Morea (1908) Part 1



Although there have been several ships named Morea, the name was only used once by P&O.

Morea was the sixth of 10 'M Class' P&O passenger ships to be built before the start of WW1 and the only member of the class to be built by Barclay Curle & Co at Whiteinch on the River Clyde. Morea is an alternative name for the Peloponnese peninsula in southwest Greece. My grandfather was a steward on the ship before WW1 and investigating her was the beginning of my interest in merchant shipping and led to the construction of the Benjidog website.

Morea served with P&O as a passenger liner until being requisitioned by the Admiralty to serve first as an ambulance transport and troopship in 1915 and, after conversion to an Armed Merchant Cruiser in 1917, she served as HMS Morea during WW1. She survived the war and was returned to service with P&O until broken up in 1930.

Morea. Allan C. Green Identifier H91.108/1586 [20]

Basic Data

Item Value
Type Passenger Ship
Original Owners and Managers The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation
Country First Registered UK
Shipbuilder Barclay, Curle & Co Ltd
Shipyard Whiteinch, Glasgow
Country where built UK
Yard Number 471
Official Number 128235
Call Sign Signal letters HNJF
Classification Society Lloyd's Register
Gross Tonnage 10,890
Deadweight (DWT) N/K
Net Tonnage 5,960
Length 540 Ft
Overall Length N/K
Breadth or Beam 61.2 Ft
Depth 24.7 Ft
Draught N/K
Engine Type Quadruple-expansion Steam Engine
Engine Details Two engines each with cylinders of bore 30.5", 44", 61", 87" and stroke 54"
Engine Builder Barclay, Curle & Co Ltd
Engine Builder Works Glasgow
Engine Builder Country UK
Boiler Details 4 double-ended and 4 single-ended boilers
Propulsion Type Twin Screw
Power 1,842 NHP
Maximum Speed 16
Cost of Vessel £309,692
Crew 307
Passengers 407 first class, 200 second class
Cargo Capacity N/K

Additional Construction Information

  • Keel laid down 5 Nov 1907
  • 3 decks and spar deck
  • Two masts - schooner rigged
  • Clinker built
  • 10 bulkheards
  • 19 water ballast tanks of total capacity 1,544 tons
  • Fitted with electric light
  • Fitted with wireless direction finding equipment

On 8 August 1908 the 'Army and Navy Gazette' announced the planned launch of Morea later in the month with her maiden voyage being planned for 4 December. It notes that there would be more single-berth cabins that the earlier 'M Class' vessels and a saloon to be known as 'The Divan' which would be a smoking lounge.

Cutting from the 'Army and Navy Gazette' [79]

On 17 August 1908 the 'Homeward Mail' published an article confirming that Morea had been launched on 15 August and gave a description of the layout of the various decks and the facilities on each of them. It notes that there was separate accommodation for the British crew and stewards at the the fore end of the lower, main and spar decks with the Lascar crew berthed at the aft end under the poop. This was normal practice in those days and the Lascars would have separate 'officers' known as serangs and tindals. They had separate 'articles' and could legally be paid a lot less than British crew members so were popular with shipping companies. They were employed to a large extent as stokers and trimmers but not exclusively and some did other work. [80]

Cutting from 'Homeward Mail' [31]

Shipping World also reported on the launch on 19 August 1908. [81]

(19 August 1908) Barclay Curle and Co Ltd., Clydebank launched on Saturday the large twin-screw mail and passenger steamer Morea which they are building to the order of the Peninsular and Orient Steam Navigation Company. This vessel is one of the three new steamers which are to form a new type of the M Class. The keel of the Morea was laid on Nov 6 of last year, so that the construction of the vessel up to the launching stage has occupied only a little over nine months. It is intended that she will be handed over to her owners before the end of October and will be ready for service within one year of the laying of the keel.

The Shipping List reported the completion of the vessel in an article on 4 November 1908 [82].

