History of the Cunard Line, 1853-1877
1893 CunardPassenger's Log Book
In 1853 the House of Commons appointed a select Committee to enquire into the matter of Contract Packets, and the following extract from their report, presented to both Houses of Parliament, throws some light upon the manner in which the Cunard Company's transatlantic service was conducted :—" This line of Packets (the " Cunard) has of late years had to contend against "serious foreign competition.
We find that the vessels "employed in the line are much more powerful, and, of "course, more costly than is required by the terms of the " Contract, and that, as regards their fitness for war "purposes, they are reported by the Committee of Naval "and Artillery Officers as being capable of being made "more efficient substitutes for men-of-war than any of "the other vessels under contract for the Packet service. "The service has been performed with great regularity, "speed, and certainty, the average length of passage, " Liverpool to New York, being 12 days 1 hour 14 " minutes."
Notwithstanding that in many respects the adoption of the screw propeller had proved advantageous, it was found that passengers were as yet unwilling to take leave of the old paddle wheel, and in consequence the Company built the Persia in 1856, an iron paddle steamer of 3,300 tons, and accommodating 250 cabin passengers.
The last of the paddle wheels, the Scotia, was built in 1862 on the Clyde; she was of iron, of 3,871 tonnage, and accommodated 275 cabin passengers, and was at that time one of the finest specimens of a mercantile vessel afloat. She reduced the record of transatlantic passages to 8 days 22 hours.
For a number of years the Persia and Scotia held the function of chief favourites with the passengers in the American trade, but not even the possession of such crack ships as these enabled the Cunard Company to rest on its laurels. In the same year, 1861, was built the first of the screw steamers—the " China."
In 1867, the Clyde-built screw steamer, Russia, was added to the fleet, her gross tonnage was 2,960, and she carried 235 cabin passengers. This vessel quickly earned a reputation for speed and comfort, vieing with the Scotia as a passenger favourite; her fastest passage across the Atlantic was 8 days 28 minutes.
The latest evolution in the science of marine engineering was the invention of compound engines, and into the working of these the Cunard Company next directed enquiry. They were soon satisfied of the vast superiority of the new over the old method, and promptly took action to avail themselves of the improved mechanism. The fine screw steamships, ABYSSINIA and ALGERIA, each of about 3,30o tons and 2,48o indicated horse-power, had just been completed, and placed on the New York route, but unfortunately had not this latest improvement in driving power.
By the purchase of the Batavia, however, a screw steamer of 2,553 tons, supplied with machinery on the new principal, and by the order of a sister ship to be named the " Parthia," of rather larger tonnage, and subsequently of the "Bothnia" and "Scythia," the Company brought themselves in line with the latest developments in shipbuilding.
With respect to the OWNERSHIP OF THE COMPANY, the original Shareholders were by degrees bought out by the founders, until the whole concern became vested exclusively in the three families of Cunard, Burns, and Maclver. Upon the death, in 1865, of Sir Samuel Cunard, his shares were inherited by his son, Sir Edward Cunard, and at the decease of the latter in 1869, the Cunard interest devolved upon his brother, Mr. William Cunard, who from that time until the present has continued to represent the Company in London.
The management at Glasgow remained long under the wise and skilful guidance of Mr. George Burns (created a Baronet, 24th June, 1889); and, on his retirement from business about a quarter of a century ago, his mantle fell upon his eldest son, Mr. John Burns, of Castle Wemyss, now Sir John Burns, Bart., who has ever since been identified with the control of the Company's affairs.
The business in Liverpool was ably superintended by Mr. David MacIver until his death in 1845, when the reins of office were assumed by his brother, the late Mr. Charles MacIver, whose energetic administration and untiring personal supervision lasted for nearly 35 years, at the end of which time he retired from active participation in the affairs of the Company, and was succeeded by his sons who had some years previously been admitted into the management, but have since also retired.