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Orient Line Migrant Ships

The Orient Line, along with the Peninsula and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, were the two British based shipping lines that pioneered and dominated the passage of migrants by sea to Australia and other colonial outposts in the Orient, such as India, Malaysia and Hong Kong since the 1850s. In May 1960, the Orient Line was integrated into the P & O Orient Line.

RMS Otranto (1926 – 1957)
Otranto was the second Orient Line vessel of that name, the first having collided with the P&O; liner Kashmir, sinking off Scotland whilst commandeered as an armed merchant cruiser in World War I. Oranto, Orontes, Otranto and Orford were four 20,000 tonne liners of similar shape and design that were custom built for the Orient Line after the war to service the UK-Australia run. These vessels brought a new level of speed, safety and luxury to the UK-Australian service, giving the Orient Line a major advantage over its main rival, P&O.; This moved P&O; to build what became known as the ‘Strath’ series of ocean liners that it introduced to the UK-Australia route in the 1930s.

In 1939 Oranto was commandeered as a troop ship, being converted to Landing Ship infantry in 1942. Refitted for a return to service on the UK-Australia run via the Suez in 1946, she remained in service on that route until 1957 when she was withdrawn and broken up in Scotland. Orsova effectively replaced Oranto when she was retired to the breakers yard in Scotland in 1957.

  • Built for the Orient Line by Vickers Armstrong, of Barrow-in-Furness
  • Gross displacement: 20,026 tonnes
  • Length: 193 metres
  • Beam: 23 metres
  • Cruising speed: 18 knots
  • Propulsion: twin screw, single reduction turbine steam

  • RMS Orontes (1929 – 1962)
    Replacing a former steamer of the same name that was scrapped in 1926, Orontes operated on the UK-Australia service via Suez for the greater part of her working life. Launched in February 1929, she made several cruises over the summer months before entering Orient’s London-Brisbane service on 26 October of that year. The only exception was a period between 1940 and 1947 when she was commandeered for use as a troop ship by the British government. She took part in the North Africa campaign in 1942 and the invasion of Sicily in 1943, and transporting troops to the Pacific in 1945. She was returned to the Orient Line in 1947, and after being refitted by Thornycraft of Southampton, returned to London to Sydney service on 17th June 1948. She operated for 33 years, becoming the longest serving vessel ever to ply the UK-Australia run. Orontes was broken up in Spain in 1962 after being replaced by the Oriana two years earlier.

  • Built for the Orient Line by Vickers Armstrong, of Barrow
  • Gross displacement: 20,097 tonnes
  • Length: 193 metres
  • Beam: 23 metres
  • Cruising speed: 18 knots
  • Propulsion: twin screw, single reduction turbine steam
  • Maiden voyage: 26th October 1929

  • RMS Orion (1935 – 1963)
    The Orion and her sister ship, the Orcades (2), were commissioned by the Orient Line in response to its rival, P&O;, building the first two ‘Strath’ ships to service the UK-Australia run. Orion’s life began in a unique way, she being launched by remote control via wireless all the way from Brisbane, Australia. Whilst he was Downunder, The Duke of Gloucester officiated by pressing a button that transmitted a radio signal to Barrow where the launch took place. The idea was actually copied from the launching of a Holland-Africa liner when radio waves were used for the first time. Due to this launch, she immediately has a special affiliation with Australia.

    In 1939, both the Orion and Orcades were requisitioned within weeks of war breaking out, and converted to troop ships. Orcades was torpedoed and sunk off the Cape of Good Hope in 1942. While taking part in a South Atlantic convoy in 1941, Orion rammed the escort Battleship HMS Revenge but otherwise survived the war unscathed, having carried 175,000 troops. In 1946 she was released from Government service and after a post war refit, sailed from Tilbury on 25th February 1947, becoming the first Orient Liner to resume Australia Service.

    In 1954 Orion left Sydney on a Trans-Pacific voyage, being the first Orient Liner to do so. In 1960, she was altered to One Class configuration to accommodate 1691 persons, as she was now carrying mainly Migrants inbound. After years of faithful service, she left Australia for the last time in April 1963, her replacement being the newly commissioned Oriana. Between May to September of that year, Orion was given a reprieve from her ultimate fate – she was chartered as a floating hotel in Hamburg for a month for the International Gardening Exhibition, offering accommodation for 1,150 guests. On 1st October she sailed for Antwerp where she was broken up by the Jos Boel et Fils scrap yard.

