Trustees behind a campaign to bring a former steam trawler back to its home in Hull are promoting the Viola with a message in a bottle after securing their first sponsorship deal.
The partnership has given the owners of Hotham’s Distillery a licence to produce a special brand of their hand-crafted gin which will carry the Viola lifebelt logo on its label.
Emma Kinton and Simon Pownall, who opened their distillery in Hepworth Arcade, Hull, earlier this year, have started production and are now taking orders for Christmas and beyond.
The deal was struck when Emma and Simon heard about the Viola campaign and decided to name their new still after the ship, which was built in Beverley in 1906 and now sits on a beach at Grytviken, South Georgia,
They already had smaller stills named after celebrities with a strong Hull connection, including Sir Tom Courtenay, Reece Shearsmith, John Godber and Paul Heaton.
Emma said: “We were learning how to sail last year and we saw some fliers promoting the Viola campaign. We wanted to do something to support that and decided it would be the ideal name for our new still.
“Then we spoke to some of the people from the Viola Trust and between us came up with the idea of producing a gin dedicated to the ship and to the campaign.”
Emma produced three different varieties of gin and the trustees added a tasting session to the agenda of their latest meeting at Andrew Jackson solicitors, who then drew up an agreement which will see the campaign receive a donation from every bottle sold.
The trustees opted for a traditional Old Tom-style gin, but the other candidates – a London Dry gin and a citrus gin – may yet reappear as discussions continue about offering a range of Viola gins, including a more potent Navy Strength version.
Emma said: “The Viola is an important part of Hull’s history and we hope this will help to raise its profile and support the fund-raising campaign. We’ve already had a lot of orders for corporate gifts for Christmas and we expect to hear from many more people who want to buy something really unique which supports Hull’s heritage.
“Once the Christmas rush is out of the way we will be working on plans for an official launch of the Viola gin, maybe with some new ideas for maritime cocktails!”
Paul Escreet, Chairman of SMS Towage and of the Viola Trust, said: “Hotham’s Distillery is a fascinating business and they have offered us a wonderful opportunity to promote the Viola campaign.
“We’re confident this will be a very successful partnership, promoting the expertise and innovation behind Hotham’s Distillery and raising awareness and money for the campaign to bring the Viola back to Hull.”
The Viola, built in Beverley in 1906, operated from Humber Dock – now Hull Marina – as part of the Hellyer fleet of boxing trawlers. She was requisitioned to defend the UK in the Great War and left Hull for the last time in 1918 on a career which took her to Norway, Africa and Argentina, catching fish, hunting whales and elephant seals and supporting expeditions in the South Atlantic.
Her stories are of Hull men sailing to the most distant areas of the North Sea and working in perilous conditions for weeks on end, transferring their catches by rowing boat to fast steam cutters which fed the nation’s growing appetite for fish and chips.
When the First World War broke out, Viola and her Hull crew were on the front line of the maritime conflict, steaming thousands of miles on patrol across seas infested with mines and U-boats. Viola had numerous encounters with the enemy, being involved in the sinking of two submarines. More than 3,000 fishing vessels and their crews saw active service during the Great War and today Viola is almost the only survivor.
In the 1970s, Viola was mothballed after the closure of the whaling station at Grytviken, South Georgia. Sitting on the beach, where she remains, the old trawler was the target in 1982 of scrap metal merchants from Argentina. But when they landed they ran up the Argentine flag, an action which led to the Falklands War.
To find out more about Hothams and to place an order for Viola gin please visit https://www.hothams.co.uk/
To find out more about the Viola campaign and to make a donation please visit http://www.violatrawler.net/
[Phil Ascough – Ascough Associates]