On this day in history….20th September 1906

On this day in history : 20th September 1906 – The launch of the Cunard Line’s RMS Maurentania – at the time she was the largest and fastest ship in the world…

Official launch party – Image credit : Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Maurentania was built by Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson and was sister ship to the Lusitania, which was sunk by a German U Boat in 1915…. The two ships held between them the Blue Riband (Atlantic speed record) for over twenty years…. Less than a century before it had taken a month to cross the Atlantic, Maurentania could do it in five days….

Weighing over 30,000 tons and with a crew of 812 Maurentania could carry 560 first class passengers in luxurious accommodation amidships on five decks…. She could also carry 475 second class and 1,300 in third class….

RMS Maurentania after her launch – Image credit : Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

The grand interior of the ship was fitted out in French and Italian Renaissance styles, with a magnificent 15th century Italian staircase…. The two dining saloons were in the style of Francis I and the 80ft lounge Louis XVI style…. The smoking room was Italian Renaissance with a spectacular marble chimney surrounded by carved wood…. There was even a children’s room with a giant rocking horse…. The first class cabins were decorated and furnished to give maximum comfort…. It really was a floating palace…. Even the second and third class accommodation was a vast marked-improvement on what had been before….

RMS Maurentania Image credit : Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

However, Maurentania’s reign was relatively short-lived…. In 1929 her speed record was lost to the new German liner Bremen…. In 1935 she was scrapped at Rosyth….

Maurentania 17 September 1907 – Image credit : Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

On this day in history….4th July 1840

On this day in history : 4th July 1840 – The Cunard Shipping Line begins its first Atlantic crossing, when Paddle Steamer Britannia departs Liverpool, bound for Boston, USA….

RMS Britannia – Public domain

Britannia was built by Robert Duncan & Co, Glasgow, for the British & Northern American Royal Mail Steam Packet Co – which was to become the Cunard Line not long after…. She was launched on the 5th of February 1840….

At 1150 tonnes and 270ft long, nearly a quarter of the length of the wooden paddle steamer was taken up by her engines, which were designed by Robert Napier of Glasgow…. She could travel at an average speed of 8.5 knots per hour and consumed some 38 tons of coal per day….

The journey to Boston took 2 weeks, after departing Liverpool on the 4th of July she arrived on the 19th…. She was contracted to carry mail between England and America but was also designed as a troop ship should the need arise…. She had been built strong enough to carry an armament of guns for her own protection and to protect other merchant ships…. She was followed into service by her three sister ships….

Britannia took part in the first transatlantic race between British and American steamships…. In 1847 she competed against the newer and more powerful American steamer ‘Washington’…. Both ships departed New York on the same day, Britannia bound for Liverpool and Washington for Southampton…. Britannia arrived at her destination two days ahead of Washington reaching Southampton….

RMS Britannia – Public domain

The steamships were soon competing with conventional sailing ships – and not just for cargo, they also carried passengers…. In January 1842 Charles Dickens and his wife sailed onboard Britannia to Nova Scotia, Halifax – and he kept a diary of the voyage…. Provisions would have been made wherever possible for fresh food supplies onboard ship…. Britannia, for example, carried poultry in coops on her deck for eggs and meat and there was even a ship’s cow for daily milk….

Britannia served with Cunard for nine years before being sold to the North German Federation, to be converted into a warship…. She was renamed ‘Barbarossa’….