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White Star Poster
White Star Poster




Titanic is possibly the most famous passenger liner ever built; largely because of the considerable loss of life that arose when she sank on her maiden voyage and the resultant media and Hollywood hype; then and ever since. If that tragedy had not happened, she would only have had fleeting fame as the second of three sisters and her name would be generally unknown today. Interestingly there have been other peacetime passenger ship disasters with greater loss of life that are unknown to the general public. The centenary of the tragedy generated considerable interest in the Titanic story. Perhaps it is inevitable that there has also been a great deal of romance and fantasy surrounding the disaster. The aim of these Articles is to provide a brief history of White Star and a factual account of why Titanic was built; what she was; what happened on her maiden voyage; the aftermath of the tragedy and what happened to her two sister ships. Parts 7 and 8 continue the history through to the final collapse of White Star.

For practical and technical reasons, the Articles are presented in the following parts: -

  • Part 1: The establishment of White Star and Harland & Wolff
  • Part 2. International Mercantile Marine Company
  • Part 3. Olympic
  • Part 4. Titanic
  • Part 5. The immediate aftermath of the Titanic disaster
  • Part 6. Britannic
  • Part 7. The turmoil of war
  • Part 8. The lingering demise of White Star


  1. In these Articles the term Gross Registered Tonnage – usually abbreviated to GRT, or merely tons – is used to define the size of a ship. This term had no connection with weight. It was a measurement based upon a survey of the total internal watertight volume of a vessel, with 1 gross registered ton being equal to 100 cubic feet. The calculation was complex and subject to manipulation, with increases sometimes being engineered for prestige reasons and (more frequently) decreases being made to reduce harbour dues, pilotage charges, etc.
  2. Steam reciprocating engine Nominal Horsepower (nhp) is an early 19th century rule of thumb used to estimate the power of steam engines based on the formula:-
    • nhp = 7 x area of piston x equivalent piston speed/33,000
  3. Indicated Horsepower (ihp) is the theoretical power of a steam reciprocating engine if it is completely frictionless in converting the expanding gas energy (piston pressure × displacement) in the cylinders. It was the figure normally used for steam engines in the 19th century, but is misleading because the actual power output may only be 70% to 90% of the indicated horsepower.
  4. Shaft horsepower (shp) is the power delivered to the propeller shafts of a steamship, either measured with instruments, or estimated from the indicated horsepower and a standard figure for the losses in the transmission (typical loss figures are around 10%)

The formation of Titanic’s owners and builders

Establishing White Star’s transatlantic services

The very existence of Titanic’s owners (Oceanic Steam Navigation Co) and her builders (Harland & Wolff) was due to the initial support they both received from Gustav Christian Schwabe.


Photo 1: Gustav Christian Schwabe – Although Schwabe settled in England in 1838, he maintained his connections with Hamburg and became a major contributor to the city’s arts and cultural facilities

Schwabe was born in Hamburg in 1813. He moved to Liverpool in 1838 where he married Helen Dugdale. He became a prominent shipping industry financier; firstly in Liverpool, then also in London and Germany. Schwabe was so successful that he was able to establish his London home in the supremely exclusive Kensington Palace Gardens and become a leading patron of the arts.

Schwabe’s wife, Helen Dugdale, was the daughter of a wealthy Lancashire family and a distant relative of the shipbuilder, Edward James Harland. To add to the family connections, Gustav’s sister, Fanny Schwabe, married Moritz Wolff of Hamburg and had a son – Gustav Wilhelm Wolff.

In March 1850, when Gustav Wolff was 15, he came to live with the Schwabes at Broughton Hall, their Liverpool home. He completed his education at Liverpool College, before becoming an apprentice engineer.


Photo 2: Broughton Hall – The hall as it looked when it was built by Schwabe as his Liverpool home. The building is now part of a school.

Edward James Harland was born in May 1831 and was apprenticed to the engineers, Robert Stephenson & Co in Newcastle, before completing his training at the leading shipbuilder J & G Thompson, Clydebank. In 1854 Harland accepted the job as shipyard manager in the Belfast yard of Robert Hickson & Co, but found to his dismay that the company had serious problems; with an incompetent, overpaid workforce and very nervous bankers. Harland eventually succeeded in turning the business around by sacking the entire workforce and replacing them with skilled shipbuilders from the Clyde and the Tyne, who trained those local men who were prepared to return to work on realistic wages.

