As a Government mail contractor such military involvement was all part of the service, but it had a major effect on P&O’s commercial operations. In total nine ships were requisitioned and carried some 61,800 officers and men and 15,000 horses. In one voyage alone Candia transported 1,159 troops, 32 officers and 6 women. Lord Cardigan and Lieutenant General Lord Lucan, who were cousins, adversaries and commanders in the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade, travelled on P&O ships.
The huge Himalaya could accommodate 3,000 soldiers and proved so well suited for her new purpose that the Company sold her to the Government for £130,000. It was a particularly fortuitous deal. On her much feted, maiden voyage Himalaya had consumed a colossal quantity of coal - 71 tons per day. Despite the pomp and promise of the largest steamer in the world, she was commercially unviable and a ‘white elephant’ in the making.
P&O’s immediate war duties carried on with the Anglo-Persian War of 1856 and the Indian Mutiny. The Company’s ships continued to play their part in successive conflicts (including WW1 and WW2) right up to the Falklands War in 1982.
Image: COLOMBO, requisitioned as a transport ship during the Crimean War, carried Christmas mail and provisions (here with dead rabbits and birds hanging from the spreaders) and was affectionately known as 'Santa Claus'.