The Fairsea holds an important place in the memory of many immigrants to Australia during the post World War II period. She was the first passenger ship of the famous Sitmar Line and the first non-British ship employed to carry assisted immigrants from Britain to Australia.
The Fairsea was a regular sight in Australian waters and made a total of 81 voyages to and from Australia between 1949 and 1969. In her earlier years, the Fairsea seemed stark and uninviting for some, but after renovations, her later voyages were often remembered with delight and a sense of adventure.
The Fairsea Ocean LinerStimar Lines postcard. Source: private collection of Barbara Healley.
Dimensions: 492 x 69 ft (150 x 21.1 m)Registered Tonnage: 11,833 tons gross (13,432 tons after 1958)Service Speed: 16 knotsPropulsion: Doxford geared diesels / single screwShipping Line: Sitmar Line
Originally named Rio de la Plata, the immigrant ship Fairsea was built for the American shipping company Moore-McCormick Line for their passenger and cargo service between New York and the east coast of South America.
However, she never served on this intended route, for upon her launch in 1941 (amidst World War II), she was converted into an escort aircraft carrier and commissioned into the Royal Navy as the HMS Charger. Soon after, she returned to American hands and served for four years in the pacific as USS Charger.
After a brief post war period as a troop carrier, the Fairsea was rebuilt for migrant service in 1949, providing very basic accommodation for 1,800 passengers with the intention of transporting displaced people and refugees from Europe to Australia. She laid in wait for a short time while a contract was obtained from the International Refugee Organisation (IRO), before beginning her life as an immigrant ship.
Children charge eagerly up the gangway of the Fairsea, Bremerhaven, Germany, 1956.Photographer: unknown. Source: Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.
The Fairsea made several journeys to Australia under the IRO from 1949 to 1951, carrying displaced persons affected by World War II. She departed Naples, Italy for her maiden immigrant voyage to Australia on 11 May 1949, reaching Melbourne on 9 June. She regularly travelled to Australia from Italy carrying refugees and displaced people, but always returned empty due to the restrictions of the IRO contract.
At sea: Ondina De Marchi with her husband and daughter, all from Trieste, on board the Farisea on its voyage to Australia in July 1955.Photographer: unknown. Source: The Italian Historical Society Co.As.It.
In 1952, when the IRO contract ended, Sitmar took advantage of the lucrative Australian trade and began to offer paid passage to Australia on the Fairsea. She made a number of these trips over the next few years, except for a brief period in 1953, when she was transferred to the Quebec route.
In 1955, the Fairsea was chartered by the Australian Government to transport assisted immigrants from Britain, which she continued to do until an extensive refit in late 1957. The new configuration provided modernised accommodation including air conditioning throughout, an additional deck and new public rooms, considerably changing her external appearance and internal accommodation. The Australian Government charter was renewed and she continued operating as an immigrant ship, also making voyages to New Zealand.
Before the 1957 refit, the minimal conditions of the Fairsea were not lost on her passengers – many immigrants remember the large open dormitories and stark surrounds.
Frank Kriesl migrated from Hungary in 1951:
The Fairsea was huge, a converted troop ship with no cabins, just huge big open spaces with triple decked bunks, so cramped you couldn’t sit up straight in them. Men were assigned to one section, women to the other. The toilet and shower facilities were one huge long one … and everywhere you went there was an awful reek of ‘White King’. People threw up because of the smell not just the swell!
Different voyages created a variety of different experiences. For some passengers, the journey on the Fairsea was an adventure.
Doreen Hakowski (formerly Sillett) migrated from England in 1956:
The Fairsea – our home for 5 weeks, was the best part of my early life. I had been born in an air-raid shelter in London, so only knew destruction around me. My trip was very exciting. We had lovely meals, dances, entertainment, deck games, swimming and many other pastimes. We stopped off in Aden and rode a camel through the streets. I can't even remember feeling sad at leaving my home country, England.
In 1969 while west of Panama, a fire broke out on the Fairsea, completely damaging the engine room. The decision was made that it was not economical to repair a ship that was already 28 years old and so on 9 July 1969, the Fairsea left Balboa bound for the shipbreakers at La Spezia, Italy.
Baty, S. 1984. Ships That Passed – The Glorious Era of Travel to Australia and New Zealand. Reed Books Pty Ltd. Frenchs Forest.
Plowman, P. 1992. Emigrant Ships to Luxury Liners. New South Wales University Press. Kensington.
Stodden, K. 2003 (October). Appendix A – Tally of Voyages. Prepared for the Ship Reunion Lecture. Immigration Museum, Melbourne.
Thanks for your comment - there certainly seems to be some discrepancy here. Please feel free to attach scanned copies of your documents to the following enquiry form, or alternatively, you can bring them in person to the Immigration Discovery Centre at the Immigration Museum so that we may resolve this discrepancy.
