When Chusan steamed into Australian waters in 1852, her arrival excited lavish celebrations in the ports of Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide and marked the start of P&O’s long, and special, association with Australia. Captain Down and his officers attended a string of dinners and balls in their honour, accompanied by the music of the ‘The Chusan Waltz’, composed for the occasion by Henry Marsh.
The need for steamers to reach the Empire’s furthest extent was first voiced in the 1830s, but the real pressure mounted in the 1840s. Australian Merchants, investors and bankers formed ‘Steam Committees’ and approached P&O in 1846 for their help. However it was not until 1848 that the British Government advertised tenders for a monthly mail contract.
Australia was the obvious addition to P&O’s existing routes but to fund the necessary investment the Company required the surety of a mail subsidy. In 1850 work began on the construction of Keppel’s wharf in Singapore, which functioned as a transhipment port, but it was not until 1853 that the Singapore/Australia mail contract was officially awarded to P&O in a hard won battle. Increasingly, the Company faced accusations of operating a monopoly and profiteering too much from Government subsidies. The truth lay somewhere in between but Australia was the all-important last link in a well-oiled chain.