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R.M.S. “Orion”

Many unique features characterize the Orient Line’s largest liner and make her one of the most interesting and important of the large passenger vessels built in recent years


RMS Orion

ONE MAST AND ONE FUNNEL are the most outstanding external features in the design of the Orion. A striking departure from common practice was made when it was decided not to erect a dummy funnel or a second mast. With a gross tonnage of 23,371, the Orion was built in 1934 at Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire, and launched by wireless from Brisbane. Australia.

WHEN, in December 1934, His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester pressed a button in Brisbane, Australia, he launched by wireless the Orient liner Orion, built for the Australian service at the Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire, yard of Vickers-Armstrongs Limited.

She was a large vessel, with a gross tonnage of 23,371. It was not her size, however, that made her the subject of controversy in many circles. There was something about her appearance that suggested she was a ship of the future. She was not streamlined to any great extent, nor were her lines at all exaggerated; but there was something that set her apart from other liners of her size.

It was unusual for large ocean-going liners to be fitted with only one funnel, and even more unusual to have only one mast. Herein lies the secret of the Orion’s success. She did not need more than one funnel, so her owners decided that she should have only one funnel. In addition, the absence of a dummy funnel saved the company a further £250 a year for upkeep.

Such a departure from common practice, such a refusal to accept precedent for convention’s sake, showed great confidence and courage. The managers of the Orient Line were looking far ahead, and it is possible that the Orion will prove to be the model on which liners of the future will be built.

A similar progressive policy has distinguished the Orient Line from its inception. Its origin was in the firm of James Thomson and Company. In the ’sixties this firm was mainly interested in the trade between Jamaica and Great Britain - which trade consisted largely of sugar, coco-nuts and rum. In 1863 the style of this firm was changed to Anderson, Thomson and Company, and seven years later it was changed again to Anderson, Anderson and Company.

In 1881 steam vessels superseded the sailing ships which had been engaged in the Jamaica trade. History was made when the new vessels brought bananas into Great Britain in good condition. This was done with the aid of a form of cold-air making machinery, an early type of refrigerating plant. Thus the possibilities of refrigerated cargo were first realized, and now refrigerated meat and fruit ships are an important section of world shipping.

The Australian services at the end of the nineteenth century saw to a marked degree the rapid transition rom sail to steam. Anderson, Anderson and Company saw the trend of affairs in time and their foresight was responsible for the founding of the Orient Line.

RMS Orion

GRENADINE RED AND BUNTING AZURE are the colours, apart from white, which decorate the tavern, adjacent to the first-class swim-ming-bath in the Orion. One side of the room is taken up by sliding windows with a long window seat. Through the windows in this photograph can be seen the flush covered hatchway and part of the dressing-rooms that surround the bath.

The famous wool clippers of Anderson, Thomson and Company, Devitt and Moore, John Willis, George Thompson Junior and Company and other firms were among the undisputed queens of the seas. The first warning of the advent of steam came as early as 1852, when the Peninsular and Orient Company started a service to Australia by the “overland” route. Mails were shipped to Egypt, and thence overland to Suez, for the Suez Canal had not yet been built. A further branch of the P. and O. service ran between Singapore and Australia. This service suffered severe interruptions from the Crimean War, but in 1857 the European and Australian Company started an unsuccessful competitive steamship service.

In 1864 Money Wigram and Sons started a service to Australia with auxiliary steamships which made the single voyage in about seventy days. Unfortunately for them, however, their first auxiliary, the London, was wrecked in the Bay of Biscay in 1866. In 1877 Andersons came to an agreement with the Pacific Steam Navigation Company of Liverpool and chartered four of the company’s steamships, Chimborazo, Garonne, Lusitania and Cuzco. Although the Suez Canal had been opened, these vessels for some time continued to use the Cape route. On one occasion the Lusitania reached Australia in forty days round the Cape.

Complete Air-conditioning Plant

These four steamers were acquired in 1878, and the firm amalgamated with F. Green and Company to form the Orient Line. In the following year the Orient Line built its first- steamship, the Orient. The new vessel, of 5,386 tons gross, was the largest vessel seen in the River Thames since the Great Eastern had been launched more than twenty years previously.