The best place to start researching an ancestor's arrival in Australia is the website of the National Archives of Australia, which features a Record Search tool. Good luck!
Pat - the best place to confirm the arrival dates of ships to NSW is via the National Archives of Australia who hold the shipping lists for such arrivals. Please contact them.
You can include your family's immigration tales through our Share a Story database. You can email the Immigration Discovery Centre at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send you a form on which you can write your story. We look forward to hearing from you.
The National Archives of Australia is the central repository for all Australian Commonwealth Government records and holds information on naturalisation, military service and immigration. The National Archives website features online indexes to records in their collection, and can be searched by name, year and/or ship's name.
Hi John - see earlier responses from the Discovery Centre for advice about searching for passenger lists via the website of the National Archives of Australia. Cheers!
Hi Rik - the best place to confirm the departure and arrival dates of your migration journey is via the National Archives of Australia (NAA). The NAA hold the passenger and shipping lists for migrant arrivals to Australia. You can search for records online via the NAA’s RecordSearch. For additional information you can contact the NAA directly.
Renate, this event is briefly recounted by Peter Plowman in his informative book Australian Migrant Ships 1946-1977, which includes an article about the Skaubryn. What a dramatic experience, for you and your family!
Hi there, Roswitha. The Fairsea actually made six round trips between Bremerhaven and Quebec, from 1953, before being returned to the Europe-Australia run. On these Quebec trips the vessel offered accomodation for 40 first class and 1400 tourist class passengers. Perhaps there was a temporary surge of demand on transatlantic routes, during this period?
Hi there Joanne - A really great place to search for images online is Picture Australia, an online image database through which you can search the image collections of many of Australia's main archives and cultural institutions.
Detlef, see above for comments from the Discovery Centre giving advice about finding passenger lists and other immigration documents via the website of the National Archives of Australia. Hope this helps!
Peter Plowman's book The Sitmar Liners Past And Present does indicate that Fairsea was used as an immigrant ship to Quebec. Although he does not mention 1951 specifically, it did travel there a number of times in the 1950s and it seems likely that this was the same ship on which you sailed.
Olga, the National Archives of Australia is the organisation responsible for keeping this historic list. Copies of the list can be made by contacting this organisation via their website.
Hi there, Christa. The passenger lists for voyages to Canada are kept by Libraries & Archives Canada. To obtain one, you need to apply to the Canadian Geneology Centre.
Hi Toby. The infosheet above probably will answer most of your questions. After being converted to an aircraft carrier she was given to the British Navy under the Lend-Lease agreement in March 1942 but returned to the American Navy later the same year. You can find out more about the ship and it's history in the references above.
On Youtube there is a "moving slideshow" re: a MV Fairsea voyage NZ - Europe Feb 1962 which might interest Julian Beer and Jan Goldsack (above) who both mention they travelled same voyage. Try searching for: site.http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=fairsea+ship+denmark&aq=f
Also, further to Toby Pierpoint's observations (25 Jul 10) and Discovery Centre's reply re: Fairsea's origins. The partially completed passenger/cargo or "combi" liner MV Rio de la Plata (which along with her 3 sisters if completed as such would have been the world's first fully air-conditioned "combi' ships) was originally built and engined by Sun Shipbuilding at Hoboken, New Jersey, USA. The vessel was requisitioned for war service before completion and converted at Norfolk Navy Yard, transferred to UK Royal Navy as the escort aircraft carrier HMS Charger (for a matter of days) then reverted to US Navy control as USS Charger. The ship's main wartime duty was as an aviation training carrier, usually based in the relatively safe waters of Chesapeake Bay. Many British and Commonwealth naval aircrew were trained from USS Charger, before transferring to the operational fleet. Reportedly, part of Charger's wood-sheath decking (possibly from decks under the installed flight deck - which was totally removed at war's end) was retained on "boat deck" when the ship later became MV Fairsea (1949). When my family migrated UK-Australia (voyage 77SB Jan/Feb 1964) I was just 9 and didn't notice the Norfolk Navy Yard plate that Toby Pierpoint later found, but I am delighted to hear about it now. Thank you!
During our family's life-changing voyage I was very lucky to visit the engine-room with my father, who had befriended the Italian Chief Engineer. The ship's rare (UK designed/US built) Sun-Doxford diesels were to me a fascinating mass of huge noisy "steel stallions" in full gallop, while a purply-brown oil mist pervaded the stifling air. Strong fuel odours sometimes scented the decks outside the forward lounge, while fresh daily baking whiffs were a much more welcome feature. However, Fairsea's food was good as I recall, with particularly good soups and ice-creams, although powdered eggs and milk were less popular features to most. This plainly "special to me" hard working / high capacity migrant ship was kept sparkling clean, with paintwork and brass also highly maintained by her proud crew. Powerful memories even after 46 years, of which these are a few.
