More background info:
SS “Nomadic” and her sister SS “Traffic” were built in Belfast
, Northern Ireland
, literally in parallel with the ocean liners HMS “Titanic
” and “Olympic”, on slipway 1 of the Harland & Wolff shipyard, while the two ocean liners were built on slipways 2 and 3. “Nomadic” and “Traffic” were specifically commissioned by the famous White Star Line, who operated the big ocean liners, to serve as tenders, ferrying passengers, baggage and mail to them from the port of Cherbourg
, in France
, where the harbour at that time was too shallow for the two big ocean liners, which therefore had to moor off the dockside in deeper water.
SS “Traffic” was to carry only third-class passengers to the ships, while SS “Nomadic” was reserved for first- and second-class passengers (and also had space for up to a hundred third-class passengers when required). There was a strict segregation regime by ticket class, so that nobody would encounter anyone from another class. Most of the crew would use hidden hatches and passageways to move about the ship without meeting passengers. One exception was the bartender in first class (the only class featuring such an extra amenity).
Passengers, especially in first class, could expect almost the same level of luxury as on board “Titanic” and “Olympic”, the style of the interior outfitting closely matched that of the luxury liners, down to the design of the floor tiles and the wood panelling. The design of the tenders was overseen by none other than Thomas Andrews, who was also the chief designer of the “Titanic”.
Being about a quarter in size, SS “Nomadic” is sometimes referred to as “a mini Titanic” or “Titanic’s little sister”. Yet because she was to be stationed in and operated by the port of Cherbourg
, she was also registered there (and flew the French national flag) while “Titanic” was registered in Liverpool
in Great Britain
(and hence flew the Union Jack).
SS “Nomadic” was laid down in late 1910 and launched in April the next year. One year later, on 10 April 1912 she carried 274 passengers (just over a quarter of her maximum capacity) from the port of Cherbourg to HMS “Titanic”. There they joined those who had already boarded the ship in Southampton, for the ocean liner’s tragic maiden voyage to New York, where of course she never arrived, as we all know
. Amongst those ferried to the ship by SS “Nomadic” were some of the rich and famous passengers such as Benjamin Guggenheim, John Jacob Astor and Margaret “Molly” Brown (the latter was a survivor of “Titanic’s” sinking while the other two perished in it, alongside “Titanic’s” chief designer Thomas Andrews and ca. 1500 others).
The tenders remained in service until WW1
, when SS “Nomadic” was requisitioned by the French Navy to serves as a minesweeper and later as a troop transporter for American soldiers. In 1919 the vessel returned to serve as a tender and remained active in that role until 1934. That was when the new deepwater harbour in Cherbourg
was opened, where ocean liners could now dock, thus making tenders redundant. SS “Nomadic” was sold off to new French owners who renamed the vessel “Ingenieur Minard” (after the engineer who had been responsible for the building of the new deepwater harbour). During WWII
she again saw military service, taking part in the June 1940 evacuation of Cherbourg ahead of the occupation of much of France
by Nazi Germany
. For the remainder of the war she was operated by the Royal Navy.
Actually already destined for the ship-breaker’s yard, she was saved and brought back into service, again as a tender at the port of Cherbourg, since that had been so heavily damaged in WWII that the big ocean liners could no longer dock there. And so the tender carried on ferrying passengers, now for the meanwhile merged Cunard-White Star Line, including to the legendary ocean liners “Queen Elizabeth” and “Queen Mary”. During this time some famous passengers used this tender, such as Charlie Chaplin as well as Liz Taylor and Richard Burton.
Finally retired in 1968, the boat first lay unused for a few years until being sold on into private hands just before being threatened, again, with being scrapped. The new owners reverted the name to “Nomadic” and set about converting her into a floating restaurant. She began that stage of her career in 1974, having been relocated to a mooring on the River Seine in Paris
, not far from the Eiffel Tower. She later also housed a casino.
