June 22nd marks the 75th anniversary of the Empire Windrush’s arrival in Britain with 802 migrants from the West Indies. While it was not the first vessel to bring migrants from the colonies as a response to the British Nationality Act of 1948, it would become the most well-known, its name becoming synonymous with British African-Caribbean people. Today, the “Windrush Generation” have returned to public prominence due to a widely published political scandal where dozens were wrongfully detained and threatened with deportation. 

Many know the history and culture of the Windrush Generation, but are not aware of the history of their namesake ship. In this Archives Explored piece, we explore the life and service of the famed troopship, from its origins as a German cruise liner, its role in West Indies immigration, and its final days off the coast of Algiers through the pages of Gale's Historical Newspapers.


We began our study by researching the ship and its service history. The original name for the ship was the MV Monte Rosa, a cruise liner first made by German shipbuilders Blohm and Voss, the very same shipbuilders who would create the Bismarck. Later, it would be renamed the Empire Windrush when its ownership passed from Germany to the United Kingdom. With these names, we began work in our primary source archives.

Using the advanced search feature, identified all documents that referenced “Empire Windrush” and “Monte Rosa”. To avoid finding documents that are irrelevant to our study, we cross-searched these keywords to narrow our search results, including “cruise”, “ship”, and “liner”. In addition, we cross-searched the name with “Windrush Generation”, “West Indies”, “West Indian”, and “Caribbean” to better find stories of the people who sailed to Britain on board this ship.

Our research eventually led us to 304 unique documents spanning nearly 90 years. Many of Britain’s leading newspapers have stories on the ship spanning several decades, long before and after it arrived in Tilbury port on 22 June 1948.

To best explore the story, we reordered the documents by date range.

The story we found was one of toil and turmoil, of a ship that endured dozens of trips across the world, one of a gleaming luxury liner repurposed as a tool of war, and of a grizzled troopship that became a symbol of hope for those setting out for a new life.


Click on the dropdown arrows to explore the life of the Empire Windrush through the papers.

  • THE CRUISE LINER, 1934-1938


    THE CRUISE LINER, 1934-1938

    The first reference we have to the Empire Windrush, then the MV Monte Rosa, is an advert from the Times on February 26th 1934. Costing 32 pounds and 10 shillings, about £1,400 in 2017, patrons could enjoy a “glorious spring cruise” to Egypt and Palestine, including rail tickets from London and back1.

    Only a few months after this advert, news reached the press that the Monte Rosa had run aground. The Aberdeen Journal ran a small piece on the incident, stating that “a number of ships have gone to her assistance”. It mentions another disaster on the coast of Norway, further pointing out the seriousness of the incident2. Both the Daily Mail3 and the Daily Mirror4 run similar stories but reassure readers that everything is in good order and that they are working to refloat it.

    Later, on the same day, the Derby Evening Telegraph reported that the ship had successfully refloated after an 18-hour ordeal and that her cruise to Norway had resumed. It gives us a count of the passengers and crew, totalling around 1,4805. The Evening Telegraph also reports this, saying that no danger was present to those onboard6.

    Thankfully, this would be the end of the drama for the Monte Rosa, at least before the onset of the Second World War. Many more advertisements appear around the ship and its voyages, including in the Daily Mirror7 and the New York Herald Tribune8. A later advert in the interwar period called it the “Cruise of the Year”, with fares reduced to £15 (around £850 today) for tours of Norway and Hamburg9.



    The Second World War ended the Monte Rosa’s role as a luxury liner. By 10th August 1943, the German Kriegsmarine had repurposed it as a troopship. The Daily Mail added a small report that “several large liners” are now ferrying German troops between Oslo and Aarhus, stating that the Monte Rosa made three “double trips” within a week10.

    Two later stories in 1944 mention the Coastal Command Beaufighters successfully torpedoed the ship. The Dundee Courier11 and the Daily Mail12 report that it had survived the attack, but the damage had been enough to slow its return journey to Germany. 

    Aside from these small stories, there was little news about the Monte Rosa during the conflict. After the stories about the bombing, the next mention we see of the ship is in the 12th June 1947 issue of the Times on the movement of liners13. Here appears the first mention of the name “Empire Windrush”.

    For context, Britain had taken possession of the Monte Rosa after the defeat of Germany, renaming it the Empire Windrush and keeping it as a troopship in the aftermath of the conflict.



