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P&O & The £10 Poms

Updated: May 23, 2023

Orient Line- ss. Orcades

When I joined P&O in 1973 the “Ten Pound Pom” scheme had just finished the previous year.

"10 Pound Poms" refers to the British migrants who participated in the assisted migration program from the United Kingdom to Australia between 1945 and 1972. The term "10 Pound Poms" originated from the subsidized fare of only £10 offered to British citizens to encourage them to migrate to Australia.

Under the program, British citizens could apply to migrate to Australia for a nominal fee, which was initially set at £10 but later increased. The migrants, commonly referred to as "10 Poms," were provided with assisted passage to Australia, including transportation, accommodation, and some employment assistance upon arrival.

The Australian Department of Immigration was established by Ben Chifley, Australia’s new Prime Minister, on 13th July 1945. Chifley together with the new Minister for Immigration, Arthur Calwell, championed a ‘populate or perish’ initiative. Still reeling from the threat of a Japanese invasion in 1942, the Australian Government saw the need to rethink the politics of population and power.

Australia was a large country with a small population, made even smaller by the loss of young men conscripted in the Second World War. There was a need for a larger work force and people for protection. Calwell estimated that the population needed to increase by 2%, twice as much as could be gained by natural growth. To make up the shortfall, Calwell calculated that Australia would need 70,000 immigrants per year and set his sights on Britain:

ss. Oronsey arrives in Sydney Harbour as the Opera House is being build.

Construction started in the Opera House and in 1959 and opened 20th October 1973 - I arrived on ss Oriana a couple of months later in December 1973.

The P&O liners along with liners from British India Steam Navigation Company and the Orient Line, all participated. The journey from the UK to Australia typically took several weeks, and the conditions on board varied depending on the class of travel. The migrants had the option to travel in different classes, ranging from basic shared dormitories to more comfortable cabins.

P&O liners often had cabins with 6 or 8 berths, These cabins were typically shared by families or groups of migrants traveling together. However, due to the demand for passage and the limited availability of cabins, families were sometimes split up and assigned to different cabins or even different parts of the ship.

Six-berth cabin on Shaw Savill - Southern Cross

As a purser cadet onboard “Oriana” I had the dubious pleasure of sharing one such cabin with three other cadets. No en-suite in those days, showers and toilets were down the alleyway. One of our fellow cadets had an aversion to water and we all suffered as a result.

ss Oriana in P&O Colours berthed in Sydney Harbour.

My first voyage on ss. Oriana was from Southampton to Sydney. Although the “10 Pound Poms” scheme had finished. Oriana was setting sail for the five-week voyage with many people emigrating to Australia. We set sail to a brass band marching on the quayside, thousands of paper streamers were breaking as the ship pulled away from the quay. I can still remember the shiver running down my spine as I watched from an upper deck. Although this happened again as we left Sydney on our return to the UK, sadly with the advent of cruising and the decline of the ocean voyage, this wonderful sight and the feeling it left faded away.

The normal cost of a passage to Australia was about £120 pounds, the Australian Government subsidized £110 pounds of this, meaning immigrants were only paying £10 pounds to get here. The only catch was that if you took up the offer you had to stay at least two years before deciding to return or you would have to pay the full fare home yourself. You also had to pass a health check and be under 45 years of age.

During the 1950s and 60s around 1 million Britons emigrated to Australia with some 25% deciding that life in Australia was not for them and returning home - these were always referred to by Australians as the 'whinging Poms' and many of them deserved the name! It was originally expected that 70,000 Britons a year would travel to Australia - but in the first year alone, 400,000 applied. During the 1950s wages in Australia were some 50% higher than those in England (especially for tradesmen) and this, plus the outdoor free and easy lifestyle Australia had to offer, was very attractive to many young men and women. 1968 was the peak year of immigration with 600,000 Britons arriving.

Mike Hawksworth Purser Cadet on Orient Line Orsova recounts

When I was a cadet in 1960/1 we carried £10 poms out to Oz on Orsova. I hosted a table Tourist Class with 10 pax down each side and the other cadet at the other end! That was breakfast lunch and dinner as Orient Line did not have any mess tables for officers! The wingers called the tables aircraft carriers!

