Home > ALL POSTS > California here we come on the cruise-liner RMS Orcades from mid-century to 1972.
California here we come on the cruise-liner RMS Orcades from mid-century to 1972.

California here we come on the cruise-liner RMS Orcades from mid-century to 1972.

During her 24 years of service, the Orcades (1948 to 1972) sailed more than 2 million miles on cruises and liner voyages from the UK to Australia/New Zealand along with cruises in the South Pacific and from the West Coast of the USA and Canada (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver) to Australia, the Orient, and Europe. 

CW: The Orcades; Davis Cup winners arriving in Sydney in the UK; Sailing from Australia; Party Night on the Orcades.
  • The modern post WW 2 liner RMS ORCADES started service as a British Royal Mail Ship (RMS) carrying first and tourist class passengers between the UK and Australia/New Zealand.
CW: Orcades smoke stack and illuminated sign; Tourist Class cabin; Orcades sailing way; Officers having a gay old time and finishing off a pint of Scotch.
  • There was no doubt that the Orcades set a new standard in style externally at the time, but also she offered high standards in her facilities and accommodations.
  • She provided many beautiful lounges as well as other facilities such as shops, hair salons, hospital, swimming pool, and a vast range of cabin choices.
Ads for the Orcades sailing from Vancouver, San Francisco and Los Angeles.


Countless immigrants sailed to Australia on the Orcades and offered an “old world style of luxury” that no longer exists today. Regardless if they where in First or Tourist, or even later when she had become a One Class ship, the Orcades offered a wonderful experience. 

  • She soon was used on the Sydney to Vancouver route and then expanding into the California, San Francisco and Los Angeles, market. 
CW: Deluxe Suite living room with adjoining terrace; Shipboard Shop; Stairway corridor; Elevator area.
  • The older Orient Line and P&O ships were exceptional, they had heart and soul, and they made you feel you were aboard an actual ship, not a giant floating “Las Vegas” style hotel.
  • Orient Line took the best of the pre-War 2 original designs, but vastly modernized this new ship and the outcome became the new template for the next two new Orient Line ships, being the Oronsay (1951) and the last of the trio, the much-improved version the Orsova (1954).
CW: The wonderful open air dance pavilion; Tourist Class bar; Passengers arriving in Sydney on maiden voyage; The wheelhouse.
  • She was launched in October 1947 and was completed just over a year later on November 14, 1948. She underwent her deep sea trials that same month and achieved a respectable 24.74 knots. The cost to build the RMS Orcades was £3,418,000 or £120,980,707 if it were built today.


  • The ORCADES departed on her maiden voyage from Tilbury on December 14, 1948, being her first voyage, sailing to Australia and Auckland New Zealand via Gibraltar, Naples, Port Said, Aden, Colombo, Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney where she arrived on January 13, 1949, and then continued to Auckland New Zealand, where she would turn around and head back to the UK.
CW: Young officers and passengers; Children’s games; Orcades sailing from Sydney; Orcades in Sydney.


From the Sydney Sunday Morning Herald – January 11, 1949 – Correspondent who traveled onboard the Orcades. 

The maiden voyage of a great passenger ship is both an exciting event and a testing time n organization and administration the experience of traveling on a new ship is therefore of special interest from a woman’s point of view. This is certainly true of the new Orient liner Orcades, which is now on the final stage of her first trip from Tilbury to Sydney. 

  • The Orcades, which is the largest passenger liner completed in Britain since the war, sets a new example in design, both for the comfort and pleasure of the passengers, and, from the more useful aspect, for easy management of day-to-day duties by the staff. 
Wonderful video remembering the Orcades.

Video highlighting the Orient Line’s ORCADES. A must see.

