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With Reuben Goossens

Maritime Historian, Cruise‘n’Ship Reviewer & Author


Orient Line

RMS Orcades


Orcades seen prior the funnel alteration in 1959

RMS Orcades (later SS Orcades) was built Vickers-Armstrong Shipbuilding, in Barrow-in-Furness in Yard 950. She was launched on October 14, 1947 and completed November 14, 19 48. Orcades replaced her predecessor, Orcades II, which had sunk during the war when she was only five years old.

Orcades, the first ship built for Orient Lines after the war, shared her hull with the Peninsular Lines Himalaya, but her superstructure was different with her having a new look with her bridge located amidships crowned with a tripod mast and a upright funnel sitting high directly aft of the mast.

As a two class ship, she provided accommodation for 773 first class, and 772 tourist class. Later, in 1964, she became a one class ship accommodating 1635 passengers. Her specifications are as follows. 28,164 GRT (tons), length 706ft (216m), width 60ft (27.6m), Draft 30ft 5in. With twin screws and steam geared turbines Orcades achieved 24.7 knots during her sea trials in November.

An early Orient Line postcard of the Orcades

Ready to commence her round the world service, she departed on her maiden voyage on December 14, 1948, sailing to Australia and New Zealand via Gibraltar, Naples, Port Said, Aden, Colombo, Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland. Orcades was the first new liner to reach Australia after the war. She continued on this service for the next six years. On August 1955, Orcades departed London for her first sailing to New Zealand and Australia via the Panama Canal and returning to the UK via the Suez Canal.

Orcades just prior to her refit


This is her First Class Main Lounge – Note the “English Garden Delights” mural. There are further details located below!

Please Note: The screen (mural) in the First Class Lounge was created by Mr. Edward Bawden and it was entitled; “English Garden Delights.” It was especially commissioned by Orient Line for SS Orcades and it can be seen in the photograph above as it was a dominant feature in this elegant, yet somewhat understated British style venue. Thankfully this superb mural has survived and today it is located at Waddesdon Manor at Buckinghamshire England and part of its extensive collection. It is on public display. For details, visit the Manor site at

1959 Refit

Postcard of the Orcades after her 1959 refit - with her new funnel extension

In 1959, Harland and Wolff gave Orcades a substantial refit, with the addition of a new first class swimming pool, the previous one was allocated to tourist class, and the ship became completely air-conditioned. Her new accommodation was now 631 first class and 734 tourist class. Atop her funnel a stove pipe was fitted in order to improve the dispersion of smoke. The funnel, which sits so high on the ship, now looked even taller. Her tonnage increased to 28,396 GRT. The next year Orient Line and P&O pooled their ships, forming P&O-Orient Lines.

In November 1959, Orcades served as an accommodation ship during the Melbourne Olympic Games.

1964 Refit

In 1964, Orcades received yet another refit, turning her into an all one class ship. The first class Grill Room was converted to a 157 seat cinema. She now catered for 1635 passengers. The traditional Orient Line corn coloured hull was painted white, making her ready for a dual role as a passenger liner and cruise ship. Her first departure as a one class liner was in May 1964.

An all white Orcades seen after the refit

In 1966 Orcades came under the ownership of P&O Line after they had taken over the balance of the Orient Line Shareholding.

The Orcades with her name mostly painted out, except for the “E” is seen in Naples in 1969

Photograph by the late Jack Smith – sent by his son Rob – who were on a cruise on the Adriatica Line MS Stelvio

In April 1972, whilst berthed in Hong Kong during a cruise, a fire broke out in the boiler room causing damage. As it happened the Iberia was laid up in the UK and parts were taken from her and flown to Hong Kong for repairs to be made.

After repairs she returned to Australia and departed Sydney for the last time on June 3, 1972. Upon her return to Britain she commenced cruising, however, she was taken out of service on October 13, 1972and laid up in the Solent. Several months later she was sold to Taiwanese breakers, Nan Feng Steel Enterprises. In January 1973 she departed the UK for the last time manned by a handful of crew. She arrived at Kaohsiung on February 6, and was handed over to the breakers, who commenced breaking her up on March 15, 1973.

A tragic sight – looking forward from the stern


I trust that this RMS Orcades feature, will have restored some good memories, regardless if you sailed on her or not. She was a wonderful sight to behold as she was tie up at a berth in New Zealand and Australians. Locals would often go the wharves, just to look and dream – “If I only could.” For those who sailed on her, I am sorry, I only have photos of her lounges (next page) during the days she was a two class ship. Should you have any photos of the Orcades, I would be happy to add them to this feature and provide full accreditation as we always do. My email link is located below.


Enter our …

RMS Orcades Photo Album


Watch a wonderful 1960 film by British Pathe

I Am a Passenger – Orient Lines SS Orcades



Also Visit our Features on the following Orient Lines/P&O Ships


Orient Lines: RMS OrcadesSS Oronsay - SS Oriana - RMS Orion

P&O: RMS Strathaird SS Himalaya - SS Iberia - SS Canberra


Read the book

Orient Line – A Fleet History

It is available for 23.50 plus p&p from “Ships in Focus”




Who is the Author of ssMaritime?

Commenced in the passenger Shipping Industry in May 1960



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Please Note that ssmaritime and associated sites are 100% non commercial and the author seeks no funding or favours of any shape or form!


Photographs on ssmaritime and associate pages are by the author or from the author’s private collection. In addition there are some images that have been provided by Shipping Companies and private photographers or collectors. Credit is given to all contributors. However, there are some photographs provided to me without details regarding the photographer/owner concerned. I hereby invite if owners of these images would be so kind to make them-selves known to me in order that due credit may be given.

This notice covers all pages, although, and I have done my best to ensure that all photographs are duly credited and that this notice is displaced on each page, that is, when a page is updated! is owned and Copyright by Reuben Goossens - All Rights Reserved.