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Inman Line Royal Mail Steamers Archives of Historical Documents, Passenger Lists, etc.

Inman Line Royal Mail Steamers Archives

The Inman Line Steamship Company was established in 1850 and operated until 1885 when the assets were purchased by the American Line and Red Star Line. At the time it was liqidated, The Inman Line was reported to have made little or no money for a long time. Theis was primiarly due to having too many steamships in the transatlanic passenger service. They also lost several ships - the City of Boston in 1870 and the City of Brussels in Janiary 1883. The Inman Line Pier burned a few months later. In 1885, the Inman Line fleet consisted of City of Chicago, City of Richmond, City of Chester, and City of Berlin.

Passenger Lists of the Inman Line

The Story of the Inman Line (1896)

William Inman was a native of Leicester, England, born in 1825, and became a clerk in the office of Richardson Brothers, Liverpool. In January, 1849, he became a partner, and had the entire management of a fleet of sailing packets trading between Liverpool and Philadelphia. He thus gained an intimate know ledge of the emigrant business. He was a man of great energy, and universally respected.

Although the Great Britain, the first ocean screw steamship, had been a marked success, few had as yet much faith in the screw. One of the few was the late David Tod, of the firm of Tod & McGregor, of Glasgow, shipbuilders and engineers. In 1850, he decided to try the experiment of running iron screws to New York with goods and steerage passengers, and launched the City of Glasgow. She was 1610 tons gross, 227 feet long and 32 feet beam, with 350 H.P. nominal. This was really the commencement of the third “Epoch," and led to great results.

Mr. Inman watched her progress with great interest, and after a few successful trips he persuaded his partners to buy her and run her to Philadelphia. She sailed from Liverpool under her new owners, commanded by B. R. Matthews, formerly of the Great Western, on 11 December 1850. Mr. Inman formed the " Liverpool, New York, and Philadelphia Steamship Company," and as he became the general manager it was better known as the " Inman Line."

She was successful, and Mr. and Mrs. Inman made a trip across the Atlantic specially to study the wants and discomforts of steerage emigrants. In 1851, a larger ship, the City of Manchester, was added. She was also built by Tod & McGregor, as were most of the company's subsequent ships. She was 274 x 38, 2125 tons gross and 400 H.P. nominal. She was so successful that she is said to have left a profit of 40 per cent, on her first year's work.

The line soon became especially popular with emigrants, and it carried more third-class passengers than any other. In 1857 the line was transferred to New York, and in the two years 1856-7 the company carried no less than 85,000 passengers! Between 1851 and 1856 they added the City 0f Philadelphia, 2189 tons; the City of Baltimore, 2538 tons ; the City of Washington, and the Kangaroo, all iron screws, and in 1857 they commenced calling at Queenstown. This great success quickly led to the formation of many other lines of screw steamships to the United States and Canada.

In 1856 no less than three new lines were established, the "Allan," the "Anchor," and the " Hamburg-American " ; in 1857 the "North German Lloyds," and in 1859 the "Galway" line.  Except the last-named all were successful, and all went to the Clyde for their ships.

The owners of the American sailing packets fought hard for the emigrant business, but at last realized that the struggle was hopeless, and gradually sold their ships to British, Norwegian, Canadian, and German ship owners. However, it was not until 1874 that they finally ceased to carry emigrants. Americans could not build iron screws as cheaply as the British could, and their antiquated navigation laws forbade their ship owners to buy British-built vessels.

In 1860, the Inman Company increased their service to once a week; in 1863 to three times a fortnight; and in 1866 to twice a week in summer. After the collapse of the “Collins " line in 1858 they assumed the latter's days of sailing and carried the United States mails ; and when the Cunard line gave up the Halifax route the Inman Company made a contract to carry the mails to and from that port, and did so for many years until the Allan’s secured it. To carry out these services the company built many fine ships, all in the Clyde.

