Background of the
The Zamzam had not always been named Zamzam. In fact, that was her third name. When she had been built in 1909, she was given the name Leicestershire.
As was her later sister ship, the El Nil, the Leicestershire had
been built by Harland and Wolff of Belfast as a passenger ship for the Bibby
Line. She had accommodations for 230 single class passengers.
Measurements of the ship have been reported as follows: 8,059
gross tons, length 467.2 ft x beam 54.3 ft x depth 31.7 ft.
She was characterized by one funnel, four masts, a twin screw, and a
speed of 15 knots. The four masts were her most distinctive
The history of the Zamzam's service was varied and complex. As the Leicestershire,
her maiden voyage took place in September 1909, when she sailed from
Birkenhead to India as a passenger ship. In 1914 she was
taken over as an Indian Expeditionary Force transport ship but was
soon returned to her owners. By 1917, however,
she was again serving as a troop transport ship. In 1918
she even carried troops to North Russia to fight the
Bolsheviks. Among other trips, she made a voyage to
Melbourne, repatriating Australian troops.
Following those war-time years of transport service, the Leicestershire
was returned to the Bibby Line and rebuilt; she was converted
from being coal-burning to oil-burning. Now modernized, she
resumed passenger service on the Rangoon route (Britain to Burma) until
1930, when she was sold to the British National Exhibition Ship
The S. S. Leicestershire at about the
time the ship was re-named British Exhibitor (1931).
Copyright: John H. Marsh Maritime Collection, Iziko
Maritime Centre, Cape Town, South Africa.
Photo courtesy of the private collection of Wallace Nolin.
The Leicestershire's purpose
with the Exhibition Company was to travel throughout the British
Empire, providing a floating exhibition of British goods. Renamed
British Exhibitor, the exhibit
was opened in the Thames in 1931. That chapter of her life was
short-lived, however, as in 1932 the company went into voluntary
liquidation and the whole exhibition project was abandoned.
New life and new purpose came the following year,1933, when the British Exhibitor was purchased by the Egyptians to be used in the pilgrim trade between Egypt and the port of Jedda (Mecca). Renamed Zamzam in honor of the sacred Mohammedan well near Mecca, for the next eight years the Zamzam
quietly and faithfully plied her trade. A mosque was built
in one of her cargo holds, and she could accommodate up to 600
religious pilgrims on their way from Suez to Mecca.
A new assignment came to the Zamzam
in 1941 -- to carry passengers from Egypt to New York via South Africa
and South America. Then, with a different set of
passengers, the Zamzam
was to make a return trip to Egypt, also via South America and South
Africa. It was on this return trip, in the spring of
1941, that the Zamzam was sunk in the
South Atlantic and this remarkable story took place.