Nick Messinger's personal tribute, covering the Company's 'heyday years'



A first attempt to organise a shipboard cruise is recorded in The Shetland Journal of 1835, when the chief editor wrote an article entitled: 'To Tourists', in which he proposed to organise cruises to Iceland and the Faroe Islands in summer and to Spain in winter.

Then, in 1840, P&O operated an excursion trip to the Mediterranean for just 40 passengers, amongst them the writer William Makepeace Thackeray, who penned a comic series for Punch magazine about a trip to the East, which he called 'Notes of a journey from Cornhill to grand Cairo, by way of Lisbon, Athens, Constantinople, and Jerusalem :
performed in the steamers of the Peninsular and Oriental Company', dedicated to Captain Samuel Lewis, and published in 1846.

In 1845 the German weekly illustrated magazine Leipziger Illustrierte Zeitung the following advertisement appeared:

Eine Gelegenheit, an einer Weltreise teilzunehmen.

 'An Opportunity For Taking Part in a Voyage Around the World'.

Meanwhile, a Mr. Sloman, ship owner of Hamburg had plans to use one of his sailing vessels for a world cruise.


Across the Atlantic, two years after the conclusion of the Civil War,  the paddle wheeler Quaker City  of 1800 tons, a retired Civil War ship, undertook what is regarded to be the first cruise from New York to Europe in 1867, which then continued on to the Holy Land. One of the passengers on board was Mark Twain, whose book 'The Innocents Abroad' provides a detailed account of the voyage, while making light of his fellow travellers and the natives of the countries and regions that he visited, as well as his own expectations and reactions.


The ss Ceylon of 2,110 tons register. By William Foster of London c 1850

A significant milestone in the evolution of cruising was reached in June 1881, when P&O sold their iron-hulled passenger ship Ceylon, built on the Thames by Jacob and Joseph d'Aguilar Samuda's shipyard and launched on 12th June 1858, to John L Clark of London, who arranged for the ship to be converted to a yacht, and fitted with two new two-cylinder compound engines, manufactured by G Clark of Sunderland.

Requirements introduced by P&O in 1880 that all ships in the company fleet could function as both freighters and passenger ships led to the ship being sold in 1881.

On completion of the conversion, she was sold to the newly formed Inter-Oceanic Yachting Company Limited,

Designed for the P&O's service from Southampton to Malta and Alexandria, the ss Ceylon originally had accommodation for 130 first and 30 second-class passengers. However, the Company found her to be an expensive ship to operate, and one plagued by mishaps, so, in 1865, she was sent to Deptford to have new machinery installed, which greatly reduced her fuel consumption. In 1874 she ran on the Bombay - Australia  service, before being transferred to a short sea service between Venice and Alexandria in 1876.

The DAILY NEWS - 17th September 1881


A Company which has lately been formed, under the title of the Inter-Oceanic Steam Yachting Company Limited, has bought from the Peninsular & Oriental Company, their screw steamship Ceylon of 2,110 tons register in which it is proposed to make an expedition round the world for the pleasure of any persons who have time enough on their hands to join in it.


 Illustrations from the The Graphic, volume XXIV, no 618, October 1, 1881.

The vessel, since its purchase, has been undergoing a complete refitting, and a large number of gentlemen interested in the undertaking assembled on board her yesterday afternoon for the purpose of making an inspection. The Ceylon is now lying in Victoria Dock where she may be seen by any persons who have an inclination to voyage in her. Her arrangements are all that can be desired. Beside the usual accommodation on vessels of her class a luxurious boudoir for the exclusive use of ladies, and a capital smoking room for gentlemen, are erected on the upper deck, while the berths are extremely convenient, two persons only being allotted to each cabin. The voyage will be commenced on October 15th and will terminate about July 7th, 1882, Captain R D Lunham commanding. Every accommodation has been made for conveying private servants of passengers and the vessel is so arranged that the latter will have the whole of the main deck to themselves, without being interfered with by the crew in any way. The charge for the entire cruise is £500 and £150 for the passengers and their servants respectively.

Should the present speculation turn out a success, it is the intention of the Company to organise a regular series to such entertaining and instructive voyages.

In July 1881, the Inter-Oceanic Steam Yachting Company began to advertise Ceylon's seaworthiness, high cabin standard, good kitchen and premium ship orchestra, as well as the ship's steam-powered fairground organ. The ship travelled to the east via Suez before calling at Hawaii and San Francisco. From there, her route crossed South America, before crossing  the Atlantic Ocean through Cape Verde, the Canary Islands and Madeira, completing the cruise in Southampton on August 22, 1882.

At £500, the price for the cruise was more than three times the average annual salary for the English middle class. The total of about 60 guests on the ship therefore had the opportunity to attend all or part of the journey at their own request, and under 40 of these are thought to have been aboard during the leg from India to Japan. Passenger ships and continental railways allowed travellers to board in Port Said on 17th December 1881, or at Suez, two days later. Among these were the lawyer Hugh Wilkinson, who published a travel diary from the tour that revealed he left England on 5th December - 38 days after the ship left Southampton. Passengers for the second half of cruise, from San Francisco, paid £ 250.  

