Six weeks after George Bullough’s return from his world tour (1892-95) he purchased the Steam Yacht Maria, on 7 October 1895. She was 221 feet long and 28 feet wide, with a registered tonnage of 670. She had two decks, a coal-fired engine and a single propeller which enabled a comfortable cruising speed of twelve knots. Rigged as a two-masted schooner – her second (or aft) mast was the tallest and held the mainsail – she was technically still a yacht though it’s doubtful whether the sails, made by the same company that had supplied Nelson’s HMS Victory, were ever used except for occasional displays of vanity. Her state rooms were sumptuous, the dining room in particular with its mahogany panelling and chairs whose feet were bolted to the floor while the upper halves swivelled to enable ladies in voluminous evening dresses to seat themselves decorously.
Maria was just two years old. Officially numbered 102379, she had been built on the Clyde at the yard of Napier, Shanks and Bell, the company who had developed the very first steam yacht in 1820. Her first owner was Ninian B Stewart of Keil House, Kintyre, the son of the founder of Glasgow’s largest drapery business, Stewart and MacDonald. Ninian was an original member of the Royal Clyde Yacht Club and sailing was in his blood; his father had built a steam yacht and a brother owned another from which he threw extravagant fireworks displays off Rothesay. On relinquishing ownership of the Maria in favour of George Bullough, Ninian promptly purchased a larger steam yacht (815 tons) which he again named Maria!
Bullough immediately changed his vessel’s name to Rhouma, a more romanticised and feminine corruption of Rum. The vessel lay at the James Watt Dock, Greenock, which continued to be her base when not in use, where her weekly bill averaged £2 16s 11d for harbour dues and 18/11d for police dues. Here she underwent certain modifications in preparation ‘for a cruise to the West Indies’. Early in 1896 the voyage began, pioneering the 15,000-mile route that was to become a favourite and included Bermuda, Florida, Gulf of Mexico, the Azores and Madeira. A visitor to the ship in Cape Town some four years later mentioned in a letter that the upper deck was ‘the place where they have their balls. Mr Bullough gives a ball every year at Madeira, and he generally has as guests about 60 couples.’ This possibly adds credence to the story that Rhouma carried a twelve-piece orchestra among her complement.
On Rhouma, as before on the commercial steamers, cricket was played on deck – a much modified and restricted version of the land game. For a long voyage as many as forty crew might be employed but for duties between the Clyde and Rum the figure was reduced to under thirty. The crew’s Terms of Engagement for the year 1905 when no trips outside home waters were made stipulate that any employees ‘agree to go on voyages within the limits of 70 degrees North and 70 deg South latitude, to and fro as may be required until the yacht is finally laid up and [they are] paid off in the United Kingdom. Period of engagement not to exceed twelve months. The uniform supplied for the use of the crew remains the property of the owner of the yacht. Cash and liberty allowed at the Master’s discretion. Seaman, greasers and firemen to work bunker coals when required. The crew agree to work ashore for the owner when required.’
In this year the Master was I N McDougall (32 years old) who was the only one on an annual retainer. There were three Mates, Boswain, Carpenter, a Launchman/Able Seaman, a Caterer/Able Seaman, five Able Seamen, a Bugler/Ordinary seaman (the youngest at 20 years old), one Ordinary Seaman, Chief Engineer, 2nd Engineer, Greaser/Launchman, 2nd Greaser, four Firemen, Chief Steward, 2nd Steward, Mess Room Cook, Mess Room Steward and a Fo’c’sle Cook. Twenty-eight in all. Scots: 22. English: 2. Irish: 3. German: 1. The 2nd Mate and the Boswain were the oldest at 52.
