M.S. Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, became the T.S.M.S. Lakonia in 1963

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With Reuben Goossens

Maritime Historian, Author, Cruise‘n’Ship Reviewer and Maritime Lecturer

Please Note: All ssMaritime and related maritime sites are 100% non-commercial and privately owned, thus ssmaritime is NOT associated with any shipping company or any other organisation! Although the author has worked and been involved in the passenger shipping industry for well over 60 years, but due to his old age and poor health, he was forced to retire. Yet, he has completed well over 1,365 Classic Liners, Passenger-Cargo Liners as well as humble converted C3 converted Migrant Liners, which has transported countless thousands of folk to the new world, as well on vacations’. I trust the features online will continue to provide Classic Liner and Ship enthusiasts both the information they are seeking, but more so provide a great deal of pleasure and relive many happy memories!

“Memories of the JVO

m.s. Johan van Oldenbarnevelt

The night the JVO almost Went Down

Story provided by Tom Boelen

My father came up the idea of migrating early in 1959. Even though he owned a cigar shop in The Hague, he found that the future of a family with seven children in the Netherlands in those days were not encouraging. Thus, he contacted various migration information organisations, and found that Australia would be the destination, especially being able to travel there without having to pay for the voyage. The city of choice was Brisbane.

The Boelen Family on the Java Kade (wharf) just prior to boarding the JVO

Provided by Tom Boelen

As for me, I worked in the merchant navy as from 1957, with my first voyage being on a Shell company tanker. Thereafter I worked as a steward on VNS (Holland-Africa Line) ships until my departure on the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. Although, I was old enough to work, I had to go with my family, as I was still legally underage. I certainly was not happy to go to Australia, as I wanted to continue as a seaman, rather than go to Downunder.

Migrants going through the formalities of boarding the JVO

bound for their new homes in Australia and New Zealand

Provided by Tom Boelen

With ticket and other documents in hand, we boarded the JVO on the 26th of June 1959. From Amsterdam we sailed via Southampton, Port Said, Aden to Australia - (see schedule). For me the voyage was a wonderful holiday, however, when possible, I assisted the crew with a few duties, one of these assisting in the Neptunus Pool Bar on Upper Deck. Our first Australian port was Fremantle. After the usual Immigration checks, we departed in the evening on Friday 24 July 1959, steaming for Melbourne.

JVO seen arriving in Fremantle

Photograph by the Fremantle Port Authority

We departed Fremantle at 6 pm; the two hours later we ended up in a horrific storm with 15 to 20 meter waves. Portholes were smashed in the aft restaurant on B Deck resulting with almost 1.5 meter of water in the dinning room. Tables and chairs were floating around.

Aft Dinning Room

Up on Lounge deck a huge wave crashed into the Verandah/Cinema Lounge and most chairs and tables were washed overboard. You can imagine the utter panic that set in amongst the passengers. The JVO pitched and swerved so severely, it came to a point, were she could have gone down. Fearing the worst most passengers wore their life jackets, as we were afraid that it was to be our last voyage. Tragically, the ships pianist, Mr. J A van Diepenbeek, was attempting to tie down the piano, when the piano violently smashed into him, killing him instantly. He was 55 years old. All over the ship there were badly wounded passengers and it amazes me to this day, that none was actually washed overboard, as even furniture, high up on the upper decks were swept overboard by the massive waves that engulfed the ship.

Verandah/Cinema Lounge

The truth is, in all my years at sea I have never experienced anything like it again. I am grateful to the seamanship of Captain Peter A. de Groote, for it was though his experience JVO escaped a catastrophe.

We arrived in Melbourne approximately 24 hours late. Over thirty wounded passengers were taken off the ship and transported to local hospitals for attention. Sadly, later we heard that one lady had been so badly hurt that she passed away whilst still in hospital.

JVO seen arriving in Sydney

Most passengers, including my mother did not wish to go on to Sydney on the JVO, and many disembarked. However, we did stay onboard and sailed to Sydney, were we caught a train heading to Brisbane being our destination. Upon arrival, we were taken to the immigrant camp, Wacol.

Once there, I did not stay very long, as in October 1960, I decided to go to Sydney and search for a position on a Dutch ship. I was very lucky, as the 2nd steward of the Amstelmeer’s had jumped ship, thus I was able to take his place. After enjoying my travels at sea, I returned to the Netherlands, where I continued sailing with a number of companies, including Holland America Line, and VSN.

An article in a Melbourne Sun 28, or 30 July 1959

Provided by Tom Boelen

Tom’s parents have sadly passed away, but he returns to Brisbane when he can to visit his family. The author thanks Tom Boelen for his story. It proves that an ocean voyage can provide a variety of memories, joyful, adventurous, sad and even tragic ones as in the case of the pianist

Family Passage Ticket

Provided by Tom Boelen



Provided by Tom Boelen



“Blue Water Liners sailing to the distant shores.
I watched them come, I watched them go and I watched them die.”


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Photographs on ssmaritime and associate pages are either by the author or from the author’s private collection. In addition there are some images and photographs that have been provided by Shipping Companies or private photographers or collectors. Credit is given to all contributors, however, there are some photographs provided to me without details regarding the photographer or owner concerned.


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