Canton by Hugh Wilkinson - Sunny Lands and Seas; A Voyage in the ss Ceylon - 1883

Ceylon left Southampton on 29th October 1881, bound for the Suez Canal, calling at, among others, Bordeaux via the Garonne River, Lisbon , Gibraltar , Malaga , Marseille and Malta . The ship passed through the Suez Canal on 19th December, then steamed down the Red Sea before shaping her course for Bombay , Madras and Calcutta. She arrived in Penang on 2nd February 1882, then passed Johore, Singapore, Manila and Hong Kong . On 3rd March, she left Hong Kong, and after eight days, arrived in Nagasaki . Over the next 19 days, she called at Kobe and Yokohama, departing on 25th March, and heading for the Sandwich Islands. The 3,500 nautical mile crossing took 15 days, and she reached Oahu on the morning of 8th April. After calling at Honolulu and Hilo , she ship left Sandwich Islands on 17th April, and after ten days at sea, arrived at San Francisco. She then headed south, calling at Mazatlán , Guayaquil and Callao before rounding Cape Horn, and visiting the Fakland Islands, before  heading northwards, by way of Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Montevideo. The ship visited St. Vincent, the Canary Islands and Madeira during the Atlantic crossing, arriving at Southampton on 22nd August 1882. A truly epic voyage, of over 37,500 nautical miles, completed in just ten months.

After her ground-breaking round the world voyage, the Ceylon cruised to Madeira and the Azores and the Mediterranean, before making her first call in Norway at Bergen in 1885.

Postcard of the steam yacht Ceylon, pictured in a Norwegian fjord with a small steam boat full of male and female passengers, some holding parasols.

Ceylon is rightly regarded as the first cruise ship in history, and consequently, The Inter-Oceanic Yachting Company Limited can consider themselves to be the inventors of cruising . Until then, ship owners had used liners for off season cruising when passenger loads in liner service were low.

Full time cruise ships did not exist before the advent of the steam yacht Ceylon.

In 1885 she was sold to Michael Drury-Lavin of London, and in 1896, to Quintin Hogg of London, and operated by the PTA - the Polytechnic Touring Association, a distinctive, significant and successful player in the growing British travel and tourism industry. While other travel agencies had ‘rational recreational’ and educational origins, the PTA was distinctive in terms of the numbers of tourists for whom it catered and the balance of its portfolio. Considered progressive in its day, PTA's travel accounts up to 1911 formed an ideology of ‘collective Continentalism’, which represented aspects of modernity. Their emphasis on simple fun and enjoyment suggested a degree of willingness to edge close to the boundaries of respectability while on holiday. After its change of status in 1911, the PTA became an effective adaptor to changing economic and social conditions – if not the pioneer it claimed to be. By its latter days in the 1950s, now known as Poly Travel, it was a sizeable and well-respected firm, though not as modern – in the sense of being new and innovative – as perhaps it had been in its early years.


"Concerts and entertainments will be held every evening on board, and everything will be done to make the trip the most delightful ever organized.

No intoxicating liquors and gambling will be permitted on board, and the regulations of the Poly on land will be applied to the Poly 'on sea'. "

"'s most wonderful what a wealth of sight-seeing the Polytechnic guides cram into five days"

The fjord cruises arranged by the Polytechnic Association were early examples of relatively inexpensive cruises with a clear focus on education. One of the travel market's most important players, Thomas Cook and Son, complained to the English Ministry of Education the year after the purchase of Ceylon - because of the government support they received in connection with the journeys.  




With utilisation limited to specific seasons, operating coal-burning steam powered passengers ship was an expensive business, and by the end of the 19th Century shipowners were resorting to cruising as a means of generating much-needed out of season income.

In 1889, the Orient Line’s sister ships Chimbarazo and Garonne were taken off their London – Australia schedule and switched to cruising to European ports and the West Indies.


North German Lloyd ‘s Kaiser Wilhelm II made a three week cruise from Bremerhaven to Norway in 1890, carrying 215 passengers. The cruise was reported as being a huge success.

When launched on 12th August 1902, at the Vulcan Company in Bredow near Stettin, the Kaiser Wilhelm II represented a great advance over all former steamers. Her principal dimensionsThe At approximately 20,000 gross registered tons, Germany proclaimed she surpassed all the previous built fast steamships........


She was certainly sumptuous - her interiors magnificent.


In 1898, the screw steamer Norfolk, built by Greens of Blackwall, London in 1878, was sold to her fifth owner, the Co-operative Cruising Company Limited and fitted out as a luxury steam yacht named Argonaut.

Argonaut leaving Marseilles, from a painting by Charles Dixon.

Argonaut was of 3,274 tons register, measuring 334ft x 40ft, and driven by 4 12hp triple-expansion engines.

Deck Games on board the Argonaut. The promenade deck was large enough to play quoits or cricket; lost balls incurred a fine!

There were several official group photographs taken by the company which could be purchased by passengers. 


The Steam Yacht Argonaut was operated by Henry Lunn’s company, World Travel, later to become Lunn Poly,  and was, by all account, a magnificent vessel.

A newspaper at the time carried a promotional article about a forthcoming cruise.

This cruise was an early package tour which was intended to inform and educate passengers.  There was enough accommodation for up to 120 passengers and 120 crew.  Argonaut had electric lighting and a large refrigerated food store.  It had been fitted out with new boilers and quadruple-expansion engines.  The facilities on board were first class, the food was wonderful, concerts and lectures were organised and there were opportunities to exercise. 


