A little over a month later, the deputy chairman of P&O, Mr Donald Anderson, officially announced the decision to the public. The new ship was to be of a radical new design, and for eight months, Harland & Wolff designers alongside those from P&O, made preparations for yard number "1621".
"1621" was to have a host of cutting edge features in both her looks and her inventory. Her propulsion machinery was to be placed aft, leaving the best part of the ship for passenger accommodation. Her funnels, therefore, would also be placed aft - but side-by-side instead of fore-and-aft. This design had been pioneered in the Shaw Saville Liner Southern Cross (also built by Harland & Wolff), but was nevertheless unusual. The machinery itself was to be turbo-electric powered by steam turbines, which would generate some 85,000shp. Other unusual features included the positions of the lifeboats. They would sit in retractable davits that would retract into recesses in the superstructure as opposed to being placed topside on a boat-deck. This would give her sleeker lines and leave more deck space for passengers. Also, a great deal of welded aluminium was used in the building of her superstructure. Around 1000 tonnes were used, enabling a saving of about 1500 tonnes of total weight. The use of aluminium to this extent enabled the ship's designers to accommodate an extra 200 cabins.
On 23rd September 1957, on Slipway 14, Queens Island, Belfast, the first keel plates of Yard Number "1621" were laid, but it would be another six months before the name of the new ship would be announced. In March the following year, Sir Donald Anderson announced she would be called "Canberra" - an aboriginal word generally accepted to mean, "meeting place by the water" and of course the name of Australia's capital city. The name Canberra had already been used for a small coaster owned by Australasian United Steam Navigation Ltd, who made it available to P&O. An Australian naval vessel built in 1927 had also shared the name, along with an American heavy cruiser named after the Australian warship.
Canberra would be the largest ship to be built in Britain since the Great
Queens, and the biggest to be built at Belfast since the White Star's Britannic,
back in 1914.
The building raised a great deal of interest across the country
and Europe and a large model of the ship was displayed at the Brussels
International Fair in 1958, and other models were displayed at Olympia in
London, and at the Queensland Centenary Celebrations in Australia.
The new ship was launched on March 16th 1960. It was a cold, wet day in Belfast. So bad in fact, that a flypast by a Canberra bomber had to be cancelled. Three hundred guests gathered to watch the launch, with another estimated 11,000 onlookers cramming in and around the shipyard to watch. The ship's sponsor was Dame Pattie Menzies - wife of the Australian Prime Minister. Just before the launch, Dame Pattie attached a sprig of white heather to the lunching ribbon. With a pull of the handle, the bottle of Australian wine she had brought with her against the ships enormous bulbous bow and the huge white hull began to slide down the slip into the Musgrave Channel. She was then towed to Thompson Wharf for fitting out - a task that would continue until April of 1961.
| Canberra underwent her builders
trials on the 29th April in Belfast Lough, during which time, when at
full power, the huge bulbous bow
lifted almost clear of the water - due
to the immense weight of the machinery which had been placed
She made here way immediately to Southampton where some of her forward compartments were filled with hundreds of tons ballast to act as a counterweight.
After two weeks in Southampton during which time fitting out continued, she left for her acceptance trials on the Clyde.
Over the measured mile off the Isle of Arran, Canberra achieved a top speed of 29.27 knots. After the official handing-over ceremony to P&O, Canberra sailed down the west coast of England close to shore, showing herself off.
Onlookers at Lands End watched her steam past, and then at Torbay, she was surrounded by a flotilla of small boats. She reached Dover, then turned back for Southampton where she berthed at the new £300,000 cruise terminal (currently the soon-to-be-replaced the Mayflower Cruise Terminal) built especially for her and the Oriana. All the while, 300 Harland & Wolff employees fought against the clock to get Canberra's interiors ready for her maiden voyage.