Port of Liverpool - A New Era in Shipping
With the inauguration of steam navigation between this country and America there also commenced a new era in the shipping trade and resources of the Port of Liverpool. The illustration below, reproduced from an old picture, represents the appearance of Liverpool Docks in the year 1837, just three years before the Britannia made its historic pioneer voyage. When compared with the aspect of the river and port at the present time, it would be difficult to imagine a more striking metamorphosis.
To-day the magnificent docks extend along the Liverpool shore of the Mersey for more than seven miles, and on the Birkenhead side for one mile before turning inland for another couple of miles.
The Liverpool Dock Estate, with its acres upon acres of warehouses, may be regarded as one of the modern wonders of the world, while the Landing Stage, part of which is shown in the illustration below, is " the most extensive floating marine parade in the world," measuring, as it does, as many as 2,463 feet long by 80 feet broad.
The overhead electric railway, seven miles in length along the line of the docks, is the only one of its kind in Europe. Last year's statistics show that the registered tonnage of Liverpool aggregated 26,616,610 tons, the population of the city, the third largest in the Kingdom, being over 700,000.
It is no empty platitude to say that in the realization of the immense development which is summarized in these few lines, the Cunard Company has been an important factor. It is interesting, therefore, to note that the progress of the Cunard Company has been continuous from the very outset of its existence.
The sea-going achievements of the four original vessels were regarded as so satisfactory that, in 1843, the Hibernia, and, in 1845, the Cambria, were built and launched, their gross tonnage being increased from 1,154 to 1,422 tons each, and the engine capacity from 740 to 1,040 horse power, while the passenger accommodation was improved in corresponding measure.
When, in 1847, the first mail contract expired, the Government were so fully satisfied with the manner in which its conditions had been observed that it was renewed for a further period of seven years, although on more ambitious lines. The mail service was to be a weekly one, and the Government called upon the Company to build four more steamers of still larger size and greater steaming caliber.
The vessels were to be able to carry the heaviest guns then manufactured, and while the service from Liverpool was to be weekly, the ports of arrival on the other side were to be New York and Boston alternately. The Government subsidy was under the new arrangement increased to 1173,340 annually, and as the immediate result, four paddle steamers, each of 1,825 tons gross register, and 2,000 horse power, and measuring 251 feet long, were built, and named the America, Niagara, Canada, and Europa.
The improved service thus rendered possible was inaugurated none too soon, for competition from the United States was not only threatened, but before long actively instituted by a syndicate of American merchants, who established themselves under the name of the Collins Line. With a fleet of five large and powerful steamships, and heavily subsidized by the American Government, the new Line commenced operations with the avowed object of sweeping the Atlantic of the Cunarders."
The struggle was a fierce one while it lasted, but it was fought by the Cunard Line with the surest weapons. They would sacrifice nothing that was calculated to prejudice the safety of their ships or the lives of their passengers. On the contrary, their efforts were consistently directed towards increasing the safety and comfort of those who supported them by adding new vessels to their fleet, each more powerful, commodious and completely equipped than its predecessor.
Thus it was that in 1850 the Asia and Africa were floated, followed two years later by the Arabia. In 1855 the first iron vessel for the Company's Atlantic service, the Persia, was launched, and in 1862 the almost sister vessel, the Scotia (Shown Below), the last of the old paddle-wheelers. Meanwhile, the Collins Line, unable to keep pace with the rapid progress and persistent energy of the Cunard Company, had collapsed, having lost two ships and the American Government having refused to continue the subsidy.
While thus ended the first serious attempt to compete for the Trans-Atlantic traffic, the Cunard Company had ever to be on the alert lest their prestige should suffer at the hands of others, for now further Atlantic services were being started between Glasgow, Southampton and Cowes and American ports.
The Persia and Scotia, however, were the favorite liners with passengers. So far the Cunard Company had, in deference to the preferences of most travelers at that time, adhered to paddlewheel propulsion, but they were, nevertheless, convinced of the superiority of the screw propeller, which marine engineers had long been actively advocating. They had, indeed, been using screw steamers in their Mediterranean service, and the Inman Line had already introduced the screw system in their Atlantic service.
They decided for the future to adopt the screw, and so it was that the Scotia, the handsome vessel illustrated on page 9, was, as has been stated, the last of their paddle-wheel liners ; and the writer well remembers her lying at anchor in picturesque idleness in the Gareloch, off the Clyde, in the late seventies, when withdrawn from her Atlantic career.