Dover 29th September1908

 The tourist steam yacht Argonaut which left London yesterday bound for Lisbon with 250 person aboard, including passengers and crew, went down between Dover and Dungenness this morning after having been in collision with the steamer Kingswell in a fog. All on board the Argonaut took to the boats and came ashore here in safety. The Argonaut sank so quickly that those on board barely had time to save themselves. Fortunately the sea was smooth and the transfer of the passengers and crew to the small boats was made speedily. There was no panic. The peoplePlymouth 29th September1908 ~ The tourist steam yacht Argonaut which left London yesterday bound for Lisbon with 250 person aboard, including passengers and crew, went down between  on board the Argonaut lost everything they possessed. For an hour the Argonaut's boats groped about in the fog for the steamer Kingswell, which they finally reached and boarded. Finding that vessel in a sinking condition the passengers again took to the boats and were ultimately picked up by the steamer Southwood, which brought them in here.

The Crew, Stewards, and Captain were the last to leave the Argonaut, as water began washing under the bridge on the upper deck. The crew of the Argonaut were thrown into unemployment after the sinking and a fund was opened for their assistance, with contributions from passengers who had previously been on voyages on the yacht.

Each crew member also received a (generous!) gift of £1 from the Co-operative Cruising Company.


The first vessel built exclusively for luxury cruising, was the Prinzessin Victoria Luise of Germany.

With cruises targeted toward wealthy travellers, she was designed to look more like a privately-owned yacht than any of her commercial counterparts. She had a trim hull, painted all in white with two masts, one fore and aft, and two tall, slim funnels amidships. She had a rounded stern and a richly decorated clipper bow, complete with a bowsprit and a figurehead of the German princess after who she was named..

She was a magnificent purpose-built luxury yacht, unlike most of her contemporaries, which doubled as liners outside the season. She was specifically built for cruising,  Carrying up to 180 passengers, she was popular with German and English speaking clientele on both sides of the Atlantic.

She had a double bottom extending the entire length of the vessel, divided into 26 water-tight sections, with the hull itself being further divided into 19 water-tight compartments, by 16 transverse bulkheads, reaching to the upper deck, and one longitudinal bulkhead in the engine room.

The bulkheads were distributed in such a manner that even if two adjoining compartments were filled, the vessel would still float. Below the upper deck there were 4 steel decks extending the entire length of the ship.

Designed by Albert Ballin, general manager of the Hamburg-America Line, built by Blohm and Voss of Hamburg, she was completed in 1900.

In conformity with requirements of the Imperial German Admiralty, structural arrangements had been made to permit the mounting of a considerable number of guns, so that in time of war, the ship could be used as an auxiliary cruiser.

Her engines and boilers were built at the A G Vulcan Company's works, and consisted of 4 sets of four-cylinder, three-crank, quadruple expansion, inverted, vertical engines with surface condensers balanced on the Schlick system, representing a total combined indicated horsepower of from 38,000 to 40,000. They were so disposed that two sets were placed fore and aft on each shaft, so as to make it possible to fix a transverse watertight bulkhead between them, as well as a longitudinal one, thus increasing the number of the watertight compartments and consequently the safety of the ship.

Each two sets of her enormous engines, connected to a propeller shaft 42 meters long, which drove a four-bladed bronze propeller of 7 meters' diameter. The steam was produced by 12 double and 7 single-ended boilers, working at a pressure of 15 atmospheres, and arranged in 4 groups, each of which had a funnel of 5 meters in diameter, and 40 meters in height.

Prinzessin Victoria Luise's design was based closely on Kaiser Wilhelm's steam yacht Hohenzollern of 1894, incorporating features from the design of the  most prestigious contemporary first class transatlantic liners -  without the impediment of having to cater for second class and steerage passengers - or cargo!

Kaiser Wilhelm's steam yacht Hohenzollern of 1894

Prinzessin Victoria Luise's dining room and lounge were covered by an ornate glass dome and there was a well-appointed library and a writing room. There was even a state apartment for the Kaiser - although there is no record of him ever having used it. A letter on headed notepaper from the Prinzessin Victoria Luise showed that Franklin D. Roosevelt and his mother Eleanor cruised in her in 1904,


She was used for cruises in the Baltic and Atlantic until becoming stranded on an uncharted reef at Plum Point near Kingston, Jamaica, on 16th December 1906, after which she became a total loss. The only victim of the tragedy was her Captain, who, sadly, shot himself.


In 1903, France's Société Générale des Transports Maritimes à Vapeur bought the SS Île-de-France, fitted her out and allocated her to leisure cruises, which was extremely original at that time.

No less than eight tourist vessels visited Spitzbergen during the Summer of 1906, the majority of them British, French, Dutch and German. Among them was the French Tourist Steamer, the Ile de France, of 3,488 tons.

In a venture organised by the Société Générale des Transports Maritimes à Vapeur (SGTM)  in conjunction with the Revue Generale des Sciences, the Ile de France cruise, led by the eminent Swedish geologist Nils Otto Nordenskiold, cost 1,850 Francs - plus a supplement of 400 Francs for those wishing to join the various hunting trips.


