Wheelright's Pacific

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Model ship

Image courtesy of the Daily Post & Echo

I find some ship models remarkably appealing – they seem to carry you back to a distant era, recreating lost voyages in the mind.

M R James wrote a classic ghost story called The Haunted Dolls’ House and I am sure certain ship models also have the power to haunt.

When I look at the model mentioned below, I can almost see figures on the decks and hear cattle lowing and the throb of engines in the sweltering heat.

The Pacific Steam Navigation Company (PSNC) was set up in Liverpool by an American businessman who invested heavily in South American services.

William Wheelwright (1798 – 1873) founded the shipping line in 1838 to provide pioneering steamship facilities on the continent’s west coast.

He was born in Merrimac, Massachusetts, the son of a ship’s captain. William had similar ambitions and, with his parents’ consent, became a cabin boy on a vessel bound for the West Indies.

He proved himself very capable and rose rapidly through all the grades of seamanship to become a captain at the age of just 19.

In 1835 William sailed to England in 1837 before setting up PSNC.  By the 1870s PSNC had grown into the largest steamship company in the world. Becoming part of Royal Mail Lines in 1910, it ran passenger and cargo services until the 1960s, then tankers and container ships.

The company merged with the Furness Withy Group in the early 1980s and no longer owns or operates ships.

In Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Liverpool: World Gateway gallery, there is the superb model of the twin screw steamer Colombia, a PSNC coastal passenger and cargo liner.

Colombia and her sister Guatemala were built by Caird & Co of Greenock in 1899. They carried passengers and mail on PSNC’s weekly service between Valparaiso and Callao in Peru.

The main decks were usually open for passengers and cattle while the upper deck had cabins for both overnight and week-long journeys.

The 3,335-ton Colombia was lost off the island of Lobos de Tierra, Peru, in August 1907.

The 1:48 builder’s model shows the vessel with a single black funnel and green and black hull. Excellent detail includes decking, hand rails and chains.

There are skilfully made benches on the top deck and finely-detailed lifeboats which add perfect finishing touches. Unusually, machinery and other features can be seen below decks.

Both Colombia and Guatemala were distinctive ships with their very long mid-ships superstructure and forward bridge.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1.50 p&p UK).