Updated October 29, 2019
P&O Cruises, which celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2012, is not only the world's oldest cruise line in operation, it's also the U.K.'s biggest home-grown line. A cruise company with as storied a heritage as Cunard, its 175th Anniversary was marked by a Grand Event in Southampton on July 3, 2012, when all seven ships in the fleet met for the first time and there was a visit from HRH The Princess Royal.
P&O can trace its illustrious heritage back to 1837, with the formation of the Peninsular Steam Navigation Company (PSNC).
The PSNC, owned by Arthur Anderson and Brodie McGhie, was awarded the lucrative government contract to carry mail to Spain and Portugal and beyond.
Arguably its roots date back even further, when two years earlier Anderson ran a dummy advertisement in the first edition of his Shetland Journal publication for 'cruises' around the Shetland Isles to the Faroes and Iceland.
The line's role has been vital to U.K. trade throughout history: Between 1840 and 1872 virtually all communication between the U.K. and India, China, Japan and Australia, was in the hands of P&O. The line also carried the first tea to Britain in a steamship (rather than the sailing tea clippers).
Join us on a trip throughout P&O's history:
1840 -- Name is changed to the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) when its Royal Mail contract is extended to the East.
1844 –- William Makepeace Thackeray (who wrote Vanity Fair) is given a free cruise to Egypt, which involves travel on a succession of P&O ships. Although his review is mixed, to say the least, it brings P&O welcome publicity.
1904 -- P&O buys the liner Rome and turns it into its first full-time cruise ship, Vectis, and offers its first cruise holiday programme –- a first class only cruise with shore excursions arranged by Thomas Cook.
1918 -- P&O acquires Orient Line.
1922 -- Orient Line resumes cruising post-World War I. Between the wars cruising becomes more popular, often using the newest ships in the fleet rather than the oldest.
1929 -- P&O launches Viceroy of India, its first turbo electric-powered ship and the first to have an indoor swimming pool.
1930's -- Tourist class cruises begin in the early 1930s, followed by Pacific cruises and voyages to and from Australia.
1950's -- The journey half way around the world to Australia catches the imagination of the U.K. public. This popularity is assisted by the Australian government who encourages U.K. immigrants – a one way ticket costs £10 – the ‘ten pound Pom' is born. At £110 less than a tourist ticket, it's a great fare, but travellers have to stay at least 2 years. Through the mid 70's, more than 1 million Brits move down under.
1957 -- Two liners –- Oriana and Canberra –- are ordered for Orient Line and for P&O. By the time both are launched (1960/1961), P&O Cruises had created a new brand –- P&O Orient Lines –- for which these ships operate.
1974 -- P&O Cruises buys , a U.S. West Coast brand created in 1965 by Stanley MacDonald, becoming P&O Princess Cruises (both companies continued to trade under their individual brand names). Canberra returns from its liner-to-cruise ship conversion to begin sailing from Southampton. The same year P&O Cruises abolishes passenger classes.
1982 -- Canberra –- along with Cunard's QE2 and the Uganda from P&O Cruises educational cruise brand British India –- are requisitioned by the British Government for the Falklands War.
1988 -- Princess Cruises takes over Sitmar and P&O Cruises makes the provisional decision (confirmed with an order in 1991) to build a new cruise ship for cruise travel.
1995 -- P&O Cruises take delivery of its new ship Oriana. HM The Queen is named Godmother to Oriana.
2000 -- P&O Cruises takes delivery of a second new ship, Aurora. The cruise business separates from P&O to operate independently as P&O Princess Cruises plc.
2003 -- P&O Princess Cruises merges with Carnival Corporation.
2005 -- A third brand new ship, Arcadia, joins P&O Cruises and a third Princess ship, Royal Princess, switches and starts operating as Artemis for P&O Cruises. Adonia, which had previously been switched from Princess, rejoins its former fleet as Sea Princess.
2008 -- P&O Cruises 115,000 ton ship, Ventura, enters service.
2010 -- The latest ship to be built for P&O Cruises, Azura, joins the P&O Cruises fleet.
2011 -- P&O Cruises bids a fond farewell to Artemis in April and welcomes its newest (and smallest) addition, Adonia, in May.