RMS Mauretania (1906)

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This article is about the original Mauretania. For the later ship named after it, see RMS Mauretania (1938).
Mauretania - Full speed ahead.jpg
Mauretania steaming at full speed on her sea trials, passing Castle Weymss and the Station Clock Tower on the Measured Mile, Skelmorlie, November 1907
Name: RMS Mauretania

1906–1934: Cunard Line

1934–1935: Cunard White Star Line
Operator: Cunard Line
Port of registry: Liverpool,  United Kingdom
Route: Southampton-Cobh-New York
Ordered: 1904
Builder: Swan Hunter, Tyne and Wear, United Kingdom
Laid down: 1904
Launched: 20 September 1906
Christened: 20 September 1906, by the Duchess of Roxburghe
Completed: 7 November 1907
Acquired: 11 November 1907
Maiden voyage: 16 November 1907
In service: 1907
Out of service: 1934
Fate: Retired from service September 1934, scrapped in 1935 in Rosyth with hull dismantled ashore at Tidal Basin No. 1 in August 1936, Scotland
Status: Scrapped.
General characteristics
Tonnage: 31,938 GRT
Length: 790 ft (240.8 m)
Beam: 88 ft (26.8 m)
Draft: 33 ft (10.1 m)
Decks: 8
Installed power:
  • Direct-action Parsons steam turbines (two high pressure, two low pressure)
  • 68,000 SHP (shaft horsepower) nominal at launch, 76,000 SHP on record run, later increased in 1928 to 90,000 SHP to challenge the NDL Bremen in July 1929.
Propulsion: Triple bladed design at launch changed soon after to four bladed versions. Astern turbines available on inboard shafts only.
Speed: 24 knots (44 km/h; 28 mph) (design service speed)
  • 2,165 passengers total:
    • 563 first class
    • 464 second class
    • 1,138 third class
Crew: 802
Notes: Running mate to the RMS Lusitania

RMS Mauretania was an ocean liner designed by Leonard Peskett and built by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson for the British Cunard Line, and launched on the afternoon of 20 September 1906. She was the world's largest ship until the completion of the RMS Olympic in 1911 as well as the fastest until the Bremen's maiden voyage in 1929. Mauretania became a favourite among her passengers. After capturing the Eastbound Blue Riband on her maiden return voyage in December 1907, she claimed the Westbound Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic crossing during her 1909 season. Mauretania would hold both speed records for twenty years.[1]

The ship's name was taken from Mauretania, an ancient Roman province on the northwest African coast, not the modern Mauritania which is now to the south.[2] Similar nomenclature was also employed by Mauretania's running mate, Lusitania, which was named after the Roman province directly north of Mauretania, across the Strait of Gibraltar,[2] the region that now is Portugal. Mauretania's running mate, Lusitania, was sunk in war in May 1915 by a U-Boat.


Mauretania during a speed trial off St. Abbs, Scotland 18 September 1907. Best speed obtained was 25.73knts
RMS Mauretania on its Tyneside builder's ways prior to launch in 1906

In 1897 the German liner SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse became the largest and fastest ship in the world. With a speed of 22 knots (41 km/h), she captured the Blue Riband from Cunard Line's Campania and Lucania. Germany came to dominate the Atlantic, and by 1906 they had five four-funnel superliners in service, four of them owned by North German Lloyd and part of the so-called "Kaiser class".

At around the same time American financier J. P. Morgan's International Mercantile Marine Co. was attempting to monopolise the shipping trade, and had already acquired Britain's other major transatlantic line White Star.[3]

In the face of these threats the Cunard Line was determined to regain the prestige of ocean travel back not only to the company, but also to the United Kingdom.[3][4] By 1902, Cunard Line and the British government reached an agreement to build two superliners, Lusitania and Mauretania,[3] with a guaranteed service speed of no less than 24 knots (44 km/h), the British government were to loan £2,600,000 (£249 million as of 2015),[5] for the construction of Mauretania and Lusitania at an interest rate of 2.75% to be paid back over twenty years with a stipulation that the ships could be converted to armed merchant cruisers if needed;[6] also to fund these ships further the Admiralty arranged for Cunard to be paid an additional £150,000 per year to their mail subsidy.[6][7]

Design and construction[edit]

Workmen standing below Mauretania's original three-bladed separately cast screws in dry dock
Mauretania's official launch party, September 20, 1906

Mauretania and Lusitania were both designed by Cunard naval architect Leonard Peskett with Swan Hunter and John Brown working from the plans for an ocean greyhound with a stipulated service speed of twenty-four knots in moderate weather for her mail subsidy contract. Peskett's original configuration for the ships in 1902 was a three-funnel design, when reciprocating engines were destined to be the powerplant. A giant model of the ships in this configuration appeared in Shipbuilder's magazine. Cunard in 1904 decided to change power plants to Parson's new turbine technology and Peskett then added a fourth funnel to the ship's profile as the ship's design was again modified before construction of the vessel finally began with the laying of the keel in 1904.

