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History of the Cunard Line, 1840-1852

1893 Cunard Passenger's Log Book

1840

The first four ships provided by the Cunard Company, or as it was then formally entitled "The British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company," were the BRITANNIA, ACADIA, CALEDONIA, and COLUMBIA, all wooden paddle-wheel vessels, built on the Clyde in 1840.

THE BRITANNIA, which was the pioneer vessel of the fleet measured 207 feet long by 34 feet 4 inches broad by 22 feet 6 inches deep, with a tonnage burden of 1154, and an indicated horse power of 740. Her cargo capacity was 225 tons, and she was fitted for the accommodation of 115 cabin passengers, but no steerage. The horse-power, and passenger, and cargo accommodation of the other three ships were identical with those of the "Britannia," while their dimensions and tonnage only varied very slightly from her's.

Their average speed was 8;4 knots per hour, on a coal consumption of 38 tons per day. All of them were specially adapted for the transport of troops and stores in time of war, and their general equipment was in every respect as complete as the light of the times suggested.

The Cunard Passenger Log Book - 1893

From the very commencement, the Company distinguished itself for the care and discrimination in the selection of its officers and crew for which it is still remarkable. The inauguration of the Mail Service took place when the "Britannia" sailed upon her maiden voyage from Liverpool, on Friday, 4th July, 1840, which being the "Celebration Day" of the American Independence, was viewed by many as a coincidence indicative of future prosperity, although others regarded the Friday departure as ominous of misfortune.

However, in spite of maritime superstitious fears, the Britannia arrived safely at Boston, after what was then considered a rapid passage of 14 days, 8 hours, and experienced an unprecedented ovation from the inhabitants of that New England town.

Thus auspiciously inaugurated, the mail service was carried on with conspicuous regularity for three years, when it was found that the increasing traffic demanded additional tonnage, so the HIBERNIA was added to the fleet in 1843, and the CAMBRIA in 1845, these two being sister ships of greater dimensions, and more extensive passenger and cargo capacity than their four predecessors, and also of somewhat higher speed. With this reinforcement the business was continued with enhanced satisfaction to the public, until, in 1847, the Government determined to double the Atlantic Mail Service.

1847 - 1852

A new contract was then entered into between the Cunard Company and the Government, whereby it was provided that a vessel of not less than 400 horsepower, and capable of carrying guns of the then largest calibre, should leave Liverpool every Saturday for New York and Boston alternately ; and, in respect of these augmented sailings, the subsidy was raised to the substantial sum of £ 173,340 per annum, at which figure it remained until the end of 1867. For the adequate performance of this new contract, four new ships were built, the AMERICA, NIAGARA, CANADA, and EUROPA, and took their station in the trade as early as 1848, being followed in 1850 by the ASIA, and in 1852 by the ARABIA.

When building vessels the aim of the Cunard Company has always been that each new ship should be superior to those which preceded it, and the various additions were fitted with the latest improvements for the comfort and convenience of passengers. At the same time, a commendable caution has ever marked the conduct of the affairs of this Company.

Viewing SAFETY as its paramount consideration, its Managers have been chary of initiating the adoption of new theories involving possible risk to hull or machinery. Although scientists had been urging since 1830 the adaptability of iron in the construction of ships' hulls, and for several years prior to 1852, had been recommending the adoption of the screw propeller, it was not until the latter year that the Cunard Company acquired sufficient confidence in either invention to give it a trial.

Once convinced of their utility, however, no time was lost in taking advantage thereof; four iron screw steamships were added to the fleet in 1852, viz. :—The AUSTRALIAN, SYDNEY, ANDES, and ALPS -- and it is also worthy of note, in connection with these vessels, that they were the first belonging to this Company to be fitted with accommodation for emigrants.

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