Castel Felice

Castel Felice was a SITMAR (Società Italiana Trasporti Marittima) Line liner.


The Castel Felice, as she was eventually named, was built in Glasgow in 1930 for the British India Company as the Kenya, commencing her maiden voyage to Bombay on 18 December 1931, then operated between India and Africa carrying passengers (mainly Indian immigrants) and cargo.

The British Government requisitioned her in 1940 and she was converted to an armed infantry landing ship for World War 2. Renamed first HMS Hydra, then HMS Keren, she was used to land troops for action in Madagascar, Sicily and North Africa. The British India Line refused an option to resume ownership after the war in 1946 and consequently she was purchased by the British Ministry of Transport. Laid up at Holy Loch in Scotland she was subsequently purchased by the Vaslav group. In 1949 the vessel broke moorings and was swept ashore in a heavy storm.

In 1950 ownership was transferred to the Sitmar Line which re-modelled and refitted the ship in Genoa in the following year, and named the Castel Felice (‘Happy Castle’) for her inaugural Australian voyage to Melbourne.[1] She began the South American immigrant service in 1952. Two years later she was refitted with air conditioning and a swimming pool to commence the Atlantic service to New York. Between 1952 and 1970, on a total of 101 voyages, she carried over 100,000 immigrants to Australia[2] and New Zealand, of these, 16,126 were breadwinners and the others dependents.[3] She left Sydney in 1970 to be broken up in Taiwan, with all cutlery and linen transferred to Cunard for use on the Fairsea and Fairwind from Sydney.


  • Engines: 11,000 s.h.p. six single-reduction-geared steam turbines / twin screws
  • Rigging; 1 tripod style communications mast (2 masts, with cargo cranes)
  • Surface Speed:15 knots, later 16 knots
  • Dimensions: 150.3 x 19.6 m
  • Depth: 7.6 m draught
  • Tonnage: 12,150 GRT
  • Passengers: 1400 one class - based on her final configuration.
  • Previous names: Kenya (1930), Hydra (1941), Keren (1941), Kenya (1949), Fairstone (1950), Kenya (1950), Keren (1951–52)[4]

Notable passengers

  • Giorgio Mangiamele (13 August 1926 – 13 May 2001) was an Italian/Australian photographer and filmmaker, creator of Sebastian the Fox who migrated to Australia aged 26, on the Castel Feilce in 1952.
  • The Groop travelled to UK on the Sitmar line cruiser Castel Felice on 31 January 1968. Traveling with them was Molly Meldrum[5]
  • The Twilights, an Australian rock and pop music group of the mid- to late 1960s with vocalist Glenn Shorrock, in July 1966 at Festival Hall, Melbourne, won the Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds prize of a trip to the UK. On 26 September 1966, the group embarked for London on the Castel Felice.
  • Ray (Raymond Frank) Mathew (14 April 1929 – 27 May 2002), an Australian author, was born in Sydney, New South Wales. Mathew wrote poetry, drama, radio plays and filmscripts, short stories, novels, arts and literature criticism, and other non-fiction. He left Australia in 1960 on the Castel Felice and never returned, dying in New York where he had lived from 1968.[6]
  • Andrea Dworkin, while a student, was arrested in 1965 during an anti-Vietnam-War rally and imprisoned at New York Women's House of Detention, later testifying before a Grand Jury about her maltreatment there, receiving national and international news coverage resulting in the closure of the prison. Soon after, Dworkin left on the Castel Felice to live in Greece and to pursue her writing.[7]
  • Marina von Neumann Whitman (born March 6, 1935) is an American economist. She is a professor of Business Administration and Public Policy at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business as well as The Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Her father was John von Neumann, mathematician. She traveled from the USA to Europe on the Castel Felice in 1954.[8]
  • Jeffrey Smart departed Australia for London on the Castel Felice out of Sydney just after Christmas 1963, driving to Greece fellow painter Justin O’Brien.[9] On the same sailing was Margaret Reynolds (born 19 July 1941), Australian Labor Party Senator for Queensland from 1983 to 1999.[10]
  • Robyn Williams AM (born 1944 in Buckinghamshire, England) is a science journalist and broadcaster resident in Australia who has hosted the Science Show on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation since 1975, Ockham's Razor (created 1984) and In Conversation (created 1997). He immigrated to Australia from England in 1964 on the Castel Felice[11]
  • George Holmes Honadle, advisor on issues of sustainable development.[12]
  • Jutta Feddersen, tapestry and installation artist migrated alone from Germany to Australia on the Castel Felice in December 1956 at 26 years of age.[13]
  • J. Brian McArdle, photojournalist and editor of Walkabout (passenger 1955) [14]
  • Bruce Beresford, Australian film director, moved to the UK in 1963.[15][16]

