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History of the Orvieto

Orvieto arriving at Tilbury

The Orvieto was built by Workman Clark & Company of Belfast. She was launched on Tuesday July 6th, 1909 and delivered to the Orient Line on November 6th of that year. Her maiden voyage began from London on November 26th, the beginning of four years of service on the mail run to Brisbane, and service as a passenger cruiser. In 1913 she became the first Orient Line vessel to berth at the newly opened New Farm Wharf in Brisbane, an occasion celebrated by a lunch on board attended by the Governor of Queensland, Sir William Macgregor and the State Premier, Mr Denham. She returned to London in February 1914. Her last return trip to Australia to be completed before the outbreak of war began on March 13th.

Her second passage of 1914 began from Tilbury on July 3rd under the command of Captain P.N Layton. She reached Australia soon after the start of the First World War, and was immediately requisitioned by the Commonwealth Government of Australia. After two months in Sydney dock being fitted out as a troop transport, she sailed for Egypt with 91 officers and 1,347 men of the AIF (Australian Imperial Force), as part of a convoy of 36 ships escorted by Royal Navy and Japanese cruisers, including HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Sydney. On board the Orvieto were Major General W.T. Bridges and his staff of the 1st Division. This included his chief of staff, Lieutenant Colonel (later General) C.B.B. White, Major (later Major General) J. Gellibrand, Lieutenant (later Lord) R.G. Casey and official correspondent C.E.W. Bean. The ship also carried the 5th Infantry Battalion and 2nd Field Company. Orvieto was the first ship of the convoy to leave Sydney and the first to set sail from Perth for Europe and led the transports all the way to Egypt.

While calling at Colombo on November 15th, the Orvieto took on board a number of prisoners from the German cruiser Emden which had been disabled and grounded by HMAS Sydney after 70 days marauding in the Indian Ocean. The prisoners included the ship's captain (von Müller) and torpedo officer (Prince Franz Josef von Hohenzollern). The Australian troops and German POWs were disembarked on arrival at Suez and the Orvieto proceeded to London, arriving in January 1915.

Although scheduled to sail again for Australia on February 12th 1915 (and shown in The Times sailing lists for that date), soon after her arrival she was requisitioned by the Admiralty as an armed merchant cruiser and fitted out at Millwall, being armed with eight 6-inch guns. On March 8th she was commissioned as HMS Orvieto, and commanded by Captain Smyth RN who joined the ship on that date. A week later she was drydocked at Tilbury for two days before leaving for Scapa Flow where she arrived on March 21st. The ship remained at Scapa for two months, spending very little time at sea, and on June 8th she departed for Immingham which was to be her base for the next ten months.

Her duties as a minelayer during the next ten months took her all along the east coast between Sheerness and Rosyth, often accompanied by HMS Princess Margaret, a 6,000 ton vessel built as a coastal ship for the Canadian Pacific. On February 18th 1916 Orvieto suffered slight damage when she collided with the Swedish Abiska at Immingham. On March 20th she went aground for a time off Sheerness. Her guns were fired in anger for the first time when she engaged enemy aircraft on April 24th, but no hits were scored. Her first commission came to an end on May 25th 1916 and the ship's company was paid off at the Royal Albert Docks in London.

She was, however, quickly recommissioned and at the end of July 1916 left London for the Northern Patrol, and over the next six months intercepted over 30 foreign merchantmen, sending them into northern ports to be searched. In September she spent a week in dock in Glasgow, and saw in the the New Year undergoing gunnery trials with Vice Admiral Tupper on board.

On February 28th 1917 she was at Busta Voe when she collided with a fishing vessel, which lost it's masts and funnel, but suffered no casualties.

During July and August of 1917 Orvieto was refitted on the Tyne, and left Hebburn on September 21st, again for the Northern Patrol, being based at Liverpool, where she put in for another refit in the Queen's Graving Dock on January 9th 1918. There was a series of mysterious small fires on board during the refit, the first being on January 16th, when a blaze was discovered in number three lower hold, which took three hours to extinguish, and the last being ten days later, which also took three hours to put out.

On March 23rd 1918 she left Liverpool and spent the rest of the war engaged on trans-atlantic convoy duties. Her first two such voyages were to Rio de Janeiro, and on her return she berthed at Cardiff on August 13th. The next two passages were to Canada, sailing to Quebec and Halifax. She arrived in Devonport at the end of her second journey on October 28th, and was visited by HRH Prince Arthur of Connaught, a son of Queen Victoria, accompanied by the Japanese ambassador. It had been her final voyage as a Royal Naval Auxiliary and at the end of the year she was paid off and returned to the Orient Line.

She sailed for Brisbane on November 1st 1919 and remained on the mail run for eleven years without serious mishap, apart from running aground in the Brisbane River, and made her last return voyage to Australia in August 1930. Not having been converted to burn oil, she was by then outdated and surplus to requirements, and remained at Southampton for five months before being sold to Scottish shipbreakers. She arrived at Bo'ness at the end of her final voyage on April 3rd 1931.

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