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Discovering a history, Elizabeth to Esme

Esme was built in 1927 at Amels yard in Makkum, Netherlands.  Amels have changed a bit since then. She was first measured at Leeuwarden in September 1927. When compulsory registration began her first Meetbrief record (no. 0337) was made in Rotterdam in September 1931, her name being 'Elizabeth'.  The Brandmerk is still visible behind the wheelhouse 49B LEEUW 1927 and a midships hull mark port side L1728N.

She is described as a Motorvrachtschip of 89 tonnes (laden) and known as a Luxemotor, the first type of barge to be built with an engine and ‘luxury’ aft living accommodation.

The first and only registered working owner was Gerrit Timmerman from Breda. In 2011 we were delighted to make contact with the nieces of Mr Timmerman with whom we have now met and discovered more of her history. The picture below was probably taken in the 1990s. Our thanks go to Maurits and Olga on their beautiful hotel barge De 4 Vaargetijden www.cruisebelgie.com for their help in tracing the Timmerman family.

 Rotterdam winjhaven

The “Elizabeth” was built and launched at Amels, Makkum, Friesland in September 1927. She was originally registered to Johs Timmerman from Breda as recorded in the Kadaster at Rotterdam. Named after his wife Elizabeth, they had a son Gerrit, the eldest and three daughters. ZeelandiaThe family had a ship before, the Zeelandia, a sailing klipper. When they all moved on board the new ship Elizabeth, Gerrit was then 13 years of age and already learning to be a skipper like his father.

Not long afterwards, Johs Timmerman died prematurely, leaving a widow and four children. Gerrit took the role of the man of the family. The Meetbrief shows him as the skipper in 1931, aged 17. His sisters were Maria (mother of Elma, Hanny and Marijke), Tini and Wili (Wilhemina). He did the heavy deck work and his mother was the steerer. The aft cabin was their home and in the fo’c’sle were two more cabins with beds for the girls. The family lived on board in the Rotterdam area, working with various cargoes including grain, reeds (for thatching roofs) and turf. Later, after the girls had grown up, Gerrit and his mother Elizabeth worked together as a team for many years. He used to sleep in the fo’c’sle while she had the aft cabin. In winter he slept in the wheelhouse where it was more comfortable.

During the Second World War the ship was commandeered by the Nazi occupying force. Gerrit’s mother was evicted and sent to live with friends or family and Gerrit had to work to their orders. At the end of the war he had his ship back and happily it was undamaged. His mother returned to work with him again as the steerer.

Finally in 1969 and in her 80’s Elizabeth’s health deteriorated and she could no longer work or live on board, eventually dying in hospital about a year later. Gerrit , now aged 65, took the decision to retire the “Elizabeth” at this time but continued living on board his beloved ship in the Wijnhaven, Rotterdam for about twenty years. During this time he worked on the dredger in the port until towards the end of his life when he moved to a house. He died in November 1999.

Shortly before he died the “Elizabeth” was sold, renamed “Max” and converted into a home by Professor Walter Stamm-Teske, a Zurich architect. The use of space, materials, colour and contemporary style in the conversion reflect his architectural skills while retaining the original lines and the historic character of the aft cabin. The work was completed and the ship re-registered in 1998. 

history03Gerrit’s nieces would have liked to buy their uncle’s ship but it just didn’t work out for them. They had precious childhood memories of school holidays on board in Rotterdam with their uncle and grandmother. Especially for Elma the eldest, there was for many years the question about what had happened to the “Elizabeth” and whether she was still afloat.

The ship passed through two more owners before she was purchased by us, the current owners in 2006. She was a fulfilment of our dream to own a Dutch barge to travel in our retirement. We took her from Friesland to the UK for her first three years and then to her home waters to discover more of her history and roots.

Then Elma’s friends Nel and Krijn helped to place a notice on a Dutch Skippers’ internet forum asking that very question. They knew about the change of name (to “Max”) and that provided the essential link. By pure coincidence around the same time, we, the current owners were helped to answer our question about the history of our barge, now called “Esme”. We had the name of the original owner and the ship’s name but little more. Our new Dutch friend and barge owner Maurits being very interested in ship history took our information, looked on the same internet forum and by an incredible stroke of luck found Elma and Hannij’s notice! He then helped with the language barrier to bring us together.

On 15th June 2011 we met for the first time our very special guests and new friends who drove over from Rotterdam to meet us and the “Elizabeth”, now “Esme” at Roermond, a beautiful lake in the Limburg province of the Netherlands.history04

Elma (Gerrit’s niece), was accompanied by Nel and Krijn (her friends) who  helped us with our very poor Dutch! It was a memorable, emotional day and  one to treasure. There was so much to talk about, to piece together the story  and to get to know each other. We quickly realised that Nel and Krijn were not  just friends of Elma but that they are also retired skippers, had a commercial  ship for many years and also knew Gerrit very well. So we learnt a lot about  the “Uncle Gerrit and “Oma” (Elizabeth, his mother), the kind of people they were and their life.

After a glass of champagne Elma could not be held back from going straight down into the aft cabin to see how much it had changed and to enjoy a little nostalgia, a tear or two were shed! She remembered precisely how the space was furnished and described in detail how daily life went on inside the home, exactly how the stove, the heater, the cooker, the cupboards, the table were placed. Uncle Gerrit’s chair is still there, she recognised it. A few changes have taken place since we carefully refitted the cabin but many features were as she remembered them. Numerous nice compliments in Dutch! Elma gave us some lovely photographs of the old days on the “Elizabeth”, which brought all the memories to life and which complete the history. history05The original engine (a Kromhout) must have been changed during the conversion, as the vertical exhaust showed in the old photographs. Also Elma said that the fo’c’sle had three beds in the old days, now it houses our big bowthruster, so we think this was also installed during the conversion in the 1990s. We also noticed from the photographs that the anchor winch (which is able to take two anchors) had been changed from the port to the starboard as the port gypsy of the winch is now very worn.

We shared a home cooked meal out on the aft deck and the weather was kind, the delicious pudding being the gift of our guests, lovely local patisseries! Lots to say, laughter and tears!  Since this article was written, we have now met Hanny and Marijke.

Elma, Nel and Krijn remembered Gerrit Timmerman as being an enthusiastic Christian and a man very popular with many friends. The skippers’ church was a big part of his life, especially after his retirement when he was known as the “talking newspaper” in Rotterdam because he always had news to share. He was very interested in the bible and it was not unusual in the middle of a service or sermon for him to question the reverend about the meaning of the scriptures!

history06He was passionate about his ship and kept her in mint condition, retaining her original features unchanged. The old photographs show her immaculately kept and freshly painted with him looking smart for the camera.

Gerrit Timmerman never married but from an early age provided a livelihood for his widowed mother and sisters and worked hard all his life. We would like to think that we, as the modern owners of this lovely ship, will love and care for the “Esme” in a way that Uncle Gerrit would have wished.











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