The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company

The Peninsular Steam Navigation Company, forerunner of P&O, was founded in 1840 and successfully bid to deliver mail between the UK and the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). In 1839 the company successfully tendered for a service from Falmouth to Alexandria via Gibraltar and Malta; this service started in 1840. The company was granted a Royal Charter in the same year becoming the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company with 'limited liability' status.

The importance of the Alexandria service to P&O was that passengers going to India and beyond would be able to follow P&O's 'Egypt' steamship-based service along with the mail as an alternative to the East India Company's 'Cape' route using sailing ships. Before the building of the Suez Canal the route was arduous and involved several transfers: to small boats on the Mahmoudieh Canal to El Mahmoudiyah on the River Nile; to a steamship on the Nile to Bulaq, Cairo; on horse-drawn vehicles along 84 miles along desert roads to Suez; and finally, another steamship from Suez to India.

The image below depicts travellers at the 'Central Station' along the road between Cairo and Suez. There are more details and images depicting this journey on my P&O M-Class ships website HERE.

Central Station
Passengers at the Central Station on the route to Suez [28]

P&O had invested a lot of money in the infrastructure to support the logistics of such a journey and the company had to be re-structured when the Suez Canal opened in 1867 making the India via Egypt route open to competitors.

Beyond India, the routes to Australia and New Zealand also became increasingly lucrative as the British Empire expanded. The map below shows the various early voyages that had 'discovered' and mapped out Australia.

Central Station
European Voyages of Discovery to Australia [88]

The postcard below, published by H. Grimaud, was typical of those available on-board ships for passengers to send home. I have several of these that are identical apart from the name of the ship - whether this one actually shows Morea is impossible to say. It was posted by my grandfather from Marseille on April 10, but the year is not shown; it refers to rough weather and the crew accommodation being flooded. There is a full history and many pictures of Morea on the Benjidog P&O M Class website HERE.

Keepsake postcard from Morea [28]
Keepsake postcard from Morea [28]

The Edwardian Era

The Edwardian era, named after King Edward VII (1841-1910) who succeeded Queen Victoria, is generally regarded as lasting from 1901 to 1914, despite Edward dying in 1910 and being succeeded by King George V (1865-1936). By the end of the Edwardian era, P&O were providing services across the British Empire. The image below is the front cover of a P&O 'Handbook of Information' for passengers published January 1913.

Handbook for Passengers January 1913 [21]

The image below, from the same publication, is a world map showing P&O routes in 1913.

P&O Routes in 1913 [21] Click image for enlarged view

Dating the Postcard Collection

The majority of the postcards in the collections are unused, and most of the ones that are used have unreadable dates. However, there are a few clues as to when they were collected:

  • I know from the 1911 census that my grandfather, who was 21 at the time, was working in a Laundry in Willesden, London
  • A postcard from Gibraltar shows the Staffordshire Regiment marching to be inspected by King George V. From other sources I know that the inspection took place in 1912.
  • A postcard from Marseille shows the Fontaine Cantini that was erected in 1913 - the message seems also to refer to my grandmother carrying a baby (my father) who was born in 1913.
  • I know from my grandfather's Army Pay Book that he was attested on 11 December 1915 and mobilised on 13 April 1916.
  • Morea - the ship I know my grandfather served on, was between Colombo and Fremantle when war was declared on 28 July 1914. She continued to Sydney and returned to the UK. Morea made a further trip to Australia in October 1914 and three more in February, May and October 1915. She was then commissioned as a hospital ship HMHS Morea.

I conclude from the above information that my grandfather most probably served with P&O sometime between 1912 and 1915 but I don't know how long for.

Routes and Port of Call

Based on the postcards in the collection, and the P&O route map shown above, I believe that my grandfather must have followed these routes - although I am not confident about the last one:

  • Tilbury > Gibraltar > Marseilles > Port Said > Aden > Colombo > Fremantle > Adelaide > Melbourne > Hobart > Sydney
  • Sydney > Auckland
  • Sydney > Brisbane > Singapore > Colombo

Click on the link below to go to the page on Gibraltar - the first port of call on the route from Tilbury to Australia.