The birth of cruising, p&o style

The birth of cruising, P&O styleMost of us are familiar with the name ‘PO’, whether fans of cruising or not, but how many of us will remember or even know that those famous letters, recognised the world over, originally stood for ‘The Peninsula and Oriental Steam Navigation Company’?

This famous brand originated in 1837, and was founded by British entrepreneurs Arthur Anderson and Brodie McGhie Wilcox. Initially called the ‘Peninsula Steam Navigation Company’, Anderson’s sea-going past and Wilcox’s ship-broking experience were put to good use when they were awarded a contract by the British Government to carry Royal Mail post and cargo on a weekly basis from London to Spanish and Portuguese destinations along the Iberian Peninsula. The service ferried passengers too as a side-line, but this was by no means their core business.

On the back of this initial service, the Royal Mail extended their contract in 1840 to include destinations farther east along the Mediterranean, so Anderson and Wilcox expanded their routes and changed their name to the Peninsula and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (PO).

Passengers as well as post
Finding their service increasingly popular with passengers, PO took advantage of this in true entrepreneurial style, offering ‘round trip’ tickets to key ports along their circuitous postal routes to locations such as Malta, Athens, Egypt, India, Greece and China. This allowed passengers to stop off and explore delivery ports along the way, and thus the concept of PO cruising was born.

There’s no such thing as bad publicity

A stroke of genius came in 1844 when the company, keen to seek publicity, offered popular satirist William Makepeace Thackeray a free passage to Egypt via various PO route stages. Whilst Thackeray’s subsequent ‘review’ wasn’t entirely complimentary, this did serve to increase publicity for the company, bringing the notion of cruising for pleasure to a wider audience, keen to discover exotic world destinations for themselves.

A ‘first class’ company
PO can be said to have embraced passenger cruising in earnest in 1904 when they purchased the liner ‘Vectis’ (formerly the ‘Rome’) and fitted out entirely for full-time passenger occupation. The service was entirely first class, and even offered organised shore excursions. It wasn’t until the 1930s that what became known as ‘tourist class’ or ‘passenger class’ cruises began, but the practise of making a distinction between the two was finally ended in 1974.

The year 1918 saw the company’s acquisition of the Orient Line, and many will be surprised to learn that in 1929 their ship the Viceroy of India, apart from being the company’s first turbo electric-powered ship, was the first to feature an indoor swimming pool!

The ‘ten pound Poms’
Itineraries expanded to include the exciting new destinations of the Pacific and Australia, and from 1945 onwards and into the 1970s, PO played a major part in the population of Australia, carrying immigrants from the UK in an Australian Government-assisted passage scheme at discounted rates. Known colloquially as ‘ten pound Poms’, the immigrants had important potential as workers to help operate Australia’s burgeoning industries, under the country’s ‘populate or perish’ strategy.

PO meets Princess
In the late 1950s PO created a new brand, known as ‘PO Orient Lines’ and were operating two new liners, Oriana and Canberra, and in 1974 PO Cruises became PO Princess Cruises after the acquisition of Princess Cruises, an American cruise company originally started in 1965. It was in 2003 that PO merged with Carnival PLC.

The growth of the PO fleet
The Canberra, whose first voyage out of Southampton was in 1974, was joined in 1995 by the Oriana, followed by Aurora in 2000. Oceana and Adonia, originally possessing different names under the Princess banner, followed in 2002, followed by new ship Arcadia in 2005 and another Princess ship re-named Artemis, although the latter retires from service in 2011. In 2008, PO received delivery of their first 100,000+ ton ship, Ventura, followed by sister ship Azura in 2010. In 2011 PO will be introducing their smallest fleet member, the new Adonia, providing a haven for cruise guests who prefer the more intimate surroundings of a smaller-sized vessel.

Known for offering a traditional, classic and very British style of cruising, PO’s fleet has gone from strength to strength over the last twenty years as the concept of cruising becomes one of the most popular and cost-effective ways of taking a holiday with the added benefits of quality surroundings and exceptional comfort and service.