From the brush of David Bray


Regular followers of my “From the brush…” series will have noticed that I prefer to depict visually appealing vessels, mostly from yesteryear. This month’s offering is no exception.

The “Salsette” has been described as the prettiest vessel operated by the P&O, and I wouldn’t disagree. This mini-liner was built in 1909 for a very specific purpose; that of the express passenger and mail service between Bombay and Aden. P&O operated a fortnightly service from Tilbury to Australia via the Suez canal and Aden. Passengers and mail for India would trans-ship to the “Salsette” at Aden. The ship carried very little cargo, space on board being designated to mail and passengers, of which she carried 140 in First Class, and 121 in Second. Of 5,842 grt she was a mini version of the larger P&O liners on the UK – Australia route. She was 440ft loa and 52ft beam.

 “Salsette” was built by Caird’s at their Greenock yard. Launched in April 1908, fitted out in Scott’s basin, she entered service in July. She made two cruises from Tilbury, the first to the Baltic capitals via the Kiel canal, followed by a month-long voyage to the Mediterranean. This cruise terminated in Marseilles, whence she sailed for Bombay in October 1980.

Reportedly she was the fastest vessel in the P&O fleet, making over 20 knots from twin-screw quadruple-expansion engines of around 10,000 IHP. Steam was provided from six scotch boilers at 215 psi. She carried a golden cock at the masthead to signify her status as the fastest vessel in the fleet.

Between 1908 and 1915 she operated the Aden-Bombay mail shuttle service. Traditionally she would take on board the mail and passengers, sailing the moment the last mailbag was aboard. She invariably made smart passages across the Indian Ocean, although she was not a good sea-boat; rolling heavily in beam seas.

In 1915 she returned to the UK for the first time, and was placed on the London to Australia mail route.  On 21st November 1915 she ran aground at full speed in the Gulf of Suez. She was refloated the next day using her own power, sith assistance from HMS “Fox” and “Porcupine”, and the French vessel “Montcalm”.

 In July 1917 she had cleared the Thames bound for Sydney, but when 15 miles SW of Portland Bill she was torpedoed on the starboard side amidships by the submarine UB40. Evacuation drills paid off, all the undamaged boats being successfully launched in five minutes. The vessel sank less than an hour later. 15 of her lascar engine-room crew lost their lives. Survivors were rescued by destroyers and other craft and landed at Weymouth.

A sad and premature end to a fine liner.

This article, and others,  follow a series which Sea Breezes magazine is publishing, featuring David’s paintings, and the stories behind them.

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