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Royal Mail’s New Atlantic Service Will Mark another Epoch in History of Line (1921)

Weekly Sailings Ultimately Contemplated with Steady and Finely Appointed “O” Boats—Company’s Remarkable Progress during Past Eighty Years

Unusual interest has been aroused in shipping circles by the announcement that, beginning May 21, with the sailing of the Orbita, the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company will inaugurate a fortnightly passenger and freight service between New York, Cherbourg, Southampton and Hamburg.

In addition to the Orbita and her sister ship, the Orduña, which have a registry of over 15,000 tons each, the newly built 14,000 ton Oropesa will be employed in this service. At present, these steamers are in the South American service of the Pacific Line out of Liverpool. During the war, the Orduña plied between New York and Liverpool, and became extremely popular with transatlantic passengers.

The high standard of luxury maintained by the R. M. S. P. Co. on its vessels in other trades will be a distinguishing feature of its new Atlantic service. Included in the equipment of the three “O” boats is every modern safety appliance, while in addition to their exceptional steadiness at sea, their public rooms and cabins are famous for the tastefulness of their fittings and furnishings. Each has ample promenade decks, veranda cafes, a gymnasium and children’s play room.

The majority of the staterooms instead of having three or four berths, are fitted with one or two bed-steads, which meets the demand of most ocean travelers.

Oil Burners Contemplated Oil Burners Contemplated In an interview with a representative of The Nautical Gazette, this week, Lloyd H. Sanderson, managing director of the R. M. S. P. Co., for the United States, who is in charge of the principal American office, 26 Broadway, spoke optimistically concerning the outlook for the new Atlantic service, which he believes has a most promising future.

“Although we are starting a fortnightly service,” said Mr. Sanderson, “we expect, by the beginning of next year, to inaugurate weekly sailings. Any future additions to our fleet will probably be oil burners, experience having demonstrated the superiority of vessels of that type, especially for passenger service.

The R. M. S. P. Co. has always favored legitimate co-operation, and for this reason, in view of the approaching inauguration of its transatlantic service, it applied for, and was admitted to membership in the North Atlantic and Continental Conference. These organizations include the Cunard, International Mercantile Marine and other leading companies.”

Mr. Sanderson inclines to the opinion that the era of great liners of 40,000 tons or more has ended for the present, not only because of their high cost of operation, but also on account of the difficulty of obtaining sufficient passengers at the rates required to make them profitable.

As to the much discussed question of high passenger rates, Mr. Sanderson believes that they are likely to keep up for some time to come unless operating expenses can be reduced. “Nevertheless,” he added, “fares have now reached a point where it would seem that they cannot go any higher, and that from now on the tendency is more likely to be toward lower levels.

Freight rates, on the other hand, have practically reached the bottom, and I don’t see how they could possibly be reduced any further without a heavy loss to steamship companies.”

Sanderson & Son Agents

The present representative of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, it may be mentioned, is the sole remaining member of the original firm of Sanderson & Son, one of the oldest shipping agencies in New York, established in 1879 by the late Richard Sanderson of Liverpool, who returned to England in 1885. In the early years the firm represented the R. M. S. P. Co., the Wilson Line to Hull, Newcastle and Antwerp, the Furness Line to Newcastle and the Wilson-Furness-Leyland Line to London, the last named service having been eventually absorbed by the Atlantic Transport Line.

Associated with Richard Sanderson in the management of the business were his three sons, Harold Sanderson, the present chairman of the White Star Line. Oswald Sanderson, the present managing director of the Ellerman-Wilson Line of Hull, and Lloyd B. Sanderson, now managing director for the American business of the R. M. S. P. Co. and the Ellerman interests.

Entry into the transatlantic trade marks a new- epoch in the R. M. S. P. Company’s policy, and forms one of the last links in its chain of operations extending to practically every part of the world. Not only is the R. M. S. P. Co. the oldest British steamship organization, but it is also one of the largest. With its associated companies, it controls over one million nine hundred thousand gross tons of shipping.