For her tonnage and dimensions, the ship's facilities exceeded that of many luxury yachts. There was accommodation for 214 tourists in roomy cabins, of which 42 had a single bed, 71 with two beds and 10 with three beds (there were no bunk beds). Each cabin was furnished with a large washbasin for each person, a chest of drawers, a cupboard, coat pegs, a sizeable mirror, shelves, a desk, a cane bench, a chair for each person, two lamps, an electric ventilator and an adjustable heater. The ship was lit by electric lights throughout and equipped with central heating, which in winter was sufficient to keep all the cabins, rooms and corridors warm. The ship had seven bathrooms, each provided with a shower. There were two saloons on the upper deck; the largest of which seated 184 diners, while the smaller one served as a lounge, used especially by women. Men were therefore invited to use it with discretion and only when there was room. A spacious smoking room also located on the upper deck, providing a meeting place for men. There was a large open space at the rear of the upper deck where tourists could set out their deckchairs and where there was a shelter in case of bad weather. The Ile de France also carried a steam launch of 35 horsepower, which could simultaneously tow all the launches.  

The cruise departed Dunkirk in July, with 184 passengers, including the artist Felix Fournery and Emile Gallois, the writer Rene Bazin, the photographer Paul Grenor and the cameraman Emile Lauste. The ship reached Lofotoen on Bastille Day, and at Tromso horses and Norwegian hunters were embarked, together with Johan Kjeldsen, an experienced ice pilot, whose role was to ensure the safe navigation of the ship through the ever shifting ice floes.

Captain Johan Kjeldsen, Ice Pilot

Forty-eight hours after leaving Tromso, the ship entered Recherchefjorden, and anchored alongside several Norwegian whaling vessels and the German tourist liner Oceana.......


  "Chasseresses ou non"  huntsmen or not, the Ile de France's lavish brochure had pictured polar bears and a variety of hunts, with the prey consisting of whales, reindeer, au lagopede des Neiges, aux petits echassiers et au grands palimpedes de l'ocean boreal - eider, bernache goose, arctic petrels, pigeons, cormorants, the scarce blue fox, and great seals of the ice-pack.

Activities unsuited to the more genteel passengers of the Cruising Yacht Vectis I would suggest.....À chacun ses goûts...

After leaving Virgohamna, the ship's French Captain, lured on by the remarkably favourable weather and ice conditions, took the Ile de France into Raudfjorden, a remote and rarely visited fjiord on the north coast. Suddenly, and without warning, at 0800 in the morning the ship shuddered to a grinding halt, having hit a submerged rock near the fjiord's entrance. As the tide turned, she began to list dangerously and orders were given to jettison ballast, together with 50 tons of coal reserves. Unfortunately, this manoeuvre had little effect and the ship was left stranded in a precarious and exposed position.

Fortunately, the German photographer and explorer Theodore Lerner was in the vicinity, in his chartered 12 ton steamer Express, which proved under-powered to tow off the Ile de France. He quickly set off in search of a larger, more powerful ship, and located the Dutch cruiser Friesland in nearby Liefdefjorden, but by the time he returned most of the French tourists, fearing that their ship would sink, had been ferried ashore with a limited supply of food and water. At high tide the following day, and much to the relief of her Captain and crew, the Il de France was refloated. Soon her relieved passengers were back on board, proclaiming "Vivre Lerner! Vivre la Holland"   


Encouraged by the success of their former ship, the Ceylon,  P&O converted the Rome to a cruise ship, renaming her The Steam Yacht Vectis.

Built by Caird and Company of Greenock, and launched on 14th May 1881, Rome and her sister ship Carthage were the first P&O ships to accommodate second class passengers aft and the first class amidships. At 5,545 tons, she had been engaged on P&O's regular mail runs to India and Australia.

Rome departing Tilbury in 1886, from The Illustrated London News.

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains and go to your gawd like a soldier. Rudyard Kipling
Read more at:
When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains and go to your gawd like a soldier. Rudyard Kipling
Read more at:
When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains and go to your gawd like a soldier. Rudyard Kipling
Read more at:

'Vectis of 6,000 tons and 6,000 horsepower has been specially fitted as a yacht to carry 150 passengers, and will be regularly employed on the Pleasure Cruises which have become popular in combining the most delightful Holiday Excursions, with the benefit of sea air, under the most luxurious conditions. No expense has been spared in adapting the Vectis for this purpose, and her cabin accommodation, Saloons, Card, Recreation, Smoking and Photographic Rooms will be found equal in all respects to what they should be for the work in which the ship will be engaged.....'

At first, it was very much for the upper classes, People were interested in sailing for pleasure, but you had to have money and time to spare.

P&O’s first cruise ship, Vectis, entered service in 1904, and after cruising was recommended in the British Medical Journal for its health benefits, thousands of people signed up to see the world.

Renamed and extensively refitted, the stylish Cruising Yacht Vectis carried 150 passengers in first class accommodation, on cruises to Norway. Sailing from Tilbury on 6th July, she visited Bergen, the North Cape and Spitzbergen. Tickets cost between forty and seventy guineas, with Thomas Cook & Son providing shore excursions at extra cost.


Vectis's hand-picked  deck and purser's officers wore Royal Navy style frock coats, with eight gold buttons, distinctive P&O cap badges and the Company's rank insignia. The ship's Commander, Captain Thompson is at the centre of the photograph, while the moustachioed officer on the right is the ship's Purser.


