Orient Steam Navigation Company - RMS/SS Orion - 1935 to 1963

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With Reuben Goossens

Maritime Historian, Cruise‘n’Ship Reviewer & Author


Orient Line

RMS Orion

A wonderful story as told by Anne Lee who sailed …

with her family from Tilbury to Sydney in 1958

Anne Lee aged 13, and her family sailed from Tilbury to Sydney via the Suez Canal in 1958. Anne has kindly provided us details of her happy experiences aboard the Orion – “I would have been happy to stay on board the ship for ever.”


RMS Orion

Our family, Mum and Dad, My sister (Yvonne) and myself (Anne) boarded the S.S. Orion at Tilbury on March 19th, 1958 and arrived in Sydney, Australia on April 24th, 1958.

At the time we sailed I was 13yrs 9 months old, and I was embarking on the most amazingly wonderful few weeks of my young life.

Our Ports of call were Gibraltar, Naples, Port Said, through the Suez,  Aden, Colombo, Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney,

We had a 4 berth cabin on F deck…our berths were F 21-24. The cabin was quite small, but not uncomfortable, well not for me anyway as I didn’t spend much time in apart from sleeping, as there was too much to do and see on deck.

The bathrooms and toilets were not far from our cabin and there was a laundry at the end of the passage.

From what I can remember there were two bottom bunks and two top bunks, a chest of drawers wardrobes, a mirror and wash-basin. My sister and I had the top bunks and our parents the bottom ones.

The pair at the end of the cabin faced the portholes and the other 2 were at right angles to them. Mine was the one with my feet pointing towards a porthole.

Yvonne sewing on promenade deck

My first impression of the ship was how big it was, I thought I would get lost for sure, but within a couple of days I knew my way around very well…certainly better than my parents who never knew where to go looking for me.

Although we were berthed in tourist class, there didn’t seem any problem with us having the “run of the ship”. We spent a lot of time in the first class area and no one ever told us to leave.

Our steward in the dinning room was a lovely man who did everything to make our meals enjoyable. I developed a taste for radishes, and our steward would have a bowl of thinly sliced radishes just for me at each meal. And I still have a few of the menus from the voyage.

Friends enjoying the sun on deck

I recall playing bingo in the first class lounge, and the church service was held there also on Sundays.

I thought the ship was wonderful, there was so much to do and see, and so much food, and everyone was so friendly.

I loved the morning wake up calls, "Wakey, Wakey Rise and Shine, its breakfast time on the Orient Line” or something like that.

There always seemed to be a crew member around when you needed one and they were all very nice.

I was a bit queasy for the first day, but then I was fine…but my mother was sick almost the entire voyage, my sister (12 at the time) was sick for a few days, and my father was fine.

Friend’s poolside

I enjoyed all the activities. I loved being in the swimming pool, but preferred to watch the more adventurous pool games. I recall people straddling a log which had been placed across the pool and trying to knock each other off with some kind of weapon (harmless of course).

 I was allowed to go to the early evening movies. I remember seeing Boy on a Dolphin with Sophia Loren.  There were many others, but I can’t recall them, I think one was Witness for the Prosecution.

My sister Yvonne in fancy dress

My parents thought I was a bit young for the dances (I didn’t think so) but I was allowed to go for a short while. I remember one time one of the officers came over and asked me to dance. In later years I thought what a nice man he must have been to have taken the trouble to make a young teenager’s night so special.

Yvonne and Elizabeth on deck

There were a lot of people our own age, so we made a lot of friends and had a lot of fun. A ship is a wonderful playground and we made the most of it.

There were two families I particularly remember the Steels and the Gemmells, both from Scotland, (we were from Middlesex, England) .and on most ports of call I went ashore with members of these families, because Mum was often not feeling well enough to go ashore.

We enjoyed the deck games and playing bingo.

Boys out on Promenade deck on a cool day

I recall spending countless hours just standing on deck watching the ocean, and the dolphins, watching for land when we were due to call into a port.