    The first article from the Daily Mail is an opinion piece titled “Carib Crisis” by Noel Monks, published on the 10th of June 1948. He posits that high unemployment in Jamaica is due to the rapid population increase and the spread of “a pest called Panama”, further mentioning that the 9,000 men and women who came to the UK to serve during the war returned home to nothing. He says the “Five hundred Jamaicans” heading for Britain had alarmed the Minister of Labour14. The Jamaicans he refers to are the passengers of the Empire Windrush.

    The Derby Daily Telegraph and the Gloucester Citizen both report that hundreds more migrants are to follow the initial 450 (down from 500 previously mentioned), all in search of British jobs. At the time of the article in the Derby Daily Telegraph, the Empire Windrush was in Bermuda, where their reporter got the statements of the emigrants15. The Gloucester Citizen mentions in a brief piece that many of the 450 Jamaicans are veterans of the Second World War16.

    On the 18th of June, the Daily Telegraph revealed that an official delegation from the Colonial Office and the Minister of Labour was to welcome the ship, highlighting the government’s interest in this group of migrants. It further states that many of the West Indians will immediately start work, having friends and families to lodge them when they arrive17.


    Upon the ship’s arrival on the 22nd of June, 1948, the Daily Mail welcomes what they can an “emigration-in-reverse”. It reports that the launches were crowded with sightseers shouting and waving greetings to the Jamaicans who had climbed the rails to wave back. Many of the 492 Jamaican passengers had already arranged for work, with 52 ready to volunteer for the RAF and the Army and 201 with employment prospects from friends. The remaining 236 were to stay in Clapham Common to be interviewed by the Ministry of Labour18. In this paper, we see the first image of the Empire Windrush and its passengers.

    A small story in the Evening Telegraph corroborates this, mentioning that the Jamaicans had to organise their own disembarkation because of the dock strikes at Tilbury that day19.

    The day after, the Daily Telegraph reported on the ongoing search for “stowaways” onboard the ship. The journalist learnt that the Empire Windrush would be the first of many carrying 2,000 Jamaican immigrants and that several arrests happened that day, including three stowaways who had attempted to escape to the shore during the ship’s stay overnight. Both immigration officials and military police were present to check the passengers’ boarding passes.

    The article further explores some of the professions of the Jamaicans, including several barbers, carpenters, boxers, tailors, chemists and machinists, a complete band, half a dozen artists, three policemen, and a man who described -himself as "retired." The strangest was a man who described himself as a “Rain Forcer”. Interestingly, it started to rain when the man disembarked the ship.19

    A letter to the Times says that the West Indians know of the severe worker shortage in the UK and, with the lack of work in the Caribbean, have decided to come en masse to make the Ministry of Employment act. The author explains the reason is because of the UK’s preference for European migrants, saying West Indians were unfairly treated after the war20.

    After three days, the authorities sent the stowaways to prisons, including one in Chelmsford. The Chelmsford Chronicle were furious at the treatment of fifteen people imprisoned in the Chelmsford Goal (now HM Prison Chelmsford). They report many of these men were outstanding citizens and model prisoners, many ex-servicemen, all deserving of better treatment. It further explains that they were appalled at the prospect of being deported back to Jamaica, a place they believed held no future21.

    Many papers published stories about the passengers in the days after their arrival. Often the stories were small, acting as small curiosities for the reader and not deserving more space and time. While many were jovial, or the very least indifferent, about the migrants from the West Indies, an article in the Economist takes on a more pessimistic view. It explains that migration to Britain would do little to alleviate the country’s population issue, as many people in Britain were still leaving for new prospects aboard, but later added that the attraction of Britain for West Indian migrants is “full employment and social security and […] racial toleration”22.

  • CONFLICT, 1949-1953

    CONFLICT, 1949-1953

    The Economist would be one of the last papers to publish on the topic for several years. At the time, few people were aware of the cultural change that was about to take place. The sail of the 492 Jamaicans and hundreds more West Indians would not be the last story of the Empire Windrush. As a troopship, it would play a part in dozens more news stories that show the gradual end of Britain’s colonial empire.