  • The simple modern style of furnishing throughout the ship, especially in lounges, galleries, and dining-room, allows for a degree of spaciousness seldom found in a ship.
  • Wall paneling and furniture in light wood, and curtains, carpets, and chair covers in attractive colors help to increase this idea of comfort and space.
  • The curtains, specially woven in Australia for the ship, are designed in vividly colored geometrical designs, and stand up well to the too often unflattering fluorescent lighting. 
CW: Mother with children on deck; Crew cleaning Promenade; First Class Lounge; Pilot being greeted by Captain.
  • The luxury suite occupied on this trip by Mr. I. C. Geddes. Chairman of directors of the Orient Line and Mrs. Geddes would answer a housewife’s dream of perfection. It accommodates two people comfortably. The living-room and bedroom are tastefully furnished in the same light wood, with very attractive chair coverings, curtains, and bedcovers of unusually designed Australian cretonnes. A pantry-cum-kitchenette, bathroom, and dressing room complete this home-from-home at tea. 
  • For the 90 children on board a nursery playground, complete with sandpit, paddling pool. swings and seesaw are provided, with a children’s hostess and stewardess always in attendance. 


CW: First Class Dining Room, Stateroom, Ballroom; Bamboo Club.
  • In 1954 both Orient Line and P&O introduced new services with new ships sailing across the Pacific.
CW: Composer Rudolph Friml and his wife arriving in California; Europe advert; San Francisco event; Coastwise sailings 1960s.
  • On December 17, 1954, she operated a “Circle Pacific Voyage,” cruising via a variety of ports to San Francisco where she arrived on January 6, 1955. She then returned to Sydney after which she then returned to the UK via the Suez as per usual. Cruising around the Pacific and to Europe via Canada and California via the Panama Canal became very popular. 
Various views of the Orcades prior to her maiden voyage in 1948. The elegance and openness of the ship seen in these images were changed in the 1959 refit.
  • During her refit in 1964, the Orcades changed her two class configuration into a One Class ship with accommodations for 1,635 passengers. I
  • In addition, her former First Class Grill Restaurant was rebuilt into a Cinema with 157 seats and the actual Grill became the Cinema Lounge with a view over the aft decks.
  • The First Class Main Lounge was renamed the “Riverina Room” only other changes would be minor, such as soft furnishings, etc.
CW: The new Orcades featuring the exclusive Grill Room in First Class. Similar to the exclusive dining clubs on the Queens, Orient Line offered them on their ships with superior cuisine and exclusivity for a surcharge into the 1950s; the large open area game space for First Class; the expansive First Class promenade.

The most obvious external change would be her external livery, for Orcades traditional Orient Lines corn hull would disappear and become the typical P&O all-white hull and superstructure with red boot topping, but thankfully the corn/yellow funnel with its black cover and “top-hat” remained!

  • Having been completed, the all-white SS Orcades departed Tilbury on her first voyage in May 1964 and continued on her regular Australian Line voyages sailing westward.
  • However, with the airlines taking over the migrant trade it became obvious that line voyages were suffering and that it was the cruises that were making the most money for the big shipping companies, thus the Orcades soon became better known as a happy and an excellent cruise ship, rather than having been a traditional liner. 
CW: Outdoor game stadium; Orcades game deck and sign; Entrance hall stairway; Purser’s Office.
  • Although she still operated the occasional voyage to and from the UK and Australia, but they were more like relocation voyages for upon arrival at her destination she would commence a series of summer cruises out of Sydney, then 4 months or so later return to the UK and operate further cruises from there, as well as out of the USA.
  • Her Australian cruises proved to be very popular, be they those to the South Pacific or the longer Asian cruises including the European service from Canada and California. 


However on April 17, 1972, during one of these cruises whilst Orcades was in Hong Kong, sadly there was a fire in her boiler room. Although this did not affect the rest of the ship, vital parts were required for her to continue.

  • As it turned out the P&O’s SS Iberia had already been laid up at Southampton, thus they took the badly needed parts from her and they were flown to Hong Kong and she was repaired and continued her voyage.
  • The Orcades made her last voyage from Sydney to Australia in September 1972 and was scrapped in 1973. 
ORCADES last voyage.
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