Oruba (1889) had a service life of 37 years and a rather unusual history. Built as a passenger liner, she was purchased by the Admiralty during WW1 and disguised as a Capital ship to mislead the Germans. After that she was scuttled to act as a breakwater during the Dardenelles campaign. I will refer to her simply as Oruba in the rest of this article.

This article includes information and photos of life on board, and describes an encounter with the highly interesting but disgraced Archduke Leopold of Tuscany - disgraced by his assaulting the future Habsburg Emperor Franz Ferdinand whose assination in 1914 led to the start of WW1.

An old postcard of Oruba. [1]

Basic Data

Item Value
Type Passenger Ship
Registered owners, managers and operators Pacific Steam Navigation Co.
Builders Naval Construction and Armaments Co.
Yard Barrow
Country UK
Yard number 1654
Registry N/K
Official number 96310
Signal letters N/K
Call sign N/K
Classification society N/K
Gross tonnage 5,857
Net tonnage 3,351
Deadweight N/K
Length 131.1 Metres
Overall Length N/K
Breadth 15 Metres
Depth 10.4 Metres
Draught N/K
Engines Single triple-expansion steam engine
Engine builders Naval Construction and Armaments Co.
Works Barrow
Country UK
Boilers N/K
Power 1,030 hp; 7,000 IHP
Propulsion Single screw
Speed 16.5 knots
Cargo capacity N/K
Passenger capacity 1st. Class: 126
2nd Class: 120
3rd Class 400
Crew N/K

Career Highlights

Date Event
20 March 1889 Launched by Miss Lucy Ruston at Barrow
1890 Transferred to Orient Line
1906 Transferred to Royal Mail Steam Packet Co.
1914 Purchased by The Admiraly
1 January 1916 Scuttled at Kephalo Bay Mudros.

Service Pre WW1

Arteries of the British Empire

Ships such as Oruba provided the links between Britain and its Empire. Many of the passengers on Oruba would have been emigrating to Australia or New Zealand. Some would have been travelling as servants of the British Empire; others travelling to follow their professional trades or other occupations.

Oruba was built for the Pacific Steam Navigation Co's Britain to Valparaiso service. In 1890 she was transferred to the Orient Line service and sailed from London on 4 July 1890 for Melbourne and Sydney via Suez.

In February 1906 she was transferred to the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. and continued on the Australia service until 16 October 1908 when she commenced her last sailing to Australia. Oruba was the first vessel to use the newly opened Outer Harbour wharf at Port Adelaide. Before this had been built, when the weather was bad, passengers sometimes had to disembark at Semaphore by launch - boarding the launch using a bosun's chair.

Oruba was later used on the service to Buenos Aires.

This is a rather poor quality photo of Oruba but the only one that I have been able to locate to date. [2]
This is another early postcard showing Oruba. Note the four masts and closeness of her funnels. [1]

Voyage of the Walters Family in 1893

I am indebted to Angela Walters for the following information and photographs that she discovered during investigation of her ancestors.

Angela’s husband's grandparents and father sailed on Oruba in 1893 whilst returning to England from New Zealand. Grandfather Wiliam Charles Flamstead Walters and his wife had gone there in the early 1880s where he had been a Classics master at Christchurch College, Christchurch but he was dismissed despite his popularity. Angela says that there seems to have been a personal "delicate" reason behind this return and she may have more to say about this when her own research is published. Grandfather would later become Professor of Ancient History at King’s and Queen’s Colleges London.

According to Angela, this photo was taken during a "Crossing the line" ceremony. This custom started in the Royal Navy but was later adopted on passenger ships for entertainment. The lady on the left is known only as Mrs. Weir. The lady on the right is Mrs. Ethel Mary Aileen Walters, née Skyring. [3]
This photo was also taken during the "Crossing the line" antics. Mrs. Weir is holding a rope on her lap to the left of the lifebelt, Master Rupert Cavendish Skyring Walters is seated to the right of the lifebelt wearing the Captain's hat/cap and next to him wearing the Union flag as a skirt is his mother, Mrs. Ethel Mary Aileen Walters (née Skyring). The names of others in the group are not known. [3]

Rupert Cavendish Skyring Walters, B.Sc., M.Inst.C.E., M.Inst.W.E., F.G.S. was born at Christchurch, New Zealand on 21 July 1888. He became a Water Engineer and died in Gerrards Cross, England on 19 February 1980. Mrs. Ethel Mary Aileen Walters, née Skyring, was born in Scotland on 22 May 1863 and acted for Ben Greet's Company using the name "Sarah Sarsden". She was the daughter of Major General Francis Skyring, Royal Engineers (1814-1868) and wife of William Charles Flamstead Walters, M.A., Professor of Classical Lit. K.C.L. & of Classics & Ancient History Q.C.L. (1859-1927). She died at Eastbourne on 22 October 1902.

