Douglas Hebson and constructed by Jones, Quiggin & Co. of Liverpool.

SY Gondola became a houseboat in 1946 and then became derelict. However, in 1979 she was rebuilt and is today still in service running tours of the lake. Read about how to visit her here, and about her history here.

She’s a distinctive looking craft, apparently her looks were was strongly influenced by a Venetion boat type known as a burchiello.

The big buff-coloured house belonged to the hugely influential art critic and thinker John Ruskin.

I can’t help thinking how nice it would be to own and be able to use the smart green and white rowing boat in the trees close to the water’s edge.

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.