Messrs. Barclay Curle and Co Whiteinch have done a very creditable piece of work in having completed a vessel of the size and with the elaborate fitting of the new P&O liner Morea within a year. The keel of Morea was laid on Nov 5 1907 and the official trials of the vessel will take place this week Weds and Thurs Nov 5. The vessel was launched as recently as August 15 and when it is said that she is the largest and most sumptuously fitted -up ship of the entire P&O fleet, it will be understood that the builders have lost no time in the fitting out of the Morea.
Cutting from Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette [2]

The image below shows the original registration document (later annotated to show disposal).

Original registration document stamped 4 November 1908 [99]

The image below shows a minor amendment to registered tonnage stamped 2 December 1908.

Tonnage amendment registration document stamped 2 December 1908 [99]

Career Highlights

Date Event
15 Aug 1908 Launched with the naming ceremony performed by Mrs Russell Ferguson, wife of the Managing Director of Barclay, Curle & Co Ltd.
4 Nov 1908 Completed
4 Dec 1908 Maiden voyage Australia
8 Oct 1915 Commissioned as hospital ship HMAS Morea
9 May 1917 Commisioned as HMS Morea and converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser
18 October 1919 First post-war voyage
1 Jul 1930 Handed over to breakers in Japan


The image below shows the appointment of three masters from 1926 to 1928.

Document showing the appointment of Masters between 1926 and 1928 [99]

Service Pre-WW1

On 6 November 1908 Morea left the Clyde and was handed over to P&O. She handled well and was considered the best looking of the 'M Class' vessels. As with several of the other 'M Class' ships, P&O organised an open day on 21 November 1908 allowing interested parties to tour the ship for a payment of one shilling with the proceeds going to the Passmore Edwards District Cottage Hospital at Tilbury.

Cutting from 'Lloyds List' 19 November 1908 [10]

On 3 December 1908, the day before leaving on her maiden voyage, 'Lloyd's List' had an article describing the new features of Morea.

Cutting from 'Lloyds List' 3 December 1908 [10]

On 4 Dec 1908 she left Tilbury on her maiden voyage to Melbourne via Colombo.

On 3 May 1909 the Dublin Daily Express reported that P&O vessels Malwa, Mantua and Morea were being fitted with Marconi radio equipment with Malwa first in line and expected to have the equipment operational by the time of her voyage on 20 May 1909.

Over the coming period Morea serviced the route to Australia but she 'creaked and groaned' a lot and it took several changes of her propellers until this annoying fault was finally cured.

This watercolour by Bernard F. Gribble shows Morea in drydock under repair. The date and location is not known.

Watercolour of Morea in drydock [103]

Morea, Barrel Mail and the Cocos Islands

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are a group of coral islands in the Indian Ocean lying about halfway between Australia and sri Lanka and quite close to Sumatra. It was discovered (at least by Westerners) when reached by William Keeling in 1609, but remained uninhabited until settlement started with ex East India Company people in 1826. The islands were annexed by Great Britain in 1857 and the Clunies Ross family was granted a perpetual lease. John Clunies-Ross established a copra plantation and brought Malay workers there; most of the current population of about 600 people are their descendents. In 1908 Direction Island (one of the Cocos group) became a station on the cable route from Indian to Australia. However it was still very much off the beaten track when it came to shipping. The islands were transferred to Austalia in 1955.

In 1909 Morea notified the cable station on Direction Island that it would be making a delivery. A barrel was dropped containing supplies and mail for them to pick up. This 'Barrel Mail' delivery started a practice that continued until 1954 with deliveries only interrupted by WW2. The service was then superseded by air delivery. After getting the notification, staff would set out in their two jukongs 'Matey' and 'Diana' to collect the barrel and hopefully get their own mail on board. The barrel was lowered over the side of the ship to waiting cable station staff or on occasion dropped over the side with a marker flag.

Further information about the installation of the telegraph system and the Barrel Mail service can be found on the Atlantic Cable Site [84]

The inauguration of the Barrel Mail service by Morea was celebrated on a commemorative 70 cent stamp issued by Australia in 1984.

