Photo by: Andrew Palmer, Taken on November 17, 2014
Nomadic was commissioned by the White Star Line in 1910, to tender for their new ocean liners RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic, which were too large to dock in Cherbourg harbour. She and her running mate SSTraffic ferried passengers, their baggage, mail and ship’s supplies to and from large ocean liners moored off-shore.
The keel of Nomadic was laid down in the Harland and Wolff shipyards, Belfast in 1910 (yard number 422). She was built on slipway No. 1 alongside RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic, which were constructed on slipways 2 and 3 respectively. She was launched on 25 April 1911 and delivered to the White Star Line on the 27 May, following sea trials.
The ship is 230 feet (70 m) long overall and 37 feet (11 m) wide, with a gross registered tonnage of 1,273 tons. She had two single ended coal fired boilers and two compound steam engines, each driving two three-bladed screws of 7 feet (2.1 m) in diameter, which could propel her to a maximum speed of 12 knots (14 mph; 22 km/h).
Nomadic is of steel construction, with steel frames, beams, bulkheads and riveted hull plating. She had four working decks with various hold spaces beneath. She could carry up to 1,000 passengers when fully loaded.
Passenger accommodation consisted of lower and upper deck passenger lounges and open deck areas on the bridge and flying bridge decks. The vessel was divided into first and second class passenger areas, with first class passengers enjoying the fore areas of the ship. A small area in the aft end of the lower deck was assigned for overspill of third-class passengers from SS Traffic.
Internally, Nomadic was fitted out to a similar standard as the liners she was built to serve—Olympic and Titanic. As such, she had more luxuries than most tenders of her day, with cushioned benches, tables, porcelain water fountains, gender-specific bathrooms and a buffet bar. She contained ornate decorative joinery and plasterwork, particularly in the first class lounges of the ship.
She was built in Belfast but as she was operated in French coastal waters by a French crew, she had a number of peculiarities, such as imperial and metric draft marks on opposing sides of the hull.
Nomadic arrived in Cherbourg on 3 June 1911 to begin her tendering duties for the White Star Line. On 10 April 1912 she transported 274 passengers to RMS Titanic for the doomed liner’s maiden voyage, including Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon and his wife, couturière Lucy (Lady Duff-Gordon), Denver millionairess Margaret Brown and industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim.
During World War I and until 1919, Nomadic was requisitioned by the French government and she saw service as an auxiliary minesweeper and patrol ship, also ferrying American troops to and from the harbour inBrest (France). After the war, she returned to her tendering duties, but in 1927 she was sold and continued to tender under the ownership of the Compagnie Cherbourgeoise de Transbordement.
Following the 1934 merger of White Star and Cunard Line and the opening of the enlarged port at Cherbourg, Nomadic ceased her tendering duties. She was sold to the Société Cherbourgeoise de Sauvetage et de Remorquage (SCSR or Cherbourg Tow & Rescue Society) and renamed Ingenieur Minard.
During World War II, Nomadic again saw service; on 18 June 1940 she took part in the evacuation of Cherbourg. She was subsequently requisitioned by the Royal Navy and based in Portsmouth harbour, she operated as a troop ship, coastal patrol vessel and minelayer for the remainder of the war.
During the war, Cherbourg port was heavily damaged, so large ocean liners could no longer dock there. Nomadic was saved from scrap and again returned to tendering duties for the SCSR from Cherbourg. She served the great ocean liners of the day, such as the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth. She finally retired from these duties on 4 November 1968.
Following Vincent’s death in March 2005, the authorities sought to dispose of the vessel and attempted to find a buyer for Nomadic, if no buyer was found, she risked being sold for scrap value. On learning of her fate, heritage and maritime enthusiasts (including the French Titanic Society, Belfast Industrial Heritage, Belfast Titanic Society and the Save Nomadic appeal) began campaigns to raise funds to buy the vessel. These campaigns were well supported by the public, particularly in Northern Ireland, but were unable to raise sufficient funds to meet Nomadic’s reserve price.
The campaigns however gained political and governmental support, and on 26 January 2006, the Northern Ireland government Department for Social Development bought the vessel at auction for €250,001 (the reserve price being €250,000).
SS Nomadic left Le Havre to return to Belfast on 12 July 2006, and arrived close to where she was built, on 18 July 2006. The vessel was welcomed back by the Department for Social Development Minister, David Hanson MP and the Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Belfast, Councillor Ruth Patterson and a number of well wishers. Nomadic arrived “piggy backed” on a marine transportation barge, which had been contracted by the department.