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I very much hope that you enjoy your visit.......



A personal tribute, covering the 'heyday years'



By: Nicholas R Messinger, RD*, FNI


" For all the soul of our sad East is there, Beneath the house-flag of the P&O "
Rudyard Kipling ~ The Exiles Line


From the very first, the P&O chose to recruit naval officers to senior positions and then

encouraged their civilian juniors and successors to model themselves on the 'naval officer'.

Not to be outdone by their lofty seniors, ambitious young junior officers obtained commissions

in the Royal Naval Reserve, spending lengthy periods training and at sea under the White Ensign.

Subsequently, P&O officers soon regarded themselves as a veritable 'corps de elite'.....

‘Every Britisher and Imperialist is proud of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. We feel it is part of the British constitution. You can only realize this by imagining what would happen if the whole fleet were to disappear tomorrow!

’Sir John Henniker Heaton 1st Baronet and Member of Parliament writing in 1913.

P&O's story engages the ascendancy of the British Empire and its eventual transcendence to a commonwealth of nations.


A must-see exhibition at the V&A!


Experience a unique journey through the design stories of the world's greatest ocean liners, including the White Star Line's Titanic, Compagnie Générale Transatlantique's  Normandie, Cunard Line's Queen Mary and P&O's Canberra, and find out how these impressive vessels helped shape the modern world.

From the mid-19th century to the late 20th century, the ocean liner revolutionised ocean travel. Ocean Liners: Speed & Style is the first exhibition to explore the design and cultural impact of the ocean liner around the world. Revealing the hidden design stories of some of the world's greatest ocean liners,  this exhibition re-imagines the golden age of ocean travel, with over 250 objects including paintings, sculpture, ship models, fashion, photographs, posters and film.'.
Now at the new V&A Dundee ~ https://www.vam.ac.uk/dundee

This stunningly detailed photograph of the ss India of 1896, pictured alongside at Hobart, Tasmania, in 1900, got me thinking about her role as an Armed Merchant

 Cruiser during the Great War.


I have now embarked upon a history of Armed Merchant Cruisers, of which India was one.

She was torpedoed off the Norwegian coast on 8th August 1915, and sunk with heavy loss of life - her surviving crew being interned in Norway for the duration.


Now, see the ships, the people and more....


The founding of the P & O Steam Navigation Company, incorporated by Royal Charter in 1840, traditionally dates from the awarding of the contract by the Admiralty for the carriage of mail between England and the Iberian Peninsula. Mail contracts guaranteed regular earnings and provided P&O with a steady income for decades. 

In 1842, the Company made its first voyage to India, followed by regular, scheduled voyages, that continued until 1970, when my last P&O ship, the SS Chusan, made the last scheduled call at Bombay - today's Mumbai.


From paddle steamers to screw propellers....

From the bustle and excitement of a launch port.....

To the breathtaking beauty of Canberra......



We are now archived for posterity.....

ss Oronsay ~ children's bridge visit 1968 - always a great favourite

Before you step ashore again, please be sure to sign the guestbook!

Yours aye, NickMessinger,

Fellow of The Nautical Institute;

Galbraith Wrightson Senior Research Fellow

Lecturer in Maritime Trade, School of Maritime Operation, HMS Dryad.

Editor, Tall Ship International Magazine

On 2nd May 1960, P&O and Orient Line were formally merged to form P&O-Orient Lines.

A new web page, devoted to

is now a work-in-progress.....w.e.f. 30th September 2016

Please use the link above to see how it's progressing

Please Note: The word mark 'P&O' and the house flag are Trade Marks of the DP World Company


P&O Heritage, a DP World company, have a superb selection of P&O prints for you to purchase at:




P&O Heritage exists to preserve and celebrate the Company's maritime history and collections.


From humble beginnings in the 1830s, The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company grew to dominate British mercantile shipping for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. Initially, the company's paddle-steamers carried Her Majesty's Mail to the Iberian peninsular, as the name implies, but over time, P&O extended its routes across the Mediterranean and onwards to the Middle East, Far East and Australasia. Besides the mail, P&O liners carried bullion, silk, tea and even opium as well as passengers. The company came to represent the British Empire at sea - but as the Empire waned and British travellers took to the air, so a golden age  of travelling by sea came to an end. Ruth Artmonsky, P&O: A History, Shire Books, 2012

Queen Victoria, King Georg V, Queen Mary, Mahatma Gandhi and Lady Clementine Churchill are among those who have sailed aboard ships of the P&O - together with thousands upon thousands of ordinary folk on their way to new lives in Australia, travelling to and from India and the Far East, or simply enjoying the excitement and delights of cruising.