When Harland travelled between Belfast and England, he often stayed at Broughton Hall and in doing so became friendly with Wolff. In 1856 when Wolff completed his apprenticeship he joined Hickson’s, firstly as a junior manager, then from 1857 as Harland’s personal assistant. Two years later Harland purchased the shipyard for £5,000, with advice and financial assistance from Schwabe and in 1861 the two friends joined together in partnership to form Harland & Wolff.

Of course, to survive, the new shipyard needed orders. Schwabe was of great assistance; introducing shipowners with whom he had his own business dealings. Thomas Henry Ismay was one such shipowner. He was a director of a number of Liverpool shipping companies and a sailing ship owner in his own right with an emigrant service to Australia. In 1868 he joined with Schwabe to rescue Harland and Wolff when it was in dire financial difficulties.


Photo 3: Thomas Henry Ismay

The shipyard had incurred a substantial loss on its first Admiralty contract to build a small gunboat for a fixed price price. At the same time the owner of a sailing ship Harland & Wolff were building was declared bankrupt. Schwabe persuaded Ismay to buy the ship for his Australian service and helped to finance the sale by becoming a part-owner. The ship was named Broughton, after Schwabe’s Liverpool home.

The following year Ismay had dinner at Broughton Hall with Schwabe, during which he disclosed his ambition to establish a fleet of the finest transatlantic steamers.

Companies like Anchor had successfully established themselves as transatlantic emigrant carriers with modest, slow speed, dedicated vessels, operating as required to meet demand. The viability of regular, year-long, express transatlantic services however, was dependent upon both the emigrant trade and the receipt of Government subsidies. For British companies, these subsidies took the form of eight-year Mail Contracts, under which payments were made for sailing on specific days carrying mail. Only Cunard and Inman held Mail Contracts. Two other lines – National founded in 1864 and Guion of 1866, attempted to operate quality services without subsidy. Ismay was well aware of their difficulties as he was a director of National.

Ismay’s concept was to provide a very reliable service, with bigger, faster and more luxurious vessels than Cunard and Inman. He could thereby expect to successfully tender for a Mail Contract at the next renewal. In the intervening years he would depend upon support from the emigrant trade.

To enable Ismay’s ships to steal a march over other transatlantic shipping companies he intended to imply that they would be used on his Australian service. Private investment was therefore needed to bring the first four ships into service. Over a game of billiards after dinner, Schwabe offered to arrange finance, provided the ships were designed and built by the fledgling Harland & Wolff. As a result the Oceanic Steam Navigation Co Ltd was founded on 6 September 1869. Schwabe also encouraged Ismay to bring the young Liverpool shipowner William Imrie into the project. Ismay, Imrie, Schwabe, Harland and Wolff were all investors in Oceanic. The company was invariably known as the White Star Line, because of the design of its house-flag, the design rights to which had been bought by Ismay in 1867 from a bankrupt and otherwise unconnected sailing packet business.


Photo 4: The White Star Crest

The first White Star liners

White Star ordered four express steamers from H&W; Oceanic, Atlantic, Baltic and Republic. As Schwabe was a major investor in both companies, the contract was placed on the basis of cost plus 4% for overheads and profit. It was a major step for both companies, as H&W had not previously built a passenger liner. Crucially, the contract provided that all future White Star ships would be built by H&W and that the yard would not build ships for any of its competitors.


Photo 5: Oceanic (1871) – The first White Star liner. 3,707 GRT; iron construction; single screw, two 2-cylinder compound steam engines arranged in tandem, 1,990 ihp, 14½ knots service speed; 160 saloon and 1,000 third class passengers; 166 crew. Liverpool – Queenstown – New York service until 1875, thereafter chartered to Occidental & Oriental SS Co for their Pacific services until 1895. Scrapped 1896

To encourage trade, the accommodation in the new ships was a great advance on contemporary liners. Until then sailing ship tradition had been followed, with First Class (or Cabin Class as they were called at the time) passengers accommodated in the stern of steamships. Continuation of this arrangement was understandable in paddle steamers, but there was considerable vibration in the stern area of most early high speed screw driven steamers. In the new White Star ships unusually spacious accommodation was provided amidships for 166 Cabin Class. The customary narrow deckhouses and high bulwarks were replaced by an iron promenade deck, with open railings. Even more importantly considerable improvements were also made in the new ships’ steerage accommodation for 1,000 emigrants.