Tailpiece: Of the original 4 in class, just one other of Fairsea's original sisters survived WW2, later serving as the French Navy's light carrier FNS Dixmude. She was finally returned to the US and disposed of, in 1967, just 2 years before Fairsea.
Re: my last contribution (19 Aug 2010): I regret to advise that I made a significant error re: the ship's original builders (second paragraph). In fact all 4 vessels of the "Rio" class were built and engined by Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Co at Chester, Pennsylvania.
Further reference to various reliable sources also suggests that, when USS Charger was decommissioned in 1946, Navy structural fittings were removed and the vessel was returned to original owners, Moore-McCormack Line. Sold in 1947 to the Vlasov Group (of which SITMAR was a subsidiary), the United States government required that any necessary re-conversion work on such ships would have to be given to American shipyards. In 1947 the future MV Fairsea thus had structural improvements made by Bethlehem Steel Shipyard, Hoboken, New Jersey.
Peter Plowman's superb book "The SITMAR Liners Past and Present" (Rosenberg Publishing, Dural, Australia 2004) gives more details of this ship's full life as a SITMAR liner. At least until early 1964 (when I voyaged), MV Fairsea carried a prominent reminder of her colourful past in full view to any who cared to study the spare anchor. Carried on deck, centrally forward in the bows between the two employed anchors this reclining, smartly grey-painted "GI" was cast showing, in large type "U.S. Navy, 1941".
For those interested, besides having Incoming Passenger Lists, there are excellent photos re: MV Fairsea, including some of passengers and crew (and of many other migrant liners) on the Australian National Archives website.
Hi Bronia, for information regarding passenger lists, you will need to contact the National Archives of Australia, information can be found here: http://www.naa.gov.au/. Information about Bonegilla Migrant Hostel is available through this website http://www.bonegilla.org.au/
Prior to becoming part of the Sitmar line, Fairsea was under contract to the IRO to convey refugees and displaced persons to Australia. Under this agreement she was to operate three IRO voyages from Naples to Melbourne via the Suez Canal commencing on May 11, 1949, but she had to return to Italy without any passengers on board whatsoever.
She was not at this stage regarded as either an immigrant ship or part of the Sitmar line. It was not until December 1949 that Fairsea began her role as an immigrant ship on the Sitmar line and was able to take on passengers for the return journey to Italy and become the Sitmar Liner she was intended to be!
I sailed on the Fairsea from Southampton in November 1958 - arriving in Sydney in the December after 5 weeks. I was chosen as equator queen - spoiled for a couple of days - even had a dance with the captain. I am trying to look for my old friend pat deuse (not sure about spelling). Pat and i moved to Bondi Beach - then pat went back to either Dunfermline in Scotland or maybe to England. I have been in Australia for over 53 years now and would love to know how pat has fared over the years. Big brother movement was on our trip - bringing young men out to Australia from Britain. Had lots of fun with these young guys - lots of laughs. Jean Bradley
You can search the National Archives of Australia as a guest using the 'keyword' option to find records of passenger lists and their arrival dates. Simply insert the ship name in square brackets, ie "[fairsea] passenger list" in the search box and narrow the dates.
I have emailed you with the results that I found.
We love receiving comments, but can’t always respond.
Sorry for the confusion, we were suggesting to contact the NAA directly to see if they have records pertaining to your friends that are not listed on their website. Currently the NAA does not have all of their recordslisted on-line - try using the Making Australia Home Project to see if you can obtain the records you are after. Or hopefully they will read your post!
We have done a quick search of the National Archives of Australia (NAA) and located a record of you father Piotr Tychomirov who arrived in Melbourne per FAIRSEA 23 May 1950. This record held by the NAA contains papers and documents relating to you fathers immigration. The NAA will scan/copy these documents for you at a cost. You will need to go to their website using the search function find your fathers record and the select the ‘Request Copy’ option on the right hand side and follow the prompts.
Hi Tina - the best place to confirm the departure and arrival dates of your migration journey is via the National Archives of Australia (NAA). The NAA hold the passenger and shipping lists for migrant arrivals to Australia. You can search for records online via the NAA’s RecordSearch. For additional information you can contact the NAA directly.
You are probably having trouble finding your family members names online because The National Archives of Australia has only digitalised about 10% of its collection. The majority of passenger lists in the collection can only be accessed on microfilm on site at the NAA reading room located at 99 Shiel St. North Melbourne. For more information visit their website here.
Passenger lists for this period are held by The National Archives of Australia. In some cases a digital copy of the entire Nominal Roll can be found on their website by doing an Advanced Search for “nominal” plus the ship name (i.e. Fairsea) and the date range of the journey. You can also search passenger names in the Basic Search function. Keep in mind that only 10% of NAA’s collection is available online so if you do not find anything you may need to visit their reading room or contact them for further assistance.
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