The Steamship Struggle with the Port of Southampton, 1907
IT is impossible to mistake the significance of the removal of the White Star line from Liverpool to Southampton. It is a hard stroke in the fight of two great nations for mastership of the Atlantic.
The British-American steamship company, the White Star and the British Cunard, have for some time past more or less impassively watched the German companies. Hamburg-America and North-German Lloyd tap the passenger traffic of the Continent by calling, on the way across the Atlantic, at Cherbourg and Havre. Dover and Southampton.
With somewhat old-fashioned conservatism they have stuck to Liverpool which no Frenchman in his senses would choose as his starting point for the United States, and which is at least as unlikely to allure travellers from other States of Western Europe. Is not Liverpool by all tradition the starting place for America ? And who, when a tradition in our dignified world of English commerce is well established, will depart from it till he is frightened and hustled out by the rude foreigner ?
We must lose a few hundred thousands ere we think of moving, and double the amount at least ere we actually stir. How many pounds and passengers have been lost to the trade of England since the Continental companies made their first great effort for the supremacy of the Atlantic, no one can say ; but the amount is not a trifle. For some time past everybody has read of and wondered at the splendid enterprises of the two German steamship companies.
We hear a great deal, in another question of the sea, of two-power strength. There is no doubt as to which country has made the boldest bid to have a two-power strength in seaborne commerce. No finer vessels than Germany's Atlantic steamships, if as fine, exist to-day. Germany has well deserved all the additional trade she has won through I the English lines lingering at Liverpool, when Liverpool in this matter is slightly out of date.
Thanks to the energy alike of her capitalists and working people, and to the restless patriotism of the Emperor—which has inspired this movement particularly—Germany has quickly turned out a little fleet of " floating cities ", matchless some of them for size and fleetness together. She has had the start. But at length one of the leading " Anglo-Saxon " lines is coming south to offer battle.
The White Star will be settled, with at any rate four boats, at Southampton by June ; and it is fairly well known that the Cunard will shortly be following in the same direction. Even without any great changes from their state of seven years ago, the Southampton docks might meet the demands made on them by the White Star line.
We remember that in one day—perhaps the day when the "Kildonan Castle"
started—nearly seven thousand troops with all their baggage and stores were easily embarked and sent down Southampton Water before dark. But there has been great activity about the docks of late, and preparations are now being pressed on for the reception of a large number of nay: steamships. Some definite statements are, we believe, to be made as to the changes and the new trade at the next meeting of the London and South-Western Railway.
Southampton has been a steadily growing place—too growing quite to suit the taste of those who care for her sea and landscapes—since the docks were made ; and recently indeed it has been urged that enterprise has been exaggerated and that the town and its suburbs have been overbuilt : but until quite lately the extraordinary advantage this port enjoys in tides has probably been undervalued. It is an advantage that owes nothing to human enterprise.
Through the Isle of Wight being so near. and extending east and west of Southampton Water, a strong tide sweeps in from either side. Thus twice a day Southampton is fed by a high tide. There may he some other ports favoured as kindly, but there are none in England or along the coasts of neighboring countries.
Now that the passenger ships have grown to such a huge bulk, this has become a very important consideration. For one thing it does away with the wretched inconvenience and delay of tenders. But owing to the dredging work that has been done of late by the Harbour Board. the very largest Transatlantic steamers may steam up to the dock at any hour of day or night.
The Cunard line will shortly add to its fleet the first of its new turbine ships, which in size and speed—twenty-five knots an hour—will surpass even the sea-giants of Germany. It is imperative that ships such as these should on arrival be able to move in deep water up to the point of landing. Size, which with speed is every-thing in a first-class passenger ship to-clay, actually becomes a disadvantage if at the place of arrival it is necessary. to hang about awaiting a high tide and to put travellers to the inconvenience of landing by a tender. Half the difficulty perhaps of the ocean lies in the port.
The Cunard Company is wisely reticent about the arrangements it is coming to, but it has slowly been making up its mind for a long time past to get a share of the Continental and South of England traffic. Having resolved to outstrip all the other lines in size and speed combined, the Cunard would hardly be likely to hold back from the competition in the South.
We are sure to see some of their new ships here within the next year or so. These ships at their launching may appear to touch the absolute high-water mark in size and modern conveniences, if not in speed too. But this is the impression which almost every new " record " steamship makes on us today.
One could name a dozen ships built within recent years of which the general view has been that here we have a type not likely to be improved on for many years. Yet in a few years after their launching these record vessels begin to look old-fashioned if not obsolete. Everyone who has sailed down Southampton Water or in the Solent of late must have been struck by the majestic row of great white liners with their red funnels, the colors of the Union-Castle line.
If you bring your glasses to bear on these ships you see names which a few years ago stood for all that was efficient, huge and fleet in ocean commerce. Magnificent ships they still remain. Yet they now lie at ease. They have had still more efficient successors, and even these successors may at any time in the near future give place to a new class, so short-lived is a generation in the modern world of ocean steamships.
Though an island people we are for the most part born land-lubbers—which is well illustrated by the fact that even gallant admirals readily support a plan for escaping the rig-ours of the crossing of the English Channel.
Most English people live and die sublimely ignorant of all things relating to ships—ships of war and of commerce alike. They hardly get beyond the fact that the " Victory" was the name of the vessel on which Nelson died. It would not be a bad thing if some simple facts about the sea worth and the working of our navies of trade and war were taught in every English school. It would be at least as useful
and interesting as some of the schemes proposed by theorists as a means of keeping the people on the land, or as rifle practice for school infants.
Source: The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, No 2,672 Volume 103, 12 January 1907, Pages 38-39 London