In the days of “wooden ships and iron men,” the people of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were the most prosperous, per capita, of all the people in British North America. Shipbuilding yards were turning vessels, like the Marco Polo (see my April 17 post: Marco Polo), which became famous in many parts of the world. This prosperity ended when iron ships powered by steam replaced wooden sailing ships. Strangely enough, two Nova Scotians were responsible, and one of them founded the greatest steamship company in the world.
Joseph Howe (see my December 31 post “Not Guilty”) had helped create the shipbuilding industry in Nova Scotia. The original “Bluenoses” had been encouraged to go in for farming. Howe had other ideas. Nova Scotian soil was not good enough for prosperous farming, and he urged men to take advantage of the timber resources and fine harbours, and to in for shipbuilding. In 1838, however, when Howe was crossing the Atlantic in a windjammer, the steamship Sirius came over the horizon and passed his ship “with the speed of a hunter while we were moving with the rapidity of an ox-cart.” Howe was so impressed that he urged the Colonial Office in Britain to subsidize fast ships to carry the mail between Liverpool and Halifax.
It was then that the other Nova Scotian, Samuel Cunard, who had made a fortune in lumber and sailing ships, stepped into the picture. he won the contract to carry mail and passengers in fast steamships between Liverpool and Halifax, and joining with some British businessmen, he established the now famous Cunard Line. The first Cunarder, Britannia, sailed into Halifax on July 4, 1840, and then went on to Boston. The voyage from Liverpool to Boston was completed in 14 days, 8 hours at a speed of 8½ knots. The Liverpool to Halifax run was made in 12 days, 10 hours. Cunard himself was received with great enthusiasm everywhere. When he arrived in Boston, he received 1,800 invitations to dinner, within twenty-four hours!
The first iron Cunarder was the Scotia (3,871 tons), the largest ship in the world when she was built in 1862. Scotia would look like a tug boat along the famous Cunarders Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, both more than 80,000 tons.
Among the most famous Cunard liners of all time have been Lusitania (sunk by a German submarine in World War I), Mauretania, Berengaria, and Aquitania, which was the flagship of the convoy that carried the First Canadian Division to Britain in World War II.
For those of you who want to learn more, I can suggest a few site. There is the History of Nova Scotia (with special attention to Communications and Transportation). Then there’s Chris’ Cunard Page, (a site that’s pretty complete and interesting), and then the Ivory Fleet.com (3D pictures of the Britannia). And finally, as a treat, a new site I just found is the Cunard Queens (from the Liverpool Museum in the UK).
Somewhat-but-not-really related articles:
- Queen Mary 2, largest ocean liner ever built, docks in Halifax (globalnews.ca)
- Rower to embark on solo trip with handmade dory (globalnews.ca)
- N.S. decides not to fund gender reassignment surgery (cbc.ca)