We didn’t have to go to school on board thanks goodness, and so had the most wonderful few weeks holiday.

A ceremony took place as we crossed the equator with King Neptune arriving decide whether to let us cross and ceremoniously tossing some (willing??)  pssengers/crew into the pool.

Janet and Elizabeth

Ports of call:

Gibraltar: We went ashore by barge and had a look around.  It was special because it was my first time in a foreign country. My only previous time out of England had been a holiday in Scotland the previous year.

Photo of Gibraltar taken from the ship

Naples: Again we had a few hours ashore this time no barge as we were tied up at the dock ….it was raining…I had gone ashore with another family as I made friends with the girls of the family. We went into some shops, I recall I purchased a scarf, and in the record department of one store we thought it was strange to hear familiar songs sung in Italian.

This double exposure was taken in Naples. That is me on the right

Port Said: We didn’t go ashore, but I recall the hordes of canoes that came right up to the side of the ship. The canoes were full of exotic items which the people (mostly men) in the canoes wanted to sell to passengers.

It was exciting to look down on all that frenzied activity, but I was worried that some of them would bump into the ship and capsize their canoes.

We travelled through the Suez (before we left England there had been talk about the Suez being closed to shipping).

I remember being very surprised at how narrow the Suez Canal was. We saw lots of Arabs and camel, some of the Arabs “mooned” us. 

Aden: We went ashore. It was not a very pleasant experience….the smells were dreadful and we all had our mouths and noses covered with handkerchiefs.

I remember being shocked by the beggars and the poverty, the scrawny animals wandering around, and the dirt. If nothing else it was an education.

Colombo: We went ashore, it was a prettier place than Aden, but there were old men sitting on the kerbs spitting red stuff out of their mouths. Big Palm trees also stand out in my memory.

Fremantle: We went ashore and took a bus into Perth for some sightseeing. We enjoyed everything about the city (and 46 years later I ended up back in Perth where I now live)

The Great Australian Bight: Sailing through the Great Australian Bight was some experience. Luckily we all had our sea legs by this time, because here we were virtually walking up the walls as the ship rolled up and down and side to side. All the tables in the dining room had to be fitted with boards to stop things falling off. We thought it was great fun, but my poor Mum didn’t enjoy it one bit, and suffered more bouts of sea sickness.

Adelaide: I remember the ship docking, and we had to take a train into the city. I had never seen such an old rattle trap…it reminded me of a train from a western movie, and it was fun to ride in it. We stood outside the back of a carriage for the journey. We did enjoy Adelaide.

Melbourne: We were in Port Melbourne longer than we should have been as there was a dock strike. I think we were there 3 or 4 days.

My family did some sightseeing in the city, but I preferred to spend time with friends at the Milk Bar at the end of the wharf, where there was a jukebox, milkshakes, food and boys, and I made friends with some local people too.

Sydney: Sadly, the end of our voyage and the end of a wonderful few weeks on the high seas.

As we saw Sydney Harbour Bridge, we knew we had have finally arrived, however, I would have been happy to stay on board the Orion forever.

Orion in Sydney

Approaching the Sydney Harbour Bridge was so awesome … as we approached, we felt certain that we wouldn’t make it under safely … but of course we did.

The voyage was one of the best and most exciting times of my life, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience it.

Some of the sunrises and sunsets I witnessed were sheer magic. I would have been happy to stay on board the Orion forever!

Anne Lee.


RMS/SS Orion Index


RMS Orion                                   Orion - History Page.

Photo Album                             Orion - Interior and exterior photographs.

Passenger Contribution - 1        Ben Zuber heads for Australia in 1961.

Passenger Contribution - 2        Jack Abbott - a Soldiers Tale - “Orion Oracle” No 20.

Passenger Contribution - 3       Jack Abbott - a Soldiers Tale - “Orion Oracle” No 29.

Passenger Contribution - 4        William Rishton sails for Australia in 1956.

Passenger Contribution - 5        Anne Lee UK to Sydney Australia in 1958.



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 - RMS Kaisar-i-Hind - SS Canberra



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