After 25 years as a floating restaurant/casino, this era ended in 1999, when the business had to be closed because new safety regulations required inspection of the ageing boat in a dry dock. Yet due to the new restaurant superstructures, the boat would not have fitted under the Seine’s low bridges and the company running the restaurant was not in a position to overcome this obstacle. So the vessel lay idle for three years, increasingly deteriorating, and with parts being looted. In 2002 it was seized by the authorities. The upper structures were removed and the vessel was towed to Le Havre in 2003. The authorities unsuccessfully tried to sell the derelict boat off at auction in 2005. When it became known that “Nomadic” was yet again at risk of being scrapped, an international campaign was started to save the historically significant vessel. In 2006 the Northern Ireland government acquired “Nomadic” at a second auction, for 250,001 euros (one euro above the scrap value “reserve” price). Subsequently “Nomadic” was brought back to Belfast
where in 2009 she was eventually taken to her current location in the historic Hamilton dry dock in what is now the Titanic Quarter
Charitable trusts were founded to work for the preservation of the vessel; funds for restoration were secured from the EU, the British Lottery and the North Irish tourism board, amongst others, and in early 2011 the company Harland & Wolff, who a century earlier had built “Nomadic”, was awarded the contract to carry out the necessary restoration work. The main steelwork restoration included the reconstruction of the bridge, funnel and upper decks, all of which had been removed in order to tow the vessel under the low bridges over the Seine in Paris.
When I first saw “Nomadic” in its dock in 2012, all the external restoration had already been completed, including the repainting in the original White Star Line colours: black hull above the waterline (red below), white superstructures and yellow funnel with a black top. But the interior was still undergoing reconstruction at that time. Less than a year later, this too was largely finished, and the “Nomadic” was opened to the public as a museum ship in 2013. The restoration is still not 100% complete, though – e.g. the boilers and engines, which were removed during the vessel’s time as a floating restaurant, are still missing, as are the lifeboats and the forecastle mast and its rigging.
The museum ship is now run as part of the Titanic Belfast Experience
, as its largest exhibit, as it were. “Nomadic” is also the world’s only surviving ship from the once eminent White Star Line.
What there is to see:
To the uninitiated, the vessel may not look like all that much, but if you know about its history and connection to HMS “Titanic” (see above
) it is an awesome sight to behold. You can walk all around her and the historic Hamilton Dock that SS “Nomadic” now calls home, and note the exterior designs, the propellers at the aft and the French tricolore flag flying from the the stern above the legend “Nomadic – Cherbourg”.
The “Nomadic” shares its dry dock with what at first may look a bit like another boat; but this rusty hulk was in actual fact the original caisson for Hamilton dock, i.e. it’s floatable, movable lock gate. Thus being one of the oldest artefacts in Belfast’s harbour still in existence it was decided to keep it and put it on display here. The dock has been closed by a new permanent watertight gate instead.
Also outside are a number of open-air information panels, mostly about the history of the Hamilton dry dock and its role in the harbour of Belfast. Only one panel is specifically about SS “Nomadic”. To learn more you have to go on board the vessel itself.
At the entrance you have to present your Titanic Belfast
ticket (see below
) and then you are allowed in at no extra cost.
Once inside, the first thing to admire is the meticulously reconstructed interior design. Information panels point out the details of this, many of which you would probably fail to recognize without such extra info. Dotted around the lower and upper deck are various other panels as well as interactive stations, projections/videos and some concrete exhibits. These include some luggage of first-class passengers and a mannequin wearing a period dress. There’s also a reconstructed crew cabin that looks rather cluttered, and a lamp storage compartment.
Thematically, the exhibition covers the history of SS “Nomadic” (see above
for details), from its construction alongside HMS “Titanic
” and “Olympic”, its service as a tender for these and other ocean liners, some famous passengers, the role of the port of Cherbourg
, where “Nomadic” was based, her military service in WW1
, her later role as a floating restaurant in Paris
, all the way to her return to Belfast
and the restoration efforts that recreated the vessel’s original appearance.
And this is actually the largest exhibit here, including the wooden benches, chairs and tables (some with high-tea crockery on them), the wall panelling and the elegant wooden stairs. Allegedly there was supposed to be a marked difference in luxuriousness between the first- and second-class lounges, but to be honest, I didn’t find the second-class interiors any shabbier. One notable difference, however, is that in first class there was a bar, which has also been recreated together with projection of a barman (named Pierre) in white livery. There’s even a little bell for calling service … but of course the two-dimensional projected server wouldn’t actually be able to serve anybody. In second class there was no bar. On the lower deck take note of the white star emblems in the porthole covers.
