top of page

The Rogue Purser

On my first voyage (Dec '67) on Shaw Savill's Southern Cross, after the incident in Papeete, I had to keep my head low and try to do the right things to avoid a 'logging' from the Chief Purser.

Our next port of call was the beautiful Rarotonga, Cook Islands, to embark a few passengers by tender, there was no wharf so we drifted off the island, too deep to drop anchors. The locals came on board by 'bum boats' towed by Union Steamship tender to sell their wares and entertain our passengers with singing and dancing, can still smell the aroma of the frangipani - truly a South Pacific Paradise.

Southern Cross visit to Rarotonga - Cook Islands 1968

Suva, Fiji, which was a well-known

Duty-Free port where you could buy everything cheap by bargaining with local Indian shopkeepers. Purchased a stereo multi-function player for records and cassette tapes along with a radio -

a great bargain to replace my small portable record player. Now for the first time, I could play my records in stereo although most of them were Mono!

When we reached Wellington, landfall NZ, we stayed in port for two and half days. I caught up with some old-school chums from my hometown in Scotland. They announced to me that they had just got engaged that day, so we had to celebrate in my cabin, which was the Pilots cabin on the bridge (as previously mentioned in Hogmanay).

Customs regulations at that time allowed only one bottle of spirits per person whilst on the coast, but I did have a bottle of champagne and a case of Tennants Lager, we sampled a few glasses of bubbles and a few beers. What could I give my friends as an engagement gift, no time to go to shops ashore, and the onboard shop closed whilst in port, customs regulations.

Well, both being Scots, I gave them my bottle of Scotch, a carton of 200 cigarettes as both were smokers, and I was not (but always had them in my cabin in case I was entertaining a smoker!!) ~ and I gave them my old Phillips portable record player.

We planned to go ashore for dinner, so my friend put the bottle and carton into her shopping bag, and her partner held the portable record player in his hand with his overcoat hiding it. When we get off the gangway and into the Overseas Passenger Terminal, we were approached by a friendly customs officer, who requested to see in my friend's shopping bag. Out came the eggs, bread, milk and ooh whats this? Whisky and cigarettes - big interrogation followed! I came clean and told him I gave it to my friends as engagement gifts. My nice friendly customs officer was no longer friendly, and he seized the items, gave me a receipt, and let us go.

The next day, I the rogue purser, was summoned to face the Chief Boarding Inspector at Customs House, and there were many crew members there ahead of me. The Inspector called me first, and his table was laden with contraband, and he identified my goods. He gave me a real dressing down, telling me I was jeopardising my career as a purser, as it was my job to advise passengers and crew of the legal requirements for landing items in foreign ports, as laid down by the Law of the Land. As you can imagine, I was full of apologies, and which to my surprise, he accepted, and then said, for you young man, I have never done this before but I will return your cigarettes and whisky, and you take them back on board the ship, and never let it happen again. With my tail between my legs, we shook hands and I left through a back door so the crew could not see my white paper bag with my goodies.

Footnote, my friend with a record player covered by a raincoat, did manage to reach the shore without being caught, even though it was raining heavily outside.

I left Shaw Savill in May 1973 and migrated to New Zealand, the airlines had killed off passenger shipping (not cruising) and ironically my next job was with Air New Zealand, Passenger Services, at Auckland International in October 1973. My main job was Baggage Service, which of course, had much experience in locating baggage for passengers on mainline voyages, after leaving Southampton. As a result at the airport, all found baggage had to be cleared through customs and agriculture before being released to passengers. We had to ensure all baggage had a "passed Customs" sticker. On one occasion, in the early 80's I had to approach the duty Boarding Inspector regarding a problem I had with one of his officers. Could not believe my eyes when I come face to face with the Boarding Inspector whom I had met in Wellington, at least 10 years previously.

I said to him "we meet again", but he did not remember me, so had my business with him and told him I will tell you later a little story. Strangely we became friends after I related my tale to him.

Recent Posts

See All


     Please subscribe to  Salty Seadog

Thanks for joining us

bottom of page