Encouraged by her success, she was joined by the ss Malwa for cruises throughout the Mediterranean during the summer months. 

By 1909, Vectis and Malwa were well established.....

A comprehensive 1909 Itinerary, National Maritime Museum Archive


Malwa at the Russian port of Kronstadt, Saint Petersburg's main seaport. in 1909, when Russian naval officers were entertained on board. Painting by William Lionel Wyllie, P&O Heritage.

Meanwhile, passengers struck a rather stolid pose for a group portrait on board the Cruising Yacht Vectis.

'....there are beautiful drawing and lounge rooms, the finest smoking room we have ever seen, the dining room is splendidly situated and the meals are excellent and well served, the steward in charge, Mr Dust, the most courteous of officials we have had the pleasure of meeting, the cabins are light and well ventilated and the beds most comfortable; our cabins being No 78 and 79, our neighbour, the barber Mr Sales, who is most obliging and intelligent; it was a pleasure to be shaved by him, and his shop is the largest we have ever seen on any ship. There are three dark rooms for photographers which I have found most useful. The promenade deck is very spacious, eight trips round it the mile. This splendid ship carries a crew of 196 and has accommodation for 183 passengers and a coaling capacity of 1,800 tons. Wrtten by Edward Rawdin, a seasoned passenger who completed three cruises aboard the Vectis..

Among Vectis's passengers on her inaugural cruise were the acclaimed marine artist William Lionel Wyllie and his wife Marion.

Together with 148 fellow passengers, they boarded Vectis in the London River.

A prolific painter, William was working right up until his death in 1931, aged 79.

On board Vectis, Marion, researched and began writing Norway & Its Fjords, which was published by Methuen & Co of London in 1907.

........they lay drowsily extended in various positions of comfort on their chairs on the broad white after-deck, the happy moment after lunch; too soon to get to work or play, the tremor of the great screw acting as the mother's foot on the cradle rocker.

From: Norway and its Fjords by Marion A. Wyllie. With sixteen illustrations in colour, by William Lionel Wyllie, RA.

'Our ship steams steadily on, and it would seem as though there is no end to the labyrinth of ice-worn rocky islets...' Marion Wyllie, Norway and its Fjords.

Vectis at Kristiania - William Lionel Wyllie

Originally called Christiania, from 1877 the name was spelled Kristiania, and in 1925 was changed back to the city's original name, Oslo. 

'The ship is still plunging through the waves, and now the passengers, who still brave the elements, have dwindled to a very small party. The island of Karmo comes in sight on the starboard bow, and all sorts of jagged rocks go by as we plunge northward. A long journey outside the Skjaergaard is not a pleasant prospect in weather like this, but all at once we notice that our wake is not right astern , but trends away to the starboard quarter.....'

Vectis at Kristiania

'It is clear that kind-hearted Captain Thompson has made up his mind to take us up inside the islands.

The sight of many pale faces, and all those empty chairs, has moved him to take the longer, and to him, no doubt, more troublesome route. Soon, we are under the lee of Skudesnas, and one by one limp, red-eyed bodies, with hair out of curl and rumpled clothes, make their appearance, blessing the Skjaergaard and good Captain Thompson.'

Much of the coast of Norway is penetrated by fjords and fringed by countless islands, islets, rocks and reefs, known as the Skjaergaard - a Norwegian word, literally meaning a rock rampart.

At Recherche Bay, Spitsbergen they heard loud bangs as if a gun was fired, when large pieces of beautiful green ice drifted by, colliding against each other. One piece came very close and actually grazed the side of the ship making a sound like a tin can struck by a hammer, as one excited passenger noted in her diary.

The Spitsbergen Archipelago, Ssvalbard Norway- Sketch-map c1885

The first cast of the lead was forty-five fathoms, the second forty-two. Thump! Thump! Thump!  went the propeller as the engines reversed , and a great seething mass of foam burst out from under the counter, and washed slowly forward as the ship lost her way. Thump!Thump! Thump! and the after end of the Vectis is the centre of a perfect vortex of fierce little waves, which breaking off in ever widening circles, dimple the surface of the dark green fjord.

"She's going astern, Sir," sings the leadsman.

"Let go," says a voice from the bridge.

There is a tremendous splash , and the chain rushes madly out through the hawsepipe with a harsh grating roar, whilst a thick mist of iron rust and powdered paint rises into the air, through which the Lascars on the forecastle are dimly seen, like phantoms tending the whirring cable as it leaps up from the depths of the chain locker. Shackle after shackle goes plunging down overboard, and the brown cloud covers the whole fore-part of the ship, coating everything in dust.....'

Vectis anchored in Recherche Bay on the west coast of Spitsbergen.

'Wherever the Vectis steamed, the Ile de France had just left. Her name in giant letters of white was painted on the cliffs of the Naero Fjord. In Recherche Bay we enquired of the sailors on board the whalers, Had the Ile de France been there? Had the passengers shot any bears? 'Yes' was the answer to the first question; 'No' to the second. Had they caught any foxes? 'No'.

It was not the season for the one or the other.'

In October 1912, Vectis was sold for £11,040 to the French Government, who proposed to convert her to a hospital ship, but in 1913, she was sold to Italian shipbreakers.

