The Ship

The Mendi was launched on the River Clyde in Glasgow in 1905. The 4230 ton steamship was built by Alexander Stephen and Sons. She was owned by the British and African Steam Navigation Company, part of the Elder Dempster Group, and used on the Liverpool to West Africa mail and cargo run, a route that followed part of the earlier slave trade, from Britain to Africa and then America.
Photograph of the ss Mendi: Courtesy of the South African Navy.Photograph of the ss Mendi: Courtesy of the South African Navy.
Map showing places the Mendi visitedMap showing places the Mendi visitedIn the autumn of 1916 the Mendi was contracted to the British Government for war service. She was sent to Lagos, Nigeria to be fitted out as a troop ship. Three cargo holds were converted for troop accommodation. The officers were housed in the existing passenger accommodation above deck.
The Mendi transported Nigerian troops to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to fight in German East Africa before returning to South Africa to set out on her fateful voyage to France.
A few photographs of the Mendi survive and there are technical drawings showing her construction in the National Maritime Museum. Even as a troop ship she retained her steamship livery. Her hull and funnel were painted black, the bridge and cabins were buff, and the waterline was red. Apart from the gun that was added to the stern in Sierra Leone while she was on her way to France, the changes to the Mendi were mostly internal.