Australian Stamp 1984 [85]

On 27 April 1910 'The Advertiser', Adelaide, reported that there had been a cyclone the previous night and the lighter Jules Marie that had been berthed alongside Morea had broken away and was stoved in. No damage was reported to Morea.

Cutting from 'The Advertiser' [86]

The Savarkar Case

Indian activist Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966) was a strong advocate of Indian independence. He studied law in England and joined organisations that were considered seditious including India House and The Free India Society. Unlike Mohandas Karamchand, Savarkar wanted a purely Hindu Indian state. In 1909 he published a book called The Indian War of Independence which was about the uprising in 1857 - knows as 'The Indian Mutiny' by the British. The book was banned but printed in The Netherlands and became in effect a 'Bible' for political extremists.

Savarkar was arrested on 13 March 1910 and extradited to India aboard Morea with an Indian Military Police armded escort. While the ship was docked at Marseilles on 8 July 1910, Savarkar escaped and sought asylum in France. However he was simply returned to the British by the port authorities. There was an enquiry about this in the following year as this action was alleged to have been contravention of international law but this was inconclusive - and in any case too late to make any real difference to the situation.

Cutting from 'The Times' 25 Feb 1911 [92]

On return to India Savarkar received two life sentences, however it seems that 'life' didn't mean 'life' even back then as he was travelling widely in 1937 and arguing the case for Indian independence. On 18 July 1947 India became independent and Gandhi was assassinated on 30 January 1948 by Nathuram Godse - a friend of Savarkar. Savarkar was charged with being a co-conspirator in the assassination but he was acquitted by the court for lack of evidence. It seems highly likely that he was indeed involved.

A minor amendment was made to tonnage on Morea's registration in October 1910 following a survey.

Tonnage amendment registration document stamped 22 October 1910 [99]

During 1911 and 1912 some of Morea's voyages were extended to include stops at Auckland in New Zealand.

Assistance to Broken-down Vessel Perim

On 25 September 1911 'The Times' reported that Morea had passed close to the Ellerman vessel Perim which had broken down and had offered a tow but San Remo had performed this task instead.

Cutting from 'The Times' 25 Sep 1911 [92]
Perim [33]

Transport of Gold and Silver Bullion from Grounded Liner Delhi

On 29 December 1911 'The Times' reported that Morea would be transporting gold and silver from the wreck of Delhi from Gibraltar to Aden. Delhi was another P&O liner that had run aground on 13 December 1911 in rough weather at Cape Spartel in Morocco. Her lifeboats were smashed and she had been carrying about 100 passengers and £295,925 in gold and silver bullion. The grounding had been reported by radio and three warships assisted in the rescue which took five days to complete. Sadly three seamen from the French cruiser Friant lost their lives [93].

Cutting from 'The Times' 29 Sep 1911 [92]
Delhi aground [94]

Cruise in 1912

In March 1912 P&O placed advertisements for a cruise on the ageing Vectis of 1881 to depart Marseilles on 19 April 1912 taking in Corfu, Dalmatia, Venice, Sicily and Naples with fares from 30 guineas. Morea was scheduled to take interested parties to Marseilles to connect with the cruise.

Cutting from 'The Times' 21 March 1912 [92]
P&O Vectis - formerly Rome [95]

The image below from 1914 taken from the passenger deck shows Morea leaving Fremantle with a crowd on the dockside and paddle steamer Ozone in the background.

Morea departing Fremantle in 1914. Source ref: JEAS 39 46 [102]

Incidentally Ozone had also been built in Glasgow by Napier, Shanks and Bell in 1886. She left Greenock for Melbourne on 26 June 1886 and arrived 30 November 1886 after coaling stops at Gibraltar, Port Said, Aden, Colombo, Batavier, Thursday Island and Townsville. Her arrival had been delayed by quarantine after cases of cholera were picked up at Batavier. The paddler was laid up in 1918 and her hulk towed to St Leonards to form a breakwater.

Ozone [20]

Morea spent the remainder of the time until the outbreak of WW1 routinely servicing the Australia route with nothing of any interest occurring during this period.