R.M.S / S.S. Oronsay

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With Reuben Goossens

Maritime Historian, Author, Cruise‘n’Ship Reviewer and Maritime Lecturer

Please Note: All ssMaritime and my other related ssMaritime sites are 100% non-commercial and privately owned sites. Be assured that I am NOT associated with any cruise or shipping companies or travel/cruise agencies or any other organisations! The author has been in the passenger shipping industry since May 1960 and is now semi-retired, but continues and I hope that the well over 675 Classic Liners and Cargo-Passengers ships I have written on will continue to provide classic ship enthusiasts and continue a great deal of information and pleasure!

Orient Line / P&O Lines

R.M.S. Oronsay

A painting of the Oronsay

A delightful painting by an unknown artist

RMS (later SS) Oronsay was the second Orient Line ship built after World War II, her earlier sister RMS Orcades was built in 1948. She was named after an island off the West coast of Scotland, which also influenced her décor. To enhance her Scottish identity she had a “Targe and Broadsword” insignia located aft of her funnel and on her bow. She had the typical Orient livery of a Corn coloured hull, white superstructure and a black topped yellow.

Built by Vickers-Armstrong Ltd at Barrow-in-Furness, especially for the Australasian service, her accommodations set a new standard, both in first and tourist class. With the final cost of building coming in at £4,228,000, she was considered to be the epitome of post-war British shipbuilding. Her decor was by Brian O'Rourke who was also the interior designer for what was called the “new look” of the Orion, as well as the Orcades. However, her exterior differed from the earlier Orcades (and the newer SS Orsova and the last Orient Line ship ever built, the SS Oriana) having been fitted with a thick mast set atop her Bridge. Like other passenger liners, Oronsay had considerable cargo facilities, with space for 370,000 cubic feet, accommodating both dry and refrigerated cargoes.

Please Note: Photographs and postcards on this page are from the author’s private collection unless stated otherwise!


Above and below: The launching of the Oronsay

Originally issued by Orient Line – From the author’s private collection



See during the fitting out process

Originally issued by Orient Line - From the author’s private collection

Her keel was laid down in 1949 and was launched of Friday June 30, 1950 by Mrs A. Anderson, the wife of the Companies Chairman. However, during her fitting out, on October 28, at 9 pm a fire started in the cork insulation in the No. 2 hold and it burned for three days. The ship developed a 20 degree list. As there was a fear of her capsizing, a hole was cut into the side of her hull to let the water flow out.

Oronsay seen on fire and listing to port

From the P&O archives

In spite of the mishap, her completion was only delayed by only eight weeks. On April 29 and 30, 1951, she ran her speed trails on the Clyde reaching a respectable 23.23 knots. She was officially delivered to Orient Line at Tilbury on May 3, 1951 and she was made ready for her maiden voyage to Australia.

RMS Oronsay being delivered to Orient Line on May 3, 1951

RMS Oronsay set sail for her maiden voyage to Australia on May 16, under the command of Captain Shurrock and sailed via the Suez Canal, to Fremantle (Perth), Adelaide, Melbourne, arriving in Sydney on June 18, 1951

Follow the rest of her career after her deck by deck as built description.

SS Oronsay Deck by Deck Description

 Official Orient Line Postcard

First Class

Description of Deck layout starting from forward to aft

First Class passenger accommodations occupied seven decks forward/amidships. These were named Bridge, Sun, A, B, C, D, E and F decks.

Bridge Deck

The Bridge

Sun Deck

This was a popular area for both games and enjoying the sun protected by a screen located forward. This deck could only be reached by stairs port and starboard.

A deck

The Arena

Forward was the popular fully enclosed “Arena” Look-Out, which was surrounded by floor to ceiling windows. This was followed by the Arena, then the Lobby and Library. Amidships was taken up by the spacious Games deck. Located aft was a lounge and as well as the Grill Restaurant, overlooking the pool down on A deck.

