For a few years now each summer I have been a passenger, with friends, on various ferries and cruise ships in the Baltic, Mediterranean or Aegean Seas and we have had a fascinating time. That satisfies the lure of the sea and ships for me, especially in warm weather.
I sometimes think back to the time when man first used a tree to carry him on a river, or made dug-out canoes, or built the first wooden ships to protect our shores here in the UK, and our subsequent shipbuilding heritage of more modern times. Because we live on an island, there has always been a need to trade and thus ships also carried passengers. Nowadays we can travel on cruise ships, passenger ferries and cruise ferries, to visit fascinating destinations. I’ve enjoyed Color Magic, Funchal, Habib, Birger Jarl, Oceanic, Waverley, Perla, Maxim Gorki, Moby Drea, Queen Elizabeth 2, Saga Lejon, Ancona, and Cesme amongst others, and have met interesting fellow passengers everywhere.
The passengers shown in the Waterline Exhibition pictures are all enjoying themselves in various ways, whether visiting Copenhagen, cruising in Norway, playing deck games, or at a buffet on deck. It was just the same on the Union-Castle Mailships. Passengers were on board to enjoy themselves and they did. The Waterline picture showing a storage area on board Iberia about 1955 with many boxes of a famous brand of tea, and many boxes of a famous breakfast cereal, might make us smile now, but it meant that cruise passengers at the time were happy to find their favourite products provided on board especially for them.
A storeroom containing boxes of Tetley’s tea bags and Kellogg’s Frosties, onboard ‘Iberia’ (P87296)
Nowadays I think people are happy to travel on ships with a country of registry that is different to their own – they are likely to meet fellow passengers of another nationality and of course they can enjoy a different cuisine. When one considers that the latest cruise ships can accommodate 5,400 passengers, they have to be superbly designed and built and friends confirm it is an amazing and enjoyable experience to be on board such a vessel. We’ve come a long way since man built the first coracle…
The 1966-built ship Kungsholm of Swedish-American Line features in a 1970 picture, as background to a pelican in the Galapagos Islands; passengers on board her at Lifeboat Drill in about 1967 are in another picture, and smartly-dressed American passengers pose beside Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid statue also about 1970. Many of us consider Kungsholm to be one of the most beautiful ships ever built, but her looks changed considerably after 1975 with subsequent owners, and I knew her as Victoria when she was chartered to celebrate Union-Castle Line’s Centenary Voyage in 1999/2000 for a voyage around Africa.
Unidentified couple posing in front of the Mermaid sculpture, Copenhagen, Denmark (P96771)
Passengers travel for so many different reasons: nowadays cruising is hugely popular and a growing leisure activity. I worked as a Purserette on Union-Castle Line’s cruise ship Reina del Mar for a two-week Mediterranean cruise and that was a completely different experience to being on a Mailship to South Africa (‘Union-Castle Line Purserette’, by Ann Haynes née Williams).
I remember people travelling to Cape Town, or the islands en route, perhaps on Government contracts; the South African cricket team came north with us prior to playing the Test Matches in the UK; passengers were going on holiday; groups of UK West Country farmers were visiting similar groups in South Africa; people were emigrating, or simply enjoying being at sea.
In December 1999 on board Victoria I met one lady who had been on the maiden voyage of Pretoria Castle in 1948, whose British Passport was marked “null and void if not married within a week” for when she arrived in South Africa. She was to marry a British man who had just started a new job with Rhodesia Railways, and was to join him as soon as she left the ship. She did join him, they did marry within the week, and all was well!
She also told me that her maternal grandfather had lived in New Zealand and was invited by Sir Ernest Shackleton to join his Second Expedition in Antarctica in 1914-1917, which he did. She was a passenger with a fascinating story to share.
I enjoyed seeing the Waterline pictures of passengers on various ships over the years, including Kungsholm, Gripsholm and Oriana for example, and in various ports. When I worked as a Purserette on Union-Castle Line mailships I particularly enjoyed meeting many new and interesting people, who travelled for so many different reasons.
A group of passengers with lifejackets aboard ‘Kungsholm’, undergoing life boat drill (P88247)
Not many people are aware though that our Mailships also carried enormous amounts of cargo, bringing great financial benefit to the company. Union Steam Ship was started in 1856 with little colliers bringing coal from Wales to Southampton, before sailing off to the Crimea under Government orders to deliver wooden sheds; Castle Packets began in 1876 with passengers, and both lines grew successfully, with their amalgamation in 1900 ensuring a steadily growing business as Union-Castle Line. They carried the Royal Mail under contract and because of the regularity of their service they could carry a great deal of cargo in the ships’ holds.
The celebrated English poet John Masefield is loved by many for his famous poem ‘Cargoes’, talking about a quinquireme of Nineveh rowing home to haven, and he lists a sumptuous cargo. He also describes a stately Spanish galleon and then a dirty British coaster, but each with vital cargoes, and the rhythm of the words of each of the three verses is so appropriate.
I am reminded of this poem when I think of the list of cargo that the Mailships carried. This varied from gold, diamonds, wool, vehicles, machinery, wine, and steam locomotives, to aircraft, exotic animals, steel and iron goods, fruit, copper, tea and cloves and so many other things.
Our ships regularly carried the gold mined in the South African goldfields, to the UK, before it was sent to its next destination. I was once allowed to go and see the gold (I thought it was worth being cheeky and asking) and have never forgotten the sight of all those boxes in the Bullion Room. They had to be inspected daily by the ship’s Captain, Purser, and Master-at-Arms. A long time afterwards I discovered that the quantity I saw in December 1966 was valued at £9,700,000. Cargo was valuable for so many reasons!
Conserving the H3 Timekeeper from Royal Observatory Greenwich on Vimeo.
This second installment reveals how the timekeeper is being dismantled and recorded.
Four P & O cadets of the ‘Viceroy of India’ on the starboard side of the Bridge Deck with their sextants (P85348)
Deck Officers of the Viceroy of India were pictured in 1930 with ship funnels in the background, taking sights on deck with their sextants. This picture looks rather contrived, but certainly in the 1960s I remember that the Deck Officers on watch would take sights on the Bridge just before noon each day to measure the altitude of the sun and other angular distances to ensure they could pinpoint the exact position of the ship. All ships carried a supply of Admiralty charts, kept in large drawers at the rear of the Bridge and of course the current one would be on the table on the Bridge. The compass course would be marked on it based on the orders of the Master (Captain) of the ship.
Also on the Bridge would be the most up-to-date radar and other navigational equipment to ensure the safety of all on board; all the Deck Officers would be fully qualified with (or working towards) their Master’s Certificate, which included not only the navigation of the vessel but also the loading and stowage of cargo into the holds. These were the days before containers of course, when cargo came in boxes, sacks or on four feet – and more of this another time.
When I was at sea with Union-Castle Line the ships were known as Mailships because the Company had always held the Contract to carry the British Royal Mail on each voyage, hence the letters RMS (Royal Mail Ship) in front of every ship’s name.
Also on the Bridge would be the equipment enabling broadcasts to be made to perhaps First Class passengers only, or Tourist Class passengers only, or maybe the whole ship. As a Purserette I would sometimes have to make an announcement during dinner to remind passengers of the evening’s entertainment. This scripted short broadcast always went well, until the night I went onto the Bridge, I think on the Capetown Castle. Imagine my horror just after I started speaking when one of the junior Deck Officers on watch decided it would be funny to take the top off the floor-standing radar and put it on his head. The large cover looked somewhat like a bishop’s mitred hat, and I had great difficulty in remaining calm and not sounding hysterical! I think I succeeded….