    Sporadic shipping news reports dotted through the next few months on the comings and goings of the Empire Windrush, amongst many others. It wouldn’t be until the 8th of May, 1949, that it would reappear in the papers. Reporting on the ship, the Sunday Times reveals that 150 young soldiers were stopped on their way to the Middle East and Malaysia after the minimum training requirement changed from 10 to 12 overnight23.

    By the 23rd of June, the Empire Windrush became of many troopships tasked with transporting soldiers to Hong Kong in the wake of the Chinese Communist Revolution. Both the Daily Telegraph24 and the Western Daily Press25 explained that it would be the one of an advance party carrying troops from the 3rd Commando Brigade. The papers would continue to track its progress until they arrived in Hong Kong on the 26th of July.

    After a quiet period in the papers, the Empire Windrush would re-emerge in a story by the Gloucester Echo on the 31st of December. It was to become the last ships to take soldiers away from Greece after a 5-year occupation after the end of the Second World War26. The New York Herald Tribune reports that the 1st Battalion of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment was the last to board27. The Sunday Times earlier reports that the Greeks cheered “Long Live Great Britain” as the 1st Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry readied to leave28, and the Dundee Courier writes about the youngest child, 45-day-old Christopher John Atkins, boarding with his British father and Greek mother29.

    By June of 1950, the Korean War had begun. The Empire Windrush would become the troopship for the 1st Gloucestershire regiment, and both the Gloucester Citizen and Gloucester Echo would report heavily on their departure. In The Citizen, we learn that the ship’s namesake was the River Windrush from the paper’s home county. The scene at the docks was jolly, “They cheered, they sang, they cracked Jokes with passers-by”30. Only days after, a story appeared in the papers of Bandsman Frank Sidney Wagstaff, a recruit who was discharged from his battalion just as he boarded the ship. The War Office explained that “Bandsmen are not being sent to Korea”31.

    For the next two years, the Empire Windrush would transport troops to and from conflict zones in the East. A few stories document the Transport Minister visiting the ship, commenting on its long bunks32, and the arrest and transport of a Dutch Seaman accused of killing two people in a knife flight33.



    On the 29th of March 1954, many national papers ran stories on what would be the demise of the Empire Windrush. On the front page of the Daily Mail, the article posits that the sinking may have been due to sabotage and that an enquiry is to be held by authorities at Port Said, the ship’s last place of stop. It explained that “there was an explosion in the engine room which killed four men […]. Soon the flames licked through the deck and threatened the whole ship.” With a reporter on the scene, we get an intimate look at the event as it unfolded, from Captain William Wilson to Lieutenant Colonel Robert Scott, with the latter applauding the calm of the passengers in the face of the disaster, writing “the women and children on board were wonderful. The families just lined up to get into the boats; far from being panicky, we had to try to hurry them up”34.

    Alongside confirming that 170 people burned in the disaster, the Mirror writes that the rescue crew from the Dutch ship Mentor explained “We have to let down our ladders. The people were all in good humour when they came aboard. “Most were in pyjamas, though a few had no clothes at all. We gave them hot coffee, bread and cakes”35.

    The story of the Empire Windrush and its sinking continued to be one of the major news stories for most papers, including the Telegraph36, the New York Herald Tribune37, and the Times38. Unlike the Mail, they do not lead with the story of sabotage, instead leading with the number of passengers that needed rescuing.

    For days after, many papers reported stories of individual bravery and shared photos of the tragedy. The Daily Mail reports that the HMS Triumph is caring for 27 babies and continues to allude to the possibility of sabotage by rebels in Port Said39.

    Throughout the following days, dozens of stories fill the tabloids, documenting people on their way home to the United Kingdom. The Illustrated London News publishes images of the disaster and the rescue effort40.

    In June of the same year, news reports began to appear, all discussing the numerous safety hazards of the ship. Both the Mail41 and the Telegraph42 reported on the enquiry, with Mr Naisby Q.C. demanding the Ministry of Transport to state if they followed the rules. Many scandals came from the investigation, including reports on previous ship fires and its general disrepair.

    For months after, the story of the Empire Windrush’s demise appeared in the news, documenting the lives of the survivors and their journey home. Many officers and civilians onboard the ship became minor celebrities, including Army Nurse Audrey Mary Jones. In one of the last stories on the disaster, published on the 8th of October, the Times writes that she was awarded a place as an Associate of the Royal Red Cross for her bravery, refusing to leave her station until all her patients were safe on a lifeboat43.