The City of Bristol, 2655 tons, 350 H.P. ; the City of Boston, and the City of New York. In 1863 the City of Limerick, 2536 tons and 250 H.P. ; and the City of London, 2765 tons, and45o H.P. In 1865, they bought the Delaware and re-named her the City of New York, 3499 tons and 350 H.P. (the second of that name). In 1866, they built the City of Paris, 3081 tons (346x40x26) and of much greater power, 550 nominal. In 1867 the City of Antwerp, 2391 tons and 350 H.P.; and in 1869 the City of Brooklyn, 291 1 tons and 450 H.P.; and the City of Brussels, 3747 tons (390x40x27) and 600 H.P. In 1872, they ventured on larger ships and built the City of Montreal, 4451 tons and 600 H.P.

The City of Paris was their fastest boat, and in 1869, she made the passage from Queenstown to Halifax in 6 days 21 hours, up to that time the quickest on record between the two ports. In 1870, the company carried 3635 saloon and 40,635 steerage passengers to New York, more steerage than any other line. The Cunard Company carried 7638 saloon, but only 16,871 steerage.

However, during these years the company did not fare as well as the Cunard Company in freedom from accidents. Indeed, they suffered many grievous disasters, but their courage never failed. The City of Glasgow, after several years' successful work, left Liverpool for New York, 1 March 1854, with 480 persons on board, and was never heard of again. The City of Philadelphia was wrecked near Cape Race, and the first City of New York on Daunt's Rock, near Queenstown, but without loss of life. Then the City of Boston left Halifax with many Nova Scotians on board, and disappeared for ever, probably through striking ice or an iceberg.

The City of Brussels broke her main shaft in mid-ocean, and thousands were kept in painful suspense for weeks, and afterwards sank off Liverpool Sands after collision with another ship. Subsequently the City of Montreal was burnt at sea, but no lives were lost, and more than one of the other ships broke their main shafts.

By 1872 the competition of the "White Star" line began to tell on the Inman Company, as on all other lines, severely, and to meet it they launched, in 1873, two magnificent ships with spar decks. Their engines were compound, with cylinders 76 and 120 inches in diameter, and 5 feet stroke.  Their speed on the trial trip was 16 knots.

These were the City of Chester., 444 x 44 x 34.6, 4770 tons, built by Caird & Co., of Greenock, and the City of Richmond, 440 x 43.5 x 34, 4780 tons, by Tod & McGregor. The latter ran from Sandy Hook to Fastnet Rock in 1873 in 7 days 23 hours, and her first seven voyages to Queenstown averaged only 8 days 1 1 hours and 58 minutes.

But Mr. Inman was not yet satisfied. In 1875 Caird & Co. built for the company the City of Berlin, the longest ship then afloat (except the Great Eastern), and, for a short time, the fastest. Her length on deck is 520 feet, beam 44*2, depth to spar deck 34.9, 5526 tons gross, with compound engines; cylinders 72 and 120 inches in diameter with 51 feet stroke, 900 H.P. nominal, but indicating 4799, with accommodation for 202 first and 1500 second and third class passengers. She reduced the time to Queenstown to 7 days 15 hours 28 minutes, and 7 days 18 hours 2 minutes going west.

Then to meet the competition of the Servia and other crack boats, they contracted with the Barrow Company to build a monster ship, and called her the City of Rome, 8144 tons gross, 560 x 52 x 37, with six cylinders, three of 46 and three of 86 inches in diameter, the engines indicating no less than 11,890 H.P. She made 18 - 23 knots on her trial trip, and was magnificently fitted ; but after several trips she failed to reach the guaranteed speed for lack of boiler power, and the company threw her up.

 She passed into the hands of the Anchor Company, and was replaced by a boat building on the Clyde for the Dominion line, the City of Chicago, 5202 tons, 430x45 x 33 '6, and 900 H.P. nominal. This was the last boat Mr. Inman had built. He died soon afterwards deeply lamented, as did also Mr. Dale, long the New York agent of the company.