Literary references

  • Events on the Castel Felice are at the centre of action in Calvin C. Hernton’s novel Scarecrow (Doubleday, 1974) which explores the fatal psychosexual, racial conflicts of voyagers on board.
  • Mention in Gee, Maurice (1992). Going west. Penguin Books, Auckland, N.Z., 158.
  • Hungarian playwright Kornél Hamvai's Castel Felice (2003) masquerades as a naturalist drama, but becomes surreal as passengers on the Castel Felice find themselves in a no-exit situation with national and existential dimensions.
  • Mentioned in Adam Shand's (2010) King of Thieves: The Adventures of Arthur Delaney and the Kangaroo Gang, 44,49.

Historical references

  • Burdett, Sandra (2013) Ten Pound Poms. Author House. ISBN 9781491878019
  • Jones, Lloyd (2013) A History of Silence: A Memoir. Text Publishing ISBN 9781922148360


  1. Plowman, P. (2004) The SITMAR Liners: Past and Present. Rosenberg Publishing, ISBN 9781877058257
  2. Plowman, P. (2006) Australian Migrant Ships. Rosenberg Publishing, ISBN 9781922013255
  3. Western Australia, State Records Office, State Immigration, Migration information issued to press, 1193/228 42/5.
  4. Plowman, P. (2004) The SITMAR Liners: Past and Present. Rosenberg Publishing, ISBN 9781877058257
  5. Cadd, Brian (2010), From this side of things, New Holland Publishers (Australia), ISBN 978-1-74257-057-0
  6. Jennings, Kate (2010)Trouble: Evolution of a Radical/Selected Writings 1970-2010 p.207 Chapter "Ray Mathew: An Australian for Life" p.191-293 ISBN 9781458715852
  7. Andrea Dworkin (2006 )Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant Continuum, ISBN 9780826491473. p.66
  8. Marina von Neumann Whitman (2012) The Martian's Daughter. A Memoir. University of Michigan Press. p.85
  9. Barry Pearce (2012) Master of Stillness: Jeffrey Smart Paintings 1940-2011 Wakefield Press, ISBN 9781743051238
  10. Reynolds, Margaret (2007) Living Politics. Univ. of Queensland Press ISBN 9780702234385 p.31-32
  11. "I arrived by boat for 10 quid. It wasn’t exactly leaky, but the Castel Felice, a converted troop carrier with the buoyancy of a brick and the cuisine of a remand home, was no castle of happiness." "Vicki Laurie Journalist and author. She and I were on the same ship to Australia, the Castel Felice back in 1964."
  12. Honadle, George H. (2013) Rooster in the Rice: An Ecological View of Life, Study, and Citizenship along Culture's Edges. Hamilton Books, ISBN 9780761861201. p.4
  13. Feddersen, Jutta (2010). Substance of Shadows: The Life and Art of Jutta Feddersen Murdoch Books,ISBN 9781741964554, p.77
  14. his wife Marie relates: "Last night at sea was celebrated with a party - vino flowed freely, bottoms were pinched by hitherto very dignified and authoritative officers bent on dancing the night away. Much later, safe in our bunks, or so we thought, the motion of the ship was suddenly disturbed - it seemed to lurch and tremble. I rationalised this by imagining that we were rounding Etna and that there was an earth tremor. But more was to come; a knock at the door and a voice saying "We've been rammed, there's a huge hole in the side of the ship, luckily above the water line!" Phew! Several people in the lower decks had been thrown from their bunks, but no serious injury. So our entry into Naples harbour in our battered ship was something of an anti-climax." Marie Shaw in personal correspondence to Dr James McArdle, 1999
  15. Wortham, Anne and Wortham, Christopher J (2009) Fragments; from Two Lives on Three Continents. Strategic Book Publishing, ISBN 9781606933305
  16. Jeffrey, Antony (2011) Many Faces of Inspiration: Conversations on Australian Creativity. Wakefield Press, p.92. ISBN 9781862549548
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