1919 - 1939

In August 1889, the German Kaiser attended a naval review in his honour. He saw the strength and size of the British ships, notably the 33 ironclads and the latest and then-largest liner owned by White Star, the RMS Teutonic. After reviewing the fleet the Kaiser said, “I have seen the finest navy in the World.”

It was generally believed that this display of naval power fired the Kaiser’s ambition for Germany to become a maritime power.

The White Star Line's RMS Teutonic

He particularly admired the fact that these ships could easily be converted to auxiliary cruisers in time of conflict.

The review took place at Spithead ~ the Emperor of Germany, just gazetted an Admiral of the English Fleet, and the Prince of Wales steaming down the gaily decked avenue of ironclads, and holding a reception of all the Captains of the fleet on board the Howe, the principal flag- ship. Then, as during the more minute inspection of special vessels on the previous day, the Kaiser showed intense interest and curiosity in all he saw. When looking at a new quick. firing gun on board the White Star liner Teutonic,' he is said to have turned round to his brother, Prince Albert William Henry of Prussia, embracing the whole impressive ship, with the exclamation - "We must have one like this, and quick, too."

The Royal yacht Victoria & Albert took up a position in Sandown Bay, and, standing on her paddle-box, the Emperor saw a line of ships ten miles long file by him, the vessels keeping their exact distances as if they were regiments swinging past a saluting-post. The squadrons engaged in this superb parade were those destined to carry out the forthcoming manceuvres off the Irish Coast, when a new attempt will be made to test the efficacy of steam blockades. They were proceeding from Spithead to their respective rendezvous.

And so it was in 1914, that passenger liners on both sides, seventy-seven British and seventeen German, were hastily converted to Allied Armed Merchant Cruisers and German Auxiliary Cruisers. Elegant ships that had once plied the world's oceans on their lawful occasions, in peace, were now battling it out on the high seas. The Allies lost 24 ships - the Germans 8.

The Teutonic was commissioned into the 10th Cruiser Squadron, tasked with enforcing the Northern Blockade. In 1916, she was refitted with 6-inch guns, and served as a convoy escort ship as well as being used as a troop transport.

Painting depicting the battle between the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse and HMS Highflyer in August 1914.

The German trans-Atlantic liner, once the pride of the North German Lloyd  company, but now in war guise as an armed auxiliary cruiser, was caught refuelling off the shore of Spanish West Africa, and was sunk or scuttled after her ammunition ran out.

The German auxiliary cruisers fulfilled their role by maintaining a deceptively peaceful character - until the last moment of an encounter - so gaining a position to enforce their will. It was all the better if she was disguised to resemble a particular vessel, customarily seen in a particular area. And above all, the ship’s military fittings had to be hidden so that they could not be detected until they were revealed at the decisive moment.

All too soon the Germans realised that large liners were too expensive to keep supplied with coal, switching instead to the use of medium sized steamships as surface commerce raiders.

By Armistice Day, 11th November 1918, both sides had lost a substantial number of fine passenger ships. Those that remained were restored to their peacetime trades, with several shipping companies switching their ships from liner service to cruising. Until new tonnage could be built, virtually all ships used for cruising in this period were existing liners, modified and adapted to cruising. Purpose built cruise ships were still very rare, ships like the famous Swedish Stella Polaris being an exception.

The contract for the new vessel was signed on 4th August 1925, and the Stella Polaris was launched by Miss Lillie Lehmkuhl, the daughter of Bergen Line’s managing director, on 11th September the following year.

Meanwhile, P&O and the Orient Line were continuing to utilise their main line passenger ships on pleasure cruises to Scandinavia and the Mediterranean, whenever their schedules allowed.

Typical of these was the Orient Line's ss Ormonde, built in 1917 and converted from coal-fired to oil in 1923.

Fitted out in British country-house style, with hardwood panelling, fine carpets and furniture, her main lounge featured a glass dome and a grand staircase.



The purpose-built Stella Polaris, with her traditional yacht-like appearance was reminiscent of a bygone era, perfected by means of a clipper-bow, complete with a bowsprit, while her white hull and light-coloured superstructure was balanced by two masts and a single, yellow funnel. She looked every inch the luxurious cruise ship Bergen Line had intended.

Below the Bridge, on A-deck, there were nine lifeboats - two equipped with motors - while further aft were nine passenger cabins, as well as a gymnasium.

On B-deck could be found the Verandah Café, the Smoking Room and the Music Salon. One deck down, on C-deck, was the Grand Dining Room, which could seat 214 guests. A large star, consisting of 150 different coloured lamps, adorned its ceiling. C-deck also housed several passenger cabins, including four deluxe cabins; each panelled in a different wood - mahogany, maple, pear and birch. Further aft were two barbershops, a doctor’s surgery and sickbay.

D and E-deck housed the less luxurious passenger cabins, while the ship's crew lived forward in well appointed four-berth cabins.

Just a week after her successful sea trials, Stella Polaris sailed from Göteborg on 26th February 1927, at noon, outward bound for Tilbury on the London River, where she took on supplies and more passengers, before heading for Lisbon and Mediterranean ports.

Stella Maris North Cape cruise 1932

For her 1936 - 1937 cruise season, she included a West Indies Christmas & New Year cruise, which was followed, on 3rd January 1937, by a second fully booked West Indies cruise, prior to commencing her world voyage.

