The Orient Line’s first ship to be named Orcades had been the former German liner Prinz Ludwig, which had been surrendered to Great Britain as War Reparations and assimilated into the Orient fleet in 1921. Already past her prime however, she was retired in 1925 and, ironically, scrapped at Bremerhaven in the land of her birth.
Her successor was one of the two essentially identical sisters ordered by the Orient Line in the mid-1930s, the other being the much longer-lived Orion. Both vessels were built by Vickers-Armstrong at Barrow-in-Furness, with Orcades (II) being laid down soon after Orion was launched. Orcades herself was launched on 1st December 1936, registered at 23,456 tons (gross) and measured 664 feet in length with an 82-foot beam. With her twin screws powered by Parsons’ geared turbines, she could make 20 knots with ease and had accommodation for 463 First and 605 Tourist class passengers. Completed for sea on 10th July 1937, she spent a couple of months cruising the Mediterranean before embarking on her maiden voyage, London – Brisbane, on 9th October (1937). After almost two years of successful operations, she developed engine problems in April 1939 and went back to her builders for repairs and a complete overhaul. In fact, when she emerged from their yard, it was as a troopship, having been commandeered for government use in the meantime due to the deteriorating political situation in Europe. Her new role as a troop transport took her, successively, to Egypt, Australia, South Africa, Nova Scotia and finally the Far East where, in the Dutch East Indies, she only narrowly escaped capture by the advancing Japanese invaders.
In early October 1942, Orcades was in Cape Town and preparing to leave for home with some 1,300 passengers aboard, mostly civilians but also including many wounded servicemen and survivors from various sunken merchant ships. Clearing port on 9th October, at about 11.00am the following morning, she was hit by three torpedoes in quick succession from the German submarine U-172. The passengers and most of the crew took to the boats, but 55 crewmen volunteered to stay aboard to try and nurse the ship back to Cape Town. Although she could only make 6 knots, the situation seemed hopeful until, at about 4.30pm the same day, another three torpedoes struck her, whereupon she rolled over and sank almost immediately. Almost everyone who had been aboard was saved by the Polish steamer Narvik, but 48 lives were lost either in the various torpedo explosions or in an accident when the boats were being lowered.
A celebrated poster artist of the interwar period, Pears created a different design of Orcades promoting the Orient Line’s new liner and winter fares to Australia to celebrate the nation’s sesquicentenary in 1938. It is not impossible the present work was an alternative design for the commission.
with James Bourlet and Sons, Nassau Street, London.