Some American capitalists, interested in one of the great railways, now determined to take hold of the company, and bought a "controlling interest” in it. They could not put the ships under the United States flag, but they took advantage of a singular technical judicial decision in England to run them under the British flag.

British law does not permit an alien to own any interest in a British ship, but when, in 1846, the collector of customs at Liverpool refused to register a new ship, the Eqnador, for the Pacific Company, because some of the shareholders were aliens, the company appealed to the Court of Queen's Bench, which decided that for purposes of registry " an English in corporated company is a British subject, notwithstanding that some of its shareholders may be foreigners." This was rather humiliating to the great American nation, but they could not then compete successfully with British built ships.

The new directors now decided to "eclipse everything afloat" with two ships to be built by J. & G. Thomson, of Glasgow, (Note 1)  and it must be admitted that they succeeded. They boldly adopted “twin screws” and the ships inaugurated the sixth, and last, and best “Epoch “in Atlantic steam navigation. They were named the City of New York and City of Paris, and are 527 feet long "between perpendiculars," 565 feet " on deck," 63 feet beam, and 39 feet deep, and measure 10,4.99 tons gross.

They have two independent sets of triple expansion engines each, with cylinders 45, 71, and 113 inches in diameter, and 5 feet stroke; with forced draught the engines of the City of New York indicate 18,400 H.P., and on her trial trip she made 20*13 knots. However, for some reason, which even the builders cannot explain, the engines of the City of Paris indicated 20,100 H.P., and on her trial trip, she made 21,952 knots per hour, being far in excess of the guaranteed speed.

There are nine boilers in each ship, working at a pressure of 150 lbs. to the square inch.2 The hulls are of a very beautiful yacht-like model with handsome “cut-waters " and figure-heads, certainly much more graceful than the straight stem now so much in vogue.

Each ship has 1 5 water-tight compartments separated by strong transverse bulkheads, the two sets of engines being also separated by a longitudinal bulkhead, the great advantages of which have been pointed out in a previous chapter. These bulkheads rise up from the keelson to the saloon deck, or 18 feet above the load water-line, and are said to have no openings of any kind. The buoyancy thus secured is so great that even were three of the compartments filled with water the ship would not sink.

Practically, therefore, she may be considered as unsinkable. Massive steel brackets support the screws. The rudders are of an entirely new description, designed by Mr. J. R. Thomson and Professor J. H. Biles, and are controlled by novel steering gear invented by Mr. A. B. Brown of Edinburgh. Two hydraulic rams are used; the quartermaster on the bridge, which is said to secure greater accuracy in steering than when the wheel is used, controls one on each side of the tiller, and the pressure.

There are three funnels, but only light pole masts, without yards, which greatly reduce the resistance of head winds, and thus add to the speed of the ship. The ships are lighted throughout by electricity.

The dynamos being of extra power, they generate a current powerful enough, not only to light up the whole ship, but also to rotate the fans employed in ventilating her, and thus 250,000 cubic feet can be drawn off from each compartment per hour. Each ship can accommodate 540 first and 200 second class passengers, besides steerage, but carry little cargo. The tendency, in these days of luxury, is more and more towards separating passengers and cargo ; the former demanding a high rate of speed, and the latter large capacity with very economical engines and moderate speed.

So much for speed and safety, but these beautiful ships have other attractions. Under the contract with the builders, they were not only to be so constructed as to prevent them sinking under any circumstances which human foresight could provide against, but their accommodations for first-class passengers were stipulated to combine " the comforts of home with the richest luxuries of hotel life," and most faithfully has the contract been carried out.

Those who, like the writer, have been in the habit of crossing the Atlantic twice a year for a quarter of a century will appreciate them fully; but others may now be only anticipating their first sea trip. In the early Cunard ships the little " staterooms " so amusingly described by Dickens in his 'American Notes,' as
"this utterly impracticable, thoroughly hopeless, and profoundly preposterous box, on board the Britannia" were only six feet square ; they contained two narrow bunks, like coffins, two wash basins and jugs (the latter having a knack of pouring their contents over the lower bed), two little mirrors, two brass pegs, and a little seat, or "perch," as Dickens calls it.