In 1906, Mauretania was launched by the Duchess of Roxburghe.[8] At the time of her launch, she was the largest moving structure ever built,[9] and slightly larger in gross tonnage than Lusitania. The main visual differences between Mauretania and Lusitania was that Mauretania was five feet longer and had different vents (Mauretania had cowl vents and Lusitania had oil drum- shaped vents which proved fragile for winter runs and were slowly replaced with cowl design vents as her sisters).[10] Mauretania also had two extra stages of turbine blades in her forward turbines making her slightly faster than the Lusitania. Mauretania and Lusitania were the only ships with direct-drive steam turbines to hold the Blue Riband; in later ships, reduction-geared turbines were mainly used.[11] Mauretania's usage of the steam turbine was the largest yet application of the then-new technology, developed by Charles Algernon Parsons.[12] During speed trials, these engines caused significant vibration at high speeds; in response, Mauretania received strengthening members aft and redesigned propellers before entering service, which reduced vibration.[13]

Mauretania was designed to suit Edwardian tastes. Its interior was designed by Harold Peto, architect, and her public rooms were fitted out by two notable London design houses – Ch. Mellier & Sons and Turner and Lord,[14][15] with twenty eight different types of wood, along with marble, tapestries, and other furnishings such as the stunning octagon table in the smoking room.[14][16] Wood panelling for her first class public rooms was supposedly carved by three hundred craftsmen from Palestine but this seems unlikely, unnecessary and was probably executed by the yard or subcontracted, as were the majority of the second and third class areas.[17] The multi-level first-class dining saloon of straw oak was decorated in Francis I style and topped by a large dome skylight.[16] A series of elevators, then a rare new feature for liners and with grilles composed of the relatively new lightweight aluminum, were installed next to Mauretania's walnut grand staircase.[16] A new feature was the Verandah Café on the boat deck, where passengers were served beverages in a weather-protected environment, although this was enclosed within a year as it proved unrealistic.[14]

Early career (1906–1914)[edit]

Mauretania on September 17, 1907 covering the 10 miles to the mouth of the river and the open ocean
A cutaway view of Mauretania

Mauretania departed Liverpool on her maiden voyage on 16 November 1907 under the command of her first captain, John Pritchard and captured the record for the fastest eastbound crossing of the Atlantic on the return voyage[1] with an average speed of 23.69 knots (43.87 km/h). In September 1909, Mauretania captured the Blue Riband for the fastest westbound crossing — a record that was to stand for more than two decades.[1] In December 1911, as in NYC in December 1910, Mauretania broke loose from her moorings while in the River Mersey and sustained damage that caused the cancellation of her special speedy Christmas voyage to New York. In a quick change of events Cunard rescheduled Mauretania's voyage for Lusitania under the command of captain James Charles which had just returned from New York. Lusitania completed Christmas crossings for Mauretania,[18] carrying revellers back to New York. In July 1913 both King George and Queen Mary were given a special tour of Mauretania, then Britain's fastest merchant vessel, adding further distinction to the ship's reputation. On 26 January 1914, while Mauretania was in the middle of annual refit in Liverpool, four men were killed and six injured when a gas cylinder exploded while they were working on one of her steam turbines. The damage was minimal, she was repaired in the new Gladstone Dry Dock and returned to service two months later.

World War I (1914–1919)[edit]

Shortly after Great Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, Mauretania made a dash for safety in Halifax, arriving on the 6th. Shortly after, she and sister Aquitania were requested by the British government to become armed merchant cruisers,[19] but their huge size and massive fuel consumption made them unsuitable for the duty;[20] and they resumed their civilian service on 11 August. Later, due to lack of passengers crossing the Atlantic, Mauretania was laid up in Liverpool until May 1915 at the time that the Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat.

HMT Mauretania with her second geometric dazzle scheme designed by Norman Wilkinson

Mauretania was about to fill the void left by Lusitania, but she was ordered by the British government to serve as a troopship to carry British troops during the Gallipoli Campaign.[20] She avoided becoming prey for German U-boats because of her high speed and the seamanship of her crew. As a troopship, she was painted in quite dark greys with black funnels as were her contemporaries.

