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The First Great Cunarders

Issue 2: Article 2: CAMPANIA and LUCANIA - The First Great Cunarders

Cunard's CAMPANIA, when she appeared in 1892, immediately rendered all other liners obsolete with her simple lines and lack of fussy detail so beloved of rivals the Inman Line. She had an almost straight bow, and gigantic raked funnels - go faster funnels, you night say. And go faster she did, not on this run, but on the return crossing, and then took the record for the westbound on the next dash out to New York. Her sister LUCANIA appeared on the scene and proved a bit faster yet, and Cunard held all the records until the German KAISER WILHELM DER GROSSE scooped the lot and the Blue Riband.

It is fair to say that the Cunard brand was made from these two ships - powerful, modern, and luxurious. The same design cues would persist in their Atlantic liners until the revolutionary QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 re-wrote how a Cunarder should look. The new QUEEN MARY 2 harks back not only to her illustrious predecessor of the same name, but through the design of the bridge, which on the older ship seems to hark back to the distinctive high bridge of CAMPANIA

CAMPANIA prior to her launch on 8th September 1882 - ( Photo supplied by Stuart Cameron on Clydesite in 2003 )

CAMPANIA's life was not without incident. On July 21st of 1900 she sliced clean through the Liverpool barque EMBLETON, causing 11 deaths as the sailing ship sank.

But is was in October 1905 that a famous Cunard boast was to be rendered obsolete. Amazingly up until this time, no passenger had ever been lost in an accident on a Cunard ship. However on the 11th of that month, during a gale, a freak wave hit her in the mid-Atlantic.

As the wave went through the vessel it burst the doors from the steerage deck, spitting out into the ocean five of the unfortunate passengers,who were never seen again.

On top of this 29 other passengers were injured in the incident, dashed against steelwork as the wave ripped through the vessel, resulting in cracked and broken ribs and bones. One of whom was to die from her injuries later when the ship docked in New York.

A newspaper of the time recounts that officials from Cunard stood over the Captain at the press call, refusing him to answer questions about the incident

An interesting and more happy fact of her history is that CAMPANIA was the first ship in the world to be fitted with Marconi's wireless telegraph, in 1901.

In 1907 a new breed of Cunarders appeared, the LUSITANIA and MAURETANIA and despite being relatively young in todays terms, the sisters of 1892 and 1893 were outmoded and outclassed.

The opulent interiors of LUCANIA and CAMPANIA were of the highest standard- ( Photo supplied by Stuart Cameron on Clydesite in 2003 )

CAMPANIA continued nevertheless on the New York run until 1914, after clocking up 250 voyages on it. Her intended last spell as a passenger vessel saw her return to the river and city of her birth when Anchor Line chartered her for two sailings from Glasgow to New York - her first began on the 23rd May and the second on the 20th June 1914. So her history may have ended fittingly; leaving the city that built her.

But, the war intervened. AQUITANIA, which had made her maiden voyage on 30th May, and effectively displaced the old girl, was requisitioned by the Admiralty. Once again CAMPANIA was pressed into service and made three round trips to New York, the last one starting 26th September (another Cunarder shares this anniversary date - QUEEN MARY being launched on 26th September 1934)

After completing her final voyage she at last sold to the breakers.

Step in the Admiralty once again!

They purchased her and had her converted on Merseyside into an aircraft carrier. This laid the foundations for the Fleet Air Arm. On 30th April 1915, now virtually unrecognisable (except for that distinctive bridge!) she left Cammell Laird's and proceeded to Scapa Flow. Here she made history once more by being the first ship, while under way, to launch an aircraft.

By all accounts she performed her new role successfully. She would have took part too in the Battle of Jutland, but her captain missed the orders to sail. He decided not to attempt to catch up, as she would have been a vulnerable lone target.

From October 1918 she operated from Burntisland on the Forth and it was here she would end her days.

Remember the remember the 5th of November for something other than Guy Fawkes, for on the morning of that date in 1911, she dragged her anchor in ferocious winds and collided with nearby ROYAL OAK, who in turn struck GLORIOUS, then CAMPANIA drifted across the bows of REVENGE and was fatally holed. It took three hours for her to sink to the bottom of the Forth.

It is ironic that she survived her newer fleetmates LUSITANIA, ALAUNIA, ANDANIA, all lost in the war years, whilst she herself should sink, in an accident, in anchorage, and only four days before war had ended.

LUCANIA - Photo from the Joe McMillan Collection posted by Gavin Stewart on Clydesite

As for LUCANIA, when she made her maiden voyage on September 2nd 1883, expectations were high and they were found to be just. She took the record for the eastbound run to New York and from then on both she and her sister CAMPANIA set new records until the earlier mentioned German liner stole the show.

As I said before, LUCANIA and CAMPANIA were outmoded when the new Cunarders appeared in 1907. LUCANIA from then on was used less and less until in 1909 she only made one transatlantic run before being laid up in Liverpool's Huskisson Dock.

On the 14th August 1909 disaster struck as a fire started, then raged through the entire vessel. As firefighters poured water into her, she took on a list, and by the early hours of the next morning she took on a severe list. Tugs worked to right the vessel and she was taken out into the middle of the dock where she settled into the mud.

She was beyond economic repair, the end had finally come.

But not quite. It was found that her massive engines had escaped undamaged and so, with the diginity she deserved, it was under her own steam that she progressed to Ward's breakers yard in Swansea, there to be slowly cut up.

These two ships then had set the scene for the ascendancy of the Cunard firm and its famous ships. From then on the connections with the Clyde would see most of their ships built there, right up until 1969 when the QE2 emerged completed from The Firth of Clyde Drydock at Inchgreen.

(Right: Photo of LUCANIA's engines, posted by Stuart Cameron on Clydesite)


Copyright B.Biddulph, Clydesite 2005 - Unless otherwise stated. Any materials credited shows the name of the copyright owner where known. The pages are intended for private use, for educational purposes. Reproduction in any form is prohibited without the permission of the copyright owner. Reassemble the following to email address format to contact: editor at clydesite . co . uk