Games Deck


The aft decks with both the First and Tourist Class Pools in view

B deck

The Main Lounge

This deck had one of the two walk around promenades. Far forward was the Children’s Playroom and play deck, followed by the forward Lobby and the Main Lounge. Next the Main Lobby and side Galleries, with the Verandah Bar aft.

Verandah Cafe

C Deck

The forward section was taken up by cabins, the Shop, Hairdressing Salon, with the Tavern and pool far aft. There was also a full walk around promenade deck.

D Deck

This deck, except for the Pursers Office was dedicated to cabins and suites, the most famous of these being The Flat. Other cabins were one and two berth cabins, most with private facilities.

The Flat (suite)


Outside twin bedded cabin

E Deck

This deck was fully occupied by cabins, and the Main (First Class) entrance Foyer and the Doctor’s Surgery.

Dining Room

F Deck

Forward section was occupied by cabins followed by the Main Dinning Saloon, a separate Children’s Dinning Room (port) and a small Auxiliary Dinning Room (starboard).

RMS Oronsay seen at Princess Wharf Auckland New Zealand in August 1958

Photograph taken by Mr. Roger Eastwood

Tourist Class

A Deck 

With First Class occupying the forward section of the ship, Tourist was located aft, sharing a number of decks A to E decks. This deck contained the pool, changing room with showers, sun bathing deck and sports facilities.

A very spacious Sports Deck

 B Deck

Forward was occupied with two and four berth cabins, a few with private facilities. These were followed the main stairwell, and a fully covered spacious screened Verandah deck with the Upper Promenade on either side. A Bar located forward on the starboard side. Aft was the Children’s Play Room and deck.

C Deck

Forward started with the Pursers office, Surgery, Lobby and Main stairwell. This was followed by the Main Lounge and Bar as well as the shop aft. On both sides were the lower Promenade decks.

The original Main Lounge


Main Lounge and Ballroom after her 1972 refit

D Deck

Aft of the Galley, was the Tourist Class Dinning Room, followed by the Lobby and a very large Library. Aft of this were further cabins, most being two berths, with some having four berths. None had private facilities.

The Dinning Room


The spacious Library


E & F Decks

These two decks were fully occupied by cabins. Most of these were four berths; however there were some two and six berth cabins. None had private facilities.

Inside twin/tree or four-berth cabin


SS Oronsay seen departing Pyrmont Sydney at full speed in the mid 1950s


Specifications as Built

Built by:         Vickers Armstrong shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness

Call Sign:       GCNB

Tonnage:        27,632 GRT (gross registered tons) – 28,136 GRT in 1970

Length:          708ft – 216m

Beam:            93.5ft – 28.5m

Draught:        31ft - 9.4 m

Propulsion:     Parsons marine steam geared turbines - 42,500 SHP

Screws:          two

Service speed: 22 knots.

Passengers:    668 First - 883 Tourist Class – 1,400 One Class in 1972

Crew:            622

Air-conditioning:    Fitted in 1959


RMS Oronsay and early Orient Line postcard

Oronsay’s Career

Oronsay operated the UK to Australasia service sailing via the Suez Canal. However, on February 14, 1954 for on January 1, 1954, she would become the first Orient Line liner to cross the Pacific sailing to San Francisco via Auckland, Suva, Honolulu, and Vancouver. After returning to Sydney, she made two further Pacific crossings. In 1960 she transited the Panama Canal completing her first round the world voyage.

In San Francisco Harbour

On May 2, 1960, P&O (Peninsular Orient Line) absorbed Orient Line however Oronsay retained her traditional Orient Line corn coloured hull for another four years, until 1964, when in April the hull was finally painted white and she was the first of the Orient Line ships to change livery. She departed Southampton gleaming white on April 18, 1964.

P&O Postcard of a gleaming white SS Oronsay


Postcard of her transiting the Panama Canal after her hull was painted white in1964



Above and below: Two fine stern views of the SS Oronsay


SS Orcades as seen on an Orient Line postcard

On January 14, 1970 Oronsay arrived in Vancouver but somehow it was said that there was Typhoid onboard, which meant that the health authorities had the ship quarantined and anchored out in the harbour for her to be inspected for where the problem lay.

