What started as an interesting chat over a glass of red wine with my dad, became somewhat of an obsession that I had to learn more about… What has Morecambe got to do with Moby Dick?! Many of you reading this may be lucky enough know exactly what I am talking about here, but for those of you who don’t, it’s a killer (whale)! – It was actually a sperm whale but for puns-sake…
Between the late 1950’s and 1972, a grand old schooner ship graced the waters of Morecambe Bay. Visitors from all over came to set foot on its decks and take a look around. The ship’s name; the Moby Dick. Built in 1886 at Glasson Dock, Lancashire by Nicholson and Marsh, the magnificent ship was originally named the “Ryelands”. During her construction, a fire broke out, however, that didn’t stop her taking to the sea’s under the direction of Captain William Marrow in 1887. For the next 61 years, the Ryelands worked hard within our home seas until she finally earned her big break in 1948.
Ryelands caught the eye of the film company, RKO Pictures, who purchased her in 1948 and so, began her career as a star of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Who remembers the 1950’s film adaptation of Treasure Island, produced by Walt Disney Productions, Featuring Bobby Driscoll and Robert Newton? Well, this was the very first film where Ryelands makes an appearance; playing the part as the ship from the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, “The Hispaniola”.
Her role in Hollywood didn’t stop there. In 1956, after being sold to Elstree Studios, Ryelands starred in a film that would become the highlight of her career, Moby Dick. Starring the eye-wateringly-handsome Gregory Peck, Richard Basehart and Leo Genn, it was the first movie adaptation of the 1851 novel by Herman Melville. The Rylands played the major part of the ship; The Pequod, a role which was equally as important as the actor’s themselves. Moby Dick became a blockbuster, generating $5.2 million at the box office ($5.2 million in the 1950s!!).
Ryelands ended her career in the film industry with a role in the 1956-1957 ITC and CBS/ITV series, “The Buccaneers”, where she played the role of “The Sultana”. After filming the series, she was considered retired and taken back to her hometown of Glasson Dock to spend the remainder of her days…
…Until Morecambe came knocking! Ryelands relocated to Morecambe as a floating exhibit, renaming herself, the Moby Dick. Here, you could visit the magnificent schooner ship, floating on the incredible tides of Morecambe Bay with the beautiful sunset falling behind her every evening. Sadly, the sun fell behind the Moby Dick for the final time in 1970, when a fire broke out, destroying her in minutes. The curtain had finally fallen on the star of the bay.
The Legacy of The Moby Dick
Ryelands/The Moby Dick, leaves behind her tales and memories for the residents of Glasson Dock and Morecambe. You may have tales passed down from a great-grandfather about its construction back in the day or maybe your grandparents remember spending a sixpence to stand where Gregory Peck once stood upon its decks. Perhaps, like my mother, you remember strolling down the promenade and seeing the beautiful vessel on the waters of Morecambe Bay… no matter the tragic fate of the Moby Dick, she is yet another star to add to Morecambe’s long and colourful itinerary, leaving behind memories and a legacy that will stand the test of time, on and off the screen.
Images from the incredible Lancaster Past and Present. This is the place to go for anyone who lives in or adores Lancaster and Morecambe. You can find out everything here!