The National Steam Navigation Company History and Ephemera

National Steam Navigation Company (National Line) Poster circa 1890s.

National Steam Navigation Company (National Line) Poster circa 1890s. Published by their National Line General Agent, T. C. Kloed in Oslo, Norway. GGA Image ID # 14138a906a

Fleet:

  • America - Under Construction
  • Egypt 5,064 Tons
  • Spain 4,900 Tons
  • England 4,900 Tons
  • Helvetia 4,587 Tons
  • Erin 4,577 Tons
  • The Queen 4,441 Tons
  • Greece 4,309 Tons
  • Italy 4,302 Tons
  • Canada 4,276 Tons
  • France 4,250 Tons
  • Holland 3,847 Tons
  • Denmark 3,723 Tons

THE success of the Inman and Allan Lines led to many similar undertakings. In 1863 several Liverpool merchants and shipowners established the " National Steam Navigation Company," with a capital of £700,000.

The original intention was to run the boats between Liverpool and the Southern States after the close of the Civil War; but as this was delayed, and the ships were ready, they sent them to New York to compete with the Cunard and Inman companies.

Their first boats were SS Louisiana, 3847 tons, 300 HP (afterward re-named the SS Holland), SS Virginia, 4310 tons, 400 HP (afterward re-named SS Greece], and the SS Pennsylvania, 4276 tons, 400 HP (afterward re-named SS Canada), all screws.

They were intended chiefly for goods and steerage passengers. Being of considerable size and low power, they were not as fast as either the Cunard or Inman boats.

In 1864 they added the SS Erin, the SS Queen, 4457 tons, 420 HP, and the SS Helvetia, 4588 tons, 420 HP. After the Civil War, in 1865, they found ample employment for the six boats in the New York trade, which was rapidly increasing. In 1865 they added SS Scotland and in 1866 the SS England, 4898 tons, 420 HP; the SS Denmark, 3724 tons, 350 HP; and the SS France, 4281 tons, 400 HP.

In 1867 some of these ships were chartered by the British Government for service as transports in the Abyssinian War.

In 1868 they were the first to adopt compound engines in the New York trade, building the SS Italy, 4169 tons, 500 HP In 1870-1 they built SS Egypt, 4669 tons, 600 HP; and SS Spain, 4512 tons, 600 HP.

The two last-named were built by the Liverpool Shipbuilding Company, and by Messrs. Laird, of Birkenhead. Both were magnificent ships and much faster than their earlier boats. SS Spain has a record of 9 days I hour 17 minutes from Queenstown to New York, and 8 days 19 hours 53 minutes going east. In 1873 SS Egypt landed in New York, the large number of 1767 steerage passengers, probably the most significant number ever carried to New York in a British ship. They also established a fortnightly line between London and New York.

In 1883 they built on the Clyde a magnificent ship of more substantial tonnage and high speed, SS America, for the ever-popular Captain Grace. She was 5528 tons (432 x 51) and 7354 HP indicated, with three cylinders, one of 63 and two of 91 inches in diameter, with 5 1/2 feet stroke.

On her trial at the measured mile, she made 17 '8 knots. Her best trip was made in 6 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes. Soon after placing her on the route, they accepted a tempting offer for her from the Italian Government, who wanted her for transport. She had previously made one trip to India with British troops.

In 1891 the company built two boats of smaller power, SS Europe on the Tyne, 5302 tons, 600 HP nominal (435 x 46-4 x 33), and a second SS America, at Dundee, 5158 tons, 600 HP (435 x 46-3 x 33).

One of this company's ships, Greece, was the first to carry fresh meat from New York in refrigerators (in 1876), and the same ship was the first to carry live cattle (in 1877).

The company's ships paid very well for some years. Still, ultimately the restrictions placed upon the immigrant business by the United States Government led them to abandon the passenger service. In contrast, the Liverpool freight business was entirely unremunerative.

The company has, therefore, transferred the ships to London, between which port and New York they now run weekly with freight and livestock. In one year, these ships landed at New York 33,494 steerage passengers, but only 2442 saloon.

The company has not escaped severe disasters, although for many years they could boast that they had not lost a passenger by accident or negligence at sea. In April 1866, a boy on board England, carrying 1200 steerage passengers, developed a case of small-pox when three days out, and she had to run to Halifax with hundreds of passengers sick, dead, and dying.

SS Scotland was sunk near Sandy Hook (New York), where she still lies with a lightship over her. In the winter of 1889-90, Erin left New York and was never heard of again. In July 1890, SS Egypt was burnt at sea, the fire having commenced spontaneously among bales of cotton.

The passengers and crew were all rescued by a passing ship, and in 1894 the SS Helvetia was abandoned off Cape Finisterre; her passengers and crew were landed at Gibraltar, April 26th.

Henry Fry, North Atlantic Steam Navigation: With Some Account of Early Ships and Ship Owners, Chapter XIV: The National Steam Navigation Company, London: Sampson Low, Marston and Company, Limited, 1896, p. 192-194.

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