The World of the 1950's was witnessing the Jet Age when P&O made plans for their newest ship. Designed for the Australia service, she was built at Harland & Wolff in Belfast,
the same yard that built the infamous Titanic of 1912. Named for Australia's capital city Canberra, she would operate jointly with Orient Line's new Oriana,
also under construction at the time. The two companies had for some years shared the luctrative mail contract between Australia and the UK but no sooner had the two ships been launched,
both companies officially merged to form P&O-Orient Lines in 1960.
Canberra was revolutionary in design. Her steam turbo-electric power-plants were the most powerful ever installed in any ship. Moreover, all her engine machinery
was also installed aft, which accentuated her streamlined styling.
But it was during her trials in May 1961 that at full speed, her bows lifted almost out of the water, whereupon she
had several hundred tons of concrete added to her forward compartments!
(left) 16th March 1960: The launching of S.S. Canberra in Belfast
She entered service on 2nd June 1961 with a 42,000 mile voyage via Suez to Australia, New Zealand and across the Pacific to California.
While problems with her condensers would cast a shadow over her initial performance, at each port enormous crowds turned out to greet her.
Canberra was designed as a 2-class Liner, with First-class occupying the forward section and Tourist Class in the remainder, the latter most frequently filled on the outward voyages
with "Ten Pound Poms" emigrating to Australia.
Her layout changed very little over the years.
(left) A handy Passenger's X-Section Guide dating from 1995
The interior design of the ship was carried out by a professional team headed by Sir Hugh Casson FRIBA and the range of rooms and facilities for Canberra's 1,690 Tourist-class passengers was of a standard higher than anything
seen before on any British passenger ship.
There was a Main Lounge, Smoking Room and Reading Room, the Pop Inn for teenagers, even an English "Pub", The Cricketers' Tavern, as well as a Ballroom, The Island Room
and a trendy poolside cafe, the Alice Springs Room.
The Alice Springs Room
The Island Room
In fact, Tourist-class had 2 outside pools, including one with an adjacent kids paddling pool, as well as its own extensive Sports Deck, while a third pool amidships, the Bonito Pool
was for First-class, as was the adjacent Bonito Club, a sophisticated Night Club and Ballroom (Picture >>)
Her 2 restaurants were situated low-down on E-deck for stability on long voyages. Tourist-class had the larger Atlantic Restaurant seating over
700 (Picture >>) one of the largest
on any ship at the time, while forward was the Pacific Restaurant with seating for her 550 First-class passengers (Picture >>)
In First-class, the Meridian Room had its own small forward Cocktail Bar, the Century Bar, but an internal spiral stairway rose 3 decks to
the impressive Crows Nest Observation Lounge.
The Meridian Room & Spiral Stairway
The Crows Nest
One of Canberra's many innovative features was in the idea of the "Cabin Court" introduced in First-class, whereby inside cabins were
able to benefit from "borrowed light" from external windows.
In 1974, however, Canberra underwent a major refit in which she was permanently converted into a one-class ship, more in keeping with
her developing role as a cruise ship. Over the ensuing years, she established a solid reputation with her predominantly British passengers cruising from the UK, until
fate propelled her into the history-books in a most unexpected manner.
The Falklands War 1982
Canberra was off the coast of Portugal on her way home from her World Cruise when on 5th April 1982 she was requisitioned as a troop transport in support
of the Royal Navy Task Force being assembled to re-take the Falkland Islands following their invasion by Argentinian troops.
(left) At anchor in Cumberland Bay, South Georgia, QE2 transfers troops and supplies to Canberra
Hastily stripped and fitted with 2 helicopter decks, she embarked 4,000 troops and sailed on 9th April, a full week ahead of the main Battle Fleet.
Unlike QE2, which followed with the main Task Force, Canberra earned full battle honours by being directly in the midst of action throughout the war.
(right) At anchor off Port Stanley, "The Great White Whale" and her escort, HMS Andromeda
Her many exploits having earned her the nickname The Great White Whale, she even embarked over 4,000 Argentinian prisoners of war and flew the Argentinian flag upon returning them to Puerto Madryn,
before she herself returned to Southampton on 11th July 1982 to a rapturous welcome from a grateful British public.
See BBC Footage on YouTube >>
Following her celebrated return from the War, Canberra and QE2 were both refurbished and it was at this time in 1983 that
I took John to Southampton to see the two Liners, commencing what would become a lifetime in cruising.
Post Refit in 1982 - awaiting her anchor & lifeboats
An evocative sunset departure in 1985
Canberra drags her anchor as she enters Gibraltar (Photographed from Vistafjord in 1985)
However, it was not until 1995 when Canberra was 35 years old and now nearing the end of her useful life, that Dad & I decided to travel on her, before the opportunity would be lost forever.
Canberra's Promenade Deck, protected from the weather and sheltered by her lifeboats slung inboard,
proved a popular spot for passengers seeking a little shade from the heat of the sun.
The Cricketers' Tavern (right), dates back to the Tourist-class days of the 1960's but to this day remains popular with many of Canberra's staunchly British
passengers! Neptunes (below left) began life as the Tourist-class Smoking-Room, the Peacock Room. The underwater pool-viewing windows were added when the
ship became one-class for cruising in 1974.
Neptunes Night Club with windows to the pool
The Meridian Room Promenade Deck
The Crow's Nest Observation Lounge
On Promenade Deck, the Meridian Room (above), was the main Lounge for First-class. It still has its adjacent Cocktail Bar, the
Century Bar, as well as its exclusive spiral stairway leading up 3 decks past the First-class cabins to the main Observation Lounge, the Crow's Nest,
still popular today.
Canberra's Pacific Restaurant
Situated forward, this was the smaller of her two restaurants, seating about 550,
originally for her 1st-class passengers. Served by a common galley, today the menu and service is the same in both.
A weakness shared with ships of her period, however, is that Canberra has no proper Show-Lounge and to accommodate the
modern concept of "Production Shows", they converted the old First-class
Sports Deck, The Stadium, into an improvised venue, giving birth to the Stadium Theatre Company which now produces the shows on all P&O's ships.
While her Show-Lounge may not have been very good, her Cinema (right) seated 332 and remains almost unchanged from when the ship was launched; it
also doubles as an excellent Lecture Room for Port Talks etc.
Port Bridge Wing
The Main Bridge & Steering Position
Southampton - The Final Homecoming 1997
On 30th September 1997, Canberra completed her final cruise and made her homecoming into the port of Southampton to another
tumultuous welcome. Surrounded by private boats and pleasure-craft, she was given the rare honour of a Royal Navy escort,
while in a final gesture of recognition from the RAF, there were fly-pasts by the Red Arrows and from a lone Canberra Bomber.
Festooned in flags, Canberra makes her final return to Southampton proudly flying her paying-off pennant
Farewell to Canberra
There was much public discussion that, because of her role in the Falklands War, Canberra should be preserved as a museum-ship. But in the
end, she was sold for scrap and sailed to Gadani Beach, Pakistan, where she slowly met her end.