The 150-ton steamship Chauncy Maples was ordered in 1898 by the British Universities' Mission to Central Africa. Designed by Henry Brunel (the son of Isambard Kingdom Brunel) and Sir John Barry (designer of London's Tower Bridge) she was built in Glasgow by Alley & McClellan, at a cost of £13,500. She was then disassembled into 3,481 parts.
The ship's 'Abbott' boiler was built in Newark, Nottinghamshire, and weighed 11 tons. It was transported in one piece on a special carriage fitted with traction engine wheels and shipped to Portuguese East Africa.
The boiler was then towed on a barge up the Zambezi and Shiré Rivers and hauled overland by 450 Ngoni tribesmen for 64 miles. Up steep hills and across river beds, they averaged three miles a day. The rest of the ship was carried on the heads of men and women, in packages weighing 25kgs each.
Unfortunately, when the parts of the hull were galvanised in Glasgow, the numbering system was hidden, so the engineers in Malawi had to work out a huge jig-saw to re-assemble the ship. In 1901, two years after leaving Britain, the Chauncy Maples was successfully launched on Lake Nyasa (now Malawi). She had three purposes: a missionary school; an emergency refuge from Arab slave traders; and a hospital ship.
During the First World War she was requisitioned to serve as a troop carrier and naval gunboat. After the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa sold her in 1953, she was used as a fishing trawler and then bought by the Malawi government. In 1967 she was refitted as a passenger and cargo vessel with a Crossley ERL six-cylinder 330-horsepower engine and a crew of ten. Many Malawians still remember travelling on her to school or work.
The ship is constructed with a vertical stem, raked stern, raised forecastle and poop deck aft, complete main deck, boat deck and split level aft deck. There is a large cargo hold on the foredeck, which will contain refrigerators for vaccines. She has a single propeller plant, single rudder, working cargo winch and working capstan. The two lifeboats used for moving passengers and cargo are missing.
The ship is 38.4 metres long and 6.1 metres wide with a displacement of 250 tons. She was originally equipped with a steam engine, fuelled by wood collected from the lake shore. This engine survives (without the boiler) and is on display in the Mangochi Lake Malawi Museum. During her life she had at least three boilers, which lie abandoned in the lake.
The Chauncy Maples has a shallow draft of only 2 metres, so can access most areas of the lakeshore. She is of sufficient size to carry a crew, a medical team, a laboratory and equipment such as vaccine fridges for primary health care.
The hull is made of riveted steel and when surveyed in 1992 there was no sign of major damage. A further survey was carried out in May 2009 under the supervision of South African marine architect Peter Volschenk. His report identified many items that will be needed to restore the ship but noted that "The vessel hull and superstructure is in remarkably good condition and shows very little, if any, signs of decay or structural fatigue. It is very viable to get up to another 30 years service out of Chauncy Maples."
The 1967 Crossley diesel engine no longer meets modern environmental requirements and is being replaced with a more efficient Caterpillar diesel engine, two new generators and photo-voltaic solar panels.
The MV Chauncy Maples was designed for Lake Malawi and is still the perfect vessel for this job of delivering health services to lake shore villages.