Cunard Portraits: 144 Scale Line Drawings
By John Isherwood
Publisher: World Ship Soc. 1990 64 Pages
PDF 23 MB
ONE HUNDRED and fifty years ago, on the 4th July 1840 the first "Cunarder", the wooden-hulled paddle steamer BRITANNIA, sailed from Liverpool on her maiden voyage to Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada), and Boston in the United States, carrying mails and sixty-three passengers.
At that time the steamship was in its early infancy, but successful voyages from England to New York by the British paddle steamers GREAT WESTERN and SIRIUS during 1838 had decided the British Admiralty to invite tenders during November that year for the carriage by steamship of the mail between England and North America.
Samuel Cunard, an established businessman and shipowner in Halifax, N.S., travelled to London early in 1839 and put forward a tender based on a fortnightly service between Liverpool and Halifax, to be maintained by three ships, and with a "feeder" service to Boston.
The tender was accepted, but in the light of subsequent advice from Robert Napier, the Glasgow shipbuilder whom Cunard had contracted to build the ships, it was decided that four, larger, ships would be required to maintain the service.
This entailed greater expense than Cunard had envisaged and so, in association with the Glasgow shipowners George Burns and Charles and David Maclver, and others, he formed the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. The Company had a capital of £270,000 of which Cunard subscribed £55,000.
Further negotiations were conducted with the Admiralty and early in 1840 the contract finally agreed, for a period of seven years at an annual payment of £56,000, was for a service to and from Boston, calling intermediately at Halifax, to be maintained by four ships giving a fortnightly sailing, except in the months of November to March, when it was to be monthly.
By the Spring of 1841 it was apparent that costs were considerably exceeding income and later in the year the mail subsidy was increased to £81,000 per year, on condition that a fifth ship was built. This was HIBERNIA, a faster vessel, and the first Cunarder to sail eastbound from New York, on 1st January 1848. Her sister CAMBRIA, built to replace COLUMBIA which had been lost in July 1843, sailed from Liverpool on the same day bound via Halifax for New York. The frequency of the service was now doubled and the United States terminal alternated between Boston and New York.