Royal Mail Steam Packet Company

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For the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, see Cunard Line.
Royal Mail Steam Packet Company
Industry Shipping
Fate Liquidated
Successors Royal Mail Lines Ltd
Founded 1839
Founders James Macqueen
Defunct 1932
Headquarters London, United Kingdom
Key people Lord Kylsant
Royal Mail Lines Ltd
Industry Shipping, cruise line
Fate Acquired
Predecessors Royal Mail Steam Packet Company
Successors Furness, Withy & Co.
Founded 1932
Defunct 1965
RMS Asturias in a 1930 poster by Kenneth Shoesmith, who created a number of images advertising Royal Mail Lines ships

The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company was a British shipping company founded in London in 1839 by a Scot, James MacQueen. After good and bad times it became the largest shipping group in the world in 1927 when it took over the White Star Line.[1]

A poster stamp issued by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company to promote their service from Canada to the British West Indies.

The company was liquidated and its assets taken over by the newly formed Royal Mail Lines in 1932 after financial trouble and scandal; over the years RML declined to no more than the name of a service run by former rival Hamburg-Süd.


Queen Victoria granted the initial Royal Charter of Incorporation of "The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company" on 26 September 1839.[2] In 1840 the Admiralty and the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company made a contract in which the latter agreed to provide a fleet of not fewer than 14 steam vessels for the purpose of carrying all Her Majesty's mails, to sail twice every month to Barbados in the West Indies from Southampton or Falmouth. 14 new steam vessels were built for the purpose, being Thames, Medway, Trent and Isis (built at Northfleet); Severn and Avon (built at Bristol); Tweed, Clyde, Teviot, Dee, and Solway (built at Greenock); Tay (built at Dumbarton); Forth (built at Leith); and Medina, (built at Cowes). In reference to their destination, these vessels were known as the West Indies Mail Steamers.[3]

The West Indian Mail Service was established by the sailing of the first Royal Mail Steam Packet, PS Thames from Falmouth on 1 January 1841. A Supplemental Royal Charter was granted on 30 August 1851 extending the sphere of the Company's operations. In 1864, the mail service to the British Honduras was established. A further Supplemental Royal Charter was granted extending the sphere of the Company's operations on 7 March 1882.[2]

In the decade before the First World War the RMSP modernised its fleet, introducing a series of larger liners ranging from 9,588 GRT to 15,551 GRT on its Southampton – Buenos Aires route. Each had a name beginning with the letter "A", so collectively they were called the "A-liners" or the "A-series". The first was RMS Aragon in 1905, followed by sister ships Amazon, Araguaya and Avon in 1906, Asturias in 1908, Arlanza in 1912, Andes and Alcantara in 1913 and Almanzora in 1915. Earlier members of the series, from Aragon to Asturias, had twin screws, each driven by a four-cylinder quadruple-expansion steam engine. The final four members of the series, from Arlanza to Almanzora, had triple screws, with the middle one driven by a low pressure Parsons steam turbine.[4]

After the First World War RMSP introduced a pair of new 22,200 GRT liners, RMS Asturias in 1925 and RMS Alcantara in 1926. But the company ran into financial trouble, and the UK Government investigated its affairs in 1930, resulting in the Royal Mail Case. Chairman Lord Kylsant was jailed in 1931 for misrepresenting the state of the company to shareholders.[1] So much of Britain's shipping industry was involved in RMSPC that arrangements were made to guarantee the continuation of ship operations after it was liquidated. Royal Mail Lines Ltd (RML) was created in 1932 and took over the ships of RMSPC and other companies of the former group.[5] The line's motto was Per Mare Ubique (everywhere by sea).

The new company's operations were concentrated on the west coast of South America, the West Indies and Caribbean, and the Pacific coast of North America; the SouthamptonLisbonBrazilUruguayArgentina route was operated from 1850 to 1980. RML was also a leading cruise ship operator.

RMS's largest vessel was the 25,895 GRT turbine steamship RMS Andes. She was designed as an ocean liner but when launched in 1939 was immediately fitted out as a troopship. She finally entered civilian liner service in 1947, transferred to full-time cruising in 1958 and was scrapped in 1971.[6]

RMSP and RML lost a number of ships in their long history. One of the last was the 17,547 GRT turbine steamship RMS Magdalena, which was launched in 1949 and grounded and sank off Brazil on her maiden voyage.[7]

In 1965 RML was bought by Furness, Withy & Co.,[1] and rapidly lost its identity. In the 1970s parts of the Furness Withy Group, including RML, were sold on to Hong Kong shipowner C.Y. Tung, and later sold on to former River Plate rival Hamburg Süd; by the 1990s Royal Mail Lines was no more than the name of a Hamburg-Süd refrigerated cargo service from South America to Europe.

