The era of regular transatlantic steamship service began with the formation of the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company in May 1839. Samuel Cunard of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and two British partners organized the company after winning the transatlantic mail contract from the British government.
The company’s first ship, the 1,150-ton, Glasgow-built Britannia , sailed from Liverpool for Halifax and Boston on July 4, 1840. The partnership began operating in the Mediterranean in 1851, inaugurating a separate company in 1855 to provide that service.In 1867 the North Atlantic and Mediterranean companies were merged as the British and North American Steam Packet Company.
In 1878 the heirs of the original owners reorganized the firm as the Cunard Steamship Company, Ltd., offering its shares to the public for the first time in 1880. In 1934, under the duress of the Great Depression, the Cunard Steamship Company merged with its principal British rival, the White Star Line, to form Cunard-White Star, Ltd., reorganized again as The Cunard Line, Ltd. in 1950.
See a second collection of images of Aquitania, including a great view of her from astern in dry dock and several photos of her serving as a troop transport in both world wars.
This montage presents Cunard’s RMS Aquitania in colored postcards, emphasizing her magnificent interiors. Britain’s largest ship at her debut in the spring of 1914, the “Ship Beautiful” was famous for her elegant architecture. She also had a long and distinguished career, being the only great liner to sail through both world wars and demobilizations before her retirement in 1950. Rostron commanded her twice in 1927 in relief of her regular master, Sir James Charles.
See images of Rostron’s final command, which began her career as the German liner Imperator. The ship was seized by the Allies under the Treaty of Versailles and eventually assigned to Cunard as partial compensation for its wartime losses. Renamed Berengaria, she spent the 1920s as the largest liner in Cunard’s fleet, sailing between Southampton and New York. Rostron commanded Berengaria from his knighthood in July 1926 until his retirement from the sea in November 1930.
View exterior and interior images of Saxonia (with a few of Carpathia mixed in) in postcards and photographs. Built in 1900, Saxonia and ships like her, including Carpathia, were typical mid-sized Cunard liners of that era—stalwarts of ten to fifteen thousand tons designed to carry mostly second-class and immigrant passengers and large quantities of cargo on the company’s North Atlantic and Mediterranean routes. Rostron sailed in both ships in their early years as a senior officer and commanded Ivernia in 1916 and Saxonia in 1917.
See a montage of the steamers Umbria and Etruria, Cunard record breakers built in 1884. Rostron sailed in Umbria on his first voyages with the company at the beginning of 1895, and made many crossings in Etruria as both a junior and senior deck officer. Some of the images clearly show these ships’ completely open bridges, a necessity for working the auxiliary sails, but one that left the deck watch totally exposed to the Atlantic’s ferocity.