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Tuesday 23 December 2014

History of P&O's SS Himalaya

SS Himalaya in Manila 1962

Back in 1945 P&O had ordered its first new passenger liner of the postwar period. The Himalaya finally emerged in 1949 and was a splendid ship and the fastest and largest ship P&O had ever owned until that time. She had a top speed of 25 knots.

Design & Construction (1945 - 1949):

She had been ordered in March 1945 and she was built by Vickers Armstrong Ltd, Barrow in Furness. Her keel was laid on the 26th February 1946 and she underwent sea trials in August 1949. She was delivered to P&O on the 1st September 1949. She was the first liner equipped with a Weir evaporating plant for distilling water. She was named after the Himalaya mountains.

P&O Himalaya under the Sydney Harbour Bridge

P&O Years (1949 - 1970):

She sailed on her maiden voyage on the 6th October 1949 from London (Tilbury) to Bombay via Suez. The Himalaya was a contemporary of Orient Line's Orcades and these ships marked a gradual coming together of the new liners of each company in the postwar era. She was a record breaker and cut the UK to Bombay passage by 5 days and reduced the overall voyage to Australia from 38 days to just 28 days. Indeed the six ships worked closely together on their Australian service with their sailing schedules organised so that sailings alternated between P&O and Orient. Thus they formed a Southern Dominions "Big Six" fleet.

On the 30th August 1956 an explosion occured in a domestic refrigeration chamber when she was in the Mediterranean bound for Australia. Four crew were killed and 12 injured.

In January 1958 P&O and Orient services to Australia were extended across the Pacific in a joint service marketed as Orient & Pacific Line. The Himalaya inaugurated the operation and sailings continued from Sydney to Auckland, Suva, Honolulu, Vancouver and San Francisco. On the 12th January 1959 she departed London on a round trip of 79,000 km (49,250 miles) to Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Japan and Singapore, which in the process opened the Orient & Pacific Lines US / Japan service. In winter 1959 / 1960 she was refitted and air conditioned in the Netherlands.

In May 1960 her management and operation was transferred to P&O-Orient Lines. In October 1960 Stephen Bradley, who had abducted and killed an 8 year old son of the first Sydney Opera House lottery winner, was taken off the London bound ship at Colombo and flown back to Sydney by Comet airliner to face trial.

In 1963 she was refitted by R & H Green and Silley Weir Ltd in Tilbury for one class operation with 1,416 passengers. On the 21st November 1963 she set sail from London bound on her first one-class voyage to Australia. In 1966 her management and operation transferred to P&O Lines.

The Final Years (1970 - 1974): 

P&O SS Himalaya 28000 tons
Official P&O postcard

In the 1970s she was primarily occupied on a long programme of cruises from Australia and New Zealand with a shorter period cruising from Southampton in the Spring, the two linked by "positioning" voyages. On the 27th March 1973, she arrived in Southampton with 1,400 passengers of whom no less than 950 were women on a World Discovery tour organised by the Australian magazine "Women's Weekly". In October 1971 her management and operation were transferred to the P&O Passenger Division. 

On the 30th October 1974, she arrived in Sydney at the end of her final commercial voyage. She was retired from service and sold to Mitsui & Co. who in turn sold her to Tong Cheng Steel Manufacturing Co. Ltd for scrapping. She arrived at Kaoshiung, Taiwan on the 28th November 1974 and demolition commenced in January 1975. A sad end to a fine ship.


  1. I sailed to Australia, as a 7 year-old, on the Himalaya. We left Tilbury on 25 November 1964 & arrived in Melbourne on 29 December having stopped at Port Said, Aden, Bombay, Singapore and Fremantle. Highlights for a 7 yr old definitely included an extremely rough crossing of the Indian Ocean and an almost equally rough Christmas in the Great Australian Bight. No wonder I turned to ocean racing later in life!

    1. sorry that comment was from joe jarvis western Australia no racing for me just cruising when it starts again bon voyage

    2. Hi Just seen this posting,,,,I was on that very same sailing at the age of 4...we must have seen each other or played on the decks as there was a very good 'bubber club' on board! I also recall that Christmas rough passage, when all the crockery slide off the tables!

    3. We disembarked at Sydney just on New Years Eve, lived in Manly, overlooking the Pacific, but returned to the UK due to fathers work commitment, great memories, returned to on Himalaya, the ocean remains in my blood and heart, even though I now live 100 miles from the sea!

  2. Isailed on the Italian liner Angelina lauro from Southampton december 1968 with my sister and brothers and mum and dad what an experience as 9 year-old i still think about that voyage to this day landing in Fremantle for the day then off to Melbourne then finally Sydney then off to migrant camp in Queensland what a journey i will keep that memory forever

  3. Those were the days... Life moved at a civilized and measured pace punctuated by dining bells, the noon Tannoy announcement of the ship's run and news, and of course, the results of the tote betting on the exact number of miles run in the past 24 hours along with the film to be shown - Tim (sailed on Canberra, Oriana & Orsova in 1960s line voyages.)

  4. I sailed on her 2 trips in 1965 as a boy rating my 1st trips as a seaman she wasnt bad but as i sailed on other shipping companies i realised P&O wasnt for me

  5. I have discovered a piece of family memorabilia It’s a luncheon menu for the ship P & O Himalaya dated 24 December 1960. I believe the Himalya arrived in Fremantle July 1960. However Does anyone know where the ship Himalaya was located December 1960?

  6. I went on a 12day cruise in 1972 on the Himalaya with three girlfriends. I met my future husband on the ship and we've been happily married 47years.

  7. I was an 8 year old when we sailed from Tilbury on Himalayas inaugural one class voyage from London to New Zealand on 21 November 1963. I remember the date well as 22 November was the day JFK was assassinated in Dallas. The whole ship was mourning.

  8. I entertained on the Himalaya on two women's weekly tours 1969 and 1973. I met my wife on that first tour in Lisbon. We've been married 50 years These were very special cruises on a very special liner