From the mid 19th Century to the early 20th Century large numbers of the poorer people of Europe emigrated in very arduous shipping conditions. During most of this period they were herded into very cramped, communal dormitories. Until the 1890s emigrants had to bring their own mess utensils and bedding, which was often laid directly onto the deck. They were only allowed onto the open deck when weather allowed.


Photo 6: Emigrants allowed onto the deck of a Hamburg Amerika liner in fine weather in 1905. Hamburg Amerika was by far the biggest Atlantic emigrant carrier, despite being repeatedly castigated by undercover US Government agents.

Some shipping companies carried emigrants from Europe to the United States and live cattle on the return voyage, in the same below-deck spaces. White Star set out to establish a reputation for their more favorable treatment of steerage passengers. It was among only a handful of transatlantic Passenger Lines to segregate its steerage accommodation into two sections; berthing for Single Men was located in the bow, while berthing for Single Women, Married Couples and Families was in the stern.

White Star began operations in 1871, under the management of Ismay, Imrie & Co. Its initial one way fares were Saloon £16.16 shillings and Steerage £6.6 shillings. The steerage fare per head is equal to £3,130 today, using the average earnings index. Emigration to the USA was not open to the poorest members of society. In the unlikely event that their first ship, Oceanic, were to sail full, the Cabin passengers would pay the company a total of £2,788, while the revenue from the Steerage passengers would be £6,300.

After initial teething troubles, White Star’s ships began to capture transatlantic speed records and passenger loadings began to build up. The initial quartet of liners increased the average crossing speed from 13 to 14½ knots.

Four ships were insufficient to maintain a regular weekly service but the success of the initial quartet enabled White Star to issue additional shares to the public and two larger, faster ships were built by Harland & Wolff in 1872. They were the Adriatic and Celtic.


Photo 7: Adriatic (1872) – 3,888 GRT; iron construction; single screw, two 2-cylinder compound steam engines arranged in tandem, 1,990 ihp, 14½ knots service speed; 50 saloon and 800 third class passengers; 166 crew. Liverpool – Queenstown – New York service until 1897. Scrapped 1899

These two ships were initially fitted with totally impractical gas lighting, which was subject to repeated pipe joint gas leaks as the ship worked in a seaway. Thankfully the system was removed before a disaster occurred. Nevertheless both liners were to suffer a number of unfortunate events during their career.

Adriatic scraped alongside the Cunard’s Parthia in October 1874 when both ships were leaving New York. More seriously in 1875 Adriatic collided with and sank the sailing ship Columbus, with one casualty and later in the same year the sailing packet Harvest Queen, which sank with the loss of all on board. In 1878 she sank a third sailing ship with the loss of 5 lives.

Celtic twice had to be rescued; firstly in 1874 when she lost two blades from her propeller and secondly in 1883 when her propeller shaft fractured. Of more consequence to White Star in 1887 she rammed and almost sank her newer consort Britannic in fog of New York. Twelve steerage class passengers were killed on Britannic. There were no casualties on board Celtic.

Name Delivered GRT Speed 1st Pass 2nd Pass 3rd Pass Disosal Date
Oceanic 1871 3,707 14 166 0 1,000 Scrapped 1896
Atlantic 1871 3,707 14 166 0 1,000 Wrecked 1873
Baltic 1871 3,707 14 166 0 1,000 Sold 1888
Republic 1872 3,707 14 166 0 1,000 Sold 1889
Adriatic 1872 3,888 14 166 0 1,000 Scrapped 1899
Celtic 1872 3,867 14 166 0 1,000 Sold 1893

Disaster at Halifax

From the beginning of its operations, White Star suffered an unusual number of tragedies. In 1873, only two years after the commencement of its services, disaster struck their liner Atlantic.


