ship coptic, shaw savill albion
MV Coptic
1928 - 1965

Shaw, Savill & Albion Ltd placed orders for two similar motor ships, these would be delivered during 1928 as the Coptic and the Zealandic. Both ships were powered by twin 6-cylinder 2SCSA Sulzer oil engines built by Wallsend Slipway & Engineering Co. Ltd.

This was the second vessel named Coptic operated by the Shaw Savill Albion Line, the first was built in 1881, weighing 4,367 tons and operated by the company until 1906 when it was sold on to the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. The ship was finally scrapped in 1926, two years before the delivery of the second Coptic.

The Coptic was intended for passenger/cargo service between the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

The Brisbane Courier October 16th 1928 (condensed) writes - The Coptic, new cargo motorship:
The first of four high-powered cargo motor ships, recently built for the Shaw Savill and Albion Co., to arrive in Brisbane, will be the Coptic, which is due October 16th (1928) on her maiden voyage. The Coptic and her sister ships the Zealandic, Taranaki, and Karamea, are the highest-powered cargo ships in the world, and are considered to be the latest thing in motorship construction. They are undoubtedly the most outstanding vessels built this year. All the vessels are provided with a very large amount of refrigerated space. It is noteworthy that the owners, in ordering their first motor vessels, took the enterprising step of contracting for a number of ships with which are associated various important features.

The Coptic, like the Zealandic, which is expected in Brisbane about October 22nd, was built by Messrs. Swan, Hunter, and Wigham Richardson, and is engined with two Sulzer-type motors of 3,725 b.h.p. each, constructed by the Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Co. The Taranaki and the Karamea, although of the same design and dimensions as the Coptic and Zealandic, were ordered from the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co., and are fitted with Fairfield-Sulzer machinery. Otherwise the four ships are standard, forming a class which is fully representative of the modern type of fast refrigerated cargo vessel.

The Coptic is built to Lloyd's highest class, with certificates for the navigation of the Panama and Suez canals. Of the six holds and 'tween decks five are insulated. The total capacity of the five insulated holds is 265,970 cubic feet, and the total cargo capacity of the vessel is 431,750 cubic ft. Accommodation is provided for a limited number of passengers on the bridge deck forward being located four double berth staterooms, together with a bathroom on the starboard side. The accommodation for the captain, officers and engineers, as well as the housing for the crew is ample and up to date. The kitchen is equipped with all conveniences, whilst a hospital is also provided.

No fewer than 20 Wilson electrically driven winches are arranged to serve the six hatches. They have a special form of rheostat braking. Excluding the double bottoms, which could store 531 tons of fuel, the total fuel capacity of the vessel is 1,436 tons. Assuming a daily fuel consumption of 30 tons for all purposes, the radius of action of the Coptic is accordingly about 48 days, equivalent to a distance of between 16,000 and 17,000 miles, at a speed of 14.5 knots.

Report from the Daily Times, Otago, New Zealand from circa 1932
The Shaw, Savill, and Albion Company's motor ship Coptic holds a fine record. She is a speedy freighter, and when on a recent journey to New Zealand her average speed was 15.5 knots. The vessel, which has been trading to New Zealand and Australia since 1928, is at present on her tenth voyage. By arriving back at the United Kingdom on December 30th (1931), she completed three round trips from the United Kingdom to New Zealand and back in 12 months, the vessel having been dispatched from Liverpool on January 1, 1931. The Coptic's latest achievement was recorded on her last homeward voyage, via Cape Horn and Las Palmas. The vessel left Napier on November 25, and arrived at Las Palmas on Christmas morning. After taking in fuel oil, which occupied 9.5 hours, she left for London, and reached her destination on December 30th, 36 days 16 hours and 44 minutes out from Napier. The most satisfactory feature, so far as the engine room department was concerned, was the fact that the vessel was under full power of both port and starboard motors from the time she left Napier to the time she reached London, with the exception of the necessary stop at Las Palmas. The controls were not handled at any part of the voyage, except when entering port. A similar experience occurred on the recent trip to New Zealand, which speak well for the reliability of her propelling machinery, a set of Wallsend-Sulzer motors........

As the newness of the ship faded, so it settled down to travelling through the pages of history without much fanfare.

1939 - 1945

When World War II was declared the Coptic was sailing southwards along the east coast of Australia. It would survive six years of hostilities seeing many ports of call on its journeys between Australia - United Kingdom, the USA/Canada - United Kingdom and South America/Carribean - United Kingdom. Its first complete wartime voyage was from Sydney on September 6th 1939, to Capetown (October 4th), Freetown (October 16th), then becoming part of convoy SL9 to London, arriving November 10th 1939. The Coptic retraced this route, departing the United Kingdom in the middle of December 1939, reaching Capetown by January 7th 1940 and Sydney on February 4th 1940.

After six weeks operating locally the Coptic departed Wellington on March 31st 1940, sailing to London via the Pacific Ocean, the Panama Canal, Balboa (April 20th), Curacao (April 23rd), Halifax (April 30th) joining convoy HX39 bound for Liverpool, reaching London on May 18th 1940. The Coptic departed the United Kingdom late in June 1940, following a similar route as to its previous round the world trip - to Capetown (July 17th) and Sydney by August 16th 1940.

On September 3rd 1940 the Coptic was sailing from Brisbane to Newcastle NSW whilst travelling in the other direction en-route from Sydney to New Caledonia via Brisbane was the HMAS Adelaide. Wartime conditions dictated that both ships were operating without lights which possibly contributed in some way to events that led to their collision. Damage to the ships was minimal but the Coptic would require a visit to Sydney for several weeks of repairs. In 1947 the owners of the Coptic sued the Commonwealth for 35,000 damages. Shaw Savill alleged that the collision resulted from the negligence of the HMAS Adelaide's officers, saying the Adelaide was sailing too fast, that it failed to keep a proper lookout for the Coptic and that it was not navigated in a proper and seaman like manner. The defence was that, at the relevant time; the Adelaide was part of the naval forces of Australia and was engaged in active naval operations against the enemy.