    The published stories of the Empire Windrush during its last days far surpassed the number we got when it first arrived in Tilbury Port six years before. After the enquiries were over and all parties were satisfied, the Empire Windrush faded into obscurity. It wouldn’t be until 1959 that we would get our first mention of the ship, not because of its dramatic sinking, but for its passengers in 1948, now ten years ago. The article for the Times Literary Supplement, reviewing the book White and Coloured by Michael Banton, mentions how fitting that ship was as the first to bring this new wave of immigrants and that by that time, their numbers had increased to close to 50,00044.

    By 1968, 20 years after the event, the stories about the “Windrush Generation” were resurfacing. Many detailed articles began to appear across the pages of the papers that had once merely reported on it, including this in-depth analysis by the Times that explores the drama behind the event, only briefly mentioning its sinking45.

    In 1974, the Listener reported on the ship, saying that the arrival of the passengers brought Jamaica and its people to UK shores. It speaks warmly of the Windrush generation, seeing them as genuine British citizens. Its history became interwoven with the people to whom it had brought hope46.

    The legacy of the Empire Windrush and the “Windrush Generation” would continue to be told, with the anniversary of their arrival remembered as the start of a new, multicultural age in Britain. In 1998, 50 years after it arrived in Tilbury, the Independent reflected on the profound changes to our society, changes for the better for all. “[…] fifty years ago the picture was very different and we would not have had, within a single year, three British prime ministers, the Queen and Prince Charles describing this country as a proudly multicultural nation. That must count for something”47