Photo 8: Atlantic – Sister of Oceanic - delivered 1871

Atlantic left Liverpool on 20 March with 789 passengers and 142 crew on board. Continuous, fierce headwinds were encountered and after 11 days Atlantic was still about 460 miles from Sandy Hook, but her coal bunkers were down to some 127 tons. As a precaution against a further deterioration in the weather, Captain J H Williams decided to make for Halifax for more fuel. Sadly at 03:00 on 1 April she ran onto Marr’s Head Rock, some 12 miles west of Halifax. The ship rolled onto her starboard side and was swept by heavy seas. Although only some 50 yards from the shore, 585 people were drowned, making it the worst transatlantic disaster during the 19th Century.


Photo 9: One of the burial services conducted at Lower Prospect, Halifax County, Nova Scotia, in April 1873. The photograph shows the Rev. W.J. Ancient, Church of England rector of Terence Bay, reading the service before an open trench in which can be seen about 14 rough wooden coffins.

Atlantic and her sister Oceanic were replaced in 1874 by the larger and faster Britannic and Germanic who achieved crossing speeds of 16 knots. Upon their introduction they were generally recognised to be the finest liners in the world.


Photo 10: Germanic (1875) – 5,008 GRT; iron construction; single screw, two 2-cylinder compound steam engines arranged in tandem, 4,900 ihp, 16 knots service speed; 220 first and 1,500 third class passengers; 135 crew. Liverpool – Queenstown – New York service until 1895 when she was rebuilt with a triple expansion steam engine and sail area reduced as shown in the photograph. Germanic returned to the Liverpool – Queenstown – New York mail service after her refit. Her final White Star sailing was in 1903. She was then transferred within IMM to American Line for one year, before entering Dominion Line’s Liverpool – Canada service as Ottawa until 1909. In 1910 she was sold to the Turkish Government for use as a troopship and renamed Gul Djemal. After a long career and many adventures she was finally scrapped in 1950.

It was a considerable relief to the company when it was awarded a transatlantic Mail Contract in 1877.

Nineteenth Century Growth and Change

The Development of Harland & Wolff

In 1875 the original H&W partnership was expanded to include the yard manager, Walter H Wilson and the chief draughtsman, William J Pirrie. Both Harland and Wolff were content to step back from day-to-day management and Wilson quickly assumed control of production, while Pirrie became responsible for commercial and financial matters.


Photo 11: The four partners in Harland & Wolff during the 10 years from 1875. From left to right they are Gustav W Wolff; Walter H Wilson; William J Pirrie and Edward J Harland

Pirrie possessed great financial acumen and considerable personal charm that made him a formidable salesman. He became bold, flamboyant, highly ambitious and utterly ruthless. He quickly realised that although H & W had developed the technical skills needed to produce ships of the highest quality, because of its location, its costs of construction were appreciably higher than shipyards of similar competence located on the Clyde and the Tyne. All ship’s material and every component needed to be transported from mainland Britain.


Photo 12: One Titanic’s three anchors. They were made in Doncaster, shipped by rail to Liverpool, loaded into a coaster for a voyage across the Irish Sea to Belfast, unloaded, before being finally delivered to the H&W shipyard by road. A similar anchor would be delivered directly into a Tyneside shipyard by rail

The survival of Harland & Wolff was dependent upon the expansion of cost-plus contract arrangements similar to those established with White Star. These contracts formed the basis for other secret agreements with trusted shipowners, collectively known as “the Commission Club”. The remainder of Pirrie’s life was devoted to expanding and maintaining this secret club.

In addition to H & W’s remoteness from suppliers, Belfast became a centre of political uncertainty because of the Irish home rule agitation. As a precautionary measure the partnership was changed into a limited liability company in 1885. Both Harland and Wolff took out their share of the partnership, partly in the form of loans, leaving Pirrie as the major shareholder in the new company. Once again Schwabe provided loan finance to assist the transformation. Harland and Wolff both became Westminster politicians, representing Belfast constituencies.

White Star Diversification


Ismay realised that White Star needed to supplement its transatlantic income by entering other trades. Two cargo steamers being built by the Liverpool shipbuilder Thos Royden & Sons were bought in 1871, whilst they were fitting out. They were named Asiatic and Tropic and unsuccessfully used to try to establish White Star services to Calcutta and to South America. Both were sold in 1873 to help finance the construction of the Britannic class transatlantic express liners.

