Cruise History: The Dominion Monarch was a luxurious all first class passenger-cargo liner and the largest of her type ever built. At the time of her introduction she was also the most powerful motor liner in the world.
Design and Construction (1938 – 1939):
At the time of her building, the QSMV (Quadruple Screw Motor Vessel) Dominion Monarch was the most powerful motor liner in the world and the largest ship operating full time on the Australasian trade. Shaw Savill already had a great deal of experience in operating all first class only passenger services and was able to assure their guests a unique luxury voyage. Dominion Monarch with 525 passengers, combined with her crew passenger ratio, offered a service that is unequalled to this day.
She was an unusual ship as her design was that of a large passenger-cargo liner, with a relatively small passenger complement considering her size. To this day, Dominion Monarch remains the largest (all first class) cargo passenger liner ever to be built.
Her keel was laid in July 1937 at the Swan Hunters Ltd, Wallsend on Tyne, Newcastle upon Tyne, England, UK. It was laid in the same berth that the RMS Mauretania had been built in back in 1906. The Dominion Monarch was launched at 3.30 p.m. on the 27th July 1938, by Lady Essendon, the wife of the Chairman of Furness Withy and Company Ltd. The Dominion Monarch was the largest ship built on the River Tyne since the famous RMS Mauretania in 1906. Late in January 1939, she had her sea trials off St Abbs Head, after which she was delivered to Shaw Savill.
On her voyages she would normally spent a month in London at the end of each voyage unloading and loading cargo at the Royal Albert Docks. On leaving London the first port of all was Southampton to pick up passengers. From there it was a voyage of 35 days to Wellington, New Zealand via Las Palmas (to bunker fuel), Cape Town, Fremantle, Melbourne, Sydney and then Wellington. Here she stayed another month unloading and loading cargo. She unloaded cargo at Aotea Quay and then moved to Glasgow Wharf for loading frozen cargo and picking up passengers for the return voyage, stopping at the same ports of call as outward.
The Prewar Shaw Savill Era (1939 – 1940):
On the 17th February 1939, in the command of Captain W. G. Summers (although another source states that Captain W. H. Hartman was in command), she commenced her seven week maiden voyage from the King George V Dock in London to Wellington New Zealand via Southampton, (where passengers boarded), Tenerife, Cape Town, Durban, Fremantle (arriving on the 11th March 1939, having set a new record for the ‘Cape’ route), Melbourne and Sydney. The service was promoted as “The Clipper Route,” with fares commencing with £58. Despite the fact that the Shaw Savill offices in London had received a call claiming that the IRA had placed a bomb on board timed to go off when the ship was on the equator, she made a fast passage to Durban, arriving on a Sunday with thousands of people to welcome her. The ship was opened to the public and because of the thousands of visitors her departure was delayed for 12 hours. In Australia she visited Fremantle, Melbourne and Sydney and then in New Zealand she went to Auckland and Wellington and even made a short call at the roadstead off Napier, where she became the largest ship to have worked the port and visitors had to be hoisted on board.
On the 11th March 1939 she arrived at Fremantle and set a new record for the “Cape” route. On the 24th April 1939 she collided with the 746 ton crane Hikitia in Wellington. The next day on the 25th April 1939, she departed from Wellington for Sydney and her return leg to the UK. On the 3rd August she departed London on her next voyage. On the 3rd September 1939 she was berthed at Lyttelton when Great Britain and France declared war with Germany and the Second World War started. Her ship’s company started painting her grey.
She was despatched to Sydney where she arrived on the 7th September 1939 was fitted with light armament and returned to the UK via the hazardous Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Upon arrival, the Dominion Monarch was she was laid up, as it was considered that she was far too luxurious to be used as a trooper. However it was decided that she should resume her Australasian service until August 1940. So the Dominion Monarch set out again for Australia and New Zealand. Few passengers embarked, mainly owing to the threat of attack by German submarines which were known to be lurking in British waters. However, the round voyage was relatively uneventful and she returned to Britain with a full capacity of vital foodstuffs and war supplies. During the course of this journey much of her passenger accommodation was used for additional cargo space; crates of fruit and vegetables were stored in her public rooms and large stacks of wool stowed on the games deck.
