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By David Rooney on

Under Azura Skies

I was in Southampton last week to give a talk, and while I was there, I dropped by the Southampton Maritime Museum to find out all about the area’s history as a passenger port.

Outside, I was faced with a view that brought Southampton’s maritime past right up to the present. A couple of hours earlier, P&O’s latest cruise ship, Azura, had docked nearby, ready for its inaugural cruise.

P&O cruise ship 'Azura' at Southampton, 7 April 2010 (David Rooney)

P&O was founded in 1840 as the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, operating freight and mail services to Europe and Egypt. They later expanded to passengers. This print from our pictorial collection shows P&O’s 1880s chairman, Sir Thomas Sutherland:

Sir Thomas Sutherland, P&O chairman, c.1887 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

By the twentieth century, travel on grand liners was an established luxury, with shipping lines competing to be biggest, fastest, or both.

Cunard‘s 1938 Queen Elizabeth, for instance, was the largest passenger ship ever built at the time. We’ve a large model in our Shipping gallery, and this archive photo shows the launch:

Launch of the 'Queen Elizabeth', 1938 (NMeM / Daily Herald Archive / Science & Society)

The development of civil aviation posed a great challenge to maritime travel and, as I mentioned in a previous post, once pressurised airliners after 1945 made long-distance flying comfortable, days were numbered for regular liner services.

But the market for cruising seems more buoyant than ever, with new ships like Azura offering ever more luxury, facilities and destinations. When visiting maritime towns, it’s clear that Britain is still in love with the sea!

'Azura' looms over Southampton port, 7 April 2010 (David Rooney)

More on my Southampton excursion next time…

One comment on “Under Azura Skies

  1. In 1964 aged 8 I sailed on Queen Elizabeth to New York because my father had been posted there. Two years later I made the same journey on SS France, and had also sailed 3 times to and from Montevideo. We were taken to see the engine rooms of prop shafts of QE, and the sight has never left me, nor has the memory of the fantastic food and sea air in the evenings. The first time we went to Montevideo was on the Highland Brigade, which was built in 1929 and now looks very old fashioned.

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