On board the S.S. Euripides. The long voyage from Australia. Guest post by John G. Sayers

Thanks to John Sayers for these insights into the long voyage from Sydney to England.

I can’t resist a group of photographic images related to my collecting passion of Ocean Liners. So, when I saw a combination of a dozen postcard and photograph images taken on board the SS Euripides of the Aberdeen Line as she sailed from Australia to England in 1921, I couldn’t resist. My wallet came out and money flowed to the happy dealer at the speed of light (well, they weren’t very expensive!)

S.S. Euripides. Event or Costume Party
Fig. 1. Event or Costume Party ‘Crossing the line?’ (on verso)
S.S. Euripides. Fancy dress. Crossing the Line
Fig. 2. ‘Crossing the Line?’ (on verso)

There are six photographs and six postcards, with no attribution to any photographer. Several have penciled captions which may not have been made by the original traveler. One gets that impression when a caption has a question mark after it. Figures 1 and 2 carry the caption of “Crossing the Line?” which makes me think that it may be a dealer’s guess rather than reality. Clever costumes, but were they instead for an onboard costume party, which was a normal feature of almost any voyage?

The pirate’s hat in the background to Figure 2, and the elaborate elephant outfit in Figure 1, suggest that it was an event planned by the ship’s crew and carried out by them as the ship ‘Crossed the Line’ i.e. crossed the Equator from the Southern to the Northern Hemisphere. This ceremony, featuring King Neptune, occurred as a matter of tradition and continues to this day. These costumes could have been used many times by the ship, for many ceremonies.

One of the stops on the route to England would have been in Durban, South Africa and this is probably where the photo in Figure #3 was taken. Photos 4, 5, and 6 were all taken ‘at sea’, including the jaunty First Engineer in #6.

Rickshaw ride
Fig. 3. Rickshaw ride


S.S. Euripides. At sea en route to England
Fig. 4. At sea en route to England


S.S. Euripides. At the wheel en route to England
Fig. 5. At the wheel en route to England








S.S. Euripides. First Eng[ineer]
Fig. 6. First Eng[ineer?]










S.S. Euripides. Departure Festivities
Fig. 7. Departure Festivities (1)


Figures 7 and 8, postcards picturing the departure, are wonderful at capturing the emotions of the moment. You can almost watch the streamers float to the dock and hear the good wishes shouted by those on shore to those standing on the deck of the S.S. Euripides. This was an important event, considering the distance to be covered and the long time to be spent and the risks faced at sea.

S.S. Euripides. Departure Festivities (2)
Fig. 8. Departure Festivities (2)


S.S. Euripides: Crew: Dining Room Stewards?
Fig. 9. Crew: Dining Room Stewards?

The men pictured in postcards 9 and 10 are crew, but why would one want photos of groups of the crew? One’s Room Steward perhaps, and one’s Dining Room Steward(s), but why the entire lot of them?


S.S. Euripides: Crew: Cabin Stewards
Fig. 10. Crew: Cabin Stewards

Of course, Sydney to England by sea, with stops at several ports en route, would be a long voyage and a gregarious young man such as the one in Figure 12 would get to know many people. Note that there were no women in the crew. Men only at this stage of passenger shipping.

S.S. Euripides: Dinner event
Fig. 11. Dinner event

One of the bridges to get to know fellow passengers was mealtime and the grouping around the table in Figure 11 gives us a feeling for the moments when the ice was broken. Welcome Dinners, Gala Dinners, and other dining platforms all helped to pass the time. And of course, the Farewell Dinner, when table mates signed each other’s menus and vowed to keep in touch, brought down the curtain on the voyage.

Unfortunately, we do not know the name of the gentleman who made this voyage, but we do have a probable photograph of him on the postcard in Figure 12.

S.S. Euripides: The intrepid traveller
Fig. 12. The intrepid traveller

At the time of this note, the voyage was 96 years ago. The dashing young man, now no longer with us, who had perhaps already made his fortune in Australia, was heading to England to purchase an enormous country estate – or a Town House in London – or to claim an inheritance – or??? We do not know, and we will never know, but at least we have been able to enjoy part of his journey to England, almost one hundred years later!





Demise of the S.S. l’Atlantique. Two tragedies. Guest post by John G. Sayers

We are, as ever, very grateful to John Sayers for supplying us with blog posts contextualising treasures from his collection, now being transferred to the John Johnson Collection

This sad black-and-white image of a great liner, the S.S. L’Atlantique, has two aspects to its story. The first element is the ship itself, which went into service in 1930 for a subsidiary of the French Line for service to South America. At some 40,000 gross tons she was the largest – and the most luxurious – of all the ships providing that service.

Photograph of S.S. Atlantique, 1933
Photograph of S.S. Atlantique, 1933

If she had the good fortune of being like other newly-built ships of her era, she would have at least lasted until the beginning of the Second World War in 1939. Unfortunately, a fire broke out in August 1933 while she was being moved through the English Channel for some reconstruction work. The fire could not be extinguished, and she was totally destroyed.

A typed tissue label glued to the back of this crisp 8×10 inch photograph reports:

French luxury liner towed home. The remains of the ruined French liner “L’Atlantique” is towed into Cherbourg Harbour. The bow of the Atlantique and her broken mast photographed on arrival in Cherbourg Harbour. 8/1/33.

And herein lies the second part of the story. The fascinating image is a Press Photo, a remnant of the pre-digitizing age when a number of businesses specialized in providing timely photographic news images, along with a brief narrative on the back, to major newspapers. This crisp image, and a typed caption glued to the back, was labeled as by the Sport & General Press Agency Ltd, London.

Further notations on the back included ‘F194199’, and ‘688’. There is a rubber stamp that says ‘Pageant of the Century. For caption see page 688’. Another penciled notation indicates that an unknown user wants the width reduced to 6 ¾ inches. There is a further penciled notation in red that directs ‘1/14R’.

Each publication would have a library of these photographs, so that after their first usage they would remain available for any future news articles. Can you visualize drawers and drawers of historical 8×10 glossy photographs with brief but convenient captions on the backs? Guess where all these went when publications adopted digital imaging. What was once widespread is now rare because those drawers and drawers of photos are now digital images on the hard drive of a computer or even stored in a cloud.

The images themselves would have been dumped as unneeded. And the clerks who maintained the files, filing new photos and finding any old ones that were needed for a current story, succumbed to the employment ravages of the computer age. Two stories, each of them marking a sad end to an era.

This 8×10 inch glossy Press Photo, and a vast trove of other ocean liner ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information is contained in The Sayers Collection in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library. Additional gems from The Sayers Collection continue to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection.