Steam liners to aeroplanes

Auxiliary steamers were introduced to the Australian run in the 1860s and by the 1880s had replaced clipper ships for passenger services. Also during this period iron or composite ships (made with iron frames and wooden planking) had replaced wooden ones. Since iron vessels could be built much larger than wooden ones they could carry far more migrants and provide more spacious accommodation. They also had more staff to cater to passengers’ needs. After the Suez Canal opened in 1869 large steamships, now known as liners, could take a much shorter route to Australia.

After World War 2, there was a desperate shortage of ships and a huge number of refugees and migrants wanting to leave Europe. To meet the demand, old ships were hastily refitted with very basic dormitory accommodation. Greek and Italian lines joined the established companies in this lucrative migrant trade and accommodation improved. After 1957 migrants travelled tourist class on regular services which were also advertised to cruise passengers. In the 1950s some migrants were arriving by air; by the mid 1970s almost all flew.

Last glimpse of home

Last glimpse of home
When this engraving was published in 1878 migrants to Australia mostly travelled on auxiliary steamers. Perhaps the young lady was a First Class passenger on the Somersetshire which arrived in Melbourne that year, with a few emigrants bound for Tasmania. Somersetshire had commodious saloons for both First and Second Class passengers. Illustrated Australian News, State Library of Victoria

From London to Australia in a P&O liner

From London to Australia in a P&O liner 1890      
Shipping Lines promoted the exotic aspects of a voyage to Australia via the Suez Canal and many people enjoyed the trip as an adventure and a holiday. However, diarist, George Stammers was unimpressed by his 1894 voyage on the Orient Line’s 'Oroya': “People are seen at their worst on board ship and so the greed, ill manners, jealousy and unpleasant ways of many I met are, like the 'Oroya' best forgotten.” The ship carried about 1,000 passengers, 189 crew members and 80 stewards. Illustrated Australian News, State Library of Victoria

The 'Oroya'

Emigrants to Australia c1910
Emigrants en route to Australia c1910. State Library of Queensland.


Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers poster
'Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers' poster

Tasmania left off the map – but Bay Ships did stop at Burnie
After World War 1 the Australian Commonwealth Line purchased and built ships to carry emigrants from Europe to Australia. The new vessels were all given names of Australian bays. After continual labour unrest and strikes the Line was sold in 1928 and run as the Aberdeen and Commonwealth Line. During the 1930s their vessels sailed via Suez to all states except Tasmania – though they did bring Tasmanian migrants as far as Melbourne and occasionally stopped in Burnie.


fancy dress Achille Lauro
Fancy dress parade for migrant children on the 'Achille Lauro' organised by Alison Parsons, (1970)

Children’s activities
After World War 2, migrant ships often employed mothercraft nurses as well as teachers who taught children and also provided English classes for adults. Alison Parsons worked as a mothercraft nurse on the 'Angelina Lauro' and 'Achille Lauro' when they carried migrants to Australia in the early 1970s.The vessels belonged to the Italian Flotta Lauro Line and both offered air conditioned accommodation for about 15,000 passengers.

'Achille Lauro
'Achille Lauro'. Maritime Museum of Tasmania

Migrant teachers from the UK
Migrant teachers arriving from the UK by air to work in Tasmania.