Of ventilation, there was practically none, except on very fine days, when the stewards were allowed to open the “side ports." The peregrinations of one's portmanteaus, the gyrations of one's hat, and the swinging of garments on the pegs were maddening, especially to those suffering from sea-sickness ; no hot water or boots could be had, nor even your light extinguished, without bawling for " steward " perhaps a dozen times, when the reply would be heard in the distance."

What number, sir ? " (A wag on board the Canada once changed all the boots late at night, and the scene in the morning was indescribable.) If you wanted a smoke, you had to go to a wretched little place over the boilers called the “fiddle," where the stokers were hoisting the ashes, and where you often got soused with salt water.

There were a few books and very good ones too, but they were kept under lock and key, and a special application was necessary to get one. There was no piano, organ, or bathroom; the only promenade was on the top of the deckhouse, only 60 feet long, and at meals, you often had to climb over the backs of long benches to get to your seat.

The "Allan" boats had larger saloons and a better promenade, but the former were right aft, where the " racing " of the screw was often extremely disagreeable, and the motion of the ship excessive. In both there was only an apology for a “ladies’ cabin."

Now mark the striking contrast in the “Inman and International Company’s " ships, the name of the new company. The accommodation throughout is superb. The staterooms are large, lofty, and well ventilated by fans and patent ventilators, which always admit fresh air, but exclude the sea. There are single and double beds, which can be closed by day, as in a Pullman car, converting your room into a cozy little sitting room.

Instead of the rattling, noisy water jugs, you turn a tap and get a supply of hot or cold water; you touch a button, and your steward instantly appears without a word being spoken. Neat wardrobes enable you to banish your portmanteaus or trunks to the baggage room; you turn a switch and you get an electric light; and if you want a nap or wish to retire early, you can turn it off in a moment.

If you have plenty of spare cash, and are willing to part with some of it, there are forty rooms on the promenade and saloon decks, arranged in fourteen suites. Each suite comprises a bedroom, with a brass bedstead, wardrobe, etc., a sitting room, with sofa, easy-chair, and table, a private lavatory and, in most cases, a private bath. Here you can entertain your friends, or enjoy a game in privacy. You can have the luxury of a morning bath and a promenade some 400 feet long.

To diminish seasickness, you dine in a saloon near the middle of the ship, beautifully decorated with naiads, dolphins, tritons, and mermaids, lofty and bright. The arched roof is of glass 53 feet by 25 feet, and its height from the floor of the saloon to its crown is 20 feet. Besides the long dining tables in the center, there are a number of small ones placed in alcoves on both sides for the use of families or parties of friends; revolving armchairs replace the benches, and electric lights the candlesticks with their lashings.

If you enjoy a cigar or a pipe, a luxurious smoking-room, 45 feet long, is provided; its walls and ceiling are paneled in black walnut, and its couches and chairs are covered with scarlet leather. There is an elegant “drawing-room” beautifully decorated and luxuriously furnished. The “library “with its 900 volumes is lined with oak wainscoting, with the names of distinguished authors carved on it in scrolls, and its stained glass windows inscribed with quotations from poems referring to the sea. The kitchen is isolated in a steel shell, the odors from which are carried off by ventilating shafts into the funnels.

The second cabin passengers are placed in the after-part of the ship, where they have a dining-room, smoking-room, piano, etc. The steerage passengers are also well provided for, having no less than 300,000 cubic feet of space.

Provision too is made for divine service on the Sabbath day; at each end of the saloon, there is an oriel window built under the glass dome over the dining-saloon. The casement of one of these serves for a pulpit. The opposite one contains an organ, and many famous organists and vocalists have taken part in the services as well as in musical entertainments given on weekdays for charitable objects.