On 11th June 1937, the Stella Polaris collided with the Norwegian steamer Noble near Aramssu, and suffered damage to her bow and a broken bowsprit, whereas the Noble sank. It was later discovered that the Noble had been carrying dynamite and live munitions, and it was fortunate that this cargo did not explode.

Her last world cruise before the outbreak of war saw her depart New York on 21st January 1939, calling at Havana before transiting the Panama Canal, and heading down to the Galapagos Islands, then on to the Pacific islands, Australia, Bali, Colombo, the Seychelles, South Africa, St.Helena, Dakar, Tenerife, then Casablanca and Gibraltar, ending at Southampton on  12th May 1939.

Stella Polaris in Wartime, supporting the German U-Boats in Norway

Stella Polaris had just arrived in Oslo when war broke out, and with the invasion of Norway, the Bergen Line moved their ships to remote fjords - but on 30th October 1940, she was seized by the Kriegsmarine and used as a support ship and accommodation barracks for U-boat crews, subsequently stationed at Narvik until 1st September 1944, when she was put under the German flag with a German crew and used for transporting troops in the Baltic. Fortunately, she managed to evade the many Russian submarines. On the day the war ended, she was en route from Skjomen near Narvik to Trondheim.

On 21 June 1945, she was requisitioned by the Allied Ministry of War Transport and used for repatriating former Russian POW’s to Murmansk, followed by trooping duties between Norway and Leith near Edinburgh.

Her duty done, on 18th August 1945, she docked at the Akers Verksted shipyard in Oslo, for overhaul prior to being handed back to the Bergen Line on 7th November, before entering the Gotaverken shipyard for extensive refurbishment. With her cabin capacity now reduced to 189, she was handed back to the Bergen Line and sailed to New York on 10th August 1946, from where she re-commenced her Caribbean cruising, which had been interrupted by the war. New Yorkers, and her scores of admirers were pleased and excited to see her back. In 1948 she returned briefly to Sweden, from where she transported athletes to London for the Olympic Games.

Since the late 1940s, the company had endeavoured to sell the ship, but it wasn't until 1951 that a buyer was found: the Swedish ship owner Einar Hansen wanted the Stella Polaris for his Clipper Line, and in October that year, she left Bergen for Göteborg, and extensive modernisation.

Loved and supported by her wealthy European and American clientele, she continued  cruising until 8th October 1954, when the Clipper Line sent their 28 year old cruiser to AG Weser in Bremen for a major refit that saw her passenger cabins enlarged and improved, with better en suite facilities throughout, which reduced her passenger capacity to just 155.

For the next fourteen years, the Stella Maris cruised the Caribbean and Mediterranean with continued success. In 1968 she undertook a unique 49 day cruise, becoming the first cruise ship to navigate five major European rivers. Sailing from New Orleans, she crossed the Atlantic and cruised the Gironde, Loire, Seine, Schelde and Thames, with calls at Madeira, Monte Carlo, Majorca, Sicily, the French Riviera and Guernsey before docking at Tilbury on the London River on 10th June 1968.

Clipper Line Postcard of Stella Maris

In October 1968, she was dispatched to Kockums shipyard in Malmo for a further refit that resulted in her capacity being reduced further: to 140 in 70 deluxe cabins. Sadly, but inevitably, after a further year cruising, Clipper Line considered their elegant 42 year old ship no-longer financially viable due to her very high operating costs and overheads and, on 23 October 1969, they sold her for US$ 850,000 to International Houdse Co. Ltd. of Tokyo, for use as a floating hotel in Japan. On 28th October, she left Lisbon flying the Japanese flag, reaching Yokosuka on 13th December. Berthed alongside at Kisho Nishiura on the Izu-peninsula, her two propellers were removed in order to classify her as a building, and thereby having to pay lower taxes.

Marketed under the name Floating Hotel Scandinavia, the name Stella Polaris was still visible on the ship’s bows.

Sadly, the old vessel’s fortunes began to wane. The hotel business on board Stella Polaris was shut down, while the restaurant continued to serve Scandinavian-style smörgåsbord, After more than 30 years in Japan, there were people back home in Sweden who wanted to see her return home to Scandinavian waters.

In February 2006, she was sold to a Swedish company who intended to refurbish her as a tourist attraction - again as a floating restaurant and hotel.

It was not to be. She sank while under tow to a shipyard in Shanghai, China. On 2nd September 2006, off Cape Shionomisaki, just south of Nagoya, in about 70 metres.

In her time, she was rightly considered to be the most elegant and exclusive cruise ship in the World. She had no rivals. 

Four British movies - Doctor at Sea, The Captain's Table and Carry on Cruising did much to popularise cruising in the 1950s and 1960s.....

1955 - Doctor At Sea

A youthful doctor tires of general practice and signs up to be a ship's doctor in an effort to bring some excitement into his life. Unfortunately, the ship he joins is skippered by a formidable martinet captain and, worse still, there are only two women on board. Luckily for the fun-loving medic, one of them, a beautiful French girl, is more than impressed with his bedside manner.

An average, very English fifties comedy, set on board a cargo passenger ship, in reality the Greek motor ship Achilleus  Nevertheless this movie offered two outstanding dimensions: the first is leading man Dirk Bogarde, who plays the Doctor with his usual excellence. The second is Brigitte Bardot, adding much charm with her English-with-a-French-accent.


Doctor At Sea was the third most popular film at the British Box Office in 1955, after The Dam Busters and White Christmas. 

1959 ~ The Captain's Table

After serving all his working life with the fictitious South Star line, exclusively in cargo ships, Albert Ebbs is finally given command (albeit temporarily) of the SS Queen Adelaide, a cruise liner sailing from London to Sydney - and in reality the Orient Line's ss Oronsay. An excellent seaman, he finds that he now has many social obligations that he does not have the skills to fulfill. He must preside at the captain's table, host cocktail parties, judge beauty contests and dance with the lady passengers. He must also cope with amorous widows, young couples who want him to marry them and a blustering ex-army major who claims to have the ear of the chairman of the shipping line. To add to his woes, most of the officers and crew, led by the chief purser, are on the fiddle. The captain doesn't fully realise this until the last night of the cruise, when the champagne being served is revealed to be cider, with the crew pocketing the considerable profits.

All comes out well - just. The captain finds himself engaged to be married to an attractive widow, the chief officer is also engaged to a young heiress, and the larcenous officers are arrested by the Sydney police.

Starring John Gregson as Captain Ebbs, Donald Sinden as Chief Officer Shawe-Wilson, and Richard Wattis as the Purser

Chef Lance Percival battles seasickness and makes omelettes by dropping a bowl full of whole eggs and then telling his assistant to sieve out all the shells.

The film gives a good impression of fun at sea - and the crew all pull together in a typical Carry On happy ending.

1962 ~ Carry On Cruising

Captain Crowther, played by Sid James, has five of his crew replaced at short notice at the start of a cruise. Not only does he get the five most incompetent men ever to sail the seven seas, but the passengers turn out to be a rather strange bunch too. The SS Happy Wanderer, once again the Orient Lime's ss Oronsay is the cruise ship and after this voyage, Captain Crowther hopes to get a job as captain on a transatlantic ship, while promising the crew their jobs will be safe under the new captain. Starting off from England, the Happy Wanderer calls at unnamed ports in Spain, Italy and North Africa before heading home again, by which time Crowther gets his telegram telling him he has the captaincy of the new ship.

He turns it down as he recognises it does not have the personal touch of a cruise ship, and prefers the company of his own crew, including Kenneth Williams as First Officer Leonard Marjoribanks, and Liz Fraser as the love interest...... its' a typical Carry-On romp.

The 1970s and the End of an Era for P&O

By the 1970s P&O was taking and interest in the burgeoning cruise market from US ports, which resulted in Arcadia being sent to San Francisco for a series of cruises to Alaska between May and October, before heading south to Mexico. Such was the success of the venture, and with it the realisation that American passengers were used to paying top dollar for the most exclusive accommodation on board, that Arcadia remained on the West coast for several years. Meanwhile, closer to home, Chusan was scheduled for four cruises from Amsterdam, while Chitral wa home-ported to Genoa for as series of Medierranean cruises from early March to September. Chusan proved a success, while Chitral, with her large cargo capacity, did not.

Through 1971, P&O continued to maintain a series of scheduled main line voyages, together with a programme of cruises, but this combination did not prove to be a success. Cruise passengers were simply not prepared to entertain the standards of accommodation,  facilities and entertainment that were the norm on long ocean main line voyages. The days of long sea passages to Australia, India and the Far East were over: the future was custom built cruise ships. Fortunately for P&O, the Italian shipbuilders Cantieri Navali del Tirreno & Riuniti, were encountering  financial troubles and were taken over by the IRI Group, who cancelled a building contract with the Norwegian Caribbean Line, for a purpose-built cruise ship, which was to be called Seaward. After a great deal of disagreement between NCL and the IRI Group, the latter grudgingly agreed to complete the ship, whereupon NCL sold the hull to P&O, who financed the build, re-naming the ship Spirit of London.   

In a little over three years, P&O had disposed of six liners: Iberia, Orcades, Chusan, Orsova, Himalaya and Oronsay, which left the Company with just three of the passenger ships that had been built for the Australian trade: Arcadia, Oriana and Canberra. Arcadia then concentrated on the Australian cruise market, while Canberra remained home-ported at Southampton servicing the British cruise market, with Oriana engaged on seasonal cruising from both Southampton and Sydney. This left the US market, where P&O were making serious inroads. With the Spirit of London operating out of Miami, the American cruise market was proving to be a bonanza for P&O - but they badly needed more cruise ships. Princess Cruise Lines, which started operations in 1965, was operating chartered cruise liners on short cruises from Los Angeles to Mexico and Alaska. They had started operations with  the chartered Princess Patricia and in the seventies added the Sun Princess, Island Princess and Pacific Princess.

Sun Princess and Island Princess  became famous for starring in the TV-series 'The Love Boat' which put cruising on the map for the US and British public. 

Island Princess, formerly the Island Venture, owned by Fearnley and Eger of Norway, had more passenger accommodation than Spirit of London, which, by then, was based in San Francisco. For a year and a half, Princess Cruises and P&O competed for trade on the US West Coast, which finally led to P&O purchasing Princess Cruise Line, together with the Island Princess, which was purchased outright from her Norwegian owners.

With the introduction of these first full time cruise vessels, cruising slowly started to establish itself as a separate holiday product.

A new era in the history of P&O had begun.........

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