The first RFA Hospital ship was launched as s.s. Swansea at West Hartlepool by William Gray & Co as a cargo, passenger and cattle ship in 1887 but by 1888 she had her name changed to s.s. Maine.


In October 1899 the South African War broke out and a Committee of American Ladies in London, under the presidency of Lady Randolph Churchill (the mother of Winston Churchill) organised social events to raise money for the ss Maine to be converted into a hospital ship. In November 1899 a fund raising ‘café chantant’ benefit was held at Claridges Hotel, London at which the Prince of Wales and other royalty attended. Tickets were a guinea each. (£1.05p in to-days money). Other fund raising events took place in New York including a ‘Society Tea’ which was organised by Mrs Hugo de Bathe (better known as Lilly Langtree). The funds went to the American Ladies Hospital Ship Society

The cost of the conversion was around $150,000 with over £41,000 being raised in London in under two months. The ship served during the South African War as a base hospital at Durban and in addition brought the injured from South Africa to the Royal Victoria Military Hospital at Netley on Southampton Water. During the time of this service the ship remained an American vessel with US Nurses being encouraged to sign on. The New York Times printed lists of the names of the great and the good who had donated.

Donators Medal


Donators were provided with a medal as a ‘Thank you’ for their money. The medal was in white metal but members of the Committee of the American Ladies Hospital Ship Society received their medals in silver.

The above is a White Metal example of the medal. They still sell in auction houses around the world


HMHS Maine Durban

Hospital Ship Maine berthed at Durban

The Maine also served on the China Station during the Boxer rebellion

On 25 June 1901 the owner of the Maine – Mr Bernard N. Baker, Chairman and owner of the Atlantic Transport Company Limited wrote to the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Earl of Selborne offering, as a free gift, their Hospital Ship Maine to the British Government.  This was accepted four days later with pleasure. This generous offer was reported to the House of Lords on the 1 July 1901 and reported at length in The Times newspaper of the following day.  The letter of acceptance from their Lords Commissioners was signed by Ewan MacGregor the same person who notified the formation of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in 1905.

The American Hospital Ship Maine became the His Majesty's Hospital Ship Maine which in 1905 became the R.F.A. Maine.

On 17 June 1914 while exercising with the fleet R.F.A. Maine ran aground in thick fog on the Isle of Mull off the West Coast of Scotland. Her patients and the crew were safely rescued after taking to the ships boats but she had to be abandoned.

maine 1 ashore

RFA Maine (1) aground on the Isle of Mull

The Admiralty announced on 21 June 1914 due to the damage, the age of the vessel and to preserve the memories of the ship the new Hospital Ship Mediator, currently being fitting out, was to be completed as soon as possible and would be renamed Maine.

Copyright © 2008 – 2018 Christopher J White

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