Among its affiliated organizations are the Pacific Line, Lamport & Holt Line. Union-Castle Line, Nelson Line, the Elder-Dempster Co., Shire Line, and Glen Line. These companies have services touching ports in the United States, West Indies, Central and South America, South Africa, India, China and Japan.

Other Important Services

Among the services of the company on this side of the Atlantic are those furnished by the “E” boats, Essequibo and Ebro (passenger and freight) from New York to Valparaiso, and the “Q” boats, Quillota and Quilpue (passenger) from New York to Guayaquil, both of which use the Panama Canal route. There is also a service from Halifax to the West Indies with a terminal at Georgetown, Demarara. In cooperation with the Holland-America Line, the company will shortly establish a direct freight service between United Kingdom ports and Seattle and Vancouver via the Panama Canal.

The company’s services from Liverpool include the “D” boats, which run to Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo and Buenos Aires, and the Pacific Line, which touches ports on both the east and west coasts of South America, returning to England via the Panama Canal. From Southampton the “A” boats, renowned for the luxury of their passenger accommodations, ply to the same South American ports as the “D” boats from Liverpool.

During its eventful career of over eighty years the R. M. S. P. Co. has witnessed the development of ocean shipping from the first crude paddle-wheel steamers to the palatial oil-burning, turbine liners of the present day.

Founded in 1839 by royal charter from Queen Victoria, the company started with a small fleet of iron paddle-wheel steamers, carrying sails, ranging from the Actaeon of 650 tons to the Isis of 1,900 tons. Among them was the Dee (1,849 tons), considered a monster in those days, which was armed with rows of deck guns, like an old fashioned frigate. Most of the other vessels were also armed with guns, the reason being that as they carried the British mails it was desirable for them to be in a condition to defend themselves in event of war.

At first, the R. M. S. P. service was confined to the West Indies, but it was eventually extended to Havana and New York. In 1849, the company organized a mule and canoe service across the Isthmus of Panama, opening a route via Colon to South American west coast ports and San Francisco. Many California gold seekers traveled by this route. In the same year, the R. M. S. P. introduced its first screw steamer, a small vessel of a few hundred tons, forming another stage in the progress of steamship construction. From that time on the company took a foremost part in adopting improvements, increasing the size of its vessels, and extending its services in various parts of the world.

Conspicuous War Record


The R. M. S. P. Co. has figured conspicuously in several wars, including the Crimean War of 1854-5, when its liners carried British and French troops to the Black Sea. In 1861, during the Civil War, the confederate commissioners, Mason and Slidell, while in route to England, were removed from the R. M. S. P. steamer, Trent, in West Indian waters by order of Commander Wilkes of the federal cruiser San Jacinto, an incident that has been much discussed by modern historians. In 1900, while the Boer war was in progress, the company’s vessels conveyed British troops to South Africa.

During the recent war the R. M. S. P. liners were extensively employed as transports and naval reserve vessels. Fourteen were captured or sunk by the Germans, the total losses having included three of the largest steamships, the Amazon. Aragon and Merionethshire. In a recent work, “The Royal Mail War Book,” W. Leslie has given a thrilling account of the exploits of the R. M. S. P. liners, and their fights with German raiders and submarines.

Throughout the war the R. M. S. P. Co., sharing the common lot, underwent a series of upheavals, dislocations and disorganizations, while its methods of business had to be remolded to fit changing conditions.

Since the return of peace the work of reconstruction has proceeded apace, and today the company is again extending its services in all parts of the world, the latest development being its entry into the transatlantic trade.

"Royal Mail's New Atlantic Service Will Mark Another Epoch in History of Line," in The Nautical Gazette: An International Weekly Chronicle of Shipping, Volume 100, No. 13, Whole No. 2588, New York, Saturday, 26 March 1921: P. 402-403

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