A campaign to bring 100-year-old steam trawler Viola back home to Yorkshire from an island off Antarctica received a boost on Monday when the MP for Hull West and Hessle, Emma Hardy, signed up to be one of the vessel’s two Parliamentary Ambassadors.
Resting on the ex-whaling station Grytviken in South Georgia, an island south east of the Falkland Islands, the now-rusted Viola has only snow-capped mountains and albatrosses for company on the sub-Antarctic isle.
But over in Hull, a campaigning group called the Viola Trust is hoping to raise £3m to bring the Viola back home, restore her and set up an education centre to share her story with the public.
The Viola was built in Beverley, east Yorkshire in 1906, and named by Charles Hellyer after the protagonist in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Eight years later, the trawler was requisitioned for duty in the first world war where she patrolled the Shetland Islands and east coast of England for four years. She was involved in sinking two enemy U-boats.
After the war, the Viola was sold and became one of Norway’s first trawlers. A few years later she was sold again, converted into whale catcher and renamed Dias. Throughout the 1920s, the Viola travelled along the African coast and across the South Atlantic on whaling expeditions.
In 1927 she was traded to an Argentinian fishing company which operated from Grytviken, where she was used to hunt elephant seals. In 1964-65, the whaling station at Grytviken closed and the Viola, along with other whaling and sealing vessels, was moored up on the area’s beaches where she remains today.
Despite her rust and age, the Viola is in surprisingly good condition. She is the oldest steam trawler in the world with her engines still intact.
“The government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands has given formal permission for her release, subject to an acceptable Environmental Impact Assessment and programme being put in place for her removal,” project manager of the Viola Trust, Norman Court, said.
The only thing stopping the Viola from making her journey home is funding. Her current location is not classed as 'British Waters', which means the Trust isn’t eligible to apply for grants such as the National Lottery Heritage Fund to bring the Viola home. Court is hopeful that they will be able to raise the money required via crowdfunding, with the vessel’s two Parliamentary Ambassadors raising more awareness of their cause.
Hardy will follow in the footsteps of her predecessor Alan Johnson, who was Hull West’s member of parliament from 1997 to 2017 and is the Viola Trust’s patron.
"Bringing the Viola home would provide the fisher families in Hull and Hessle a real heritage centrepiece and complement the Maritime History museum developments in the City Centre. But it would be more than a commemoration of Hull’s bravery, courage and history, it would also help teach new marine engineers their trade," Hardy said.
Graham Stuart, the Conservative MP for Beverley and Holderness, will join Hardy in becoming the Viola campaign’s second Parliamentary Ambassador.
Stuart was "delighted" to come on board. He commented: "The Viola was an important part of Beverley’s shipbuilding history before she was floated down the River Hull to begin her long career as a trawler, and as local MP for the area I’m happy to support the Viola Trust in Parliament."
The role’s duties have not yet been finalised, but Hardy has been sent a hand-painted shield to be displayed in her office along with a badge, “in the hope that people will ask 'what’s that?' and open up a discussion on Viola.”
Court added: “2022 marks the 40-year anniversary of the Falklands War, so it’s our plan to have the Viola’s return at least organised or underway by then.”