    Jon Engish, one of few Australian performers who have successfully combined careers in music, television and stage, spent his 12th birthday on board SS Orion in March 1961 during his family’s migratory voyage to Australia, settling in Sydney.

  • Built by Vickers-Armstrong, Barrow-in-Furness, England
  • Launched: 4th December 1934
  • Maiden voyage: 29th September 1935 to Sydney, Australia
  • Gross displacement: 29,091 tonnes
  • Length: 220 metres
  • Beam: 28 metres
  • Propulsion: twin screw, double reduction turbine
  • Cruising Speed: 22 knots
  • Accommodation: Refitted in 1958 to alter her accommodation to 342 Cabin Class and 722 Tourist Class. Altered to One Class configuration in 1960 to accommodate 1,691 persons, as she was now carrying mainly Migrants inbound.
  • Livery: buff-colored hull and funnel with white upper works. Changed to all white in 1960.

  • RMS Orcades (1948 – 1973)
    The third Orient Line ship to bear the Orcades name, it was the first of three sister ships to be built by Vickers-Armstrong, Barrow-in-Furness for the Orient Line after the war to allow the line to take advantage of the booming Britain to Australia trade. Orcades took her name from an island off the West Coast of Scotland. Similar in size to the Arcadia and Iberia that rivals P&O; were building, the Orcades was a particularly spacious ship and her accommodation set a new standard for both first and tourist classes on the Australasian service that surpassed that of Orient’s most recent new ships, the Himalaya and Chusan. The epitome of post-war British shipbuilding excellence, her interior decor was entrusted to Brian O’Rorke, the designer responsible for the ‘new look’ on Orion, Oronsay and Orsova.

    Dulcie Collings (1909 – 1988) and her artist husband, Geoffrey, collaborated extensively in painting, illustration and costume design ventures and designed the fabrics for these vessels. On her maiden voyage, Orcades trimmed 8 days off the normal time taken by other ships to travel between England and Australia, which reduced the duration of the voyage to exactly four weeks. Twelve years later, the Orient Line’s newest and last passenger vessel, Oriana, would shave a further week off the journey. Every day saved was vital as the Qantas Constellation had been flying the distance in just four days since 1947 and air travel was already beginning to bite into the passenger ship business. In 1964 Orcades was fitted as a one-class ship for 1635 passengers and began to undertake Australian/Pacific cruising based in Sydney. Orcades was popular among passengers and remained in service until the 1970s. She arrived at the breakers in Taiwan on 6th February 1973.

  • Built by Vickers-Armstrong, Barrow-in-Furness, England for the Orient Line. Her sister ship Oronsay was laid down in the same berth in 1949.
  • Launched: 14th October 1947
  • Maiden voyage: 14th December 1948 to Sydney
  • Gross displacement: 28,472 tonnes
  • Length; 217 metres
  • Beam: 28 metres
  • Draught: 9.4 metres
  • Propulsion: Parsons marine steam turbines capable of developing a maximum of 42,500 shaft horsepower, twin screws.
  • Cruising speed: 23 knots.
  • Accommodation: 780 first and 780 tourist class passengers, around 600 crew. Reconfigured as all Tourist Class in 1964.
  • Livery: buff-colored hull and funnel with white upper works. Changed to all white to match its P&O; sister ships in 1963.
  • Major refit in 1959.

  • RMS Oronsay (1950 – 1975)
    Built to serve the UK-Australia service, in 1954, the Orient Line introduced a passenger service from Southampton to San Francisco, via Sydney, Brisbane, Fiji and Vancouver and assigned the Oronsay to it. This new Pacific venture was an experiment to find out if sufficient freight and passenger traffic was offering to support as large and expensive a ship as the Oronsay, which cost more than £5,200,000 to build.

    Like her forebear, she took her name from an island off the West Coast of Scotland. In accordance with Orient Line policy, her interior theme was influenced by the nationality of her name. Her public rooms were named Edinburgh, Fife & Drums and Balmoral. At her bow and funnel she displayed a targe and broadsword insignia, symbols of the area from which her name was derived. One of the showpieces was a suite of rooms known as The Flat, which cost £28 a day, a great deal of money in those days, and was booked up for months.