List of RMSP Company vessels[edit]

Ship Date Commissioned Gross Tonnage Propulsion Material
Actaeon 1842 650 paddle wood
Avon 1842 2,069 paddle wood
City of Glasgow 1842 1,700 paddle wood
Clyde 1842 1,841 paddle wood
Dee 1842 1,849 paddle wood
Forth 1842 1,900 paddle wood
Isis 1842 1,900 paddle wood
Larne 1842 300 schooner wood
Lee 1842 250 schooner wood
Liffey 1842 350 schooner wood
Medina 1842 1,800 paddle wood
Medway 1842 1,895 paddle wood
Severn 1842 1,886 paddle wood
Solway 1842 1,700 paddle wood
Tay 1842 1,858 paddle wood
Teviot 1842 1,744 paddle wood
Thames 1842 1,889 paddle wood
RMS Trent 1842 1,856 paddle wood
Tweed 1842 1,800 paddle wood
Reindeer 1845 600 paddle wood
Conway 1846 895 paddle wood
Eagle 1846 630 paddle wood
Great Western 1847 1,775 paddle wood
Derwent 1849 794 paddle wood
Esk 1849 232 screw wood
RMS Amazon 1851 2,256 paddle wood
Demerara 1851 2,318 paddle wood
Oronico 1851 2,901 paddle wood
Prince 1851 446 paddle iron
La Plata 1852 2,826 paddle wood
Magdalena 1852 2,943 paddle wood
Parana 1852 3,070 paddle wood
Camilla 1853 539 paddle wood
Atrato 1853 3,184 paddle iron
Tyne 1854 1,603 paddle iron
Tamar 1854 paddle wood
Oneida 1858 2,285
Tasmanian 1858 screw iron
Shannon 1859 paddle iron
RMS Paramatta 1859 paddle iron
Seine 1860 paddle iron
RMS Rhone 1865 2,738 screw iron
Douro 1865 2,824 screw iron
Neva 1868 3,025 screw iron
Elbe 1870 3,063 screw iron
Tagus 3,299 screw iron
Moselle screw iron
Boyne 1871 3,318 screw
Ebro 1872 screw
Tiber 1872 screw
Liffey 1872 screw
Minho 1874 screw iron
Mondego 1874 screw iron
Guadiana 1875 screw iron
Dee 1875 1,864 screw
Trent 1878 2,912 screw
La Plata 1882 3,196 screw
Orinoco 1886 4,572 screw
Atrato 1888 5,347 screw
Magdalena 1889 screw
Thames 1890 screw
Clyde 1890 screw
Nile 1893 5,855 screw
Danube 1893 5,891 screw
RMS Aragon 1905 9,588 screw steel
Amazon 1906 screw steel
Araguaya 1906 screw steel
{Avon 1906 screw steel
Asturias 1908 screw steel
RMS Oruba 1908 5,832 screw steel
Arlanza 1912 15,044 screw steel
Andes 1913 screw steel
Alcantara 1913 screw steel
Alcala 1913 10,660 screw steel
Almanzora 1915 screw steel

Table sources: A Link of Empire[2] and Nicol 2001, MacQueen's Legacy.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Royal Mail Steam Packet Company". Shipping Lines. Retrieved 17 April 2012. 
  2. ^ Dodd, George (1867). Railways steamers and telegraphs: a glance at their recent progress and present state. London: W&R Chambers. pp. 159–161. 
  3. ^ Nicol 2001, p. 101.
  4. ^ Nicol, Stuart. "The Royal Mail Story". Retrieved 17 April 2012. [self-published source][dead link]
  5. ^ Nicol 2001, pp. 162–186.
  6. ^ Nicol 2001, pp. 186–193.


  • Anonymous (1910). A Link of Empire; or, 70 years of British Shipping: Souvenir of the 70th year of incorporation of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. London: Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. 
  • Bushell, T.A. (1958) [1939]. Royal Mail: a Centenary History of the Royal Mail Line 1839–1939. London: Trade and Travel Publications Ltd. 
  • Nicol, Stuart (2001). MacQueen's Legacy; Ships of the Royal Mail Line Two. Brimscombe Port and Charleston, SC: Tempus Publishing. ISBN 0-7524-2119-0. 

External links[edit]