Belfast Ships: The Canberra

The last liner to be built in Belfast. The last liner to be built in Belfast, the Canberra was regarded as a very ’British institution’. The last liner to be built in Belfast, the Canberra was regarded as a very ’British institution’.

On March 16, 1960, the 45,000 ton Canberra liner, operating between the UK and Australia, was launched by Dame Pattie Menzies, wife of the Australian Prime Minister. Around 11,000 spectators watched the event as the Canberra was to be the last liner built in Belfast.

The Canberra’s design raised a great deal of interest. Its propulsion machinery was placed aft leaving the best part of the ship for passenger accommodation. The funnels were therefore also placed aft and, unusually, side by side. A great deal of aluminium was used in the building of the ship’s superstructure.

On June 2, 1961, the Canberra set sail from Southampton on her maiden voyage to Australia. Although major repairs were carried out in the first years of its existence, the ship was very popular.{PAGE BREAK}
By the end of the decade, the demand for the journey to Australia slowed down. The Canberra was sent to New York where it was marketed for Caribbean cruises. However, this did not prove successful. The Canberra was converted to a single class cruiser in 1974 and was based in Southampton during the summer, operating two and three week cruises. This was followed by a Christmas and New Year cruise and a three month world cruise.

At the beginning of the Falkland’s War, the Canberra was transformed, in three days, into a troopship capable of operating with at least two helicopters. On May 21, 1982, the ship landed around 2000 troops in San Carlos water without a casualty and without getting hit. It continued to carry troops into battle and later repatriated prisoners of war. It arrived back in Southampton on July 11, 1982, cheered by around 35,000 spectators.

On September 11, the ‘Great White Whale’ commenced cruising again. The ship was very popular because it was seen as a very ‘British institution’ with bingo evenings and shows like the Old Music Hall.
During the early 1990s, it became obvious that the ship was ageing. It was retired from service on September 30, 1997, and scrapped a year later.

Read the previous article in this series.