t.s.s Nairana was built at Dumbarton, Scotland, in 1915. She measured 96.3m. Photo: Allan C Green, 1878-1954; courtesy State Library of Victoria
In March 1914, the Australian shipping company Huddart Parker ordered a ship to be built in Scotland for the Melbourne to Launceston service. It was to be seven years, however, before she arrived in Melbourne. Though construction began in 1915, it was stopped soon after because of World War I. Requisitioned by the Royal Navy, the ship was completed as an aircraft carrier, with a flight deck forward of the bridge for wheeled planes, and a crane at the stern for lowering float-planes. Capable of carrying seven aircraft, she was commissioned into the RN as HMS Nairana in August 1917. After the war she was converted to her original design, but this took until December 1920.
On Sunday morning, March 27, 1921, Nairana arrived at Melbourne where she attracted crowds eager to see the first new ship for the Australian coast since before the war. The passage from Devonport, England, took 52 days, including calls for bunkers at several ports. Fitted with well-lighted cabins, spacious saloons, and music and smoking rooms, Nairana could carry about 400 passengers. Four steam turbines drove two screws, giving the ship a top speed of more than 20 knots (37km/h). Compared with the current ferries, she was quite small at less than half their length and carried 1000 fewer passengers.
At 3pm on April 18, 1921, she departed from No.1 North Wharf in the Yarra at the start of her first passage to Launceston. Management was moved to Tasmanian Steamers in 1922 when Huddart Parker formed a partnership with Union Steamship Company. Her twin funnels were then repainted with red and black bands (from Union Steamship Company’s funnels) above the original buff. Until 1935, she shared the Bass Strait service with the t.s.s. Loongana and from then to her retirement with the t.s.s. Taroona. When Taroona was requisitioned for war service in 1942, Nairana continued alone.
During her service on the Bass Strait run, which lasted for 27 years, Nairana carried more than a million passengers. She was withdrawn from service in 1948. Driven ashore at Port Melbourne to the west of Princes Pier during a violent storm in 1951, she was broken up where she lay over the following three years.