Recently in January 2015, I received an email from a passenger who sailed on the previous voyage departing San Francisco September 20, 1969 and sailed to Fremantle (Perth) Western Australia where he and his family arrived on November 3. The gentleman wrote;

“My brother contracted Typhoid before we disembarked on Nov 3 at Fremantle. He was very skinny to start with and ended up with vomiting & diarrhoea from Nov 1969 until Jan 1970. He spend time in Perth Children's Hospital, Adelaide's Children's Hospital, Melbourne's Children's Hospital, Sydney Children's Hospital and Brisbane's Children's Hospital have blood test and no one was able to find out why he was sick. Then once we settled, my Grandparents posted us a San Francisco Newspaper with an article about the Oronsay having been quarantined in Vancouver, the test then confirmed that was what Lane had.”

The Newspaper article regarding the SS Oronsay quarantine in Vancouver read as follows. However, I was not supplied the name of the newspaper.

“On January 14, 1970 Oronsay arrived in Vancouver but somehow it was said that there was Typhoid onboard, which meant that the health authorities had the ship quarantined and anchored out in the harbour. She remained there until February 4 when she was cleared and was free to depart.”

Vancouver Newspaper Clippings


The outbreak was traced down to sewerage pipes that had been wrongly installed during a recent refit, but with everything having been thoroughly corrected, she departed on her regular schedules.

SS Oronsay continued operating both Line Voyages as well as Cruises, but from 1973 she spent most of her time as a full time cruise ship with the occasional line voyage to Britain to operate Canary Island cruises from Southampton.

Oronsay and P&O liner Chusan meet up in Tenerife in the 1970’s

*Photographer unknown – Please read special photo note at bottom of page

In 1972 Oronsay was converted into a one-class ship, like most of the fleet, now capable of accommodating 1,400 passengers and she become a reasonable success, although it was very short lived. There is one event that many passengers on one voyage will remember is in March/April 1973 when Rock star David Bowie sailed on the Oronsay from San Francisco to Yokohama. During the voyage he gave an impromptu solo acoustic performance for the passengers and crew. The ship arrived in Yokohama on April 5 to great media fanfare.

David Bowie out on deck upon arrival at Yokohama

*Photographer unknown – Please read special photo note at bottom of page

However, she was mostly based in Australia and by 1974 it had become obvious that passenger numbers was in a severe decline with either superior ships on the horizon, including the SS Oriana as well as the foreign invasion such as Chandris Lines, Lloyd Triestino, Sitmar Lines, Flotta Lauro and TSS Fedor Shalyapin of “Celebrity Club Cruises’ operated by the author” as well as other Soviet ships operated by CTC, which offered cruises at more favourable fares.

Looking up to the Bridge from the forward Sports Arena

Photograph by Pam Franklin – provided by Stephen Moore

Thus, P&O decided to sell Oronsay and sold her to Nan Feng Steel Enterprise Company of Kaohsiung, Taiwan. She departed Southampton for Australia on August 4, 1975 under the command of Captain Jack Lefevre, sailing to Sydney via Hamilton (Bermuda), Port Everglades, Nassau, Cristobal, Balboa, Acapulco, San Francisco, Honolulu, Suva and Auckland, arriving in Sydney on September 15.

Then on September 16 she departed Sydney with some 700 passengers for her final one way Fly/Cruise to Hong Kong, sailing via Brisbane and Manila, arriving in Hong Kong on September 28. Her passengers had a farewell party and left her feeling very sad for she was a fine ship and many had sailed on her many times, but as soon as they disembarked, workers came onboard to remove all that had not been sold (destore) to the breakers and the ship was left looking much like a lonely and an empty shell.

On October 7, 1975 SS Oronsay arrived in Kaohsiung Taiwan and on the 9th the transfer papers were officially completed, and she was soon broken up.

