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ORIANA NOSTALGIA



Old Seadogs like myself just love to reminisce about the wonderful times that we all spent at sea. I love it when you share your seagoing stories. Last week Jamie who is a regular contributor to this blog reported that he had spotted this old Oriana lifebelt whilst out walking. Baring in mind that this is the original SS. Oriana, lovingly known as “The Queen of the Sea”.


Oriana started out life in Barrow in Furness, she was built by Vickers Armstrong Ltd. Construction started in 1956. I was only two at the time and little did I know that she would be the first ship I sailed on. She was the largest ship to be built at Barrow and was the final one to be built for the Orient Line Steam Navigation Company. She was launched in November 1959 by Princess Alexandra.


In December 1960 Oriana set sail on her maiden voyage to Sydney via the Suez Canal and made the journey in 27 days. Her return voyage was via New Zealand and America. At the time she was the fastest liner on the UK – Australia run. At almost 42,000 tons she had a top speed of just over 30 knots and regularly sailed at over 27 knots.


Although P&O and Orient Line were closely connected they traded under separate entities until 1960 when P&O acquired the balance of Orient Line shares and began trading as P&O/Orient Lines. This continued until 1966 when Orient line ships lost their distinctive corn coloured livery and were repainted in the white P&O style. At this time the Orient Line name disappeared from passenger ships, although the name was still used on some P&O bulk carriers and gas carriers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but this was purely a paper arrangement. The company was wound up in 1998.


One of my impressions of Oriana, when l joined her in 1973, was the fact that she almost had the feel of a gentleman’s club about her. Lots of beautiful wood and serviceable furnishing. It wasn’t until years later that I realised that her interior design team had been all male.


Having said that she was a fabulous ship and a great ship to work on.


Getting back to the SS. Oriana lifebelt spotted in New Zealand.


Jamie tells me that

When I was out for my morning walk, my eagle nautical eye spotted this lifebelt hanging from this small balcony in front of this house on the beach, I have walked past this house many times and had never seen this before. The house looked empty as if a summer bach only used by owners in summer, but of course, our summer started 3 days ago. I looked around the house and no one to be seen. When I returned along the beach later, I saw a man gardening, so approached him and asked about the lifebelt. He said, on her final sailing from Auckland, one of the crew threw the life ring over the side, and one of the armadas of farewellers in their Yacht or cruiser picked it up. The lucky guy was a friend of this guy, but he did nothing with it and was found in his attic about 3 weeks ago, so gave it to his beach home friend, who has cleaned it up, and now proudly displays it on his balcony. He said he had never sailed on the ship, but his parents migrated from the UK to NZ in the early 60’s, so has a special meaning for him.



This magnificent painting of SS. Oriana measures 4 ' x 3 '


Jamie just happened to mention that although he worked for Shaw Savill he had some P&O memorabilia in his collection. One item is this magnificent painting of ss. Oriana. It was painted by a Kiwi artist Michael Fast and has been in Jamie’s collection for over 40 years. "Michael Fast, was a personal friend. I first met him when he was a passenger on Shaw Savill's Northern Star in 1972, he used to take a Round the World voyage every year on Northern Star.


He would take a 'sample' painting with him on the ship and would offer commissions to paint the ship, or other liners, to passengers on board. After I migrated to NZ in 1973, I asked Michael to paint Southern Cross for me, which I still have in my living room. I knew other passengers and crew who ordered paintings from Michael. At the time, it was extremely expensive, from memory $200 which was a lot of money 45 years ago. He would sell his paintings and use his income to pay for his next voyage. In the 70's, we had many classic '70s liners visit Auckland, and he would photograph them from all angles, and 'construct' a painting, with P&O Canberra, Arcadia, Oriana, QE2, Shaw Savill, Royal Viking, and many others. He had a few unsold finished works which people had not paid for and he had nowhere to display them in his home, and he offered me Oriana ."





In the 1970s and 80s all the major shipping companies, had passenger booking offices at ports around the world where they embarked or disembarked passengers.


The Shaw Savill office in Auckland closed in 1975, after Northern Star and Ocean Monarch were sold for demolition, although Shaw Savill Holdings charted the Russian liner Fedor Shalyapin for a couple of years for South Pacific cruises, reservations for this ship was through CTC Lines, in Auckland.


Similarly P&O booking offices closed, after Princess Cruises took over after the amalgamation. Most of the staff had to find jobs elsewhere in travel agencies. A very good friend, who was passenger manager for Shaw Savill, found employment with Atlantic & Pacific Travel, in Auckland.



Travel agent model of SS. ARCADIA


Their office had three ship models, Southern Cross, Oriana and Arcadia, he was looking for a 'berth' for these ships. . The two P&O models have light attachment inside, and looked magnificent displayed in the shipping lines offices in Queen Street, Auckland.


Travel agent model of SS Oriana







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Hi Auckland was a wonderful place for us lads, so many girls so many parties ashore only thing was we were only in such a short time. I was laundryman on Oronsay and Orcades for several trips between 1956 and end of 1961

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Jamie, The Purser
Jamie, The Purser
Dec 13, 2021
Replying to

Kia Ora old.uncle.joe


Nice to hear from you, and yes you are right about the parties in Auckland, we used to invite the Nurses from Greenlane Hospital to party onboard when we had overnight stays, especially on Arawa (for me) which could be in Auckland 10 days loading.

Laundryman on Oronsay, a hot sweaty job, no one ever appreciated the work of your dedicated team in the laundry, it was below decks, out of sight of passengers and indeed the officers, who required starched uniforms every day. I had good friend, Laundry Manager on Southern Cross in 1967, forget his name now but can still picture him as a rotund gentleman perspiring gallons of sweat!

Only yesterday, found in my…


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John Martin
John Martin
Dec 12, 2021

I still love this iconic photo of 'Oriana' in the Suez Canal which I use in my talk on 'The Suez Canal and the 'Ever Given' saga'. Believed to be in 1962.


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Salty Seadog
Salty Seadog
Dec 13, 2021
Replying to

John that is a great picture . I only transitted Suez once and it was a nighmare.

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Jamie, The Purser
Jamie, The Purser
Dec 12, 2021

Thanks David for posting this excellent story of Oriana, she was truly a magnificent liner. It was good to read a little of the history of the ship, and especially when she was conceived, you are only 2 years of age, yet many years later you joined her as your first ship working at sea. Thanks for posting images of my models and painting of Oriana, also my story about the lifebelt on a home at a beach near me. Being a passenger liner enthusiast, it’s always good to find a piece of nautical history which can relate to a ship which was part of our life, some 40 years ago!

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Jamie, The Purser
Jamie, The Purser
Dec 14, 2021
Replying to

Hello john


Good to read your message regarding Fedor Shalyapin, she was indeed, Cunard Line's Franconia, built as Ivernia. She was laid up in Southampton, at the same time as Shaw Savill's Southern Cross, in October 1971. In fact, Carmania ex Saxonia, was also laid up at same berth, and there is a famous photograph with three liners tied up to each other, awaiting buyers at Southampton. Not sure about the Cunarders, but Southern Cross was moved to a lay up berth in the River Fal in 1972, and sold to the Greeks later that year.

Both the Cunarders were sold to Nikreis Maritime Corporation, Panama in August 1973, but were marketed by CTC Lines and operated by Russians. The…

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