1870 - 1956
in the 1860s, the transatlantic shipping industry was still
in its cradle. The most powerful company operating ships across the North
Atlantic was the British Cunard Line, which had inaugurated their sailings
in 1840 with their first steamer – Britannia. Cunard had been faced
with fierce competition in the guise of the American Collins Line during
the 1850s, but since the Collins ships had an extraordinary
ability to get into trouble or even founder, the Collins Line went bankrupt
in the early 1860s. For the time being, Cunard was the sole
maintain their position as the largest shipping company on the North Atlantic
route, Cunard had to operate a fleet of modern ships. In the late 1860s,
the company decided to order a new trio of modern, state-of-the-art ships.
And to have them all completed as soon as possible, the ships were to be
built at different shipyards. The two first ships, which were to be named
Abyssinia and Algeria, would be built
by the Glasgow firm of J & G Thomson. The third ship was contracted
to William Denny & Bros., Dumbarton.
|An old photograph, showing
the Parthia in port.
2nd 1870, the keel was laid on what was to be the finest ship
yet of the Cunard fleet. Over the months, work progresses at a steady pace,
until the day of launch finally arrived on September 10th that
same year. Christened Parthia, the new ship would soon be ready
to enter service for her owners.
glance, the Parthia probably looked more or less identical to her
two older sisters. Like them, she had a flush-deck, an open bridge, three
masts rigged for sail and a single funnel. The trio was the finest so far
in Cunard service, and they were the first of the company’s ships to have
bathrooms – one on the port side, and one on the starboard side. However,
there were some significant differences between the three sisters. Some
200 gross tons smaller than her siblings, Parthia had been designed
as a smaller, yet superior unit of the class. She had been fitted with
compound engines, more efficient than those of her sisters, and required
only half the amount of coal to achieve the same service speed. Subsequently,
she did not require as much coal storage space. One could also tell the
ships apart by the Parthia’s thinner funnel, which was located slightly
closer to the mainmast than it was on her sisters.
on December 17th 1870, Parthia set out on her maiden
voyage, leaving Liverpool bound for New York. She had cost £94,970
to complete, and it was now up to the ship to prove her worth. Crossing
the North Atlantic with a service speed of nearly 13 knots, the Parthia
did not disappoint her owners. However, although she was a propeller ship,
her speed was not enough to take the westbound Blue Riband from another
Cunarder – the paddle steamer Scotia. Nevertheless, Parthia
had performed satisfactory, and she now settled into to her service, soon
becoming well acquainted with the swell of the North Atlantic.
time being, she was one of the superior ships on the Atlantic, but it was
not long before Parthia was outmoded by new vessels. In 1871, the
new White Star Line opened business with their first steamer, the Oceanic,
which surpassed Parthia in both length and size as well as in comfort.
Still, Parthia continued serving the Cunard Line for a little more
than a decade. But this was a time of great technological advances, and
by the 1880s the Parthia was no longer a state-of-the-art liner.
But she was still a ship of calibre, and she proved this when she was called
in to serve as a troop transport during General Gordon’s Egyptian campaign
|A drawing depicting the
Parthia under steam at sea.
the ship was returned to her owners, Cunard was aiming at new goals, and
it wasn’t certain that there was a place for Parthia in the company’s
future fleet. And so, after having completed her 119th voyage,
the Parthia was laid up at Liverpool in November of 1883.
the next chapter in Parthia’s career began. Cunard had ordered two
new vessels, Umbria and Etruria, from the yards of John Elder
& Co. When they were completed, the Parthia was acquired as
part payment for the new pair of liners. Umbria and Etruria
both went on to win the Blue
Riband for Cunard, but the Parthia’s days as a Cunarder was now
over. The man who owned the Elder yard, Sir William Pearce MP, was also
the owner of the Guion Line. So, the Parthia was now transferred
to Guion ownership, and after she had been refitted with new, triple-expansion
engines in 1885, the ship entered service for her new owners on runs to
Australia, the Hebrides and South America.
however, she would soon see a new change of her life. The Canadian Pacific
Railway Co. was about to inaugurate their trans-Pacific service, but the
ordered vessels had not yet been completed. So, together with several other
ships, the Parthia was placed in Canadian Pacific service. Now she
was to sail another ocean, and on July 4th 1887 she made her
maiden arrival at the port of Vancouver.
