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Cunard Celebrates a Special Anniversary

July 2, 2009

We Are Cunard

Posted in: Company News

Countdown to Queen Elizabeth – 433 days

This is a very important week for Cunard. Firstly we celebrate the anniversary of the maiden sailing of our first ship, Britannia. Also 7 years and one day after Queen Mary 2’s keel was laid, Queen Elizabeth’s keel will be laid in a special ceremony in Italy. In fact as you read this I will be in Monfalcone, to join the celebrations marking this important stage of Cunard’s latest liner’s construction and look forward to sharing the pictures and news with you on Monday. Firstly though, as usual, here’s “This week in Cunard’s History” for the week, 3rd to the 9th July:

July 3 1951

Caronia II leaves New York for her first voyage to Norway’s North Cape and the Land of the Midnight Sun.

July 4 1840

The Britannia leaves Coburg Dock in Liverpool to cross the Atlantic at a speed of 9 knots, completing the journey in 14 days and 8 hours.

July 4 1986

QE2 participates in the Statue Of Liberty centennial celebrations in New York Harbour.

July 4 2002

The keel is laid for Queen Mary 2 and the first of 94 blocks that make up her hull is lowered in to the dry dock. The first block (numbered 502) weighed 600 tons. At this time Commodore Warwick was appointed Master Designate.

Many of you will recognize Chris’ name for his regular comments on this blog. Chris’ interest in Ocean Liners began at the age of 11 when he first set eyes on QE2 in Auckland Harbour. Since that day he has travelled extensively aboard the Cunarders. In 2008 he co-authored QE2: A Photographic Journey, a 120 page colour photographic tribute to the QE2, and lectured aboard QE2 during her farewell season. He has since lectured aboard Queen Mary 2 and in October 2009 his two new books will be released – QM2: A Photographic Journey and The QE2 Story. Chris maintains an independent Cunard website which can be found at www.chriscunard.com. Chris wrote to me a few weeks ago to remind me about the special anniversary Cunard will be celebrating on the 4th of July, and I was delighted to take up his offer to write a guest Blog to mark the occasion.

Guest Blog – Chris Frame– Cunard Author and Lecturer

As you’re undoubtedly aware, 4 July, 2009 marks the anniversary of what is arguably one of the most important voyages of all time. On 4 July, 1840 Sir Samuel Cunard’s flagship Britannia embarked on her maiden crossing. This began the regular trans-Atlantic passenger service, a move that would forever change world politics, demographics and economies.

When thinking of Cunard Line’s history it is staggering to realise just how different the world was back then. Today we take global travel and communication for granted, however when Cunard begun operations, their paddle steamers offered the first reliable link between the old world and the new.

Cunard Line has been a household name for 169 years! When Cunard Line was founded there was no Coca Cola, no Ford and McDonalds was still 100 years away! There was no Microsoft, no Dell and no Google. If that’s not enough of an eye opener, when Cunard Line was founded, the Statue of Liberty was 46 years away and HM Queen Victoria had only been on the throne for three years!

The foundations were set for Cunard Line in 1839, when Sir Samuel Cunard set sail from his native Halifax, destined for England. He did so to answer the British Government’s call for tenders to operate the first regular trans-Atlantic mail service.

Cunard had long been a savvy businessman and respected entrepreneur in Nova Scotia. In fact, his strong commercial mind was evident early in his life, when at age 17 he bought and managed the Halifax General Store.

As he matured, Cunard became a prominent figure within the greater community and a key decision maker in Halifax. He joined his father’s business and expanded its interests into coal mining as well as steam shipping, which provided invaluable experience for the life that awaited him in England. Cunard saw the potential for steam powered vessels and their ability to offer a faster and more reliable service than traditional sail.

It was therefore the combination of Cunard’s exceptional mind, a sound business case and his belief in steam technology that provided the perfect ingredients to tender for the trans-Atlantic mail service. Cunard won the tender and formed the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, which quickly became known as “Cunard’s Line”.

The British contract instructed the new company to build a fleet of at least four ships capable of travelling at a maximum speed of 9 knots (as a comparison, the Queen Mary 2 can achieve 29.5 knots), in order to offer a weekly mail service.

Cunard formed a relationship with noted maritime architect Robert Napier who designed his fleet starting with Britannia. Despite the mail contract being the driving force behind the design of the new Cunarders, Sir Samuel saw an opportunity to carry fare-paying passengers aboard his ships and thus, the age of the trans-Atlantic passenger crossing was born.

Britannia was a far cry from the current fleet. At 207 feet long she was a sizeable vessel for her day, however compared to the likes of Queen Mary 2 (1,132 feet) and Queen Victoria (964 feet) she was tiny. There was no Royal Court Theatre, no ballroom and no swimming pool. Accommodation was sparse, built into any available space not taken up by the mail service. Food was sourced from livestock carried aboard and the fare was far from gourmet. However, despite these hardships, the new company flourished and built a solid reputation for safe crossings that arrived and departed on time.