In May 1940 while on the return passage from Australia, whilst coming up the English Channel completely blacked out and at full speed, she collided with a small coaster which was part of a convoy. However the liner sustained only minor damage and continued onto London where she docked in early May 1940. She then returned to Sydney, loading a large cargo and embarking 100 Australian soldiers, who were part of a larger contingent that had already left Australia for England. These men were able to enjoy all the luxury of her first class accommodation on their passage which ended in Liverpool.
The Postwar Shaw Savill Years (1948 – 1961):
After being released from war duties the Dominion Monarch was returned to Shaw Savill in 1948, and after a refit she recommenced her regular duties. On the 16th December 1948 she returned to service carrying 2,000 tons of cargo for Australian ports and 8,000 tons for New Zealand. This cargo was valued at £1 million and it was a welcome addition for Britain’s postwar export drive. She arrived in Southampton the next day and embarked 500 passengers bound for Australia and New Zealand. Thus she made a good start back on her prewar duties on the UK to Australia and New Zealand run via South Africa.
On the 5th May 1953 the Dominion Monarch once again returned to her builder’s yard on the Tyne for an extensive refit. When the refit was completed she returned to London and resumed her usual service. She departed Newcastle on the 23rd May and arrived in London on the 16th November 1953.
In 1955 the Dominion Monarch was joined in the Shaw Savill fleet by the new Southern Cross. Soon the two ships inaugurated a round-the-world service to Wellington in alternate directions, calling at Trinidad, Curacao, Panama, Papeete, Suva and Wellington. On the return leg calls were made at Sydney, Melbounre, Fremantle, Durban, Cape Town and Las Palmas.
In 1958 Shaw Savill decided that they would replace the Dominon Monarch with a new ship similar to the Southern Cross, with accommodation for 1,412 passengers but no cargo. On the 29th May 1959 the British comedian, Spike Milligan, arrives in Sydney having travelled from the UK on board the Dominion Monarch.
Sadly, during the mid sixties the Australasian luxury passenger market was rapidly declining. All too often, the Dominion Monarch would depart with just a small complement of passengers, therefore the time came when Shaw Savill had to decide that this grand luxury liner had simply become uneconomic and had to be sold. Thus on the 30th December 1961, the Dominion Monarch departed London on her last voyage to Australia. Her farewell departures from New Zealand and Australian ports were sad occasions for many of her former passengers and for those who admired her. This was particularly so in the Dominion of New Zealand where, by virtue of her name, she had been adopted as “their” ship.
The Final Years (1961 – 1962):
After being retired from Shaw Savill service she was sold to the Mitsui Company of Japan for scrapping in March 1962, having been replaced by the short lived Northern Star. On the 15th March 1962 she departed Wellington for the final time. On the 21st April 1962 she disembarked her passengers after her final voyage from Australia and New Zealand.
The Dominion Monarch was leased from June to November 1962 as a hotel ship for the Seattle World Fair. She was moored at Pier 51, Elliot Bay. During her stay in Seattle she was opened to the public for organised tours and an official guide book was published. Towards the end of her Seattle stay, her funnels were repainted by her new owners, featuring a diamond shaped insignia and she was renamed Dominion Monarch Maru. There was interest from an American film company to buy her for use as a film prop so that they could blow her up and sink her like the Ile de France. However Shaw Savill stepped in and prohibited such an ignominious fate for the venerable Dominion Monarch. As a result the Dominion Monarch Maru departed Seattle with her dignity intact and sailed for Osaka where she arrived on November 25, 1962, where she was broken up.
In 2001 a large and impressive shipbuilder’s model of the Dominion Monarch was given to the National Maritime Museum in Auckland, New Zealand and is now installed in their Oceans Apart gallery as a fitting tribute to the legendary Dominion Monarch.
With the demise of the Dominion Monarch, the era of deluxe traditional sea travel ended. The Dominion Monarch was a truly graceful beauty and we shall never see a ship like her ever again. Long may her legacy endure.