HMHS Mauretania; a simulated image made from a retouched November trials postcard – the number of lifeboats confirms this

When combined forces from the British empire and France began to suffer heavy casualties, Mauretania was ordered to serve as a hospital ship, along with her fellow Cunarder Aquitania and White Star's Britannic, to treat the wounded until 25 January 1916. In medical service the vessel was painted white with buff funnels and large medical cross emblems surrounding the vessel and possibly illuminated signs starboard and port. Seven months later, Mauretania once again became a troop ship late in 1916 when requisitioned by the Canadian government to carry Canadian troops from Halifax to Liverpool.[20] Her war duty was not yet over when the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, and she carried thousands of American troops, the ship was known by the Admiralty as HMS Tuberose[21] until the end of the war,[20] but the vessel's name was never changed by Cunard. Starting in March 1918, Mauretania received two forms of dazzle camouflage, a type of abstract color scheming designed by Norman Wilkinson in 1917 in an effort to confuse enemy ships. The first camouflage scheme, applied early in March of 1918, was curvilinear in nature and largely broad areas of olive with blacks, greys and blues. The second scheme was the more geometric design commonly referred to as "dazzle"; this design, applied by July 1918, was mostly several dark blues and greys with some black. After her war service, she was repainted in a drab grey scheme and finally full Cunard livery by the middle of 1919.

Post-war career (1919–1934)[edit]

Verandah Café on the boat deck.

Mauretania returned to civilian service on 21 September 1919. Her busy sailing schedule prevented her from having an extensive overhaul scheduled in 1920. However, in 1921 Cunard Line removed her from service when fire broke out on E deck and decided to give her a much needed overhaul.[22] She returned to the Tyne shipyard of her birth, where her boilers were converted to oil firing,[23] and returned to service in March 1922. Cunard noticed that Mauretania struggled to maintain her regular Atlantic service speed. Although the ship's service speed had improved and it now burned only 750 short tons (680 t) of oil per 24 hours, compared to 1,000 short tons (910 t) of coal previously, it was not operating at her pre-war service speeds. On one crossing in 1922 the ship managed an average speed of only nineteen knots. It was during these years her promenade was enclosed. Cunard decided that the ship's once revolutionary turbines were in desperate need of an overhaul.[22] In 1923, a major re-fitting was begun in Southampton. Mauretania's turbines were dismantled. Halfway through the overhaul, the shipyard workers went on strike and the work was halted, so Cunard had the ship towed to Cherbourg, France where the work was completed at another shipyard. In May 1924, the ship returned to Atlantic service.[22]

Mauretania's Second Class Smoking Room.

In 1928 Mauretania was modernized with "secret" engine modifications, new interior design and in the next year her speed record was broken by a German liner, the Bremen,[24] with a speed of 28 knots (52 km/h). On 27 August, Cunard permitted the former ocean greyhound to have one final attempt to recapture the record from the newer German liner. She was taken out of service and her engines were modified to produce more power to give a higher service speed; however, this was still not enough. The Bremen simply represented a new generation of ocean liners that were far more powerful and technologically advanced than the aging Cunard liner.[24] Even though Mauretania did not beat her German rival, the ship lost by just a fraction after decades of design improvement and beat all her own previous speed records both east and westbound. In 1929 Mauretania collided with a train ferry near Robbins Reef Light. No one was killed or injured and her damage was quickly repaired.

Mauretania at Southampton in 1933.

In 1930, with a combination of the Great Depression and newer competitors on the Atlantic run, Mauretania became a dedicated cruise ship[25] running six day cruises from New York to Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.[26] On 19 November 1930, Mauretania rescued 28 people and the ship's cat of the Swedish cargo ship Ovidia which foundered in the Atlantic Ocean 400 nautical miles (740 km) south east of Cape Race, Newfoundland.[27][28] In June 1933, she was painted white with green trim for cruise service. When Cunard Line merged with White Star Line in 1934, Mauretania, along with Olympic, Majestic, and other aging ocean liners, were deemed surplus to requirements and withdrawn from service.