    Her career as an ocean liner got off to a very shaky start. At 9 pm on 28th October 1950 as she was being fitted out, a fire started in the cork insulation in the No. 2 hold and burned for three days. The vessel developed a 20-degree list. Her completion was delayed by eight weeks. Oronsay’s maiden voyage was from Southampton to Sydney, a journey she completed regularly. Her maiden departure from London took place on 10th May 1951 and within a year or two Oronsay had established a new record time of 24 hours for the 515 miles from Sydney to Brisbane.

    Each trip to Australia was interspersed with a 13 day Mediterranean cruise, for which tourist class fares were from £37 and first class from £66. In 1954, the one way tourist-class fare to Australia in a two-berth cabin was about £144 each, or about 10 weeks’ wages. The return voyage from Sydney at the end of 1954 was a 26-day trip (it broke the then speed record!), which visited Gibraltar, Naples, Port Said, Aden, Colombo, Fremantle and Adelaide, cost about £159. On 8th November 1955, Australia’s one-millionth post-war migrant, Mrs. Barbara Ann Porritt, 21, of Yorkshire, England, arrived with her husband at Melbourne on Oronsay.

    By 1968, Oronsay’s ports of call were Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, Paga Pago, Suva, Hawaii, Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Acapulco, Panama, Nassau, Miami, Lisbon, Cherbourg and Southampton. Cruising was introduced during this period with two-week cruises into the Mediterranean, followed by a trip to Australia. Prior to her return to Southampton, Oronsay also embarked on a short cruise to the Pacific Islands from Sydney. On a return trip from Vancouver in February 1970, it was rumoured that the Great Train robber Ronnie Biggs was onboard at the time and the crew very concerned that he may be caught. In April 1973, singer David Bowie travelled to Japan from Los Angeles on the Oronsay, and gave an impromptu solo acoustic performance for the ships passengers and crew. Oronsay’s farewell cruise left Southampton in August 1975 for Sydney via Hamilton (Bermuda), Port Everglades, Nassau, Cristobal, Balboa, Acapulco, San Francisco, Honolulu, Suva and Auckland. She was sold to Nan Feng Steel Enterprise Company of Kaohsiung, Taiwan for scrapping in October 1975. During her 25-year career she had called at 150 ports and had completed 64 line voyages and 37 cruises.

  • Built by Vickers-Armstrong, Barrow-in-Furness, England at a cost of £4,228,000 for the Orient Line.
  • Launched: Friday 30th June 1950 by Mrs. A. I. (later Lady) Anderson, wife of the Orient Line Chairman.
  • Maiden Voyage: 16th May 1951
  • Gross displacement: 28,136 gross tonnes
  • Length: 217 metres
  • Beam: 28 metres
  • Draught: 9.4 metres
  • Propulsion: Parsons marine steam turbines capable of developing a maximum of 42,500 shaft horsepower, twin screws.
  • Cruising speed: 22 knots.
  • Cargo capacity: 370,000 cubic feet.
  • Accommodation: 344 First Class cabins (668 passengers), 274 Tourist Class cabins (833 passengers) on seven decks, 635 crew.
  • Livery: buff-colored hull and funnel with white upper works. Changed to all white to match its P&O; sister ships in 1963. Major refit in 1959.

    RMS Orsova (1953 – 1973)
    The launch of Orsova at noon on Thursday, 14th May 1953 marked the final stage of a post-war development programme by the Orient Line based on ‘the shape of things to come’. It could be said that shipbuilding history was made that day since the Orsova was the first large liner to be built without conventional masts and, more importantly, she was the first vessel of her size to have an all-welded hull. It was the beginning of a new era of prefabrication, which is taken for granted today. In the early fifties Orsova was the largest post-war liner constructed in Britain. It was her unorthodox appearance which caused a great deal of comment at the time. As well as being designed without a mast, the outline of her funnel, with its ‘Welsh Hat’ extension, was the subject of much adverse criticism. However, as the latter had been specially planned to prevent the nuisance of smoke and smuts on the passenger decks, the travelling public was interested to see whether the theory would work in practice, which it did. The funnel was also rigged to carry the radio aerials and halyards.

    Orsova left Tilbury on her maiden voyage to Australia on 17th March 1954, arriving in Melbourne on 17th April. After three return trips from Britain, Orsova left Tilbury on the first world trip operated by the Orient Line. In 1964 she lost her corn coloured hull in favour of white as a result of the merger with P&O; in 1960 by which time she was servicing the Sydney – San Francisco route and then additional cruising duties out of Sydney after 1965. After a relatively short career, Orsova was sold for scrap in 1973, her break up commencing on 14th February 1974.