This fine liner that became known as a ship with a Scottish heritage had called in total at some 150 ports and had completed 64 world (line) voyages and 37 cruises and that in her 25 years of operation. But with her disposal, the sad fact was, that in a little over three years P&O had disposed of six fine liners; these being the Iberia, Orcades, Chusan, Orsova, Himalaya, and the now the Oronsay. That left P&O with just three ships for the Australian trade, the Arcadia, Oriana, and Canberra.

Oronsay seen on September 16 1975, departing Sydney for her final cruise to Asia and then to the breakers yard in Taiwan

From the Sydney Telegraph published the next day - 17 September – provided by Stan Evans


Sydney Telegraph article and photograph – published on September 17

Provided by Stan Evans



Oronsay seen departing Sydney for the very last time, bound for Hong Kong and then Kaohsiung Taiwan

Photographs and Oronsay Memorabilia

Oronsay seen in her final dry-dock in Sydney

Photograph sent in by Peter Thurlow, but believed to be taken by Chris-Benham


A wonderful memory of the Oronsay berthed at Circular Quay Sydney in her latter days

SS Oronsay Memorabilia 

A fine pair of First Class Silver Napkin Rings

Part of the author’s memorabilia collection


A pair of Silver SS Oronsay Teaspoons

These teaspoons were kindly gifted to the author by Mr. Simon Lowe


Here we see a SS Oronsay ships bell that was originally purchased by Mr. Brian Johnston in the USA

Is it an original? Not too sure, for the original bell would have read R.M.S. ORONSAY not SS!

Sent in by Mr Brian Johnston



Above & below: This is a decorative Oronsay cigarette box

Part of the author’s memorabilia collection




A typical souvenir dish of the ship

Part of the author’s memorabilia collection

the author has a full set of Orient Line & P&O dishes



Above & below: An Oronsay miniature Arab style table, a souvenir from the mid sixties

Part of the author’s memorabilia collection




A beautifully English made silver (EPNS) 7” tall Oronsay sports Trophy from between 1964 to 1970

Photograph provided and trophy owned by Steve Tingle


This superb SS Oronsay pewter tankard is stamped on the bottom - "Pewter" and was "Made in Sheffield, England."

Owned and provided by George Boys


A side view of the tankard

Owned and provided by George Boys


An attractive souvenir pennant purchased during a cruise onboard the Oronsay during the 1960s

Provided by Dan-Gilgan



Above and below: An attractive “pearlite” handle souvenir folding SS Oronsay knife

Provided by Ralph-Dellor



A silver SS Oronsay cream jar

Provided by Jan Paulussen



Above and below: A stainless souvenir steel SS Oronsay folding knife

Provided by Peter Harris 



A SS Oronsay powder compact from the mid 1950’s

From the author’s memorabilia collection


Here is an SS Oronsay Address Book in original condition, which was obtained in 1969

Owned and provided by Vince Lowden


Upon boarding this fold-up ships layout is given to passengers

Click on the image for an enlargement


SS Oronsay seen in Sydney in the early 70’s


SS Oronsay seen in Southampton for the very last time

*Photographer unknown – Please read special photo note at bottom of page


SS Oronsay: “Page One” Covers this fine ships complete history.

Rick Danley sails on SS Oronsay’s World Voyage in 1962 – Below is his story & photo album.

Part One:            Across America / San Francisco to Hong Kong.

Part Two:            Manila to Port Said.

Part Three:          Port Said to London & Epilogue – RMS Queen Mary Trans Atlantic crossing

Part Four:            Voyage memorabilia, menus and other items – further items to come online soon!

Watch these Pathe films:


This film shows SS ORONSAY in her very early days!



 This is the continuation of the film just above



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 Iberia - SS Canberra


“Blue Water Liners sailing to the distant shores.
I watched them come, I watched them go and I watched them die.”



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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 (my email address may be found on www.ssmaritime.com only), in order that due credit may be given.

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