Calédonien was built by Ateliers et Chantiers de France at Dunkirk and delivered in September 1952, entering service on October 1 of that year.
The Tahitien was built by Arsenal de Brest (yard no: ME2) and was delivered in February 1953, entering service on May 4, 1953.
These are builder's photographs of Tahitien under construction at Brest, dated variously between November 1950 and February 1952.
And finally, after all that rivetting and welding ...
Launching of Calédonien. It's interesting to note how complete the ship is, when many ships are launched just about the point they are watertight enough to float, the superstructure, funnels, masts and so on being added after launching.
In its heyday there were as many as four ships servicing Messageries Maritime's Pacific service. Calédonien and Tahitien were joined by two smaller ships, Oceanien and Melanesien, offering a departure every six weeks.
Calédonien in dry dock for repairs to her screws. Photographer unknown
By the 1970s the economies of scale offered by jet airliners signalled the end for Messageries Maritime's passenger services, with virtually the entire passenger fleet sold for scrap or new owners and uncertain futures.
Calédonien's last arrival at Marseilles on September 2, 1971. The photographs were taken by Rene Jeanguillaume, and permission to use them on this site was kindly granted by Rene's son, Michel Jeanguillaume. Michel was a student mechanic on board at the engines as his dad was awaiting his arrival on this memorable and sad day. Company protocol required that ship flags would be displayed half mast to affirm the end of the ship's life under M.M. colors, but against those rules , the crew decided to display those flags high and proud on the 'grand Pavois'. As he said, 'what a punch of a display!'
Calédonien was sold to Efthy Cruises in 1972 and renamed, firstly as Nissos Kypros, then Island of Cyprus, before sadly being sold for scrap in 1975.
Atalante seen early in her days as a cruise ship. The metamorphosis has begun, with the removal of her aft mast and derricks, and an all-white paint job. From the collection of Luc Pieterbourg.
Tahitien was more fortunate and looked forward to serving another three decades of life as a Mediterranean cruise ship, Atalante, albeit with the indignity of some rather unsympathetic modification and restyling. After a brief stint renamed as Homericus, Atalante ended service in October 2004, departing on 14 November of that year for her final destination, to beach at the infamous shibreakers' yards at Alang in India. Some of her interior fittings were sold privately, some of it still dating back to her Tahitien days.
Tahitien's bell (left), the same bell on Atalante (center), and Tahitien arriving at Marseilles in 1967. From the collection of Luc Pieterbourg.
Some of Tahitien's original décor survived her various transformations, such as the large oil painting of a Tahitian boy gracing the main staircase. From the collection of Luc Pieterbourg.