The Galeka Bell
The Galeka bell, one of two on top of The Bluecoat building, was rescued from the SS Galeka. Built in 1889 for the Union Steam Ship Company by Harland and Wolff, Glasgow, she was a 6772 ton steam ship with a top speed of 12.5 knots. She was named after the Galeka tribe in South Africa, where she used to sail, until the First World War.
In 1914, she was requisitioned for use transporting troops from Britain, Australia and New Zealand to destinations including Le Havre and Gallipoli. She was refitted in 1915 as a hospital ship with accommodation for 366 wounded passengers.
On 28 October 1916, while entering Le Havre, HMHS Galeka disastrously struck a mine laid by a German submarine. The Galeka was beached at Cap le Hague but was a total loss. She was not carrying any patients, but all 19 Royal Army Medical Corps personnel on board died in the accident.
The Galeka had been owned at the time by The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, whose chairman and major shareholder was Sir Owen Philips, who was also MP for Chester (1916 – 1922). He requested that the bell be brought to Chester and placed on top of The Bluecoat building to honour those who had fought in the Great War. Over one hundred alumni of The Bluecoat School had signed up in WW1, of which 12 were killed.
In 1930, it was discovered that The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company had been paying dividends to its stockholders, despite trading at a loss for years with debt of over £10 million. Owen Philipps was found guilty of making false statements with regards to the company accounts and served ten months in Wormwood Scrubs prison.
The origins of the bell were completely forgotten until Friday 28th October 2016 when The Bluecoat’s building manager Dave decided to inspect the roof. He read the name of the bell whilst up there and decided to look the SS Galeka up – he was shocked to discover that it was exactly 100 years to the day since she sunk!
Pictured: SS Galeka, year unknown