1856 - 1872
the mid-19th century, the Cunard Line was a young company. Its
biggest rivals had not appeared yet, but competitors such as the American
Collins Line gave them an arch-rival, for the time being. The Collins Line
had quickly established their houseflag since the start of trans-Atlantic
steamship business and was seen on the North Atlantic as one of the absolutely
best and most reliable shipping companies. Ships such as Arctic
and Pacific graced the waves of the North Atlantic, proudly sporting
the Collins Line’s livery.
had started business in 1840 when they put the distinguished Blue Riband-taker Britannia
in service. She was followed by three sisters. In
1843 the slightly larger Hibernia
entered Cunard service. Just as the Britannia this ship only took the eastbound
Blue Riband into possession. Hibernia held the title until 1849,
and as Britannia and her sister Columbia still were fast ships,
Cunard did not worry about losing the reputation they had of being the fastest shipping
company on the North Atlantic. However,
competition hardened and Cunard lost the Blue Riband to the American-based Collins Line
in the early 1850s.
Cunard had to do something.
|A lovely painting of
Cunard's beautiful Persia.
since the pre-historic day when one of the early primates took a log, sat
on it, and floated down the river, ships had been made from wood. The industrial
revolution in Europe changed all this. The famous British engineer Isambard
Kingdom Brunel had proved with his Great Britain of 1845 that ships
made of iron would float. When ocean going vessels now reached lengths
of 300 feet or more, a stronger material than wood was needed to keep a
ship’s hull together in one piece. Brunel had set the standard with the
Great Britain of 1843. When Cunard needed a ship to compete with
the Collins Line, they commissioned one made of iron from the Scottish
shipbuilders Robert Napiers & Sons Ltd.
the step from wood to iron must have been a gigantic step for the ultraconservative
Cunard Line. Otherwise the ship would be very traditional – three sailing
masts, a clipper bow and, of course, paddle wheels instead of the proven
better screw, or propeller. As history would have it, this
would be the Cunard Line’s second to last paddle wheeler. The last one
was her close to identical sister ship that emerged shortly after her.
By 1855, the new liner was nearing completion. She was launched and christened
Persia a few months before she set out on her maiden voyage from
Liverpool to New York on January 26, 1856. Three months later she had captured
the Blue Riband of the Atlantic for Cunard. As Persia was the largest
vessel in the world at the time, Cunard had now totally surpassed the Collins
was not for two very unfortunate events during the 1850s, the
Collins Line might have continued its trans-Atlantic service for a much
longer time. In 1854, their Arctic collided with a small French
vessel who mortally wounded the larger ship. She sank with a heavy loss
of life, including the company’s founder Edward Knight Collins' wife and
two of his children. In January 1856, another Collins liner
– Pacific – disappeared without a trace never to be seen again until
1986 when a fisherman’s nets got tangled up in the wreck. Probably, the
Pacific had encountered ice. When the Persia smashed into
an iceberg the following month, she suffered serious damage to her starboard
paddlebox. Luckily, she stayed afloat and managed to reach New York under sail.
Following these indidents, the public’s
faith in the Collins Line shrunk as the popularity of Cunard rose to heights
never expected. The Collins Line was dead.
|Cunard's first iron-hulled
ship, sporting her conservative paddle wheels and clipper bow.
as 1863, the Persia lost the Blue Riband in both directions to her
sister – the last paddle steamer Scotia. It would take more than
twenty years before Cunard had the award in their hands again. In 1867
the Persia made her last trans-Atlantic crossing. Cunard thought
her old-fashioned and aimed at newer and more modern liners. The following
year she was sold, and had her engines removed. Then she spent the four
coming years laid up, until she was sold for scrap at the age of 16. The
handsome Persia was broken up on the River Thames in London in 1872.
|The Persia - Specifications:
||360 feet (110 m)
||45 feet (13.7 m)
||3,414 gross tons
||Side lever engines geared
to two paddle wheels.