Under the ‘Scale of Provisions’ was the surprising entry, ‘Crew to provide their own provisions.’ The weekly wages were specified for everyone except the Master: Chief Engineer: £3 10s. 1st Mate: £2 17s 8d. Chief Steward: £2 15s. Mess Room Cook: £2. Foc’sl’e Cook: £1 10s. The average for everyone else was around £1 6s, with the Ordinary Seamen on the lowest wage of 15 shillings. The standard regulations for offences committed on board recommended the levels of fines the Master was to impose, these amounting to five shillings for every charge: striking any person, bringing on board or possessing spirituous liquors, insolence or drunkenness (first offence, rising to ten shillings for a second offence). Finally, the Master was required to record any births or deaths (none), and any dismissals of which there was one, an AB ‘discharged by mutual consent’ in Rum, and replaced within three days.
At the outbreak of the Boer War George Bullough offered Rhouma to the War Office as a hospital ship. Furthermore, he undertook to pay for all travel costs, wages, provisions and every other expense for as long as her services were required. The offer was accepted and Rhouma was instructed to proceed to Cape Town at the earliest opportunity.
The master for the voyage was R. L. Foxworthy in charge of a crew of thirty-seven. Their contracts were adapted to include caring and entertaining duties under the doctor’s instruction. Rhouma left Oban on Boxing Day 1899, diverting to Rum to pick up the owner and his secretary. There were breaks in Madeira, Las Palmas and St Vincent before the longest leg of 2,875 miles along the Gulf of Loanda. Averaging twelve knots and burning a ton of coal every 26.1 miles, Rhouma made impressive progress, her Rawsons triple-expansion engines performing faultlessly. On 11 February 1900 they dropped anchor in five fathoms, three-quarters of a mile from a pierhead in Cape Town. The ship’s log read 6,958 miles from Oban and in steaming time it had taken them 24 days, 17 hours.
At the end of nine months on station Rhouma departed Cape Town on 9 October. The return journey recorded 6,300 miles on the log in 23 days 1 hour 41 minutes, a faster passage averaging 12.7 knots. The best day’s run was 318 miles, ‘a record for a steam yacht’. She consumed a total of 172 tons of coal.
In the years that followed there were voyages to Nice and Tangiers – aside from the Florida-Madeira circuit. When not used for travelling, Rhouma frequently served as additional accommodation for Kinloch Castle. Loch Scresort’s generous proportions on the surface conceal a rapidly shoaling bottom and Rhouma, with a draft of 17.2 feet, was forced to moor in five fathoms a long way from the shore (roughly opposite the modern slipway).
Inexplicably at 11.15am on 26 June 1912 Sir George (knighted in 1901) sold his beloved Rhouma. In May 1898 the Oban Times had reported that Rhouma was about to be sold to the American navy while on a cruise to Florida. This proved unfounded but it exhibits a curious resonance with the genuine event of 1912. The bill of sale showed the new owner to be ‘Charles Arthur William Gilbert of the Sports Club, St James Square, London, SW, Gentleman’. Whether he was a speculator or a stooge, he had no personal interest in the vessel and nine days later comes the entry: ‘Registry Closed this 5 July 1912 on advice received from the owner that he has sold the vessel to an Italian subject. Certificate of Registry delivered up and cancelled.’ The Italian subject was none other than the Italian navy. We don’t know what Sir George paid for Rhouma but The Scotsman (21 September 1912) revealed a relatively paltry return: ‘The Italian government bought three yachts over the last few months, Capercailzie (£13,000), Evona (£15,000) and Rhouma (£10,000).’
Before parting with her Sir George had Rhouma stripped of her valuables. The beautiful mahogany paneling from the dining room, along with the novel chairs with their swiveling upper halves, were reinstalled in the dining room at Kinloch Castle where they still remain. Rhouma was turned into an ‘armed yacht’ with so much reinforcing that her weight increased by a third to 934 tons and her engines devoured 180 tons of coal per day. Renamed the Guiliana and fitted with four six-pounder guns and a crew of forty-six she saw active service in the Italo-Turkish war and served until decommissioned in October 1928. Her eventual fate is not known but it is assumed she was scrapped.
Text by Alastair Scott