years later, on August 20th 1891, Parthia made her 20th
and final sailing for the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. Given back to the
Guion Line, she was taken in for a modernisation refit. She emerged in
1892 with only two masts and with the new name Victoria.
afterwards, the ship was transferred to the Northern Pacific Steamship
Co., and placed on their Tacoma-Hong Kong service. All of a sudden, the
Victoria was in competition with her old fleet mates of Canadian
Pacific. But neither this part of the ship’s career would be very long.
|Completely rebuilt in
1924, the Victoria saw many years of service in the icy waters of
Alaska. (Picture courtesy of Charlie Burrow)
later, in October of 1898, the Victoria was again transferred to
new owners. This time, it was the North American Mail SS Co. who acquired
and started operating her under the US flag. The following year, the Victoria’s
American registry enabled the authorities to requisition her for trooping
duties during the Spanish-American war of 1899-1900. Victoria was
used to transport soldiers to Manila, but she only completed three such
she was returned to her owners in 1900, gold fever struck Puget Sound and
Victoria was used to carry hundreds of eager prospectors to Nome.
In October the following year, the ship was reverted to her former owners,
the Northern Pacific SS Co. She only stayed with them for a further three
years though, before she was again sold in 1904, this time to the Northwestern
SS Co. and placed in Alaska service, where her inch-thick iron hull soon
proved to have excellent ice-breaking abilities. She soon saw war action
again, when in 1905 she was used as a blockade runner during the Russo-Japanese
war, carrying supplies to the Russian port of Vladivostok.
of 1908 however, the eight-ship fleet of Northwestern SS Co. was acquired
by the Alaska SS Co. The soon 40-year old Victoria was still looked
upon as useful, and she was placed on the company’s San Francisco-Seattle-Nome
route. There she remained for several years,
and in 1924 it was decided to give the now 54-year old vessel a refit in
order to reach contemporary standards. Victoria was re-engined,
given new boilers and converted to oil fuel, and her appearance was much
altered when her decks were raised, the superstructure was added to and
the bridge was enclosed. As a result of this extensive refit, the ship
emerged with a higher passenger capacity as well as more comfortable accommodation.
In many ways a virtually new ship, the Victoria then returned to
service once again.
the Victoria had the honour of making the very first Arctic cruise
of the Alaska SS Co. During the voyage she called at Nome and Kotzebue
before proceeding to the Arctic ice pack, coming as close as four miles
of Wrangell Island, Siberia.
|Reduced to a barge and renamed
Straits Maru for her final voyage, the former Parthia was towed to Japan and scrapped
in 1956. (Picture courtesy of Charlie Burrow)
by now time was really starting to catch up with the old Victoria.
In 1935 she was laid up for three years at Lake Union due to the cost of
meeting US safety and fire precautions. Five years later, in 1940, her
passenger accommodation was removed and she was converted to carry cargo
only. During the Second World War, Victoria was operated by the
US War Administration and from 1941 to 1947 she made 46 voyages to Alaska.
the war, there did not seem to be much work for the Victoria. In
1952, she was sold to Dulien Steel Products for breaking up, and she was
placed in lay-up at Houghton, Lake Washington. An inspection showed that
the old iron hull was still sound, and amazingly the ship managed to escape
the breakers in spite of her age.
the Victoria was purchased by the Straits Towing & Salvage Co.
of Vancouver. Needless to say, they did not have any glorious career in
mind for the old ship, and had her converted into the log-carrying barge
Straits No. 27. Fortunately, she would not remain in this degrading
service for long. In 1956, what was left of the old former Parthia
was sold to Japanese breakers. Renamed Straits Maru for her final
voyage, she was loaded with scrap iron and towed to Osaka by the tug Sudbury.
She arrived there on October 16th 1956, and the dismantling
process would soon begin. The Parthia reached an astonishing age
of 86 years.
|The Parthia/Victoria -
||360.5 feet (110.1
||40.3 feet (12.3 m)
||3,167 gross tons
||Compound steam engines,
turning a single propeller.
||200 1st class, 1,050