With a speed of about 17 knots, the Orient was one of the fastest vessels afloat. In 1880 a fortnightly service to Australia was inaugurated and the Orient had an active and successful life until she was sold for breaking up in 1909.

In August, 1914, the Orient Line had a fleet of nine ships. Four vessels were lost during the war of 1914-18 and it was not until 1924 that new vessels were built. Since then numbers of fine liners have been built for the Australian service, and their design has necessarily been entirely influenced by the conditions of this trade. As a large part of the voyage, for instance, is made through tropical waters, special precautions must be taken to keep the air in the ship cool and conditioned. In the Orion a complete air-conditioning plant has been installed, and she is the first liner to be thus equipped.

The majority of the passengers are British and fond of sports on deck. For this reason there is no indoor gymnasium in the Orion, and the mainmast was suppressed to allow for open-air swimming pools. The boat deck is 278 feet long and 64 feet broad. Here the spirit of the Orion is concentrated. More than any other ocean liner of her size, the Orion has been planned to be first and foremost a ship. It is in this respect that she may claim to be a true representative of the modern movement in art.

Stripped of all pretences, innocent of ornament for ornament’s sake, a house, a piece of furniture, a saucepan or a ship becomes purely a machine. It may be a machine for living in, a machine for sitting in, a machine for cooking in, or a machine for travelling across the seas; but in its true form a machine of any kind becomes a thing of beauty in itself. A machine stripped of all superfluous matter is not only a thing of beauty, but is also more efficient as a machine. It was not, therefore, the interests of aesthetics, but mainly the interests of efficiency, that led the owners and builders of the Orion to take such trouble over her design.

Everything about a ship should be shipshape. That is not so much a matter of aesthetics as of plain common sense. Yet how many of the great modern liners to-day can claim that their Elizabethan smoking-rooms, their Louis Quinze suites and their modernistic dining saloons are truly “shipshape”? The designers of the Orion took a bold step in deciding that from the start she was to be regarded not as a “floating hotel” but as an ocean liner.

RMS Orion

SUITABLY-DESIGNED DAVITS raise the Orion’s boats to well above eye-level, and afford an uninterrupted view from the Games Deck. This arrangement also gives added width to the wide sweep of the deck. The Games Deck of the Orion has a total length of 278 feet and a breadth of 64 feet. The Orion carries twenty-four lifeboat? in all. of which two are motor-driven and equipped with wireless transmitters and receivers.

For the first time in the history of shipbuilding an architect was called upon to carry out the entire decoration of the ship. At an early stage the architect, Brian O’Rorke, made many suggestions about the arrangement and planning not only of the public rooms but also of the cabins, first-class and tourist-class.

The architect’s task was a formidable one. The Orion is a large vessel, for she measures 665 feet overall and 630 feet between perpendiculars. She has a moulded breadth of 82 feet and a moulded depth to E Deck of 47 feet 6 inches. Her displacement amounts to 28,400 tons and her draught is 30 feet. Accommodation had to be provided for 486 first-class and 653 tourist-class passengers. Eight decks came under the architect’s supervision, and he has made a unique ship of the Orion. The main public rooms are situated on B Deck. The lounge is remarkable not for its magnificence and luxury, but for its restraint. The plain ceiling is supported by a number of smooth white columns and is illuminated by concealed lights. The floor, of jarrah and Australian myrtle, is partly covered with hand-tufted rugs by Marion Dorn. The tables are plain and light in colour, and the comfortable chairs are covered in a light blue textile.

Galleries lead from the lounge to the library farther aft. The galleries are not mere passages, for along their outer sides are many alcoves which contain writing desks. Armchairs and sofas, with occasional tables, allow passengers to sit at ease without disturbing or being disturbed by passing feet.

Untarnishable Fittings

The library is a fine airy room with sycamore furniture. The after gallery has sliding windows which can be thrown right open so that the gallery becomes part of the dancing space aft. Farthest aft is the cafe, which, far from resembling a period drawing-room, is more likely to remind the passenger of an aeroplane.