In November 1874 the two American railroads Union Pacific and Central Pacific formed the Occidental and Oriental Steam Ship Company to operate trans-Pacific passenger services to challenge the existing monopoly enjoyed by the Pacific Mail Steam Ship Company. O&O entered into an agreement to charter the White Star pioneer Oceanic and two other ships, Gaelic and Belgic that had been built for the unsuccessful South American service.

The relationship with O&O continued for 20 years and the following ships were built specifically for the transpacific service: -

Name Delivered GRT Speed 1st Pass 2nd Pass 3rd Pass Disosal Date
Arabic 1881 4,368 14 75 0 900 Sold 1890
Coptic 1882 4,367 14 75 0 900 Sold 1906
Ionic 1883 4,753 14 70 0 900 Sold 1900
Doric 1883 4,753 14 70 0 900 Sold 1906
Belgic 1885 4,212 14 70 0 900 Sold 1899
Gaelic 1885 4,206 14 70 0 900 Sold 1905

Note: Ionic and Doric were redeployed to the New Zealand trade before completion


Photo 13: Ionic (1883) – 4,753 GRT; steel construction; single screw, two 2-cylinder compound steam engines arranged in tandem, 500 nhp, 14 knots service speed; 70 first and 900 third class passengers. Placed on the White Star-Shaw, Savill & Albion London – Cape Town – Hobart – New Zealand – Cape Horn – London service. Re-engined with quadruple expansion steam engine in 1894. Sold to Aberdeen Line in 1900 and renamed Sophocles. Withdrawn 1906 and scrapped 1908

New Zealand

Unfortunately in 1883 it became clear that the transpacific trade was over-tonnaged for the available traffic and Ismay entered into a joint venture arrangement with Shaw, Savill and Albion for a service to New Zealand from London. White Star provided ships and crews, under Shaw Savill & Albion management. Coptic, Ionic and Doric, were all fitted with refrigeration plant and placed on a round the world service in partnership with two Shaw Savill vessels.

Further ships were subsequently added to the London based fleet, although at times they served on other routes: -

Name Delivered GRT Speed 1st Pass 2nd Pass 3rd Pass Disosal Date
Coptic 1882 4,367 14 75 0 900 Sold 1906
Ionic 1883 4,753 14 70 0 900 Sold 1900
Doric 1883 4,753 14 70 0 900 Sold 1906
Gothic 1893 7,755 14 104 0 114 Sold 1907
Delphic 1897 8,273 12 21 0 800 Torpedoed 1917
Athenic 1902 12,343 14 121 117 450 Sold 1927
Corinthic 1902 12,367 14 121 117 450 Scrapped 1931
Ionic 1903 12,352 14 121 117 450 Sold 1934
Zealandic 1911 10,898 13 6 0 1,000 Sold 1926


Photo 14: Athenic (1902) – 12,345 GRT; twin screw, two quadruple expansion steam engines, 5,000 ihp, 14 knot service speed, 121 first, 117 second and 450 third class passengers. Employed on joint White Star-Shaw, Savill & Albion service. Sold to Norwegian owners in 1928 and converted into a whale-factory ship. Scrapped 1962


Photo 15: Zealandic (1911) – 10,898 GRT; twin screw, two quadruple expansion steam engines, 5,600 ihp, 13 knot service speed, 6 first, 1,000 steerage class passengers. Employed on joint White Star-Shaw, Savill & Albion service. In 1923 she rescued the disabled sailing ship Garthsnaid, towing her into Melbourne, as shown in this photograph. In 1926 she was transferred to Aberdeen Line as Mamilius, then in 1932 became Shaw, Savill & Albion’s Mamari. She became a war-loss off Cromer in 1941.