In truth, the ships were fitted with a luxury and magnificence unequalled at the time, and are said to have cost two million dollars each. The City of New York commenced running in 1888, and the City of Paris in the spring of 1889. The Paris Exhibition of 1889 gave them a splendid business, and neither suffered from lack of attention on the part of the United States press or the Telegraph Companies.

The City of New York was somewhat of a disappointment at first as to speed, owing to a defective air pump, but ultimately she made a record of 5 days 19 hours and 57 minutes, from Sandy Hook to Queenstown (2814 knots), being the first to do it under six days. The City of Paris from the first proved herself to be a faster boat than her sister ship.

In August 1889, she made a record from Queenstown to Sandy Hook of 5 days 19 hours and 18 minutes (2788 knots). This she gradually reduced until, in October, 1892, she did it in 5 days 14 hours and 24 minutes (2782 knots) ; and this was not only the fastest passage ever made* up to that time, but it continued so until beaten by the Lucania in October, 1893. The City of Paris made 530 knots on her best passage, and for a time was justly hailed as the “Queen of the Atlantic."

While it is unquestionably true that “twin screws “not only add to the safety of a ship, but give her also immunity from serious detention when she meets with any ordinary accident. Many experienced nautical men are of opinion that the increased speed of steamships necessarily means increased risk; and the experience of these two noble ships certainly tends to confirm this opinion, so far as their machinery is concerned. The Persia's engines never made over 17 revolutions per minute; those of the City of Paris make 89, and the length and weight of the latter's shaft are far greater than the Persia's.

There is, of course, force in the argument that there must be less risk in a 5! days' passage than in one of 10 days ; Captain Judkins, the first commodore of the Cunard line, even argued that it was safer to go full speed in a fog than half speed, because you are " sooner out of it," but few will now agree with him.

The strain, however, on such massive machinery as is now used has proved in several instances more than it can bear. Thus, the City of New York broke a crank pin going east, which disabled one of her engines, yet she made no less than 382 knots in less than 24 hours with the other, a most conclusive proof of the value of “twin screws."

The City of Paris has been still more unfortunate in this respect. On 25 March 1890, when going east with about 1000 passengers, she met with a most extraordinary accident, such as may not happen again in a century. The immediate cause was the breaking of her starboard main shaft near the screw when making 80 revolutions per minute. This, of course, caused the engine to “race."

A connecting rod, 11 inches in diameter, broke, and, acting like a huge flail, smashed the two standards (weighing 14 tons each), and the low-pressure cylinder (weighing 45 tons) broke off the condenser pipe, and made a hole in the after bulkhead, thus flooding the engine-room. All this would not have stopped her, or imperiled her safety, had not flying pieces of metal made three ragged holes in the longitudinal bulkhead, thus causing both engine-rooms to be flooded, and driving all the engineers on deck.

The forward bulkheads, protecting the boilers, remained intact and kept the ship afloat; she was towed to Queenstown by the Aldershot (s.s.), the condenser and injection pipes were plugged and the water pumped out, when she proceeded to Liverpool with her port engine, unassisted. On docking her the “lignum-vitae” bushing of the after bearing was found to be worn away; the end of the shaft had dropped seven inches and been fractured.

There has always been a difficulty in lubricating the after bearing of the shafts of screw steamships, and to overcome it, the late John Penn, of Greenwich, invented the “lignum-vitae " bearing, which produced a natural lubrication, and is now in general use. It was this lignum-vitae which had worn away in such an extraordinary fashion.

The fact remains that the City of Paris escaped under circumstances in which, according to the official report of the Board of Trade in London, " no ordinary vessel could have remained afloat after such an accident." ' The captain and officers were exonerated from all blame.

But the ship's troubles did not end here, for it was her lot to demonstrate later on the immense advantage of "twin screws" under different circumstances. On 12 February 1894, when bound west, her rudder became disabled, and it was found necessary to put back. With the aid of her two screws alone, she steamed a straight course back to Queenstown, 786 miles distant, in a little over three days! A single screw might have drifted, helpless, for a month or until picked up and towed back by another steamship. She returned to Liverpool, and while in dock a fire did considerable damage to her second cabin.

