Durban Castle

DURBAN CASTLE was built in 1938 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast with a tonnage of 17382grt, a length of 594ft 7in, a beam of 76ft 4in and a service speed of 18.5 knots.

She was built for the Round Africa service and inaugurated the practice of naming ships after non-existent South African castles.

In September 1939 she was converted into a troopship. When Greece fell in 1941 the King of Greece and his family first took refuge in Egypt and then South Africa from where the Durban Castle transported him, his family and entourage from Durban to the United Kingdom.

1942 Requisitioned by Royal Navy and named HMS Durban Castle

She returned to commercial service in 1946 still carrying her AA gun platforms and with 9 lifeboats on each side replacing the landing craft.

This austere situation was rectified when she was later re-furbished. In July 1947 she resumed service, initially on the mail service pending the return of the larger ships which were themselves being refurbished after war service, and then on the Round Africa service.

On 28th March 1962 she completed her final voyage in London and in the following month was sold to Eisen & Metall GmbH of Hamburg for breaking up.

HE was a handsome deck steward with a penchant for female passengers, she a glamorous actress with dreams of making it in London's West End.

Both were sailing aboard the Durban Castle from Capetown in October 1947 but only one would reach their destination.

When the ship docked in Southampton it was met by police officers, eager to search cabin 126 where actress Gay Gibson had mysteriously disappeared - and to question steward James Camb, suspected of killing the 21-year-old and pushing her body out of the porthole into the shark-infested Atlantic Ocean.

Camb, 31, was a sexual predator who had attempted to seduce many female passengers.

Gay Gibson - real name Eileen Isabella Ronnie Gibson - had quickly caught his eye. The daughter of an English businessman, Gibson had always hankered after a life on the stage. She made a name for herself in South Africa playing the lead in The Man With a Load of Mischief opposite former British boxing champion Eric Boon but was keen for fame and fortune on a larger scale.

Missing Camb could not resist her and flaunted ship's regulations by being seen with her near her first class cabin on B deck. Even a ticking off from a senior officer failed to deter him.

On October 18 1947, when the liner was about 150 miles off the west coast of Africa, the striking actress was reported missing. The captain immediately turned the ship about but a desperate search of the water found no trace of the young woman. Gibson was last seen alive at 1am, leaning against a rail and smoking a cigarette, still wearing the black evening dress and shoes she had worn for dinner that sultry night in the tropics.

She told the night watchman it was "too hot down below" and she couldn't sleep. At 3am the same officer, James Murray, answered a call from her cabin and saw two lights on, indicating she had summoned both the steward and stewardess. Thinking this was strange, Murray tried to enter the cabin but his passage was blocked by Camb who opened the door a crack and assured him, "It's all right".

Assuming Camb was answering Gibson's call, Murray left. But his suspicions were aroused the next morning when Gibson failed to appear, and he reported the night's events to the captain.

Camb denied being in Cabin 126 that night but, when examined by the ship's surgeon, was found with scratches on his wrists and shoulders.  He claimed the wounds were self-inflicted, saying he had scratched himself in the night and rubbed himself with a rough towel. But when the ship docked in Southampton, Camb changed his story, claiming he and Gibson had enjoyed consensual sex but that she had suffered a sudden fit and died. When he could not revive her, he claimed, he panicked and pushed her lifeless body through the porthole. But a second contradictory statement suggests Gibson may not have been dead when Camb threw her overboard.

"It was the hell of a splash when she hit the water," he supposedly told a witness the next day.

"She struggled, I had my hands around her neck and when I was trying to pull them away she scratched me. I panicked and threw her out of the porthole."

Camb was charged with Gibson's murder and on March 10 1948 his trial opened before Mr Justice Hilbury. An array of exhibits lay in front of the jury including a replica of Cabin 126 and - crucially - cabin linen smeared with Gibson's blood and saliva.

Camb confidently took the witness box but throughout his testimony he could never adequately explain why he had not summoned help and why he had disposed of the body. His defence began to unravel further when, under cross examination, he admitted he had changed his story no less than six times as a matter of self preservation.

"Don't you think that was curious conduct from a truthful person?" the barrister suggested.

"I should say it was beastly conduct," Camb admitted.

But it was one final piece of evidence which sealed Camb's fate. Dr Frederick Hocking discovered dried urine on the linen. He explained it was common for the bladder to discharge its contents during strangulation.

Camb was doomed and it took jurors just 45 minutes to find him guilty.

It may have been quicker had they known he had accosted three other women on three different trips, but the evidence had been deemed inadmissible.

Camb was sentenced to hang but cheated the gallows. At the time a no-hanging bill was being discussed by Parliament so his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

In September 1959 Camb was released on licence and got a job as a waiter. He kept out of trouble for several years but was eventually arrested for sexual offences against school girls and was sent back to prison for the remainder of his original sentence.

He was released in 1978, still protesting his innocence, and died a year later from heart failure.

Gay Gibson's body was never discovered.

Detectives inspect the cabin porthole

Durban Castle in Galleons Reach

By Robert Lloyd

A notice to the passengers from Capt C J Lovegrove concerning the use of fresh water during a prolonged voyage to the Cape due to the suspected presence of a German raider. This would have been dated early in WW2

Review - April 1962

Launch and Maiden Voyage - 1938

Service in WW2

The Murder of Gay Gibson - 1947

Farewell Durban Castle - 1962

Durban Castle - Art Gallery

At the breakers in Hamburg

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