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The earliest recorded cruise was an around the world voyage in 1845 that was promoted by the Hamburg shipowner Rob M Sloman. Thos Cooke later arranged lengthy tours of the Mediterranean where steamships transported tourists from port to port, where they usually stayed in local hotels. The modern concept a shorter seaborne holiday was conceived by the “North Company” of Aberdeen. Its full name of The North of Scotland & Orkney & Shetland Steam Navigation Company was rarely used.
In 1886 the North Company advertised that its largest ferry, St Rognvald, would undertake a “special trip with a limited number of cabin passengers on Thursday, June 24 ex Leith and Aberdeen to Bergen and some of the principal fjords and places of interest on the west coast of Norway.” This trial voyage was a success and 90 people paid £10 each for the 9 day cruise.
The North Company realised it was on to a winner, with its formula of a short duration, relatively inexpensive cruise. More cruises were organised for 1886 and a new purpose built ship was ordered from Hall Russell for delivery in time for the 1887 season. The new ship was named St Sunniva. She was a ship of 864 tons, 235 ft long, with a 30 ft beam. She had a triple – expansion steam engine driving a single shaft, which provided a speed of 15.5 knots. She carried 142 passengers in a single class, mainly in 2 or 4 berth cabins.
St Sunniva was a huge success and St Rognvald was needed to carry the overflow of bookings. St Sunniva was initially laid up in the winter but she was soon being chartered for cruises in the Mediterranean in the winter. The two small North Company ships continued to provide a sequence of low cost, short duration cruises using broadly similar itineraries, but their success attracted the attention of the Line companies who began offering a similar service but using much larger and more luxurious ships. St Rognvald was lost in 1900, whilst on a regular off season ferry run. She was not replaced on the cruise service. St Sunniva was withdrawn from cruising in 1908 and she became a ferry, until she in turn was lost in 1930.
The North Company pioneered modern style cruising, but its ships proved to be too small to enable the company to remain in the market.


A photo of St Sunniva is posted under Cruise Ships in my gallery.
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