The Formation of the Cunard Line


The Cunard Passenger Log Book - 1893

THE CUNARD COMPANY occupies the premier rank amongst the many gigantic companies of our mercantile marine, whose great enterprise has placed Britain in the enviable position which she holds amongst the nations.

The well-known care and strict surveillance exercised in the construction of the vessels of its fleet, and the rigid discipline maintained in every part of the service, have engendered in the public mind, a well-merited confidence, and gained for the Company a place second to none in the annals of shipping.

The shipping industry generally in its gradual develop. ment, may well be traced in the history of this Line, in the substitution of new ships of superior types, to take the place of those which have been found wanting, by the advance of knowledge in shipbuilding and engineering.


Up to this year the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty had been content to commit Her Majesty's Mails for America to the uncertain mercies of sailing vessels bearing the somewhat unpromising designation of " coffin brigs," and, although vessels propelled by steam power had crossed the Atlantic at irregular intervals, from various European ports, within the previous 18 years or so, it was only in this year that the practicability of establishing regular steam communication with America was demonstrated beyond a doubt.

Early in the spring the wooden paddle wheel steamer Great Western sailed from Bristol for New York, and during that, and the following year made several successful voyages between these ports, which so impressed the then Government with the obvious superiority of steam ships over sailing vessels, as a faster and more reliable means of transit for the Mails, that they immediately issued circulars broadcast, inviting tenders for the future conveyance of the American Mails by steam vessels.

One of these circulars found its way into the hands of Mr. SAMUEL CUNARD, a prominent merchant of Halifax, N.S., agent there for the East India Company, a man of penetrating intelligence, great energy, and strong determination.

The idea of starting a line of steamers to connect the two countries had occurred to his mind as early as 183o, and he immediately recognised that here was a golden opportunity to carry out his project under the auspices of the British Government.

Being unable to raise the necessary capital in Halifax, he proceeded without delay to London, in the hope of enlisting the sympathy and financial support of merchants there, but meeting with scant encouragement, he went to Glasgow armed with a letter of introduction from the Secretary of the East India Company to Mr. Robert Napier, the eminent Clyde Shipbuilder and Engineer. He was most cordially received by Mr. Napier, who, on learning the object of his mission, promised to assist him.

By his good offices Mr. Cunard was soon made acquainted with Mr. GEORGE BURNS, a Shipowner already extensively engaged in the coasting trade between Scotland and Ireland and England, a shrewd, clear-headed Scotsman of rare administrative ability and great practical experience, and possessed of much influence with the leading capitalists of Glasgow. He in turn introduced Mr. Cunard to his partner in the coasting trade, Mr. DAVID MACIVER, who, although then resident in Liverpool, was likewise a Scotsman, and a man of great capabilities, and wide knowledge of the shipping trade.

With these two gentlemen Mr. Cunard had several interviews, and expounded his proposals. They, with a far-sighted sagacity, for which both were distinguished above their compeers, fully comprehended the advantages of the undertaking, without being dismayed at the concomitant difficulties, and eventually intimated their readiness to throw in their lot with him.

In a few days thereafter a capital of £ 270,000 was subscribed, and Mr. Cunard was enabled to tender the Admiralty a most eligible offer for the conveyance of Her Majesty's Mails once a fortnight, between Liverpool and Halifax and Boston.

His offer was accepted, and a contract concluded for a period of seven years, between Her Majesty's Government, and the newly formed Company, on whose behalf it was signed by Samuel Cunard, George Burns, and David Maclver, three names thenceforth indissolubly connected with the success of this famous concern.

Immediately after the contract had been fixed the three managing partners set about the fulfilment of their obligations; Mr. Cunard making London his headquarters, Mr. Burns remaining in Glasgow at the seat of government, and Mr. Maclver returned to Liverpool to superintend the practical working of the steamers; but before their arrangements were finally adjusted, the Admiralty saw fit to remodel the contract, requiring that the service should be performed by four suitable steamships, instead of three, and that fixed dates of sailing should be adhered to. In consideration of these more onerous conditions, the subsidy was raised from £. 60,000 to £. 80,000 per annum.

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