After the repairs were completed the Coptic departed Sydney on October 15th 1940 heading eastbound across the Pacific to Balboa (November 9th), Curacao (November 13th), Bermuda (November 18th). From Bermuda convoy BHX91 was joined to Halifax, then HX91 to Liverpool, arriving on the Clyde on December 11th 1940.

The third round-the-world sailing commenced from the United Kingdom on February 16th 1941, Capetown was reached on March 14th 1941 and Sydney on April 8th 1941. The Coptic remained on local sailings for the next month, until departing Melbourne on May 8th 1941 for Balboa (June 2nd), Curacao (June 6th), Bermuda (June 10th) and arriving Liverpool on July 17th 1941.

The Coptic's fourth major voyage reversed the direction of its previous sailings. Liverpool was left on July 17th 1941 as part of convoy OB348 headed westbound across the Atlantic to Halifax. Then it was south to Curacao (August 8th), Cristobal (August 12th), through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific, arriving Auckland on September 2nd and New Plymouth September 18th 1941. Its stay here was brief, it headed eastwards from New Plymouth on September 23rd 1941 retracing its route back to the United Kingdom, crossing the Atlantic with convoy HX158 and arriving Avonmouth on November 21st 1941.

The next voyage would take the Coptic away from the United Kingdom for ten months. Departure was from Avonmouth on December 22nd 1941, through Liverpool and across the Atlantic in convoy ON54, then over the familiar route via the Panama Canal, reaching Melbourne on February 27th 1942. The Coptic sailed from Wellington on March 31st 1942 heading westwards, arriving Aden on April 27th 1942 and Suez on May 3rd 1942. The departure from Suez was on May 27th reaching Fremantle on June 17th 1942 and remaining locally until departing from Wellington on September 11th 1942. Balboa was reached on October 3rd 1942, Guantanamo (October 9th), New York (October 16th), then joining convoy HX212 across the Atlantic and reaching Avonmouth on November 5th 1942.

New Year's Day 1943 saw the Coptic departing Avonmouth for Liverpool to join convoy ON162 across the Atlantic reaching Norfolk on February 10th 1943. Departing New York on March 19th 1943 it was the familiar route via Guantanamo, Cristobal & Balboa, across the Pacific and arriving Wellington on April 23rd 1943. After three weeks locally the eastbound voyage commenced on May 18th 1943 from Auckland, reaching Cardiff on July 14th 1943, having joined convoy HX246 to cross the North Atlantic.

The seventh major voyage for the Coptic started from Cardiff on August 11th 1943, sailing to Liverpool to join westbound convoy ON197 for New York, reached on August 27th 1943. Three weeks were spent here before sailing on September 16th 1943 for Guantanamo, Cristobal, Balboa, the Panama Canal, reaching Melbourne on November 3rd. Six weeks were spent locally prior to heading eastwards from Auckland on December 15th 1943. Convoy HX276 was joined to cross the North Atlantic, reaching Liverpool on February 4th 1944.

The spring and summer of 1944 brought a change of routine for the Coptic, making two round trips between Liverpool and New York as part of convoys ON230 (westbound), HX290 (eastbound), then ON244 (westbound) & HX303 (eastbound), arriving back in Liverpool on August 26th 1944. Her next sailing was on September 7th 1944 as part of convoy ON252 to New York and then on to Buenos Aires (September 30th) and Montevideo (October 17th). It was then back to Liverpool, reaching here on November 11th 1944.

On December 29th 1944 the Coptic departed the Clyde with convoy ON275 for New York, then taking the well worn route via the Panama Canal to Sydney, arriving February 17th 1945. Six weeks were spent locally prior to departing Auckland on March 29th 1945, reaching New York on May 5th 1945 and joining convoy HX355 to Liverpool, arriving May 25th 1945.

The final wartime voyage for the Coptic departed Liverpool on June 25th 1945, via the Panama Canal and reaching Auckland on August 3rd 1945. Almost two months were spent locally prior to departing Lyttelton on September 27th 1945, the Cape Verde Islands on October 27th 1945 and reaching London on November 6th 1945. The Coptic sailed from London on December 7th 1945, reaching New York on December 21st 1945.

1946 - 1965

After the adventures of its journeys during World War II the Coptic returned to its owners and faded into the routine of many sailings between the United Kingdom & Australia/New Zealand. Whatever memories are available to the reader of the Coptic's final years portray a vessel entering into old age, with occasional less-than-warm comments from its crew about the condition of the ship.

Thirty six years after entering service the Coptic completed its last voyage, being scrapped in Belgium.

Built: Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd, Wallsend, Yard No. 1319
Launched: July 1928
Deadweight capacity: 10,390 tons
Total deadweight, including refrigerating machinery and insulation: 11,190 tons
Displacement: 18,192 tons
Length: 500ft
Length between perpendiculars: 481ft
Beam, moulded: 64ft
Depth to upper deck: 42ft 10.5in
Draught, loaded. 28ft 9in
Draught: ??
Propulsion: Two Wallsend-Sulzer two cycle six cylinder engines totalling 7,450 bhp at 115rpm
Screws: 2
Speed: 14.5 knots
Passengers: ??

Publicity views of the engines for the Zealandic & Coptic under construction.


Convoyweb website
National Library of Australia : Trove website of archived Australian Newspapers (
Sulzer Technical Review, Special Number 1933

Page added October 1st 2010
Last updated February 27th 2016

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