    1. "Tours." Times, 26 Feb. 1934, p. 2. The Times Digital Archive.
    2. "Tourist Steamer Runs Aground." Aberdeen Journal, 24 July 1934, p. 9. British Library Newspapers.
    3. "Tourist Ship Ashore." Daily Mail, 24 July 1934, p. 11. Daily Mail Historical Archive.
    4. "Cruise Liner on Rock." Daily Mirror, 24 July 1934, p. 3. Mirror Historical Archive, 1903-2000.
    5. "Ship Refloated." Derby Daily Telegraph, 24 July 1934, p. 5. British Library Newspapers.
    6. "Motor Liner Refloated." Evening Telegraph, 24 July 1934, p. 1. British Library Newspapers.
    7. "Tours and Cruises for Whitsun and Summer Holidays." Daily Mirror, 13 May 1936, p. 28. Mirror Historical Archive, 1903-2000.
    8. "Monte Rosa to Make Midnight Sun Cruises." New York Herald Tribune [European Edition], 16 May 1936, p. 4. International Herald Tribune Historical Archive.
    9. "The Cruise of the Year!" Sunday Times, 17 May 1936, p. 32. The Sunday Times Historical Archive.
    10. Reuter. "'German Troops Leave Norway'." Daily Mail, 10 Aug. 1943, p. 4. Daily Mail Historical Archive.
    11. "Planes Torpedo Nazi Liner." Dundee Courier, 1 Apr. 1944, p. 3. British Library Newspapers.
    12. "'Beaus' Torpedo Nazi Trooper." Daily Mail, 1 Apr. 1944, p. 4. Daily Mail Historical Archive.
    13. "Movements Of Liners." Times, 12 June 1947, p. 8. The Times Digital Archive.
    14. Monks, Noel. "Carib crisis." Daily Mail, 10 June 1948, p. 2. Daily Mail Historical Archive.
    15. "Jamaicans Want British Jobs." Derby Daily Telegraph, 10 June 1948, p. 8. British Library Newspapers.
    16. "Jamaicans Seek Work Here." Gloucester Citizen, 10 June 1948, p. 1. British Library Newspapers.
    17. "Cheers for men from Jamaica." Daily Mail, 22 June 1948, p. 3. Daily Mail Historical Archive.
    18. "Jamaicans Seek Work in Britain." Evening Telegraph, 22 June 1948, p. 5. British Library Newspapers.
    19. Our Shipping Correspondent. "Landing Check on Jamaicans." Daily Telegraph, 23 June 1948, p. 5. The Telegraph Historical Archive.
    20. Greenidge., C. W. W. "West Indian Immigrants." Times, 23 June 1948, p. 5. The Times Digital Archive.
    21. "Jamaicans Gaoled Here." Chelmsford Chronicle, 25 June 1948, p. 1. British Library Newspapers.
    22. "Swings and Roundabouts." Economist, 26 June 1948, p. 1058. The Economist Historical Archive.
    23. "Mr. Shinwell Stops Draft For Middle East." Sunday Times, 8 May 1949, p. 1. The Sunday Times Historical Archive.
    24. Our Own Correspondent. "Hongkong Troops." Daily Telegraph, 23 June 1949, p. 8. The Telegraph Historical Archive.
    25. "To Put It Briefly." Western Daily Press, 30 June 1949, p. 1. British Library Newspapers.
    26. "U.k. Troops to Quit Greece by Jan. 31." Gloucestershire Echo, 31 Dec. 1949, p. 1. British Library Newspapers.
    27. "British Troops to Leave." New York Herald Tribune [European Edition], 18 Jan. 1950, p. 7. International Herald Tribune Historical Archive.
    28. Our Own Representative. "Greeks Cheer British Troops." Sunday Times, 1 Jan. 1950, p. 1. The Sunday Times Historical Archive.
    29. "Troopship Brings Baby." Dundee Courier, 7 Feb. 1950, p. 2. British Library Newspapers.
    30. "Ist GLO'STERS OFF TO KOREA." Gloucester Citizen, 2 Oct. 1950, p. 1. British Library Newspapers.
    31. "Wife Calls on War Office: He Walks off Trooper." Daily Mirror, 3 Oct. 1950, p. [1]. Mirror Historical Archive, 1903-2000.
    32. "A Long Bunk for a Tall Minister." Daily Mail, 11 Sept. 1952, p. 5. Daily Mail Historical Archive.
    33. Daily Mail Reporter. "'Fetch this Dutch seaman'." Daily Mail, 22 Nov. 1952, p. [1]. Daily Mail Historical Archive.
    34. Ames, Kenneth. "Troopship Fire: Sabotage Fear." Daily Mail, 29 Mar. 1954, pp. [1]+. Daily Mail Historical Archive.
    35. "170 Burned as British Trooper Blazes in the 'Med'." Daily Mirror, 29 Mar. 1954, p. [1]. Mirror Historical Archive, 1903-2000.
    36. "1,500 Rescued in Troopship Fire." Daily Telegraph, 29 Mar. 1954, p. [1]. The Telegraph Historical Archive.
    37. the United Press. "1,500 Saved as Flames Sweep U.K. Troopship off Algiers; Four Killed." New York Herald Tribune [European Edition], 29 Mar. 1954, pp. [1]+. International Herald Tribune Historical Archive, 1887-2013.
    38. By Our Shipping Correspondent. "British Troopship Ablaze In Mediterranean." Times, 29 Mar. 1954, p. 6. The Times Digital Archive.
    39. Mulchrone, Vincent. "A Briton Shows Calm in the Face of Disaster." Daily Mail, 30 Mar. 1954, p. [1]. Daily Mail Historical Archive.
    40. "A Disaster at Sea: The British Troopship Empire Windrush on Fire." Illustrated London News, 3 Apr. 1954, p. 513. The Illustrated London News Historical Archive.
    41. Daily Mail Reporter. "Windrush: 'Much is Wrong'." Daily Mail, 5 Apr. 1954, p. [1]. Daily Mail Historical Archive.
    42. Daily Telegraph Reporter. "Many Mishaps in Troopship, Said Engineers." Daily Telegraph, 5 Apr. 1954, p. 7. The Telegraph Historical Archive.
    43. "Army Nurse's Courage Rewarded." Times, 2 Oct. 1954, p. 3. The Times Digital Archive.
    44. Sampson, Anthony Terrell, and A. Sampson. "Race Relations in Britain." The Times Literary Supplement, no. 3005, 2 Oct. 1959, p. 555. The Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive.
    45. "Voyage to the Promised Land." The Sunday Times Magazine. Sunday Times, 30 June 1968, pp. 10[S]+. The Sunday Times Historical Archive.
    46. "The Ship of Good Hope—How Jamaica came to England." The Listener, vol. 92, no. 2367, 8 Aug. 1974, pp. 165+. The Listener Historical Archive, 1929-1991.
    47. Alibhai-Brown, Yasmin. "Let us now praise the surprising successes of multicultural Britain." Independent, 2 June 1998, p. 21. The Independent Historical Archive.


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