The people generally had never had table service, and it was further confused as the long table had one waiter for each side, the families tended to sit opposite each other and so the waiter on one side of me would take the order from the Mum and son and the other one would do Dad and son. Vegetables were served family style so if the Mum waiter was ahead of the Dad waiter the vegetables would arrive at different times! Cadets were only allowed two beers a day so you couldn’t even have a slug of wine to help ignore the confusion! Quite a struggle at times a few months after doing your “O” levels at nearly 17 years of age!

Nick Messinger 4th Officer on Orient Line Orcades recalls

"It was the bargain of the century - to sail aboard a P&O-Orient liner for a fare of just ten pounds. The catch being, they were required to stay in Australia for a minimum of two years! The Ten Pound Poms had hoped to escape post-war rationing and stiff, class-bound British society. In truth, they were moving to a foreign country far from familiarity. It was a roll of the dice for all of them - and for P&O too! Life on board the 'migrant ships' could be fun, exciting, and sometimes violent. Some folk came on board with a few quid in their pockets, drank themselves into a stupor, and then started fighting each other. On the Orient ships, we employed a 'heavy gang': ten of the biggest and ablest able seamen and a burly master at arms, in order to break up the riots below decks in tourist class. With the third or fourth officer at their head, blowing on his whistle, and calling for 'order', the heaving mass of pugilists would be given an ultimatum - "Stop fighting, proceed immediately to your cabins, or else!" Invariably, the latter involved the subduing of the miscreants, who were then marched off to the brig, which was hot and cramped, and normally situated close to the engine-room exhaust fans.

Next day, they were on the bridge at noon, for logging and punishment. If they had no funds, it was back to the brig for a few days. In the worst cases, they were landed at the next port of call, handed over to the customs police, and (eventually) repatriated."

Nick Messinger ~ Fourth Officer

ss Orcades 1964

The Brig

The end of the "10 Pound Pom" scheme in 1972, which subsidized travel to Australia by sea, marked a significant shift in the travel industry. With the rise of charter flights and more affordable air travel, the 1970s also witnessed a global economic downturn and rising fuel costs, which affected the profitability of ocean liner operations. The popularity of ocean liners for long-distance travel declined.

In response to these changing dynamics, many shipping companies, including P&O, shifted their focus to the growing market of cruise vacations. Rather than serving as primarily transportation vessels, ocean liners were repurposed and transformed into cruise ships, offering leisure and entertainment experiences on board.

By transitioning to cruising, P&O and other companies adapted to the changing travel preferences of passengers. Cruises became popular as vacation options.

In recent years there has been a resurgence in vintage and luxury ocean liner experiences, you only have to look to the popularity of Cunard’s Queen Mary.

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2 comentarios

Tim Dick
Tim Dick
29 may 2023

My family emigrated & de-emigrated three times in the early early to mid 1960s. The first time was to Pennsylvania in the U.S. aboard the 1940 vintage S.S. America on the North Atlantic run. his lasted less than a year as the Cuban Missile Crisis frightened my parents and back to Blighty we went on a Boeing 707 (the rising threat!). As a side note, as a 3 year old, I loved Oreo "cookies". The second emigration was on Oriana through the Caribbean, the Panama Canal to Los Angeles. My parents sorely missed their family so back we went on Canberra (first class no less) - a liner I immediately loved. Then the British aerospace industry (in which m…

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Gillian Angrave
Gillian Angrave
23 may 2023

Super article, David. I remember the £10 Poms well. It was often for me, even working on board CANBERRA and ORIANA during that time, very emotional to be amongst them. These were the days, after the horror of the War, when travel abroad was still not that common. These families (or couples or single people) were leaving behind all that was familiar to them - family, friends, jobs, their home environment - to leap into the unknown. A different environment, a completely different way of life. Whilst being exciting to a degree, it was so traumatic for most of them, even though they put on brave faces. In those early days their chance of being able to afford…

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