Retirement and scrapping[edit]

Olympic (left) and Mauretania (right) moored along the "new" Western Docks in Southampton in 1935, before her final voyage to the breaker's yard in Rosyth, Scotland

Cunard withdrew Mauretania from service following a final eastward crossing from New York to Southampton in September 1934. The voyage was made at an average speed of 24 knots (44 km/h), equaling the original contractual stipulation for her mail subsidy. She was then laid up at Southampton alongside the former White Star Line flagship Olympic, her twenty-eight years of service at a close.[23]

In May 1935 her furnishings and fittings were put up for auction by Hampton and Sons and on 1 July that year she departed Southampton for the last time to Metal Industries shipbreakers at Rosyth.[23] One of her former captains, the retired commodore Sir Arthur Rostron, captain of the RMS Carpathia during the Titanic rescue, came to see her on her final departure from Southampton. Rostron refused to go aboard Mauretania before her final journey, stating that he preferred to remember the ship as she was when he commanded her.

Letter "E" from Mauretania, salvaged when the ship was broken up for scrap, located at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle

En route to Rosyth Mauretania stopped at her birthplace on the Tyne for half an hour, where she drew crowds of sightseers. Rockets were fired from her bridge, messages relayed, and she was boarded by the Lord Mayor of Newcastle. The mayor bade her farewell from the people of Newcastle, and her last captain, A. T. Brown, then resumed his course for Rosyth. With masts cut down to fit, the ship passed under the Forth Bridge and was delivered to the breakers.

The Mauretania arrived at Rosyth in Scotland at about 6 am on July 4, 1935 during a half-gale, passing under Firth of Forth Railway Bridge. By 6:30 she passed the entrance to the Metal Industries yards under the command of Pilot Captain Whince. A lone kilted piper was present at the quayside, playing a funeral lament for the beloved vessel. It was reported to author and historian John Maxtone-Graham that upon the final shut-down of her great engines, she gave a dark "..final shudder...". The Mauretania had her last public inspection on the 8th of July, a brilliant Sunday with 20,000 in attendance, with the monies raised going to local charities. Scrapping began shortly after and with great rapidity. Unusually, she was cut up afloat in dry dock, with a complex system of wooden battens and pencil marks to monitor her balance. In a month her funnels were gone. By 1936 she was little more than a hulk, and she was beached at the Tidal Basin at Metal Industries and her remaining hull chopped up. It was noted that some of her propellers required explosives to be removed.

To prevent a rival company using the name and to keep it available for a future Cunard White Star liner, arrangements were made for the Red Funnel Paddle Steamer Queen to be renamed Mauretania in the interim.[29]

The demise of the beloved Mauretania was protested by many of her loyal passengers, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who wrote a private letter against the scrapping.[4]

Scale model of Mauretania, located in the Discovery Museum in Newcastle. At the bow is Charles Parsons Turbinia of 1897, recreating the meeting of the two great vessels (then first and the largest turbine vessels in the world) on October 22, 1907 – Mauretania's departure from the Tyne for her delivery trip to Liverpool and formal trials

Some of the furnishings from Mauretania were installed in a bar/restaurant complex in Bristol called the Mauretania Bar (now Java Bristol), situated in Park Street. The bar was paneled with great quantities of richly carved and gilt old growth African mahogany, which came from her first class lounge. The neon sign made for the 1937 opening on the south wall still advertises Mauretania and her bow lettering was used above the entrance. Additionally, nearly the complete first class reading-writing room, with the original chandeliers and ornate gilt grilled bookcases, has been serving as the board room at Pinewood Studios, west of London. Unfortunately, it is no longer shimmering silver sycamore – it has been altered over the years to an amber.[4]

Maple panelling from one of the staterooms can be found in the Nont Sarahs Pub, New Hey Road (A640), Scammonden, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.[30] An original model of Mauretania is displayed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. after a long stay on the retired Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. A gift from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, it was repainted white and green sometime in the 1930s.

The ship's bell is currently located in the reception of the Lloyds Registry of Shipping, Fenchurch Street, London. Annually for Remembrance Day, Lloyds Register observe two minutes of silence and lay a wreath at its base in honour of servicemen and women.

RMS Mauretania ship's bell, Remembrance Day 2012

A large builder's model, showing Mauretania in her white cruising paint scheme, is displayed in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic's Cunard exhibit in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Originally a model of Lusitania, it was converted to represent Mauretania after Lusitania was torpedoed.[31]

Another large builder's model is situated aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner, currently located in Dubai. This model was also originally Lusitania, and, like the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic's model, it was converted into Mauretania after Lusitania was lost.[32] When inspecting the model, one can tell it was Lusitania by examining the different boom crutches and bridge front, which is on the boat deck level.