Transatlantic Live Cattle Trade

In 1888 White Star took delivery of its first purely cargo steamers. These were equipped for the carriage of live cattle from the USA to Liverpool. This became a significant trade employing the following ships: -

Name Delivered GRT Speed Disosal Date
Cufic 1888 4,639 13 Sold 1901
Runic 1889 4,833 13 Sold 1895
Nomadic 1891 5,749 13 Sold 1903
Naronic 1891 5,728 13 Sold 1903
Tauric 1892 6,594 13 Lost 1893
Bovic 1892 6,583 13 Sold 1922
Bovic 1892 6,583 13 Sold 1922
Bovic 1892 6,583 13 Sold 1922
Bovic 1892 6,583 13 Sold 1922
Cevic 1894 8,301 13 Sold 1916
Georgic 1895 10,007 13 Sunk 1916


Photo 16: Bovic (1892) – 6,583 GRT; twin screw, two triple expansion steam engines, 499 nhp, 13 kts. 150 first class passengers, 50 crew. Note the large number of ventilators for the cattle decks. Employed on Liverpool – New York service until 1914 when she was moved to a White Star-Leyland-Lamport & Holt joint Manchester – New York until 1922, when she was sold to Leyland and renamed Colonian. Scrapped 1928.

On 11 February 1893 Naronic left Liverpool, dropped her pilot off Anglesey before heading west into heavy seas, never to be seen again. Naronic had a crew of 50, plus 24 cattlemen on board.

In the early 20th century White Star’s transatlantic cargo only operations were largely transferred to other group companies, as part of the International Mercantile Marine (IMM) structural reorganisations (See below)

North Western Shipping Company

Ismay, Imrie & Company formed the North Western Shipping Company in 1886 to consolidate the ownership of their remaining sailing ships engaged in the Australian trade.


Photo 17:California (1890) – 3,099 GRT: North Western Shipping Company’s last ship, being sold in 1895. She was big for a sailing ship and had a reputation for being slow. This is a Jack Spurling painting

Australian Service

White Star re-entered the Australian trade in 1899 with the steamer Afric, which had accommodation for 320 emigrants and large refrigerated meat spaces. Her maiden voyage disclosed a number of problems and Afric was returned to Harland & Wolff for modification. She was subsequently joined by four near-sisters to operate a new Liverpool – South Africa – Australia service


Photo 18:Afric (1899) The first of the five ships built for the Australian service. They were often known as the Jubilee Class, because of Afric’s introduction in 1899. She was torpedoed and sunk 12 miles off the Eddystone Lighthouse on 2 February 1917. There were 145 survivors, but 22 lives were lost.

Name Delivered GRT Speed 3rd Pass Disosal Date
Afric 1899 11,948 14 320 Torpedoed 1917
Medic 1899 11,984 14 320 Sold 1928
Persic 1899 11,973 14 320 Scrapped 1927
Runic 1900 12,482 14 400 Sold 1930
Suevic 1901 12,531 14 400 Sold 1928


Photo 19:Runic (1900) Although all five Jubilee Class had the same hull, the final pair had an enlarged superstructure, thereby increasing their tonnage. Runic was sold to Norwegian interests in 1930 and converted into a whale factory ship. She was torpedoed and sunk off Malin Head in October 1940.

Additionally two Frederick Leyland cargo ships were transferred to White Star after the creation of IMM. These were renamed Cufic and Tropic and were employed on the Australian trade.

American North Atlantic Shipping Investment

In 1877 the British transatlantic mail contract was shared between Cunard, Inman and White Star, with Cunard sailing every Saturday and the two other companies on Tuesdays and Thursdays. By 1886 Inman were in serious financial difficulties and were rescued by the American shipowners International Navigation, but they consequently lost their British mail contract the following year. Henceforth the British contract was shared between Cunard (sailing every Saturday) and White Star (every Wednesday).

The President of International Navigation was Clement A Griscom an indefatigable exponent of American-owned transatlantic passenger shipping. The company already owned the highly profitable Belgian emigrant carrier, Red Star Line, but struggled to compete with its high-cost American ships.


Photo 20: Clement A Griscom

Clement Griscom obtained financial backing from the giant Pennsylvania Railroad to enable Inman & International to take delivery of their City of New York from the Clyde in 1888, with her sister, City of Paris entering service the following year. These were the first transatlantic passenger ships to be larger than 10,000 GRT; they both were transatlantic record breakers and they far outshone the White Star steamers.


