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Cunard Story: The 1860's - Continuing the Tradition with Russia and Setting Departure Dates

The first screw Cunarder for the Atlantic service, the China, was ordered in 1862. Regarded somewhat in the light of an experiment, her dimensions were smaller than those of the Persia and Scotia, her length being 326 feet by 40 feet 5 1/2 inches in beam. Her gross register was 2,539 tons, and her indicated horse power 2,250, which was capable of giving an avenge speed of 13.9 knots.

Having adequately fulfilled the expectations of her owners and builder, the China was succeeded in 1865 by the Java, and two years later by the Russia (Shown Below), which was generally regarded as the most beautiful ocean-going vessel then in existence.

A Famous Cunarder - The Russia

A Famous Cunarder - The Russia

Her graceful proportions were regarded by practical men as the acme of nautical symmetry, and the beauty of her decorations and completeness of her equipment were the delight of passengers.

Built by the then firm of Messrs. J. & G. Thomson at their famous Clydebank shipyards, she was 358 feet long (21 feet shorter than the Scotia) by 42 feet 6 inches in beam, and 29 feet 2 inches in molded depth. Her gross register was 2,960 tons, and her engines -of 3,100 horse power gave her a speed of 13 knots in actual service, with a coal consumption of 90 tons per day, as compared with the 159 tons consumed by the Scotia to attain the same speed.

She had accommodation for 235 cabin passengers, and a cargo capacity of 1,260 tons. Her commander, Captain Cook, navigated her no less than 630,000 miles without a single mishap or casualty of any kind, carrying the while no less than 26,076 cabin passengers. After being sold to another company, she continued up to the present year to maintain her splendid sea-going traditions.

Apart from the launch of the Russia, the year 1867 was in other particulars a noteworthy one in the history of the Cunard Line. When in that year the Company's arrangement with the Admiralty expired, the Postmaster-General had taken charge of the mail packet services.

In the new contract, however, it was stipulated that the Company should despatch a steamer every Saturday from Liverpool to New York, calling at Queenstown for the mails, and returning from New York every Wednesday, with a call at Queenstown before proceeding to Liverpool. By this time numerous competitors for the mail service had arisen, and the Government were, consequently, able to reduce their subsidy to £80,000, curtailing it the year following to £70,000, the contract further binding the Company to maintain for seven years a dual weekly service from Liverpool--to Boston every Tuesday, and to New York every Saturday.

It was found, however, that the amount paid for the service was manifestly inadequate, and when the mail contract was again renewed the work was paid for in accordance with the weight of the mail matter carried. This arrangement continues in force at the present time, the Cunard Company having thus been the Atlantic Ocean mail carriers for a period of sixty-two years.

The popular mind has little conception of the magnitude of the Atlantic mail requirements. From the outset they have been uninterruptedly progressive, and there is now an annual carriage of at least 13,000,000 letters, ,post cards, newspapers and book packets across the Atlantic.

A large proportion of this quantity of mail matter is shipped from Liverpool by the Cunarders, and every Saturday afternoon a special American mail train leaves Euston Station, London, with a later batch, which is put on board the mail steamers when they call off Queenstown on Sunday mornings.

This. represents a very smart piece of work, the entire journey from Euston to Queenstown being ordinarily accomplished in about fifteen hours. On the homeward journey the mails are carried with corresponding celerity, and half an hour after the mail bags reach -Euston they are delivered at the Mount Pleasant depot. An hour later still finds the postmen on their rounds delivering the American mail in the City of London.

Another year of historical importance in the annals of the Cunard Line was 1870, when the Company made a further advance from the conventions of ocean steamship practice by adopting the compound principle for their engines, instead of the old side lever system.

Although they had just added two fine iron screw vessels, the Abyssinia and Algcria, to their fleet, they purchased the Batavia, which was being built and equipped with compound engines for a company engaged in another trade, and followed this by an order for the Parthia, also fitted with compound engines, which, utilizing steam at high pressure, gave better speed results than engines of the old type. The newer existing vessels were refitted with compound engines, and seven new steamers were similarly fitted, including the Gallia, launched in 1879, which was the last iron Cunarder to be built.

Chairman of the Cunard Steamship Company Limited - Lord Inverclyde.

Chairman of the Cunard Steamship Company Limited - Lord Inverclyde.

In 1878 the Company, in order to consolidate the financial interests of the partners, was registered under the Limited Liability Acts, a joint stock Company being formed with a capital of £2,000,000, of which £1,200,000 was taken up by the Cunard, Burns and Maclver families. It was not until 1880 that shares were issued to the public, and the prospectus then stated that " the growing wants of the Company's Trans-Atlantic trade demanded the acquisition of additional steamships of greater size and power, involving a cost for construction which might best be met by a large public company."

The available shares were immediately subscribed, and the directorate reconstituted. Mr. John Burns (afterwards Sir John Burns, Bart., and subsequently Lord Inverclyde), was elected Chairman of the Board, which position lie held until his death last year, when lie was succeeded by Mr. David Jardine. The present Chairman, Lord Inverclyde, whose portrait is shown above, is the son of the first Chairman.

The Cunard Steamship Servia

The Cunard Steamship Servia

With the re-constitution of the Company successfully accomplished, the forward policy of the Cunard Line received a fresh impetus, of which the first important exemplification was the building of that magnificent vessel, the Servia, illustrated above, in 1881, by Messrs. J. & G. Thomson. When the writer first boarded her in the Mersey in 1883, she was regarded as the " crack " liner in the Atlantic Ocean service, as she was also then the largest and most powerful steamship afloat, with the exception of the unfortunate Great Eastern.

She was also the first Cunarder to be built of steel instead of iron, and also the first to receive an electric installation. Her length was 515 feet, her beam 52 feet 3 inches, and her depth 40 feet 9 inches. Her gross register was 7,392 tons, and her engines, indicating 9,900 horse power, enabled a speed of 16.7 knots to be realized on a daily consumption of 190 tons of coal, which reduced the Atlantic passage to 7 days 1 hour and 38 minutes. She was superbly fitted, and provided accommodation for 480 cabin and 750 third-class passengers.

The Story of the Cunard Line : Steamship Line History (1902)


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