Founded in 1954, Swan Hellenic celebrates its diamond anniversary this year. To commemorate the first post-war British cruise from Greece to the islands of the Aegean, the company is operating a fifteen day cruise from the 13th to the 27th of August 13 which revisits many of the ports included in the 1954 cruise.
Swan Hellenic was formed by father and son W.F. and R.K. Swan who first organised an archaeological cruise for the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies aboard the small Greek passenger liner MIAOULIS in 1954. This small, 1,714gt Greek ship, owned by Nomikos Lines, usually operated on a fortnightly service between Venice and Greece. Most of the 130 Swan’s passengers travelled to Venice by train to catch the sailing of MIAOULIS on the 22nd August 1954. Among them was the famous sculptress Barbara Hepworth.
The company’s first full charter of a ship took place the following year when it hired a 44-year old former Canadian ferry AEGAEON for a 17 day cruise from Venice to Greece and Turkey. Passengers were accompanied by nine cruising staff including Mr. R. K. (Ken) Swan and the formidable Doreen Goodrick who, for many years, ensured that Swan passengers always received preferential treatment. Prices were not cheap and ranged from 75 guineas for a six-berth cabin to 210 guineas for a two-berth one but included all excursions and travel. Among the distinguished lecturers was Sir Mortimer Wheeler who later became Chairman of Swan Hellenic. AEGAEON was owned by Typaldos Lines and started life in 1911 as Canadian Pacific’s PRINCESS ALICE.
The success of this cruise led to the charter of the Turkish ship ANKARA in 1959. Built in 1927 she soon became a firm favourite among the Swan regulars who returned year after year. She had an interesting career. She was completed as the two-funnelled IROQUOIS for Clyde Line’s coastal service down the east coast of the United States. During the war a funnel was removed and in 1948 she was bought by Turkish Maritime Lines and renamed ANKARA.
In 1975 ANKARA was replaced by Epirotiki Line’s ORPHEUS which remained with the company for the next 21 years. She was originally the Irish Sea ferry MUNSTER. Only 4,O88gt, ORPHEUS was able to berth at many of the smaller ports in the Aegean and provided a unique opportunity to visit sites before the hordes arrived. Nowadays the Mediterranean has become overcrowded with increasingly larger ships being built and it is hard to imagine arriving at a port such Kusadasi for a visit to Ephesus with only a few people on the quay – but that is what it was like on a Swan’s cruise thirty years ago.
ORPHEUS was withdrawn in 1996 after 327 cruises for Swan Hellenic which replaced her with a brand-new ship the 12,892gt MINERVA. This larger, beautifully-fitted, yacht-like vessel allowed Swan to broaden its range beyond the Mediterranean. Owned by V.Ships, she was built at Genoa in 1996 by T. Mariotti using the hull of a Soviet-era “spy” ship. Apart from a short period between 2003 and 2007 when Swan Hellenic operated the 30,277-ton MINERVA II, MINERVA has been on charter to Swan Hellenic ever since.
An impressive Swan Hellenic Diamond Anniversary exhibition has been created aboard MINERVA. It features brochures and memorabilia going back to the first cruise on MIAOULIS in 1954.
This display shows Swan’s early years with a 1955 brochure from my collection of the first full charter on AEGAEON. It also has an image of the late Ken Swan who, when I travelled aboard ORPHEUS in the 1980s, was always there to meet the ship.
Over the years many distinguished people lectured aboard Swan Hellenic ships including the late Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury. He is in the photograph top left taken by me at Olympia when he was still the Bishop of St. Albans. He was a wonderful, kind, generous man who was always great company to be with.
A nice poolside touch celebrating all that is stylish about this great British company.
A well-known shipping writer, cruise journalist and cruise ship lecturer, Peter Newall is a former British Airways executive who has, in the past 57 years, visited and travelled on many famous ships. As well as numerous articles he has written nine highly acclaimed books including the definitive histories of Union-Castle, Orient and Cunard Line. He also owns the Newall Dunn Collection, the extensive collection of historic merchant shipping images.
A well-known shipping writer, cruise journalist and cruise ship lecturer,
Peter Newall is a former British Airways executive who has, in the past 57
years, visited and travelled on many famous ships. As well as numerous
articles he has written nine highly acclaimed books including the
definitive histories of Union-Castle, Orient and Cunard Line. He also owns
the Newall Dunn Collection, the extensive collection of historic merchant