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Updated: Apr 30, 2023

By Randolph Magri-Overend.

Randolph Magri-Overend was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1940.

He ran away to sea as a Cadet Purser with Canadian Pacific, later joining Shaw Savill to continue his career in the Purser's department.

He now lives in Australia and has very kindly shared some of his tales, trials and tribulations of his seagoing years with Salty Seadog.

Canadian Pacific's - Empress of Canada

EMPRESS OF CANADA Built by Vickers-Armstrongs, Walker on Tyne

Gross Tonnage: 27,284 Length: 650 feet Breadth: 86.9 feet

The EMPRESS OF CANADA was the last passenger ship to be built for Canadian Pacific's

Liverpool to Montreal service.

She flew the Canadian Pacific flag from 1961 to 1971, when Canadian Pacific unexpectedly announced that they were immediately withdrawing the Empress of Canada from service, claiming that she was becoming economically unviable.

It was thought that Empress of Canada might be sold to the Shaw Savill Line, to be renamed Dominion Monarch alongside her former fleet mate Empress of England, which had become Shaw Savill's Ocean Monarch, but the sale did not take place.

In 1972 she was purchased by start-up company Carnival, where she received a comprehensive refit, giving her a brighter feel. Sailing as the Mardi Gras she became one of the most popular cruise ships in the American cruise market, so much so, that Mardi Gras was the success story that made Carnival what it has become today,


By Randolph Magri-Overend.

It was a time when JFK had not yet been immortalised, when a silvery shimmer called Marilyn Monroe had not yet learned the words to "Happy birthday, Mr. President" and a time when the Beatles were still nothing more than a quaint scouse quartet.

I was barely twenty and my first duty as a Cadet Purser was to stand-by the pride of Canadian Pacific Steamships - the luxury liner "Empress of Canada" berthed in Liverpool's Gladstone Dock. Fresh-faced and showing no signs of my usual shyness, I was determined to do some living without parental guidance and, at the same time, prove to myself that there was more to life than watching my beloved 'Spurs play every alternate Saturday!

Shaw Savill's Southern Cross

I never really succeeded. Eight years later my last trip as Third Purser of the Shaw Savill liner "Southern Cross" found me, as it still does now, pining for the swirling atmosphere of a White Hart Lane crowd and the crack of a raucous soccer rattle. In between however, my life has not been a total loss. It has been enriched by experiences that few could have dreamed of and some that I frankly could have done without.

When I first started, a Purser was very much a jack-of-all-trades and perceived by many to be master of all. We had to be an entertainer, an accountant, a ball-room dancer, a bingo caller, a tour adviser, an immigration officer, a post-office clerk, a money changer and an expert on everything including how much to tip the bedroom steward. Above all, we were expected to be charming - especially where the young ladies were concerned. We were part of the price of an ocean-liner ticket, a gigolo with salt in our veins, the epitome of old-fashioned romanticism and we were sufficiently young and eager not to disappoint.

We lived for the day. We smoked and drank to excess. We entertained every night, never got enough sleep and tried to recuperate by missing lunch. The two-day turnaround in Montreal and the four in Liverpool was enough to recharge our flagging batteries. We were indestructible.

We all got on well with each other. Occasionally we had our differences. If we fancied the same girl, for example, the toss of a coin would determine who would have wooing rights. I lost once, George Furber didn't; but I still got the chance to ‘chat up’ Claudia Bolton because George had fallen foul of the Second Purser, was forbidden to fraternise with passengers for a couple of nights and I was given an unexpected licence to thrill in the Empress Room.

I must have impressed. Claudia invited me home to meet her parents and I celebrated my 21st birthday in Preston.

Her father had made his fortune in green-grocering and I spent the afternoon of my birthday in his generous company watching Preston North End, with the great Tom Finney at centre-forward, beat Bury. Alas, I could only manage a scoreless draw with his daughter in the evening!


The incidents that happened on board were the stuff you told your own grandchildren and then only after they were old enough to understand without parental guidance.

Some were funny, some sad and some gigglingly outrageous. Like the time when an overweight passenger, a little unstable from liquor, got stuck between two bar stools that had been bolted to the deck for safety reasons. It took a sober engineer armed with a stout spanner half an hour to prise our large friend from the jaws of his own excesses. Then there was the time when a middle-aged passenger got locked out of the cabin he shared with a young Lothario and had to spend the night in the hospital section. He was so impressed he bought the company (!) a round of drinks and then refused to move from his sanitised quarters!

In those heady days everything was comical and naturally, my surname was the butt of many a joke; but it was my Christian name that proved invaluable when trying to impress the opposite gender on the dance floor.

Laughter has always been the perfect ice-breaker and I needed all the help I could muster to overcome my shyness. Alcohol helped, but it seemed pointless performing memorable acts if one couldn't recall them the following day. So I made fun of my given name.

Of course, it all had to be done with a certain amount of style and sotto-voce panache. Once the reluctant maiden had been dragged from the clutches of her match-making mother (they were commonly referred to as Lucifers),

Randolph Magri-Overend.

I would introduce myself with: "Hi, I'm Randolph!" Then very coyly, "Randy for short...... but not for long!" On one occasion the reluctant maiden whispered huskily in my ear: "That's all right, my name's Virginia!" But that too wasn't for long!

Another ice-breaker saw me appear gauche and stumbly when attempting to dance with a new `prospect'. "Forgive me," I'd say with due humility and conviction. "But I've just washed my feet and I can't do a thing with them!"

It was the misuse of the Chief Purser's name, however, that became the classic running joke. The incident occurred when a passenger named Benjamin Arrolfend decided he couldn't share a cabin with someone who used the wash-basin for purposes unbecoming a wash-basin and demanded a change.

Alas, except for the brig (and the hospital), the "full house" sign had already been posted. Mr. Arrolfend thereupon insisted he see the "big chief". The "big chief" unfortunately had no interest in seeing him. Jean-Baptiste de Villeneuve-Porter loathed passengers. He made a profession of avoiding them. How he ever made it to the top of the tree was a mystery that will long live in the annals of Merchant Navy history. But Mr. Arrolfend was adamant and history meant nothing to him. We pointed to a sign alongside the Chief Purser's office that read "AUSTRALIAN WALNUT" and requested he wait under it.

Mr. Arrolfend waited, and waited....and waited some more. He was a patient man. The Chief Purser, sensing something was amiss, hid behind his locked ante-room. Mr. Arrolfend would occasionally steal a glimpse inside the office, then return to stand under the "AUSTRALIAN WALNUT" sign.

Eventually, Mr. Arrolfend appeared to give up. He disappeared into one of the alleyways facing our office. But he was no fool, for as soon as the Chief Purser ventured into the open Mr. Arrolfend was onto him in a flash.

Purser's Office

Shaw Savill - Southern Cross

Photo Jamie Shedden

Jean-Baptiste Porter realising danger was imminent sped down the opposite alleyway, pursued by a huffing and puffing Mr. Arrolfend pleading: "Mr. Walnut! Mr. Walnut! Wait for me. I only want to change my cabin. Mr. Walnut!"

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Tim Dick
Tim Dick
Apr 30, 2023

Great days indeed... Mores were different in those days some for the better and some definitely not so... but somehow it all worked in those days via the sea-air saltiness...


Apr 30, 2023

Cheers David

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