SS Jervis Bay 1922

Period posterDuring the years which immediately followed WWI the Australian Commonwealth Line announced that five identical twin-screw passenger-cargo liners had been ordered from British shipyards for the Australian emigrant service.

The ships were specifically designed to operate a schedule of monthly departures between the ports of London, Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Their advent was supposed to rid the Commonwealth fleet of the rather 'mixed bag' of vessels in current use.

The new steamers, all completed during 1921 and 1922, were each named after a bay situated in each of the five federal States served by the company. As such they became known throughout Australia as the 'Bay ships'. Three of these vessels were constructed by the famous Vickers, Armstrongs organisation at Barrow. They were Moreton Bay, Hobsons Bay and Jervis Bay, listed by their respective entries to service.

The other two 'Bays', the slightly different Largs Bay and Esperance Bay, were constructed by the Clyde-side yards of William Beardmore & Company.

The Commonwealth Line set a precedent for the 14000 tons quintet by registering each ship in the State from which their names were derived. The three Barrow-built ships featured a similar passenger configuration of a tiny 12 passenger first class (mainly for Government officials) and a more spacious complement of over 700 third class passengers.

Under Sydney Bridge

An interesting entry in the Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Port of London, 1925. showing fumigation of the Jervis Bay. See more details here...

The young Australian company received many setbacks, owing to mismanagement, during the years that followed the quintet's introduction. During 1928 the Australian Commonwealth Line was purchased outright by the British Kylsant Group of shipping companies, renamed the Aberdeen & Commonwealth Line, and placed under the Thompson/Aberdeen Line's administration. Also at this time the 'Bays' were repainted in a new livery of deep green hull and buff funnel, a great aesthetic improvement acclaimed by all. The white superstructure livery was carried down one deck lower and gave the ships a more sleek profile. Their registry was changed to London.

SS Jervis Bay

During 1931 the ships underwent a refit which saw their two-class configuration removed and replaced with more comfortable accommodation for 270 tourist class passengers. When the occasion required extra berths, temporary module-like cabin spaces were constructed within the upper hold space allowing a full capacity of 540 passengers. These deep holds were equipped with refrigeration units and insulation in order to permit the carriage of 360000 cubic feet of meat and produce to England. The London terminal was transferred to the Hampshire port of Southampton during 1931.

The three Barrow-built ships voyaged peacefully upon their careers (apart from Moreton Bay's two accidents in 1923) until 1933 when the Kylsant shipping empire collapsed as a result of a financial mismanagement during the Depression. The 'Bays' were awarded to Shaw, Savill management, under the new title of Aberdeen & Commonwealth Line Limited.

In 1936 Shaw, Savill & Albion transferred the Barrow-built Esperance Bay to their own fleet as a replacement for the old Ionic (2). Hobsons Bay was renamed Esperance Bay (2), and Esperance Bay (1) became Arawa (3).

During the years which immediately preceded WWII the British Ministry of Transport had examined many large ships for possible use in the event of an outbreak of war. The four remaining 'Bays' were deemed most suitable for such a purpose and were earmarked for immediate requisition should hostilities commence. As, of course, they did on 3 September 1939.

Of the five 'Bay' ships delivered to the Austrahan Commonwealth Line between 1921 and 1922 three were constructed at the Barrow-in-Furness yards of Vickers, Armstrongs Ltd and two by the Clyde-side organisation of William Beardmore & Co. The twins Largs Bay and Esperance Bay (1) were constructed by the latter company.

Jervis Bay

Passage Ticket

Passenger Information

Largs Bay was the second 'Bay' to enter service. She followed Moreton Bay into service during January 1922. Esperance Bay (1) was the second to last, upon her entry to the Brisbane route during August 1922.

The Clyde-built 'Bays' were very similar to their English constructed sisters, although certain minor details differed. Although not immediately discernible, the hulls of Largs Bay and Esperance Bay were three feet greater in length. They also possessed different propulsion machinery. Their steam turbines were of Parsons manufacture, as opposed to the in-house Vickers units specified south of the border.

The Clyde-built 'Bays' suffered from the same mismanagement as their sisters during the early days of their Australian Commonwealth Line operations. Their ownership passed to the Kylsant group of companies during 1928, after which they served as units of the reorganised Aberdeen & Commonwealth Line under management of White Star and George Thompson Company auspices. At this time they received the deep green hull livery by which they are perhaps best remembered.

1940 CalendarAlso during 1928 the 'Bays' registry was transferred to London. Largs Bay had previously been registered at Adelaide (capital of South Australia, where Largs Bay is situated) and Esperance Bay (1) at Fremantle respectively. During a refit in 1931 the ships had their select 12-passengers first class merged with the lesser accomodation. The whole configuration was altered to cater for 550, should the need arise, by installing temporary module-like prefabricated cabins within the upper hold spaces.

The sole remaining Clyde-built 'Bay' remained in service for the Aberdeen & Commonwealth Line upon the Southampton/Brisbane route, in consort with Moreton Bay, Esperance Bay (2) and Jervis Bay, until the outbreak of WWII.

Excerpt from Ships That Passed
by Scott Baty, Reed Books Pty Ltd.

The accompanying photo was forwarded by Ian Todd, Scotland. His story... "My father Thomas Wright Todd joined the Jervis Bay on 23 October 1934 as 6th Engineer. He completed 6 voyages, all to Australia before coming ashore as the 5th Engineer on 15 January 1937. The picture was taken from Sydney Harbour Bridge I believe sometime in 1936. On the original you can make out some of the crew on the aft deck in their whites. I suppose my father might be one of them. He was subsequently called back up for War Service in 1942 serving on a variety of merchant men before being discharged in 1946. "

Image: Benjamin Healley Source: Museum Victoria

Visit the Immigration Museum, Australia.

19301930 Postcard

Click to enlarge.
1933 postcard sent by a ship's passenger.

Christmas 1922
1922 Christmas postcard.





Passengers embarking
Passengers embarking on the Jervis Bay

Departure from Melbourne


Crossing the line
"Crossing the Line" Ceremonies, Indian Ocean

Crossing the line
"Crossing the Line" Ceremonies, Indian Ocean


Crossing the line
"Crossing the Line" Ceremonies, Indian Ocean

Religious Service
Religious Service


Bum-boat alongside the Jervis Bay at Port Said

Bum-boats at Suez

1939 Breakfast Menu

Breakfast Menu, 1939