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Canberra Christmas Special & An Egyptian Mummy

The stories keep pouring in about unfortunate passengers and crew that do not make it to the end of their voyage but “Cross the Bar” and very often end up at the bottom of the ocean.

The latest story comes courtesy of former Cruise Director Chris Chapman.

I had the pleasure of sailing with Chris on Island Princess at the beginning of P&O Princess back in 1974 when we were part of the takeover team.

It was a very strange time as everything was new to us and a very different operation from the old P&O liners.

In those days apart from a few professional entertainers that would join the ship for a cruise or two, a lot of entertainment was carried out by the cruise director and his team and was helped out by ship’s officers.

Chris Champman

Canberra - Island Room- 1971

Christmas Special

Chris Chapman

It was Christmas Day 1971 on CANBERRA. Doctor Stanley the Ship's elderly Surgeon had a liking for young ladies. He was a very Gentlemanly type had a very healthy appitite and we are not talking food here.

On Christmas morning he did not show for Surgery and Baby Doc went to his cabin to check on him. On opening the door he found the embarrassing state of a young woman trapped under Stanley's deceased body. Apparently, the old boy had died while showing his appreciation to the young lady and they were in a compromising position. With Stanley being on the heavy side she could not get out! Well, you can imagine the buzzing around. Removing her from the cabin, getting old Stanley Stiff out, etc. The Captain was Bill Vickers and we all spent the entire day either wetting ourselves laughing or/and feeling so sorry for the poor unfortunate young woman who was taking the cruise with her elderly parents.

Dear old Stanley went out with a smile on his face. We buried him at sea. Good job because Baby Doc said they would have had a job getting the coffin lid down.

(bits and bobs of this story have been changed to protect the innocent and delicate)

More trials and tribulations from

John Martin.

Just when I think that the story's of Death from the Deep are drying up, John sparks my interest with his adventures of roaring around the streets of Cairo in a clapped-out

hearse with a Catholic Priest.

An Egyptian Mummy

John Martin

I had been tasked to review the catering operations on ships of P&O’s Bulk shipping Division. By tradition, this department was manned mainly by Goanese crew. It had been arranged for me to join a gas ship during a call into Cowes Roads, sail with her to Port Said, then transfer to another ship through the Suez Canal to the Gulf. I was not particularly well-received as it was imagined I was there to make recommendations to reduce manning levels rather than suggest ‘efficiencies’. Same thing really. It was a prelude to transfer from ‘in-house’ to contract victualling.

A couple of days out from Suez I got an urgent message to attend a crew member's cabin. The Mate asked what my CPR skills were like as he had a lifeless seaman that he was dealing with. I had not realised how exhausting chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation could be. Especially in a stuffy four-berth cabin. After 40 minutes I had to make the pronouncement there was nothing more that we could do.

The casualty was strapped into one of the ship’s Neil Robertson’s stretchers, then ‘cling filmed’ before finding space in one of the freezer storerooms.

A Neil Robertson Stretcher

While at anchor waiting for a Suez pilot, the body was unwrapped and removed from the stretcher. Apart from his back being flattened, it was also corrugated from the wooden slats that allow such stretchers to fold around a casualty. The sailors had prepared a canvas body bag for him. At the start of the transit, we were both ‘disembarked’ into the agent’s launch.

The family had asked that he be given a Catholic burial. The office asked if I would be willing to be a witness seeing that I was going to be ‘laying over’ in Egypt and had a day to spare. The following morning, I was collected by an agent and taken to a funeral parlour where I met an elderly Roman Catholic priest and escorted to a rather down at heel hearse in which the body had been laid in a basic wooden box. I was squeezed in between the priest and agent behind the driver and his mate. And off we shot. I don’t know if we had been a given a time slot at the Catholic cemetery and we were late, but the driver obviously thought the earlier we were there the better, especially having to weave through Cairo traffic. I never associated hearses having to use their horn to make progress to a funeral. A grave had been freshly dug and two diggers were standing by to help with proceedings.

The office thanked me for attending, saying how the family had really appreciated my being there and had been comforted by my sympathetic report on the committal.



One hopes it does not happen during your rotation on board. But it is inevitable, due the nature of the passenger profile on a cruise, that someone would die which would entail extra administration for the Purser’s department. On an eighteen-week relief as Chief Purser on Ocean Cruise Lines ‘Ocean Pearl’, cruising around the Far East, it happened twice.

I was enjoying a drink in the main lounge with my table guests after the show, where the vocalists and dancers had entertained, and the unicyclist juggler had demonstrated his skills. The orchestra had struck up and were playing dance tunes with a number of couples taking to the floor. Suddenly there was a commotion as one of them had dropped to the dance floor. At first, we thought he had fallen, but it was obvious that it was more serious. The doctor was summoned and a screen erected but it appeared he had had a fatal heart attack.

Interviewing his widow the following day as to what her requirements were regarding his and her onward movements; repatriation of both to their hometown; her disembarkation with a locally arranged funeral; a funeral at sea with her remaining on board. I mentioned that I had noticed on previous evenings that they seemed proficient on the dance floor. She explained they had always loved dancing. She seemed comforted when I said “In which case he would have died a happy man – doing what he loved in the arms of one he loved”.

On the ‘Bangkok, Bali and Beyond’ and ‘Spice Island’ Cruises we had two days at Bali anchored off with an overnight stay. As day times tended to be quiet while passengers were away on tours, I got permission from the Hotel Manager to take time off to stay over at a nearby beach resort. A bit of pre-Christmas R&R. As long as I was back in time to clear the ship for sailing at 6 pm the following day.

A relaxing morning by the swimming pool writing postcards was interrupted by the arrival of the captain’s wife with a message that I was wanted back at the ship as a passenger had died overnight. A quick check-out to catch the midday launch back to the ship. It was a bit complicated as the couple were not husband and wife and lived at different addresses…..and the lady did not know what his insurance covered; whether he would be entitled to have his remains flown back to the USA. In the event, the lady decided to disembark, and we had to involve consular assistance for her forward travel and for a decision as to what to do with the gentleman’s body.

And I had been looking forward to a post-lunch snooze in the Bali breeze and another dip in the pool before making my way back to the ship. Just my luck for someone to ‘pass away’ while I was taking time out.

More comments from Seadogs

David Moss

Maybe a seadog legend, but when on The Uganda stories were told of a deceased passenger being kept in the fridge room in the engine room. Legend has it that the deceased gentlemen was dressed up in a boiler suit, steelies, goggles, hat and propped up against pipes and valves with a jazz mag taped to his hands. Apparently, this was all done to annoy a particular chief who was a stickler for doing a round of the engine room to find if people were skiving. Like I said I was not on the ship when this was supposed to have happened and if anyone else heard this story or knows of its provenance, please expand.

Brian Okey Ex Radio Officer

I served on SS Uganda in 1973 and again in 1975/76 and remember on one occasion passing the gun port door area early one morning when a burial was taking place.

I served on MV Marco Polo (Australian passenger ship) from 1976/77 and I remember numerous burials at sea during my time on her.

I believe that the burials were possible as the ships had doctors onboard and could sign a death certificate also the next of kin were always offered the alternative of repatriation of the body but it seems the high cost of that option from an overseas port generally resulted in burial at sea.

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