Today in Transportation History – 1965: This Is the Start of a Beautiful… Ship

In Australia, a record-setting passenger ferry began her maiden voyage. MS Empress of Australia, which was built for and operated by the Australian National Line (ANL), departed Sydney in New South Wales for Hobart in Tasmania amid a great deal of fanfare. “Bright lights, streamers, cabin parties and ship-side crowds heralded the beginning of the Empress of Australia’s maiden voyage,” reported the Canberra Times. “The farewell possessed all the floodlit glamour of a Hollywood premiere with searchlights glittering on the ferry’s fresh white paint, coloured lights dangling from its masts and streamers fluttering in a southerly breeze.”

Empress of Australia carried a full complement of 250 passengers and 91 motor vehicles for this first trip. Measuring 443 feet (135 meters) in length, the ship was the world’s largest passenger ferry at the time.  Jonathan Gaul, reporting for the Canberra Times, highlighted the vessel’s other prominent features. “The dining salon has décor of Tasmanian blackwood, bright drapes, and red leather chairs,” he reported. “For teenagers, there is a milk bar, for children an attended playroom, and for hardened gamblers a well-fitted cardroom.”

As Gaul also mentioned, internationally renowned Sydney artist William Arthur Byram Mansell painted murals that adorned the ferry’s lounges and stairwells. (Another one of Mansell’s transportation-oriented efforts entailed decorating train coaches for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.)

Gaul likewise focused on the technical advantages of Empress of Australia. “An automatic device steers her the majority of the time while two radars keep watch,” he noted. “The skipper, Captain M.V. Landale, can turn the ship full circle in its own length . . . by moving a lever about six inches [15.24 centimeters] long.”

The maiden voyage of Empress of India took place nearly a year after the ferry had been christened with a bottle of champagne by Catherine Sidney, daughter of Australian Governor-General William Sidney (1st Viscount De L’Isle), at Cockatoo Dockyard in Sydney. Empress of Australia continued to serve ANL routes in the southeastern region of Australia until the mid-1980s. Ownership of the vessel subsequently changed hands a few times.

By the early 1990s, she had been renamed Royal Pacific and heavily refitted to serve as a cruise ship in Southeast Asia. While Royal Pacific was sailing in the Straits of Malacca between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra in 1992, the Taiwanese fishing vessel Terfu 51 – traveling at full speed – rammed into her. This collision resulted in the deaths of nine people and the sinking of Royal Pacific.

For more information on MS Empress of Australia, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS_Empress_of_Australia.

Information on the Australian National Line is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_National_Line.

A video of the launch of MS Empress of Australia in January 1964 is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=964O9cO89PM.

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