History of the SAS Somerset

The SAS Somerset was known as Ship No  280 when her keel was laid on 15 April 1941 in Blyth shipyard. She was engineered by Messrs Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd., Tyneside. On 8 April 1942, she was commissioned as HMS Barcross, one of a series of 76 of this class of vessel built during the Second World War.

Later in 1942 she sailed for South Africa under the command of Lt V Sutherland RNR and commenced duties in Saldanha Bay by laying and servicing boom defence equipment. On 23 January 1943 the ship was renamed the HMSAS Barcross and continued to serve under that name until 1947 when she was laid up in Durban.

In 1955, the ship was re-commissioned and renamed the SAS Somerset, after the famous horse that carried Dick King from Durban to Grahamstown in 1842. The connection is perpetuated in the seahorse on the ship’s crest.

On 24 May 1988, the SAS Somerset began a new career as a museum ship when she was towed form Simon's Town to Table Bay harbour where she repainted and refurbished. On 2 September 1988, the Chief of the South African Navy, Vice-Admiral G. Syndercombe, officially handed her over to the S A Cultural History Museum.

Facts and figures

  • The SAS Somerset was manned by one officer and 37 men.
  • The ship's overall length is 59m.
  • The full load displacement is 960 tons.
  • The ship is propelled by one main engine, known as a triple expansion reciprocating engine, which develops 850-horse power and is capable of propelling the ship at 11 knots. Steam is supplied to the main engine via two single-ended boilers, fed by furnace fuel oil at a rate of  tons per hour and feed water at eight tons per day.
  • Originally the ship was coal-fired and she only became oil-fired in 1959. In 1967 new boilers and a reconditioned engine were installed.