On further examination of the two preceding photographs, I have reached the conclusion that they probably show some kind of on-board entertainment rather than a “Crossing the Line” ceremony as there is no evidence of King Neptune. I would also expect to see nets, tridents, seaweed and other such paraphernalia and maybe people getting wet. It was usual to stage various forms of entertainment during long voyages and passengers would join in the fun. I am no expert on this, but it appears to me that there are two minstrels, a Pierrot (the person in the rather odd pose and a white costume at the back), a Chinaman and maybe Mrs Ethel Walters is dressed as Britannia. I have no idea what the others are supposed to represent. Goodness knows why they all look so miserable!

This is is one of the items from Mrs. Ethel Walter’s autograph book - a Christmas greeting with a picture of a ship in heavy seas. June 1893 - "in the monsoon". [3]

Further Drawings from 1893

Angela kindly provided two more images from this voyage that are described below.

A sketch by Ethel Mary Aileen Walters made on Oruba whilst approaching Gibraltar. Her father Captain Charles Francis Skyring was resident Army engineer at the Gibraltar garrison and his father Major George Skyring, R.A. had died on Gibraltar. His oldest brother was Assistant Surveyor Lt William George Henry Skyring (born 1797) who was on H.M.S. Beagle surveying South America; he later commanded H.M.S. Aetna and was surveying the coast of West Africa but on the 23rd of December 1833 he was murdered by natives on Cape Roxo and his body rescued and buried at sea. Family verbal embroidered history told he had "been eaten by cannibals". [3]
A painting on a leaf - presumably also by Ethel Mary Aileen Walters and made on the same voyage. Sadly it is damaged but it is remarkable that it has survived at all. The background is thought to be Capetown. The ship depicted is not known but it does not resemble Oruba other than the closeness of the two funnels. This could be artistic licence or simply just depicting another ship seen at this time. [3]


Poetry seems to have been a popular way of passing time on board and Angela has sent me examples from this voyage from her family archives.

A song in German written 10 June 1893. I can't make out the signature. [3]
A poem by Ethel Walters and reply by someone with the initials TSH from June 1893. [3]
A poem by Lindsay Day(or possibly May) from 1 July 1893 also written on pre-printed stationery. [3]
A poem by T or J.S. Allen from 3 July 1893. This is written on pre-printed stationery. [3]

Ex-Archduke Leopold of Tuscany

The voyage was made more interesting for the Walters family by the presence on board of Archduke Leopold of Tuscany, (2 December 1868 to 4 July 1935) who was in disgrace and bound for Naples.

Archduke Leopold as a young naval officer before his fall from grace. [3]

Leopold's disgrace resulted from an incident that had occurred on the Austrian Naval ship Elisabeth. Leopold had struck none other than Franz Ferdinand Karl Ludwig Josef von Habsburg-Lothringen, the heir to the Habsburg Monarchy. It seems that there was a quarrel between these two men on the bridge during which Leopold had hit Franz in the face, in front of other crew members, and caused his nose to bleed - an unforgivable insult to the Royal personage. Franz would later become the Emperor Franz Joseph whose assassination led inexorably to the start of WW1.

Drunk and in the wrong as Franz may have been, Leopold's action led inevitably to the end of his social status. If we accept Leopold’s account, Franz Joseph (or F.F. as Leopold referred to him), was vindictive and arranged the termination of his Naval career and social ruination. Leopold renounced his title of Archduke of Tuscany.

Disembarking Elisabeth at Sydney, Leopold left Adelaide on Oruba on a passage to Naples. The end of his royal life was rapidly approaching and in his book "My Life Story: From Archduke to Grocer" - External Ref. #33 he recounts his subsequent life making a living peddling strings of Wienerwurst on the sidewalks of Vienna, selling life insurance, and finally keeping a grocery store. He drew an interesting contrast between his own career and that of Sir Thomas Lipton, saying "while he shot up the social ladder, I shot down". His autobiography is certainly a very interesting read; it is not difficult to see why he did not fit in with the Hapsburgs...

I would very much have liked to have met Leopold and was thinking that anyone with as many names as Archduke Ferdinand needed taking down a peg or two. At least that was the case until I found that Leopold's full style was "His Imperial and Royal Highness Archduke Leopold Ferdinand of Austria, Prince Imperial of Austria, Prince Royal of Hungary and Bohemia, Prince of Tuscany". But this was modest by comparison with his father whose names were Ferdi