Cunard selected Boston as the American port for his service, a decision that was met with elation from the citizens of the U.S. City. In fact upon arriving in Boston aboard Britannia, Sir Samuel was welcomed with well over 1,000 invitations to dinner parties. Queen Mary 2 guests would find it interesting to note that the Boston Cup, located just aft of the Chart Room (having been transferred aboard from the magnificent QE2 in April 2004), was commissioned by the citizens of Boston to commemorate Britannia’s maiden arrival.

Britannia’s arrival in Boston inaugurated what has become the greatest shipping company of all time. Cunard Line has endured from the early days of steam to the modern age of the jet. Cunarders such as Lusitania, Mauretania and Aquitania carried countless thousands to a new life in America, while the original Queens were instrumental in the allied successes during World War II. Cunard has become part of our history, not simply by offering enjoyable voyages for their passengers, but also for their role in helping to shape nations.

The experiences that guests enjoy aboard Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria are timeless, arcing back to a day when a passenger ship was the only way to travel. Indeed the Cunard marketing statement of the late 1940’s – “Getting there is half the fun” – is as true today as it was when written. Travel aboard an Ocean Liner offers passengers the precious gift of time, something wonderfully rare in today’s fast paced world.

Alastair, I hope that this very short snippet of Cunard history assists in reinforcing the magnificence of the Cunard heritage. I strongly believe that if Sir Samuel Cunard knew his legacy would continue with such strength, attracting such a loyal following of passengers 169 years after he first set sail on Britannia, he would be immensely proud.

Thank you Chris; this is a great and fitting tribute to this important anniversary. I agree that this history is what makes us who we are today and one of the many reasons why “We Are Cunard”. I’ll be back on Monday with a special report from the Keel Laying ceremony of Queen Elizabeth – with hopefully lots of pictures and may be some video! Cheers Alastair

  1. Jack says:

    Thanks for that excellent piece of history, Chris. Fascinating stuff. I’m curious to know when attention to passengers began to increase; i.e., when did accommodation and food improve?

  2. Andy Hames says:

    A very interesting and informative piece of Cunard history,
    We look forward to the report on the Queen Elizabeth.

    Thanks Chris

  3. The history is great, from Chris. The James Taylor video was really fine. But we decided to book our next crossing, in November, after seeing the QM2 in fog on the bridge cam several times this week. Such romance, such atmosphere!

    Can you add a foghorn sound? Other Donna and I sit at our desk and make honking noises, which disturb the rest of our small team at our company.

  4. edit: Otherwise Donna and I . . . .

  5. Agree a most interesting article charting the birth and formative years of Cunard Line from this widely respected authority. Good work Chris and if you don’t already have a copy of his and Rachelle’s superb book then I thoroughly recommend this!

  6. Chris Frame says:

    Thank you everyone for the comments regarding my historical snippet of the Cunard Line.

    Jack; after the success of the British Government mail service (operated by Cunard Line), the US Government opted to begin a service of their own. This service was eventually contracted to the Us flagged Collins Line.

    Collins Line went head to head with Cunard in a fierce Atlantic rivalry. Collins’ ships were larger and more luxurious than their Cunard counterparts. Collins Line introduced such amenities as bathing cabins and hair salon services – impressive luxuries in those days.

    In Britain, White Star Line also introduced increased luxuries which bested the comfort of the Cunard service. Despite the fact that Cunard was renowned for their safety record (which as you can imagine was a great reassurance in those pioneering days) passengers soon became loured onto the larger and more luxurious liners of Collins and White Star. Cunard responded by introducing larger and more luxurious liners of their own – and as time progressed the lines continued to one-up each other gradually increasing the industry standards.

    Collins ultimately failed (they had a series of catastrophes that caused their collapse) however their influence in raising passenger expectations left a legacy of increased service and comfort expectations.

    White Star continued to raise the bar, and were joined by the German Lines (HAPAG and Norddeutsche Lloyd) in the later 1800′s which ultimately resulted in Cunard responding with the magnificent Lusitania, Mauretania and later, Aquitania.

    So the move from Spartan accommodation to the opulence of the great liners of old (First Class at least) was a gradual move – but influenced largely by increased competition as each line fought to differentiate their service and win the lions share of the Atlantic trade.

    For more info visit: http://chriscunard.com/archives.htm

    Hi David; For horn sounds visit:

    QM2: http://chriscunard.com/qm2_horn.htm
    QE2: http://chriscunard.com/qe2_horn.htm
    Queen Victoria: http://chriscunard.com/qv_horn.htm

    Regards, Chris.

  7. Nice article, I allways love to read your blog

  8. Thank you Chris; this is a great and fitting tribute to this important anniversary.

  9. MAURICE says:

    I am researching my family tree and have seen reports that one of my Kennedy relatives married to Thomas Edmund Marks who was supposedly partnered with Sir Cunard. Do you know if this is correct.Thomas Marks was born 1790 in Ireland.

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