Outside the cafe is the veranda, which overlooks the swimming bath on C Deck. The ends of the bath are fitted with special fins which prevent the water from slopping over on to the deck. Two dressing-rooms, with shower baths, are provided for bathers, and adjacent is the tavern, decorated throughout in white, grenadine red and bunting azure.

There are fourteen two-berths cabins of the special stateroom type in the Orion. They are large rooms containing two full-size bedsteads and luxurious furniture. There are two cushioned chairs and one armchair of the lounge type, a large dressing-table and built-in wardrobe furniture. Throughout the ship, bakelite and chromium have been extensively used for decoration, because they are unaffected by sea air.

All the first-class cabins on C Deck are furnished in Australian silky oak. These cabins are fitted with large sash windows which give more air than ordinary port-holes on a run through the tropics where every cubic inch of moving air is a boon. Similar cabins are situated on D, E and F Decks.

The dining saloons for either class are on F Deck. The first-class saloon is panelled in weathered sycamore, and its central space is lit by concealed lights in a shallow dome. Two of the walls are made up of mirrors. On one of these is sandblasted a representation of Orion the Giant and his constellation, designed by Me Knight Kauffer. Although the ceiling has been lowered by 15 feet to house the special ventilation plant, the fine proportions dispel any oppressive feeling. The special air-drying and conditioning plant is unique in the Orion.

The tourist dining saloon is similar in many ways, but one wall is made entirely of glass and separates the room from the tourist lounge. Stairs lead up to the cafe, which is decorated in fawn and blue. A promenade deck encircles this cafe on E Deck, and right aft are the hospitals in a self-contained desk-house. An unusual feature of the tourist-class cafe is the decoration on the central portion of the forward wall. This space is covered by a huge photomontage, or collection of superimposed photographs, which forms a striking method of decoration.

Tourist-class accommodation is of almost as high a standard as the first-class accommodation in the Orion. Every cabin has cold water laid on, a wardrobe and chest of drawers, a flush panelled door, a specially designed rug, punkah-louvre ventilation and, as in the first class, fire sprinklers. Additional accommodation includes all the necessary spaces for galleys, ironing rooms, laundries and the like, as well as berths for the officers and crew, totalling 466.

Every precaution against fire has been taken throughout the ship. The Orion was the first British liner to be fitted with the Grinell sprinkler system, and, in addition, fire-resisting paint has been used extensively. The first steamer to be fitted with the sprinkler was the Princess Maud (described on page 875), a vessel built for the LMS Stranraer-Larne crosschannel service in 1934.

An installation of this type had previously been ordered for the Orion. Here the system is divided into nineteen sections. The system consists of a series of pipes filled with water under pressure. Valves are fitted in every room and corridor, and when the temperature rises to a certain degree the valves release the water. Simultaneously an alarm is sounded on the bridge and the position of the fire is indicated.

24,000 Horse-power Turbines

Water is supplied from a tank in the Orion’s engine-room. When the level in this tank is reduced, pumps automatically operate and refill the tank from the sea, thus ensuring a ceaseless supply of water for use in the event of an emergency.

General cargo is carried aft in the lower holds, which have a capacity of 211,240 cubic feet. In Nos. 1, 2 and 3 holds and ’tween decks forward are carried 181,210 cubic feet of frozen and 19,180 cubic feet of chilled cargo. One 20-tons, two 10-tons and twenty-two 5-tons derricks are used for handling the cargo.

On the forecastle deck is the powerful electric windlass with a capstan, driven by electric motors below the deck. Either of these motors is sufficiently powerful to pull up both anchors together. There are two electric warping capstans aft.

RMS Orion

FIRST-CLASS TWO-BERTHS CABIN in the Orion. The attractive modern furniture includes two beds, a chest of drawers and a dressing-table. The rugs were specially designed for the Orion. Hot and cold water are laid on in every first-class cabin, and ventilation, on the punkah-louvre system, is adjustable by the occupant. An architect, Brian O’Rorke, was responsible for the decoration of the entire ship.