Photo 21: City of Paris (1889) Built by J G Thomson, Clydebank. 10,499 GRT; twin screw, two triple expansion engines, 20,000 ihp, 20 knots service speed; 540 first, 200 second and 1,000 steerage class passengers. She captured both the westbound and eastbound transatlantic records.

Both Cunard and White Star were obliged to respond to Griscom’s challenge. For over a decade White Star had continued to operate its transatlantic Mail Service with four of its surviving first five liners. Oceanic was placed on the transpacific service on charter. White Star’s immediate answer was its two Teutonic class ships, delivered in 1899 and 1890. These ships were very slightly smaller than the Inman vessels at just below 10,000 GRT, but like them both were twin screw steamers and they were intended to be record breakers. The results were disappointing. Whilst both briefly captured the westbound transatlantic speed record, neither obtained the eastbound record.


Photo 22: Majestic (1890) 9,984 GRT; twin screw, two triple expansion engines, 17,500 ihp, 19 knots service speed; 300 first, 170 second, 850 third class passengers. Liverpool – Queenstown – New York service. In July 1891 she captured the westbound transatlantic record with a speed of 20.1 knots, but lost it to her sister Teutonic the following month (20.35 knots). City of Paris regained the westbound record in 1892 (20.7 knots). Neither White Star ships gained the eastbound record. Majestic was used as a troopship during the Boer Wars, with a capacity for 2,000 troops. She was rebuilt by H&W during the winter of 1902/3 and emerged with only two masts and a tonnage of 10,147 GRT. In 1907 she was moved to the new Southampton – Cherbourg – Queenstown service. In 1911 she was laid-up at Birkenhead as reserve ship. She was re-activated in May 1912 after the loss of Titanic, but was by then worn out and was withdrawn and scrapped in 1914.

Cunard’s more considered response was a pair of appreciably larger, and more successful Clyde built twin-screw record breakers – Campania and Lucania of 1893.


Photo 23: Campania (1893) Built by Fairfield, Glasgow. 12,950 GRT; twin screw, two triple expansion engines, 30,000 ihp, service speed 21 knots; 600 first, 400 second class, 1,000 steerage class passengers, 415 crew. Liverpool – Queenstown – New York service. She captured both the westbound (21.12 knots) and eastbound (21.3 knots) records, but her sister Lucania proved to be even faster, progressively breaking both records. Lucania’s best speeds were 21.81 knots westbound and 22 knots eastbound.

The new Inman & International Steamship Company Ltd eventually won the US Mail contract in 1892, but it was a requirement of this contract that the ships operating the service be registered under the US Flag. As a result Inman effectively ceased operations from February 1893, being reconstituted as American Line. The two other major non-mail carrying British transatlantic competitors both failed. The National Line’s regular Liverpool to New York service ended in 1892 and Guion was wound up in 1894.

Ismay’s neglect of the Mail Service

After its initial response to the new Inman and Cunard ships, White Star resumed its concentration on its New Zealand trade; building up its fleet of transatlantic cattle carriers and on the introduction of dedicated emigrant carriers, so that by the end of the 1890s new mail liners were urgently needed to maintain the company’s prestige and to safeguard the vital mail contract. This need became imperative in 1897 when the 14,000 ton, German built, express steamer Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was delivered to Norddeutscher Lloyd. She soon established a new transatlantic record at an average speed of 22.29 knots westbound and 22.33 eastbound.


Photo 24: Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse (1897) Built by Vulcan, Stettin. 14,349 GRT; twin screw, two triple expansion engines, 31,000 ihp, service speed 22 knots; 558 first, 338 second, 1,074 steerage class passengers. Bremerhaven – Southampton – Cherbourg – New York service

British ships had held the Atlantic speed record for over 45 years and there was considerable national alarm that Germany had triumphed. A British response was needed.

To meet this requirement Ismay finally agreed to proceed with two new mail ships. Oceanic, the first of these liners, was delivered in 1899. These ships had been subject to years of planning and delays, so that it was a great disappointment when Oceanic only averaged 19.57 knots on her maiden voyage with its stern vibrating violently under full power. Nevertheless she proved to be a good sea boat and provided a high standard of comfort in all three classes of her accommodation. To the relief of H&W, White Star was forced to compete by concentrating on comfort, rather than pure speed.


