In 1920, on the remote Isles of Scilly, a few residents grouped together to start the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company.
Little did they know, that nearly 100 years later the service would still be transporting visitors to the picturesque islands from its dock in Penzance harbour.
The story goes that after the First World War ended, the islanders heard news that the trawler service operating between the islands and the mainland was going to be abandoned. Fred Ward, who had a brother in the Admiralty, called a meeting with all the islanders and they decided to start a fund for their own ship with 5-shilling shares. Incredibly, they managed to raise the sum of £8,000, but unfortunately the ship they were after, The Argos, was going to cost £15,000. Not willing to give up, an islander known for being good at public speaking went off to try and convince the Admiralty. It’s said that he told the Lords the story of what was happening on the islands and almost reduced them to tears. He must have won them over, because the Isles of Scilly shortly received their ship.
The first of the Scillonian ships was built just six years later. While the service was originally used mostly for transporting goods, holidaymakers soon discovered the islands. In 1956 the Scillonian II was built to cope with these additional travellers, who were eager to escape to the islands’ exotic white-sand beaches, tour the lighthouses and explore Tresco’s subtropical gardens. Their journey to the Isles of Scilly began at Penzance harbour, and it’s the same for tourists who travel by sea today.
Fast-forward to 2014 and the current ship, Scillonian III, still bears the same name and crest of that small group of islanders, but it can now carry six hundred passengers and around 180 tonnes of cargo. Around half of the company’s shares are still owned by islanders, but the business has grown and the service now includes a Skybus, which flies visitors to the islands in just fifteen minutes from Land’s End airport.
However, despite their rising popularity, the islands have retained what made them special all those years ago. With a population of around two thousand inhabitants, the Isles of Scilly remain a remote and relatively secret part of Britain. To this day, visitors can find themselves on their own private piece of beach, and there are still more coastal paths than there are roads. The newspapers are delivered by boat, and there are very few cars.
On board the Scillonian there have, of course, been many upgrades since the days when the ship was mostly used for cargo, including two well-stocked cafés and television screens with information about the islands. But it’s the charm of sitting on the deck of the Scillonian III when the sun’s shining, looking out for the dolphins that regularly swim alongside the ship, that continues to entice visitors, and families return year after year to make the nostalgic journey to the islands. To experience a slice of history for yourself, visit www.islesofscilly-travel.co.uk.
The Scillonian III travels from Penzance to St Mary’s up to 7 days a week. Book your journey at www.islesofscilly-travel.co.uk using the low-fares finder.