General Steam Navigation CompanyPast and Present

MV Royal Daffodil – Past and Present

MV Royal Daffodil

Steel twin screw motor vessel, built in 1939 by William Denny Brothers, Dumbarton (Yard No.1330), for General Steam Navigation Co Ltd

Technical Data

  • Length: 91.31 m (overall) m (between perpendiculars)
  • Breadth: 15.27 m
  • Depth: 3.02 m
  • Draught: 2.71 m
  • Tonnage: 2060 gross/938 net/1046 deadweight
  • Engines: 2 x SCSA Sulzer diesel engines (Wm Denny & Bros Ltd, Dumbarton)
  • Power: 627 kW/841 HP
  • Speed:  21 knots (trial) 18 knots (service)
  • Capacity: 2,385 passengers (one class)(Kent & Essex coast tours), 1,392 (cross Channel Tilbury/Gravesend/Southend/Margate – Calais/ Boulogne/Ostend)
  • Call Sign: GSGL
  • IMO Number: 5530130
  • Official Number: 167210
  • Port of Registry: London/UK


January 24th 1939: Launched.

May 1939: Completed.

May 27th 1939: Entered service for General Steam Navigation Co Ltd. In her inaugural season was used for continental trips from Tower Pier to Ostend.

September 1st 1939: Evacuated London school children from London to Norfolk, disembarking them at Lowestoft. After this she served as a troopship between Dover and Southampton and France.

1940: At Dunkirk.

The ship has the distinction of having evacuated from Dunkirk more men than any other vessel – 7,461:

May 28th 1940:  Landed 842 at Dover

May 29th 1940: 1,703 at Margate

May 30th 1940: 1,599 at Dover

June 1st 1940: 1,817 at Dover

June 2nd June 1940:  1,500 at Margate

June 2nd 1940: A bomb went right through her hull and exploded outside. The hole was patched up by mattresses. She anchored off Ramsgate and was assisted by the salvage vessel FORDE from Deal. The tugs LADY BRASSEY (Dover Harbour Board) and DORIA towed her to Dover where she was beached. If the weather had been unkind she might have sunk.

June 3rd 1940: Departed Dover bound for repairs in London Docks.

September 1940 – January 1944: Served as a troopship, Stranraer – Larne.

February 22nd 1943: First vessel to use an Army built additional berth at Larne (later called the Continental Berth).

January 3rd 1944 – December 24th 1944: Chartered to London Midland & Scottish Railway for the mail run Stranraer – Larne (during which time she carried only passengers, mail and luggage without the necessary livestock or general cargo).

July 1944: Off service for overhaul.

December 24th 1944: Final sailing as mail vessel.

January 1945 – March 1945: Troopship, Larne

March 1945: Transferred south, where she served as a leave ship between Calais and Dover/ Dieppe and Newhaven.

Courtesy of John Hendy  Courtesy of John Hendy

Courtesy of John Hendy

April 9th 1945: Arrived at Dover from Portsmouth.

April 11th 1945: Commenced sailings to Calais (sometimes being diverted to Ostend)

Courtesy of John Hendy  Courtesy of John Hendy

Courtesy of John Hendy  Courtesy of John Hendy

Courtesy of John Hendy

Courtesy of John Hendy

January 1947: Returned to her owners and went to Denny’s yard at Dumbarton for extensive refit.

1947: Major re-conversion at Denny’s, completed at the New Medway Steam Packet Co,’s yard at Acorn Wharf on the River Medway at Rochester.

Courtesy of John Hendy

Courtesy of John Hendy

1947: Undertook non stop trips to France from Tilbury and Gravesend, calling at Southend and Deal in later years.

1955 (after): Made “no passport” trips to France.

© Ken Smith

© Ken Smith

1957 -1963: The General Steam Navigation held “Rock Across the Channel” events between 1957 and 1963. They included a 1962 crossing with Gene Vincent and in 1963 with Jerry Lee Lewis backed by the Outlaws, featuring a young Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple) and Chas Hodges (of Chas and Dave fame).

Courtesy of John Hendy  Courtesy of John Hendy

Courtesy of John Hendy (03/08/1964)

© Ted Ingham  © Ted Ingham

© Ted Ingham (Margate, during her final season)

1966: At the start of the Seamen’s Strike she remained at Calais.

May 27th 1966: Moved to Gravesend.

1966 (season):  Included evening cruises from Tower Pier, Tower Pier to Margate and Gravesend to Calais. The ship was commissioned soon after Easter for a series of charters (over a period of five weeks) carrying French schoolchildren from Calais to Tower Pier, returning from Margate to Calais.

July 2nd 1966: Opened the companies Gravesend – Calais sailings,  also giving a Thursday French Coast Cruise.

December 1966: The General Steam Navigation decided they could no longer continue their Thames services, withdrawn and advertised for sale.

1967: Sailed from the South West India Docks in London under her own power for breaking up in Ghent.

February 1st 1967: To Van Heyghen Freres at Ghent for scrapping.

Courtesy of John Hendy

Courtesy of John Hendy (A cutting from the Daily Telegraph dated 2nd February 1967. The ship is pictured in the Terneuzen-Ghent Canal heading for the breakers’ yard.)

