Life Onboard, 1940s-60s

Orcades Tourist Class Cabin
Tourist Class Four Berth Cabin, R.M.S. Orcades, 1948.
Source: Museum Victoria

Converted Troop Ships

After World War II, many ships that had carried soldiers were converted to meet the urgent need for the transportation of migrants. Passenger comforts on these 'troop ships' were extremely limited. Large empty holds were fitted out with double or triple tiered bunks. The food was plain and sometimes inadequate. Many European migrants were not used to the English fare that they were given to eat, and missed their traditional spiced foods. Similar food was provided in the hostels and reception camps when they arrived in Australia.

Overcrowding was a common complaint. Everyone, including families, which were split up, was accommodated in men's and women's quarters.

The General Langfitt was clean and well maintained, but had no luxuries, as it was designed to carry American troops during the war. The dormitories were crowded with bunks; it had communal toilets and salt-water showers. Our only treat was the refrigerated drinking tap in the passage, but it broke down after a few days at sea.
– Ale Liubinas migrated from Lithuania in 1949.
Dad had to bunk below with the other men on the lower deck. At times it was not pleasant below deck because of the heat and the motion of the ship. People from below deck cabins often took their blanket and pillow and slept on deck.
– Veronica Morris migrated from England in 1951.

Living in such close confines had some benefits, however. Passengers formed close friendships, often with people from countries and nationalities they had never encountered before.

The best people I found were the Italian guys!
– Karoly Lubanszky migrated from Hungary aboard the Fairsea in 1956.

Passenger Liners

As post-war migration continued and the migrant trade was recognized as profitable, shipping companies began improving on-board facilities in order to attract passengers. 'Tourist Class' cabins replaced the large dormitories on lower decks, and air-conditioning, swimming pools and cinemas were installed.

Daily newsletters, port-of-call booklets and decorative menus were provided. Balls, parties and sporting competitions were organised, and children were better catered for with playrooms and organised deck games. Free English lessons were provided to prepare non-English speaking migrants for their new lives.

On-board souvenir shops were installed to boost revenue, offering souvenirs such as postcards, dolls, ashtrays and spoons—all sporting the ship's name or emblem.

The Italian crew were experts at organising people to entertain themselves. They had heaps of theatrical costumes and endless ideas about improvising. As a result, we had some memorable evenings, including Wild West night, 1920s night, Arabian night. Everyone got into the swing of it because the days were so boring.
– Robert and Maureen Hallam migrated from England in 1969.

While shipping lines and immigration officers planned and promoted a fun-filled trip, the experience could rapidly become the opposite as even the sturdiest of ships fell prey to high winds and rough seas.

Passengers vomited anywhere, everywhere … The corridors stank, and this added to further worsen queasy and unsettled stomachs. The mess decks were emptied of people unable to face the smell of food. Fresh air, the easiest and best remedy, was hard to come by as the waves crashed over the decks in spectacular fashion accompanied by scudding rain.
– Joe Vella migrated from Malta in 1955.

At other times the monotony of sea travel became the greatest enemy.

For two weeks we never saw land and many passengers grew more and more restless and bored, resulting in minor fights breaking out. Many deckchairs were thrown overboard.
– Connie McQuade migrated from Denmark in 1960.


Use the Internet to research the facilities on a new ocean liner eg. Queen Mary 2.

Is travel on the cruise ship you have researched better than the experiences of the migrants described above? Explain your opinion.

Would you like to take an ocean cruise? What aspects would be exciting? What aspects would be boring?

Image Gallery

Orcades First Class Suite A souvenir minature lifebouy A souvenir cloth sailor doll