  • Built by Vickers-Armstrong, Barrow-in-Furness, England
  • Launched 14th May 1953 on the same day as P&O;’s new liner Arcadia was launched being launched on the Clyde in Scotland.
  • Maiden voyage: 17th March 1954
  • Gross displacement: 28,790 tonnes
  • Length: 220 metres
  • Beam: 28 metres
  • Propulsion: twin screw, double reduction turbine
  • Cruising Speed: 22 knots
  • Accommodation: 371 first class cabins (692 passengers); 258 tourist class cabins (811 passengers). Crew 634. Livery: buff-colored hull and funnel with white upper works. Changed to all white to match its P&O; sister ships in 1963.

  • SS Oriana (1960 – 1986)
    In 1957 the Orient Line commissioned their largest and last passenger ship. Although built primarily for Australasian line voyages, she was also designed with a view to seasonal cruising. Equipped with full air conditioning, bow and stern thrusters and a welded aluminum superstructure, she had a radio in every cabin; a luxurious feature at the time. On 18th September 1957, the keel was laid of what was to be the largest passenger ship built at Barrow and (at that time) the largest built in England. She was launched 3rd November 1959 by H.R.H. the Princess Alexandra, who christened her with the name given to four previous Iron vessels (1869, 1887, 1905 and 1914). The name is a derivation of the ancient Greek name for the East and also from the Latin for the dawn. Never seen as a ‘beautiful’ ship, she nevertheless endeared herself to many repeat passengers.

    Oriana leeft on her maiden voyage was from Southampton to Sydney on 3rd December 1960, then travelled on via Auckland to the US West Coast ports and back to Southampton. Steaming 3,430,902 nautical miles and visiting 108 ports during her working career, Oriana was the fastest ship ever to sail to Sydney, making the passage from Southampton via Suez in only twenty-one days. In 1964, Oriana set a new record for passage between Auckland and Sydney – 45 hours and 24 minutes at 27.76 knots. From 1973, she operated as an Australia-based cruise ship before being sold out of the fleet. In 1981, Oriana was permanently based in Sydney for cruises, replacing Sea Princess. P&O; announced Oriana’s withdrawal from service in 1986 and on 27th March, she was laid up in Sydney.

    Oriana was sold to Japanese interests later that year for use as an hotel, museum and restaurant ship. She transferred to moorings at Beppu Bay in Japan, her funnels painted pink. The hotel venture failed and in 1995 she was again sold, this time to Chinese interests and then towed to Chinwangtao, China where she served, as Government owned accommodation center and hotel. Qinhuangdao in North China’s Hebei Province purchased the liner once more for $6 million in November 1998. Under tow again, Oriana arrived in Shanghai October 1998, and was refitted in ZingHua Harbor as a floating tourist attraction funded by Hangzhou West Lake International Tourism Culture Development Co Ltd. After a US$3.5 million renovation, Oriana opened to the public in the Pudong business district of Shanghai, February 1999. In May 2004 she was badly damaged in a typhoon and almost sank. Too costly to repair, she was sold for scrap and demolished in Zhangiagang China in the latter months of 2005.

  • Built by Vickers-Armstrong (Shipbuilders) Ltd. at Barrow-in-Furness, England for £12,500,000. She was the largest and last liner built for Orient Line.
  • Launched: 3rd November 1959
  • Maiden voyage: 3rd December 1960 to Australia. Reduced the travel time between England and Australia by one week.
  • Gross displacement; 41,915 tonnes
  • Length: 245.1 metres
  • Beam: 30.5 metres
  • Maximum draft: 9.7 metres
  • Overall height: 51.27 metres (16 floors).
  • Propulsion: Six Parsons geared turbines, total 80,000 ship’s horsepower, single reduction geared to twin screws.
  • Maximum speed: 30.64 knots (57 k.m.h.)
  • Cruising speed: 27.5 knots, her record day’s run was 701 nautical miles at 29.21 knots.
  • Accommodation: 730 cabins for 638 First & 1,496 Tourist Passengers, crew 903. Altered to 1,677 in one class in 1973.
  • Facilities: 17 public rooms and 11 passenger decks; Tennis Deck, Bathing Deck, Stadium Deck, Verandah Deck and the “A” through “E” Decks.

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