Photo 25: Oceanic (1899) 17,274 GRT; twin screw, two 4 cylinder triple expansion engines, 28,000 ihp, service speed 19 kts; 410 first, 300 second, 1,000 steerage class passengers, 405 crew. Liverpool – Queenstown – New York mail service. In 1901 she collided with and sank the coaster Kincora with the loss of 7 lives. In 1907 she transferred with the mail service to Southampton – Cherbourg – Queenstown – New York. In 1914 she was requisitioned as an Armed Merchant Cruiser, but ran onto rocks in the Shetlands and became a constructive loss.

Other German record breakers followed, but experienced travellers became sceptical of high speed. The German greyhounds were an uncomfortable and unreliable mode of travel. They vibrated excessively and were prone to minor mishaps and mechanical failures, which could considerably prolonged an Atlantic crossing.

Joseph Bruce Ismay

The turn of the century was a tumultuous period for the both White Star and Harland & Wolff. Sir Edward Harland died in 1895 leaving James Pirrie in total control of the shipbuilder. Schwabe died in 1897 and Thomas Ismay died on 23 November 1899, only a few weeks after the maiden voyage of Oceanic. Unlike Harland & Wolff, Thomas Ismay had not made any serious arrangements for his succession and the management of White Star passed by default to his second son Bruce; a far less dynamic business leader, who was happy to continue the Line’s new comfort and dependability image.


Photo 26: Bruce Ismay

Bruce Ismay started his regime by cancelling, Olympic, an intended sister of Oceanic and concentrated on building more of the even slower Celtic type ships, which became known as “The Big Four” class.


Photo 27: Celtic (1901) 20,904 GRT; twin screw, two quadruple expansion engines, 14,000 ihp, service speed 16 knots; 347 first, 160 second, 2,350 steerage class passengers. Liverpool – Queenstown – New York service. Wrecked off Cobh (Queenstown) in 1928

Celtic was the last ship to be ordered by Thomas Ismay. When she was delivered in 1901, she was the largest ship in the world. Despite this she really came into the intermediate category, having a service speed of only 16 Knots. She had a huge cargo capacity, necessitating a turnaround of a week at each termini and a vast emigrant carrying capacity. Celtic’s First and Second Class accommodation was fitted out to a high standard, with an unusually large number of single cabins. She was immediately popular and with her ability to sail on an economical 280 tons of coal per day, very profitable to operate.

Name Delivered GRT Speed 1st Pass 2nd Pass 3rd Pass Disosal Date
Celtic 1901 20,904 16 347 160 2,350 Wrecked 1928
Cedric 1903 21,035 16 365 160 2350 Scrapped 1931
Baltic 1904 23,844 16 425 450 2,000 Scrapped 1933
Adriatic 1907 24,541 17 425 500 1,900 Scrapped 1934


A complete Bibliography for all of these Articles is given at the end of Part 8.


Many of the photographs used to illustrate these articles are from the Ships Nostalgia Galleries, which are available for use in the Directory. Others are from Wikimedia Commons or are in the public domain. The individual photographs used in Part 1 have been provided as follows: -

Frontispiece - liners.dk

  1. ZVAB.Com
  2. Broughton Hall High School Technology Collage
  3. Wikimedia Commons
  4. Wikimedia Commons
  5. Wikimedia Commons
  6. Wikimedia Commons
  7. Wikimedia Commons
  8. Wikimedia Commons
  9. Wikimedia Commons
  10. Ships Nostalgia – threebs
  11. Harland & Wolff
  12. liners.dk
  13. Ships Nostalgia – Brent Chambers
  14. Wikimedia Commons
  15. Ships Nostalgia – threebs
  16. Wikimedia Commons
  17. Ships Nostalgia – stein
  18. Ships Nostalgia – threebs
  19. Ships Nostalgia – threebs
  20. Wikimedia Commons
  21. Ships Nostalgia – dom
  22. Wikimedia Commons
  23. Wikimedia Commons
  24. Ships Nostalgia – Andrey Nelogov
  25. liners.dk
  26. Wikimedia Commons
  27. Ships Nostalgia – Linerrich

Article written and compiled by Fred Henderson

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8

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