History of the Cunard Line, 1878-1890


It was considered expedient in this year to consolidate the interest of the partners by registering the Company under the " Limited Liability Acts." Accordingly, a Joint Stock Company was formed with a capital of £ 2,000,000, of which £1,200,000 was issued and taken by the families of Cunard, Burns, and MacIver as part payment for the property and business transferred by them to the Limited Company.

No shares were, however, offered to the public until 1880, when a prospectus sent forth stating that "the growing wants of the Company's transatlantic trade demanded the acquisition of additional steamships of great size and power, involving a cost for construction which might best be met by a large public company," and intimating that it was then proposed to issue the balance of the capital.

This announcement was received with general interest, and the available shares were rapidly subscribed for, the representatives of the three founders retaining a very large financial stake in the concern. The Directors intrusted with the government of the reconstituted corporation comprised men of the highest standing and business qualifications. Mr. John Burns was elected chairman of the Board, and under his experienced leadership, a bold and far reaching policy has been steadily pursued, with the result that is evidenced in the splendid vessels composing the Cunard fleet of to-day.

One of the earliest duties of the Board was the consideration of yet another scientific discovery. As iron had superseded wood for ships' hulls, so steel was about to supplant iron. A crucial investigation elucidated such facts as convinced the Directors that steel possessed greater strength than iron, combined with superior ductility; and that by its use an important saving would be effected in weight, as lighter scantling could be employed.

So when they came to realize speed as an essential requirement of the expeditious spirit of the age, and projected building a ship of leviathan size and unparalleled power, steel was the material selected for her construction. Thus was the order placed for the SERVIA, the largest and most powerful ship, except the Great Eastern, which up to that time had been built.

The Servia's tonnage was 7,392, and she accommodated 480 cabin passengers and 75o steerage, and embodied all the most modern appliances conducive to comfort and safety, including the electric light, then first introduced on the Company's vessels. In December, 1884, she made the passage between Liverpool and New York in 7 days, I hour, 38 minutes.

The Servia was quickly followed by other screw steamers, CATALONIA, PAVONIA, and CEPHALONIA, of 4,841, 5,587, and 5,517 tons respectively, which have been very successful and popular in the Boston trade.


This year witnessed the advent of the AURANIA, a noble steel screw steamship of a fresh type in regard to proportions. Hitherto it had been the rule for the breadth of the Company's steamers to be equal to about a tenth of their length, but, with the intention of securing greater stability, a more commodious saloon, and better staterooms, a departure was originated in this ship—her beam being increased to about an eighth of her length.

She was built on the Clyde, her tonnage was 7,269, and she accommodated 48o cabin and 700 steerage passengers. This year also saw the production of the celebrated screw steamship OREGON (7,375 tons), built to the order of a rival Company, with compound, direct-acting, inverted engines, calculated to attain a speed of 18 knots per hour, with a maximum coal consumption of 268 tons per day.

On her third voyage she made the Atlantic passage in 6 days, 10 hours, 9 minutes, surpassing all previous records. She became famed as the "Greyhound of the Atlantic," and in 1884 passed into the possession of the Cunard Company. In this year also the Company ordered those two famous ships, the UMBRIA and ETRURIA, and at the close of the following year the UMBRIA was delivered, her sister ship, the ETRURIA, being handed over by the builders, the Fairfield Shipbuilding Company, in the spring of 1885.

These two vessels were unquestionably, at that time, the greatest triumphs of modern shipbuilding science. Their dimensions are in round figures, 501 feet long, 57 feet broad, 38 feet deep, gross tonnage, 7,718 tons, with accommodation for 55o cabin and 800 steerage passengers. Their average speed may be put down at 1932 knots per hour.

A remarkable feature in connection with these ships is the marvellous regularity with which they have crossed the Atlantic since they left the hands of the builders. Their efficiency may be said to have increased year by year, for it was in July, 1892, that the "UMBRIA" made her fastest passage across the Atlantic, in 5 days, 22 hours, 7 minutes; and in September, 1892, the " ETRURIA " made her fastest passage, 6 days and 20 minutes.


This year witnessed the Company placing an order for two steel twin-screw steamships of still greater power and speed, far surpassing in these respects every other vessel afloat. The contract was again given to the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Ltd., Govan, and the first vessel, the CAMPANIA, took the water in September, 1892, while the second one, the LUCANIA, was launched in February, 1893.

Whilst writing this notice the CAMPANIA has incontestably proved her superiority by breaking, not only all records of maiden voyages, but by eclipsing on her first voyage from New York all that had hitherto been recorded; making the run home over the winter track, a distance of 2,899 miles, in 5 days, 17 hours, and 27 minutes, against the best previously recorded passage, that of the "CITY OF NEW YORK," in August, 1892, over 2,814 miles (the summer track), in 5 days, 19 hours, 56 minutes.

The CAMPANIA and LUCANIA being unquestionably the greatest triumphs of modern shipbuilding and engineering science, and the acme of perfection as passenger steamships, some further particulars concerning them will no doubt be interesting.

The vast changes which have taken place in shipbuilding since the Cunard Company came into existence about 5o years ago, can best be grasped by instituting a comparison between the earliest and latest vessels of their fleet.

Comparison of the Cunard Britannia and Campania
  Britannia Campania
Length 207 feet 620 feet
Breadth 34 feet, 4 inches 65 feet, 3 inches
Depth 22 feet, 6 inches 43 feet
Tonnage 1,154 12,950
Horse-power 740 30,000
Speed 8 1/2 knots 21 knots
Accommodation 115 passengers 1,400 passengers
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