Great Britain led the World in the introduction and development of the ocean-going passenger ship and remained the leading force in scheduled passenger ship operations until the early 1970s.   From the start, the Peninsular and Oriental announced itself as a 'Steam Navigation Company'. This terminology later became conventional, but in 1837 it was significant, for the P&O company did not employ sailing ships.  In 1854 the Company achieved a major milestone when it took over the Bombay mail service from the mighty East India Company.

Note: The mail contract was controlled by the Admiralty who appointed a retired naval officer to every ship to look after the mail. This man had authority to over rule the captain. He could order the ship to sail the moment mails were on board. Sometimes across the overland part of the route, the mail arrived before the passengers. The passengers would then have to wait for the next ship. The responsibility for mail contracts was handed back from the Admiralty to the Post Office in 1861.

In 1970, after the Suez Canal had been closed by Egyptian action for several years, forcing P & O to use the Cape route to India - some 5000 miles longer than the Suez route - the Company ceased their services to the sub-continent where they had been a household name and a way of life for 127 years.

Peter Padfield ~ Beneath The House Flag of The P&O

ss Salsette by William Lionel Wyllie –The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

There are few grander sights than a big ocean liner steaming at full speed over the rolling sea. It has an appeal and a grace unmatched by any other form of transport. The Ocean Liner - Ladybird Books 1971

As the Kaisar-I-Hind weighs anchor for Bombay in the autumn of 1928, its passengers ponder their fate in a distant land...

Cleaving her way through the sapphire waters of the Indian Ocean, the ship bore her cargo into port.

"Whether at Colombo, on the island of Ceylon or one of the Indian ports such as Madras, Calcutta or Bombay, the cargo was the same: hordes of eager young women, sweltering in the corsets, stockings and flannel underwear they were required to wear beneath their dresses — some still suffering from sea sickness as they staggered down the gangway into the searing heat.

These were the girls of the ‘Fishing Fleet’, and they had come to India for the purpose of landing their catch — a husband.

If they succeeded in their quest, they might soon find themselves ensconced in a spacious bungalow with a retinue of servants, as the wife of a senior official or officer."  The Daily Mail, July 2012.

I have travelled to the Far East on other ships, P & O could leave any line behind. It's a way of travelling that has become a thing of the past, but we who travelled P & O will always have the greatest nostalgia for the white ships with their yellow funnels as I called them.

Mrs Joan Ford (a regular P & O passenger from 1940 to the 1970s):

This webpage is organic, and over the coming years will grow to include all the major ships of the P&O - since the day the paddle steamer William Fawcett initiated the mail service to the Iberian Peninsular in 1837, up to 1972 - and the end of days for the company's fleet of main line passengers ships.


On board the SS Ranchi, departing Tilbury....

She's flying the Blue Peter and the bridge are about to announce.....

"All visitors ashore...all visitors, and persons not sailing in the ship, are requested to proceed ashore now,

via the first class gangway, situated on A-deck midships....."

.......'For all the soul of our sad East is there, Beneath the house-flag of the P&O"
Rudyard Kipling ~ The Exiles Line

The poet muses in flowing decasyllables on the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, which for many years carried administrators, soldiers, sailors, civilians and families to and from India in all stages of their careers. In the 1890s, the voyage from London to Bombay took around a month. Ships left London every Saturday; fares were £55 first class; £35 - £37-10s for second class. The first class fare was the equivalent of some £4,900 in 2013 values. To Australia, the first class fare was £60 - £70 and second class was £35 - £40. First class to China or Japan was £73 - 10s and second class just £42.

Kiplings return to India in 1882, from Tilbury to Bombay, in the P&O liner Brindisi, launched two years previously, took 27 days.

In his poignant poem, The Exiles Line, Kipling recognised the degree of self-sacrifice required of families who served in India. An official knew he would spend most of his career there, while his children were at school, or in the care of governesses, in England - and his parents had retired to Eastbourne or somewhere else on the south coast.

"Bound in the wheel of Empire, one by one,  
The chain-gangs of the East from sire to son,  
  The Exiles’ Line takes out the exiles’ line  
And ships them homeward when their work is done.  
How runs the old indictment? “Dear and slow,”  
So much and twice so much. We gird, but go.  
  For all the soul of our sad East is there,  
Beneath the house-flag of the P. and O."

Rudyard Kipling ~ The Exiles Line, 1890

Please Note: The word mark 'P&O' and the house flag are Trade Marks of the DP World Company


"I went down to Tilbury when the weather was fine,

To get me a job on the P&O Line,

They paint their ships black,

And they paint their ships white,

And they work us poor fellows, by day and by night..."

P&O drinking song ~ Anon

POSH ~ "Port out- starboard home" ~ printed on the tickets of passengers sailing between the UK and India in the days of the Raj. Thus enabling wealthier passengers to enjoy cabins on the cooler side of the ship!