The new company has had other troubles to contend with. On 1 July 1892, the City of Chicago ran ashore in a fog near Kinsale (Ireland), and became a total wreck, but no lives were lost. An official inquiry was held by the Board of Trade, which resulted in the captain's certificate being suspended for nine months ; and in June, 1894, the City of New York was in collision with the Delano near Nantucket. The former received no damage, but the latter was seriously damaged, though she reached Balti more in safety.

In the summer of 1894, some excitement was created in the newspapers and in the British House of Commons, by a sensational statement of a passenger that the Majestic and Paris had been racing side by side, and that the Paris had crossed the bows of the Majestic so close as to compel the latter to slow down. It appeared, however, by the statement of both captains that there had really been no racing, and that the Majestic slowed in order to pass under the stern of the Paris—a very proper maneuver.

Americans had become so proud of the performances of the City of Paris (although British built), that Congress was asked to pass a special Act repealing the very stringent navigation laws in favor of her and her sister ship, and admitting them to United States registry. This was done on condition that the company (now styled "The International Navigation Company") should build an equal amount of tonnage in United States yards of the highest type, at a cost of about four million dollars.

So far back as 1865 the present writer had urged the repeal of these navigation laws upon Americans at the Detroit Convention, for the benefit of American ship owners, as well as an act of justice to Great Britain and Canada, both of which have admitted United States built vessels to British Registry since 1849 upon a promise of Mr. Bancroft, the United States minister at London, that his Government would reciprocate.

The new Act would probably have been inoperative but for a second Act, which authorized the Postmaster-General to subsidize large and fast steamships for the carriage of United States mails. In October 1892, a contract was entered into to carry the United States mails once a week from New York to Southampton for a subsidy of $4 per mile; and as the distance is over 3050 knots, the subsidy will amount to about $750,000 a year, a much higher rate than the British Government ever paid.

The rates of freight for goods having become entirely unremunerated, and the frequent detentions at Queenstown and the Mersey bar being a serious drawback, the company now arranged to run to Southampton in lieu of Liverpool, and to cater especially for first-class passenger traffic.

Southampton is within two hours of London, and is very near to Havre ; it also has splendid wet docks into which the ships can enter and leave at any hour, and where the trains can run alongside the ship, a great convenience to passengers.

By February, 1893, the President of the Company, Clement A. Griscom, Esq., had obtained the consent of the British Government to release the ships from their engagements to serve as armed cruisers, and on the 22nd the United States flag was hoisted on the City of New York with great ceremony, both ships being re-christened, one as the Paris, the other as the New York. Under United States laws, the captains of United States ships must be native-born or naturalized Americans.

Captain Frederick Watkins, of the Paris, being a British subject, was consequently disqualified; but in order to retain the command of his splendid ship, he renounced his allegiance to Queen Victoria and became an American citizen, resuming his command in September 1894.

To carry out the contract with the United States Post Office the Company at once contracted with Messrs. Cramp, of Philadelphia, for two magnificent steel ships of 9,000 tons, to be named the St. Louis and St. Paul. The former was launched on 12 November 1894, in the presence of President Cleveland and a distinguished party.

With such a liberal subsidy and with the certainty of a preference from American passengers there would seem to be a long era of prosperity in view for this powerful company. The company has furnished the following description of the two new ships:—

1 Designed by Professor Biles, of the University of Glasgow.
2 Consuming about 330 tons coal per day, or X"71 lbs. per I. H. P. per hour.
3 The damage to the engine was frightful, and the repairs occupied thirteen months ! ^7500 salvage was paid to the Aldershot.

Fry, Henry, “Chapter VIII: The Inman Line,” in The History of North Atlantic Steam Navigation with Some Account of Early Ships and Ship Owners, London: Sampson Low, Marston and Company, Ltd. (1896): P. 112-131.

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