Accreditation: Clydebuild Database
was built by William Denny and Brothers Ltd, Dumbarton for British Columbia Coastal Steamships. She was launched on 20 October 1914. With her sister ship Princess Margaret
, she was built to serve on the Vancouver – Victoria – Seattle route. Her port of registry was Victoria. Princess Irene
was requisitioned by the Royal Navy on her completion and converted to an auxiliary minelayer. She had a complement of 225 officers and men. She was 395 feet (120 m) long with a beam of 54 feet (16 m) and a draught of 17 feet (5.2 m). She was propelled by four steam turbines which could propel the ship at 22.5 knots (41.7 km/h).
In May 1915, Princess Irene was moored in Saltpan Reach, on the Medway Estuary in Kent between Port Victoria and Sheerness, being loaded with mines in preparation for deployment on a mine laying mission. At 11:14 GMT on 27 May, Princess Irene exploded and disintegrated. A column of flame 300 feet (100 m) high was followed a few seconds later by another of similar height and a pall of smoke hung over the spot where Princess Irene had been, reaching to 1,200 feet (400 m). Two barges lying alongside were also destroyed. A total of 352 people were killed, including 273 officers and men, and 76 dockyard workers who were on board. On the Isle of Grain a girl of nine was killed by flying debris, and a farmhand died of shock. A collier half a mile (800 m) away had its crane blown off its mountings.
The victims, whose bodies were recovered, were buried at Woodlands Road Cemetery, Gillingham. A memorial service led by Randall Davidson, the Archbishop of Canterbury for the victims was held at the Dockyard Church, Sheerness on 1 June 1915.
A Court of Inquiry was held into the loss of Princess Irene. Evidence was given that priming of the mines was being carried out hurriedly by untrained personnel. A faulty primer was blamed for the explosion. A worker at Chatham Dockyard was named as a suspect, but a thorough investigation by Special Branch cleared him of any blame.