All information is believed to be correct and no responsibility is accepted for any errors or omissions. All items included in this article are subject to © copyright. We would like to take this opportunity of thanking: Ted Ingham and Ken Smith for their assistance in producing this feature.

Special thanks to John Hendy.

Article © Nigel Thornton and Ray Goodfellow (Dover Ferry Photos Group)


  1. It’s amazing how many cross channel ships(some to be converted to car ferry use!) were built by William Denny & Co.

    1. Grand Parents had a small guest house in Margate. Highlight of the school holidays were trips to see them from Southend Pier. The Royal Daffodil was my favourite.

  2. Just great to see photos of these GSNC ships. It brings back memory’s of my youth when mum would always take us for a day out on the Royal Daffodil from Gravesend. If I remember correctly there was also the Royal Sovereign doing the same type of trips. Happy days

      1. Thanks for the comments.

        Also, a reminder, if you click on “General Steam Navigation…..” under the main title of the article you will see the available current histories of the company.

        Special rgds
        Nigel T

    1. I can remember my Mum and Dad took me on a trip in the late 50’s. It was on the Royal Daffodil but as there was gale force winds …deck chairs blowing about…they took us for a ride round the Goodwin Sands to see the wrecks!
      We had already bought our tickets so my parents went ahead with the trip.
      I have fond memories of the Royal Daffodil l

  3. Any vessel that was used to help at Dunkirk should of been maintained for future generations. Its a disgrace that this ferry was broken up

    1. As a child in the1950s sailed on the Royal Daffodil to France from Southend Pier. Loved her!

  4. I lived in the Surrey Docks area of Rotherhithe until 1953 & I remember seeing the Queen Prince Phillip &their children sail along the Thames on a steamship , I think the Royal Daffodil , I saw this briefly from my bedroom balcony above my fathers shop ,but I can’t find any information on this &would like to know if &when this happened

  5. hi I served on mv royal daffodil I was 17 tea boy last 2 weeks I ran the tuck shop after the season I got my sea book union and mv grebe thanks to general steam then on to orient line and p/o 22 years in all 1st class room steward wonderful times nice to see all on web now 83 years old thank you gen steam and p/o orient

  6. The daffodil sailed from gravesend, prospect pier, well before 1966. I was a student at gravesend art college aged 16. 1962, in the summer holidays I worked on her as a catering boy. What a time!

      1. Hi

        I served on the Daffodil as a AB. During my time we had a charter with London Schools ( GLC?).
        Based at Gravesend we did round trips with school children from Tower Pier to Calais. We also did day trips to Margate. On one eventful occasion we ran aground on Margate Sands. Good memories of my time on board. I had to leave the Daffodil in Calais during the national seaman strike. The end of my career in the MN but not my sea going experiences. I still have old GSNC badge.

  7. In the very early 1950’s, with my parents, I sailed several times from Gravesend pier to Southend pier, before landing at Margate pier, returning from Margate via Southend back to Gravesend. Wonderful memories.

    Alan Huggett

    1. My grandparents had a small guest house in Margate. Made many trips on the Royal Daffodil from Southend Pier to Margate with my mother.

  8. I recall vividly as a 10 year old boy watching every summer day from Thorpe Bay seafront in the early sixties, the Royal Daffodil leave Southend Pier at 10.00 for Margate & Boulogne, the Medway Queen leave for Herne Bay at 10.45, the Queen of the Channel at 11.30 for Clacton & the Royal Sovereign at 12.00 for Margate.
    In my early teens I travelled on them all several times. All of the trips were fabulous, whatever the weather. I remember a day in Boulogne cost 40/- (shillings). Great days!
    Those ships, all such beautiful shapes, should have been preserved, especially the wartime heroic Daffodil. A tragedy that they are no more. All we have left are the piers, which now have no purpose.

  9. I remember the tearful goodbye to the Royal Daffodil and it’s crew leaving Southend Pier for the last time. My cousin and I were inconsolable just 15 years old and having spent what feels like forever now going up and down the pier to see the sailors and the boat of course. . We saved all of our pocket money to go on trips. Happy days.

  10. In the 50’s I had the privilege of going on a few trips on the Royal Daffodil. In good weather and foul to Margate and an aborted trip to Boulogne due to gale force winds. As a small lad I always remembered ‘turning right’ after passing the ‘forts’ in the outer estuary of the Thames.. My seasickness was cured on one such trip. Many good memories MV Royal Daffodil thanks.

  11. I remember the Daffodil very well as I served on her as a steward in 1957 and 1958. In 1958 after a short period as a steward I took over as head waiter in the 1st class saloon. And at end of season I joined the P&O on their ships going to Australia as the Daffodil was seasonal job only

  12. .My father served on the Massy Shaw fireboat during WW2. And remembered the Daffodil. When she went back into normal service he took me on a trip to Margate. I was about five years old. Every time I see a shot of a ship’s wake going away astern I am still that five year old standing on the aft deck of the Daffodil.
    Funny the things that stick in the memory.

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