At one point there is a chance to try on some period clothes and/or life vests. There are also some exhibits specifically aimed at younger children.
The exploration of the interior ends in a larger hall, in what I believe must have been the engine rooms once. Here there is no elaborate interior design, just a few chairs and a large screen on which some film material is played (I didn’t stay to watch it all, so can’t really comment).
Normally, visitors would also be able to explore the open-air bridge deck, the flying bridge deck, the bridge itself and the captain’s cabin. But at the time I visited, these upstairs parts were temporarily closed – apparently because it had rained and the deck was allegedly too slippery. So I cannot report anything from those parts.
All in all
, visiting SS “Nomadic” is a very worthwhile addition to a visit to the nearby Titanic Belfast Experience
. While latter can feel a little artificial and almost too hi-tech, SS “Nomadic” counters that with a good dose of authenticity – even if most of the interior and all the upper structures (including bridge and funnel) are actually reconstructions. But still, stepping on to the last remaining White Star vessel, and one that had such a connection to the “Titanic
” at that, is not to be missed.
in the Hamilton dry dock in the southern half of the Titanic Quarter
near the redeveloped part closest to the city centre of Belfast
on the other side of the River Lagan.
The SS “Nomadic” is less than 200 yards south of the Titanic Belfast
, so within easy walking distance from there. From the city centre of Belfast it’s a bit over a mile, and if you deem that too far then bus line G2 can take you to a stop within a few steps to the “Nomadic” (get out at the stop “Titanic”).
You can view the SS “Nomadic” from the outside at any time for free, but to get inside the following applies:
Opening times: daily from 10 a.m. (in November, December and March only from 11 a.m.) to between 3 p.m. (January/February) and 6:30 p.m. in high season (June to August); to 4 p.m. in March, 5:30 p.m. in spring and autumn, and to 4:30 p.m. in November/December. Last admission half an hour before closing time. Closed over Christmas and on some occasions when the vessel is used for private functions (in which case your ticket remains valid for another occasion).
: included in the ticket price for the Titanic Belfast Experience
(so make sure to keep hold of your ticket!), which at the time of writing costs 24.95 GBP. For just the “Nomadic” that would be rather pricey. Of course nothing forces you to go to the Titanic Belfast too, though it makes a lot more sense to combine the two, as it is intended. There are no stand-alone tickets for just the “Nomadic” available as far as I could determine.
Time required: I spent a bit under an hour inside SS “Nomadic”, but that was without the upper decks and the bridge (closed because of rain) and I guess I could have spent much longer at the interactive stations and in the film room. So other visitors may want to allocate rather an hour and a half to two hours in order to see and watch everything there is.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
As visiting SS “Nomadic” is included in the ticket for the Titanic Belfast Experience
, this is obviously the almost inevitable combination. Otherwise there’s the rest of the Titanic Quarter
and of course everything else that is of dark interest in Belfast
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
SS “Nomadic” is only indirectly dark through its association with the tragedy of RMS “Titanic
”, but is otherwise a rather non-dark attraction itself. The same goes for parts of the Titanic Quarter
- Nomadic 01 - now in a dry dock
- Nomadic 02 - former home in France
- Nomadic 03 - silhouette of a famous passenger
- Nomadic 04 - inside
- Nomadic 05 - cozy separate room
- Nomadic 06 - awaiting high tea, presumably
- Nomadic 07 - projection and clutter
- Nomadic 08 - no real service
- Nomadic 09 - luxurious luggage
- Nomadic 10 - more modest luggage
- Nomadic 11 - stairway
- Nomadic 12 - lower deck
- Nomadic 13 - White Star porthole
- Nomadic 14 - exhibits
- Nomadic 15 - life vests
- Nomadic 16 - world at war
- Nomadic 17 - famous passengers
- Nomadic 18 - cluttered crew quarters
- Nomadic 19 - storage
- Nomadic 20 - inaccessible part
- Nomadic 21 - film room
- Nomadic 22 - heading back
- Nomadic 23 - stairs back up to the exit