P&O passenger ships of the post-war era


Please Note: The word mark 'P&O' and the house flag are Trade Marks of the DP World Company


"A Happy Ship!"

A beautiful ship, sadly plagued by misfortune....

An end to post-war blues...

My favourite ship....

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SS Chusan's 4-8 Bridge Watch  c1972 ~ First Officer Nick Messinger and right hand man, the Bridge Wallah.   

Possessed of a wonderful sense of humour, he had the ability to conjure up chapatis out of thin air!

P&O were granted a Royal Charter by Queen Victoria in 1840, and Letters Patent were awarded in the Company's 100th year, 1937. The Company's coat of arms includes, the royal colours of Portugal and Spain,  the Oriental rising sun, Heraldic figures depicting the countries linked by the P&O mail services, Britain, India, China, Australia, and the Latin motto 'Quis nos separabit' - What will separate us....

During the Portuguese Insurrection of 1832, Wilcox and Anderson, Shipbrokers of London, rendered valuable services to Queen Maria, providing ships and ammunition and helping to raise a loan in England, all at considerable financial and personal risk. Similarly, in the Carlist Insurrection in Spain the two men gave active support to the cause of Isabella, the Queen Regent. Portugal and Spain rewarded these services  with valuable trading facilities, and the house flag of the partners - later the P. & O. - commemorates this early history, the blue and white being the national colours of Portugal, quartered with the red and yellow of Spain.


Please Note: The word mark 'P&O' and the house flag are Trade Marks of the DP World Company

In the 1920s, P&O was the largest shipping company in the world, and in March 1929, the technically advanced, Viceroy of India entered service.

With a well-appointed interior, she set new standards of luxury and was the first P&O ship with a purpose-built swimming pool. All cabins were single berth with interconnecting doors, with extra rooms for servants who often travelled with colonial families. Requisitioned during World War II by the British Admiralty, she was converted to a troopship. On 11th November 1942, soon after landing troops for the campaign in North Africa, she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-407 off the Algerian coast near Oran and sunk with the loss of 4 lives.

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Please Note: The word mark 'P&O' and the house flag are Trade Marks of the DP World Company

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"There is the Royal Navy, The P & O and the Merchant Navy..." Company maxim, often quoted in Victorian times.


Please Note: The word mark 'P&O' and the house flag are Trade Marks of the DP World Company

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A work currently in progress....November 2013

Transported Australian and New Zealand Nurses during the Great War

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An early pioneer of the compound steam engine...

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I have devoted two sections to this lovely ship; the one below showing her magnificent interiors....

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The most beautiful ship: P&O's SS Medina in her royal livery, leaving Portsmouth in 1911, carrying King George V and Queen Mary to India, for the Delhi Durbar.

Painting by W.Wyllie

Back in Company livery, black hull and funnels, buff superstructure. Sunk by German submarine UB31 on 28 April 1917, off Start Point, Devon. The Company lost 17 ships in the First World War, with a further 68 lost in subsidiary companies.

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A Ship of the Second World War

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A fine Edwardian Sheraton-pattern revival Satinwood arm chair by Waring & Gillow, used on board the SS Medina on the State Visit to India 1911-2

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Please Note: The word mark 'P&O' and the house flag are Trade Marks of the DP World Company

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The story of P&O began in 1836, with the transition from sailing ships to coal-fired steam propulsion. Few steamships had been built before the birth of P&O, and for the next thirty or more years, steamships still carried a full suit of sails, as a seamanlike precaution, in case their new-fangled steam reciprocating engines broke down.

The SS William Fawcett, P&O's first ship.

There was no shortage of experienced senior officers to take command. The Royal Navy had been shrinking in size since the end of the Napoleonic wars and P&O paid well. Great trust was placed in these men. Long before the advent of radio communications, once the last line was cast off and the anchors stowed - they were Masters Under God. Captains exercised absolute authority at sea. Consequently, early insurance writs, agreements with ship owners and passengers and the Board of Trade, referred to them as such - Master Under God.

In 1904 the company advertised its first cruise on the 6,000 tonVectis, a ship specially fitted out for the purpose of carrying 150 first-class passengers.

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P&O ~ Britain's premier steamship company and once a much loved institution of the British Empire

Some Key dates in the P&O Steam Navigation Company's history:

1835  - Company, established by the London shipbroking partnership of Brodie McGhie Willcox and Arthur Anderson and the Dublin Ship owner, Captain Richard Bourne

1837 - Routes from London to Spain, Portugal and the Mediterranean. The company began a service to Alexandria with an overland journey to Port Suez and thence a connection to India (not P&O until 1840).

1840 - The company was incorporated by royal charter.

1845 - P&O services were extended to Singapore and the Far East

1852 - Bi-monthly Singapore to Australia service introduced.

1853 - Southampton - Capetown - Australia sailings were started.

