Under threes go free

Click on the link below to see one of the many miscellaneous items which appear within the BT27 passenger lists, together with the page of the passenger list to which it refers.

The short and somewhat abrupt letter is from the Orient-Royal Mail shipping line (later to become a subsidiary of P&O) to the Board of Trade. The document itself bears a rusty mark top-left from an ancient paper clip, while both the typewriter ink and the pen ink used by the signatory have run slightly but remain perfectly legible. We can reconstruct a reasonably reliable narrative on the basis of this letter and the accompanying passenger list.

Danish farmer Mr Liels P Anderson and his wife Mrs K Anderson purchased in advance 3rd class ticket numbers 401 and 402 for the 15th May 1908 sailing of the Oroya from London to Australia via Suez. They were accompanied by their infant daughter Valborg Marie Anderson but did not buy a separate ticket for her, on the basis that under threes travelled free on Orient-Royal Mail Line’s sailings at that date. The passenger list is drawn up from ticket sales and therefore the young Valborg did not appear on the original list. However, this discrepancy came to the notice of the Board of Trade, perhaps through customs officials in London or, more likely, from the authorities in Brisbane when the Andersons disembarked. An indignant Board of Trade called in person on the Orient-Royal Mail Line (their offices were within walking distance of one another in the City of London’s EC district) to demand that it explain itself. The letter of 14th August 1908 that survives is the curt and dismissive response from the shipping line, exasperated that, three months later, the officious and meticulous Board of Trade is still quibbling about the presence or absence of a Danish infant on their passenger list. The matter was clearly to continue for some time yet, as the Board of Trade has pencilled a query on the letter saying “? sex of child – ask N.O.”. In any event, the shipping line learnt its lesson and the surviving final copy of the passenger list thankfully includes Valborg Marie Anderson, entered at a later date and in a different hand.

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