The most famous fleet of ships engaged in the Indian coolie trade was that belonging to James Nourse Ltd., whose founder - Captain James Nourse - had turned to shipowning after retiring from his former career at sea as a very successful master mariner. Amongst Nourse's first ships were a group of smart little clippers ordered new from various Sunderland yards but, as the business prospered, Nourse needed to increase his tonnage and, in 1889, purchased two large iron full-riggers Rhone and Avon to augment the fleet (for details of Avon, see 603).
Rhone had been built as a so-called jute clipper by John Elder & Co. of Glasgow in 1875. Launched as the Gilroy and named after her owner George Gilroy of Tay Works, Dundee, she was registered at 1,768 tons gross (1,678 net) and measured 259 feet in length with a 39 foot beam. Widely admired as a remarkably beautiful ship, Nourse renamed her Rhone on acquisition and put her to work running out to Calcutta, usually carrying salt or iron rails, from where she would then load coolies for East Africa and other destinations. Fast as well as handsome, Rhone's two best passages both started from Trinidad, on one occasion making Cape Town in 45 days and, on another, reaching Gravesend in only 24 days. Her last voyage under Nourse colours in 1905 proved highly charged and began badly when her master, Captain Strauss, died at sea. This was followed by a stranding at Demerara, problems with stowaways at Guadeloupe and an extremely hazardous journey down-river at Philadelphia through thick ice, all of which Rhone bore well only to find herself sold when she finally returned home early in 1906. Bought by Norwegian owners who renamed her Dybvaag, she disappears from record a few years later.