1860 - The Mooltan was built by Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Co with engines by Humphrys, Tennant and Co.

1910 - P&O purchased the fleet and goodwill of the Blue Anchor Line, re-naming it the P&O Branch Line to cover the Australian service.

1914 - Company amalgamated with the BI - British India Steam Navigation Co.

1916 - P&O acquired the New Zealand Shipping Co and the Federal Line

1917 - Company acquired the Union Steam Ship Co of New Zealand, the Norse Line and Hain Steam Ship Co

1919- P&O acquired controlling interest in the Orient Line, British India Steam Navigation Co and control of the Eastern and Australasian Mail Steam Ship Co.

1920 - Purchased the General Steam Navigation Co

1935 - Acquired Moss Hutchinson Line.

1958 - Formed the trans-Pacific service - the Orient and Pacific Line.

1971 - The P&O General Cargo division was formed to operate all the cargo ships as one fleet.

1972-  the Strick Line was purchased

1974 - Princess Cruises was purchased.

By the early 1970’s, most long distance liners had made their last voyage – to the ship-breakers at Kaohsiung in Taiwan.  

They were ousted from their long-established passenger and cargo-carrying runs by the advent of containerization and commercial jet travel; their fates finally being sealed by soaring fuel prices.  

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The passenger ships of the mighty P & O Steam Navigation Company plied routes across all the world’s oceans, carrying the Royal Mail, migrants to Australia, businessmen to the Orient; troops, colonial officers and tea-planters to India.

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H class 4-6-0 locomotive No. 511, pulls out of Ballard Pier Railway Station, Bombay, with ss Mooltan alongside.


Please Note: The word mark 'P&O' and the house flag are Trade Marks of the DP World Company

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"All visitors ashore!" ~ the last gangway is landed, prior to departure.

The Suez Canal ~  from the sun-drenched Mediterranean to the stifling heat of the Red Sea and beyond.

SS Malwa, outward bound in the River Thames, passing the training ship HMS Worcester, off Greenhithe, Kent

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P&O's ss Salsette at Aden in 1912

Streaming the log to ascertain ship's speed in Knots, ss Malwa 1879

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Cadet Ian Gibb, SS Iberia 1955 ~ Ian retired as Commodore of the Line in 1996

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Female Assistant Purser & Commodore James L Dunkley 1971

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Recommended Link:-


P&O Heritage exists to preserve and celebrate the maritime history and collections of one of the best known shipping companies in the world.

Recommended reading list:-

Cable, Boyd, A Hundred Year History of the P&O.  (Ivor Nicholson & Watson Ltd, London, 1937)

Harcourt, Freda, Flagships of Imperialism: The P&O Company and the Politics of Empire from Its Origins to 1867 (Studies in Imperialism). (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2006)

Howarth, David and Stephen Howarth, The Story of P&O: The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (Revised Edition). (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1994)

Hook, F A, Merchant Adventurers 1914-1918. (A & C Black, London, 1920)

Kerr, George F, Business in Great Waters: The War History of the P&O 1939-1945. (Faber and Faber, London, 1951)

Padfield, Peter.  Beneath the House Flag of the P&O. (Hutchinson, London, 1981)

Gordon, Malcolm R. From Chusan To Sea Princess.  (Alan & Unwin, Sydney Australia, 1985)

McCart , Neil. 20th Century Passenger Ships of The P&O. (Patrick Stephens Ltd, London, 1985)

Miller, William H. The Last Blue Water Liners. ( Conway Maritime Press, London, 1986)

Rabson, Stephen and Kevin O'Donoghue, P&O: A Fleet History. (World Ship Society, Kendal, 1988)

Perry, John W.  Quit Ye Like Men. ( Perrys@orcades-anchor.com, 2008)

Deakes, Christopher & Stanley, Thomas. A Century of Sea Travel. (Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley, 2010)

Peter, Bruce and Dawson, Philip P&O at 175- A World of Ships & Shipping Since 1837 (Lily Publications Ltd, Isle of Man IM99 4LP, 2012)

"Most English people live and die sublimely ignorant of all things relating to ships—ships of war and of commerce alike. They hardly get beyond the fact that the " Victory" was the name of the vessel on which Nelson died. It would not be a bad thing if some simple facts about the sea worth and the working of our navies of trade and war were taught in every English school. It would be at least as useful and interesting as some of the schemes proposed by theorists as a means of keeping the people on the land, or as rifle practice for school infants."
From: The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, No 2,672 Volume 103, 12 January 1907,


Nick Messinger ~ Commander RD*,FNI, RNR, Rtd

 Galbraith Wrightson Senior Research Fellow.

Lecturer in Maritime Trade ~ School of Maritime Operations HMS Dryad

Freeman of The Worshipful Company of Shipwrights







©Nicholas Messinger 2018