The Orion’s steering gear is of the electric-hydraulic type. Two four-cylinder electric-hydraulic rams are provided; in normal conditions one is kept in reserve. In narrow waters, however, or when docking or carrying out difficult manoeuvres, the second unit can be brought into operation, thus almost doubling the speed of the steering gear. A patent hydraulic steering motor controls the gear from the bridge and there is also a mechanical control on the docking bridge aft.

Two sets of Parsons turbines drive the twin screws of the Orion through single reduction gearing. The high-pressure turbines are of the impulse reaction type, the intermediate-pressure turbines of the reaction type and the low-pressure turbines of the single-flow type. One high-pressure and one low-pressure turbine, working in series, form the astern set.

The turbines are designed to run at 1,715 revolutions a minute and develop a total shaft horse-power of 24,000. The astern turbines develop nearly three-quarters of this power. The speed of the Orion is 21 knots. Each of her propellers has four blades of

manganese bronze. Each blade weighs 3½ tons and has a length of 8 feet from tip to flange, giving a diameter of 19 feet to the propeller.

The six Babcock and Wilcox boilers  - four large and two small - are fitted with superheaters and tubular air heaters. All the boilers burn oil fuel under the forced draught closed air-duct system with open stokeholds.

Twelve watertight bulkheads arranged transversely up to F Deck divide the Orion into thirteen watertight compartments. In the event of the flooding of any of these compartments, it is necessary for the powTer units and gear which operate the watertight doors to be well above the highest floodable level.

In the Orion the watertight doors are operated on the Scott-Ross system. The power unit is an electric motor. When a door has to be closed, the motor is started and, when it has reached one-third full speed, a patent magnetic clutch automatically comes into operation and connects the motor to the gear which moves the door. This initial force so created helps to overcome any form of resistance in the door that may be caused by slight rusting or by a jam in the door itself. From the collision bulkhead to the after

end of the propeller shaft tunnels extends a continuous double bottom. This is divided to form tanks in which fresh water, boiler feed water, ballast and oil fuel are contained. As a further safety precaution a complete double skin has been arranged between the forward cross bunker and the after end of the engine-room up to the waterline.

No Unnecessary Streamlining

Such is the Orion, the largest Orient liner. Words and figures can convey only an ordinary impression of the appearance of the ship. She has been designed with the greatest skill. Meticulous care has been taken to improve the comfort of passengers on the Australian route, not only in such important matters as air-conditioning but also in the smallest detail. One illustration, perhaps, will summarize the value of the special attention that has been paid to “fitness for purpose”, and this illustration will be found on the boat deck.

To many people the boat deck is the most attractive of all the decks in a ship. Here everything is shipshape. There are no cocktail bars, no luxurious furniture, no enclosures of glass and mirror. Here is the sea tang, the salt breeze; but not always an uninterrupted view of the sea. In the Orion, however, there is an uninterrupted view of the sea. As in many modern ships, the boats are raised on patent davits to well above eye-level so that there is a clean sweep of deck to the rail.

This is only a small point that adds to the comfort, or rather the convenience, of the ocean-goer, but in doing so it adds to the beauty of the boat deck and to the efficiency of the ship.

Although streamlining has not been carried out in the Orion to any extent, it is only because it is of no practical assistance. The resistance of the air is immaterial compared to that of the water. Yet the wind can be annoying at times. It may spoil the pleasure of leaning on the bulwarks and looking ahead as the ship glides through the waters. So the forward bulwark on A Deck and on the bridge front is curved and provided with a metal chute. This diverts the stream of air over the heads of those on the deck or on the bridge.

This, and similar features, make the Orion important, not only because she is one of the largest ships on the Australian run, but also because she is one of the most sensibly designed ships ever built.

THE CORN-COLOURED HULL of the Orion, with her raked stem and cruiser stern

THE CORN-COLOURED HULL of the Orion, with her raked stem and cruiser stern, presents a smart modern appearance. She differs a good deal from her predecessors in the Australian service, and one of the greatest innovations is the extension of C Deck right to the stern. This affords a fine games deck for the use of tourist-class passengers, and here a special swimming-pool has been built in. The tourist-class accommodation in the Orion is of a high standard, and D Deck has the widest promenade in the ship.

Click here to view the photogravure supplement to this article.

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