In 2010, a complete African mahogany pilaster from the first class lounge, fluted with an intricate gilt acanthus motif and intact rams head capital, was discovered and restored to its former glory. Since 2012, it has been on permanent display in the Discovery Museum's Segedunum Annex at Wallsend, just a few hundred yards from where it was carved and installed in the Swan Hunter fitting out basin, over a century earlier. Many examples of the liner's fixtures and fittings exist in private collections as well, including large sections of molding, panelling, ceilings, samples of her turbine blades and much more.

Mauretania is remembered in a song, "The fireman's lament" or "Firing the Mauretania", collected by Redd Sullivan.[33] The song starts "In 19 hundred and 24, I ... got a job on the Mauretania"; but then goes on to say "shovelling coal from morn till night" (not possible in 1924 as she was oil-fired by then). The number of "fires" is said to be 64. Hughie Jones also recorded the song but the last verse of Hughie's version calls upon all you "trimmers" whereas Redd Sullivan's version calls upon "stokers".[i]

The Clive Cussler Isaac Bell novel The Thief is set aboard Mauretania. A terrible fire engulfs the forward storage area but it is brought under control.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ A stoker shovelled coal into the furnaces of the boilers. A trimmer worked in the coal bunkers, bringing more coal forward as the nearer coal was used by the stokers. A boilerman was a more skilled role, with some responsibility for managing the operation of the boiler.
  1. ^ a b c Maxtone-Graham 1972, pp. 41–43.
  2. ^ a b Maxtone-Graham 1972, p. 24.
  3. ^ a b c Maxtone-Graham 1972, p. 11.
  4. ^ a b c Floating Palaces. (1996) A&E. TV Documentary. Narrated by Fritz Weaver.
  5. ^ UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2015), "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
  6. ^ a b Layton, J. Kent. (2007) Lusitania: An Illustrated Biography, Lulu Press, pp. 3, 39.
  7. ^ Vale, Vivian, The American Peril: Challenge to Britain on the North Atlantic, 1901–04, pp. 143–183.
  8. ^ Maxtone-Graham 1972, p. 25.
  9. ^ "RMS Mauretania Construction". Tyne and Wear Archives Service. Retrieved 23 November 2008. 
  10. ^ Layton 2007, p. 44.
  11. ^ Williams, Trevor. (1982) A short history of twentieth-century technology. Oxford University Press, p. 174.
  12. ^ Maxtone-Graham 1972, p. 15.
  13. ^ Maxtone-Graham 1972, pp. 38–39.
  14. ^ a b c "RMS Mauretania Fitting Out". Tyne and Wear Archives Service. Retrieved 25 November 2008. 
  15. ^ Maxtone-Graham 1972, p. 31.
  16. ^ a b c Maxtone-Graham 1972, pp. 33–36.
  17. ^ Maxtone-Graham 1972, p. 33.
  18. ^ Layton 2007, p. 120.
  19. ^ Layton 2007, pp. 170–171.
  20. ^ a b c d "RMS Mauretania War Service". Tyne and Wear Archives Service. Retrieved 23 November 2008. 
  21. ^ Ocean liners of the past: the Cunard express liners Lusitania and Mauretania. Published by Patrick Stephens, 1970 (p. 207).
  22. ^ a b c "RMS Mauretania Final (Service)". Tyne and Wear Archives Service. Retrieved 23 November 2008. 
  23. ^ a b c Maxtone-Graham 1972, pp. 342–345.
  24. ^ a b Maxtone-Graham 1972, p. 255.
  25. ^ Maxtone-Graham 1972, p. 340.
  26. '^ "Cruising to Canada", Canada's Ocean Playground' The Tourism Industry in Nova Scotia, 1870–1970, Nova Scotia Archives
  27. ^ "Swedish steamer abandoned" The Times (London). Thursday, 20 November 1930. (45675), col E, p. 16.
  28. ^ "Rescued Swedish crew" The Times (London). Friday, 21 November 1930. (45676), col F, p. 13.
  29. ^ Adams, R. B. [1986] Red Funnel and Before. Kingfisher Publications.
  30. ^ Nont Sarahs, New Hey Road, Scammonden, Huddersfield, HD3 3FJ 01484 842848 – History
  31. ^ Paul Moloney, "Toronto's Lusitania model bound for Halifax", Toronto Star, 30 January 2010.
  32. ^ "The Mauretania model on board QE2" The QE2 Story
  33. ^ Hugill, Stan in Spin, The Folksong Magazine, Volume 1, # 9, 1962.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Holder of the Blue Riband (Westbound)
Succeeded by
Atlantic Eastbound Record