1862 - 1904
the end of the 1850s, the steamship design had evolved quite
a lot from the early coastal or river boats. In 1840, Samuel Cunard inaugurated
his company’s North Atlantic service with the pioneering steamer Britannia.
She had a wooden hull, and this design was outmoded when Isambard Kingdom
Brunel’s iron-hulled Great Britain entered service in 1845. This
ship proved that iron was a better material than wood and that it would
allow for even larger ships to be built in the future. In spite of this,
it took another eleven years before the first iron-hulled Cunarder entered
service in 1856. She was the Persia, and besides being large and
modern she had also been built to be a speed queen. It did not take her
long to win the coveted Blue Riband in both the western and eastern direction,
averaging a speed of over 13 knots.
was fortunate for the Cunard Line, since they had been faced with fierce
competition since the early 1850s. The Collins Line, created
by the American Edward Knight Collins, had commissioned new ships, one
by one surpassing Cunard’s in both speed and luxury. Persia had
been ordered as a response to Collins’ ships, and with her new speed records
there finally seemed to be a change of tides in Cunard’s favour.
she was a modern ship when it came to her hull design, Persia sported
one very conservative feature – paddle wheels. Ever since the early steamship
days, there had been debate on whether the propeller was superior to the
paddle wheels or
not. In an attempt to settle
the issue once and for all, the British Admiralty decided to conduct an
experiment. In April of 1845, two small steamers were chartered for a simple
tug-o-war. The two ships – Rattler and Alecto – were very
similar in size and had equally powerful engines. The only significant
difference between them was their propulsion arrangements; Rattler
had a single propeller and Alecto was equipped with traditional
paddle wheels. On a calm sea with no winds, Rattler ended up towing
the Alecto at a speed of 2.8 knots. There seemed to be no question
about the propeller being superior. And further studies showed that the
propeller also made ships more economical to operate.
|The original design of
the Scotia, with masts ready to set sail if necessary. (From the
collection of Paul D. Edwards)
the engine arrangements required in a paddle steamer were not very practical.
The engines occupied the valuable space amidships, and left little room
for steerage quarters. With the increasing emigrant trade in mind, it would
be foolish not to build ships with steerage capacity.
spite of these seemingly convincing facts, Cunard’s new Persia had
been built as a paddle steamer in 1856. However, the company board was
not to be blamed alone for this decision. The Cunard Line had a mail contract
with the British government, who in their turn tended to follow the advice
of older, more experienced sea captains. In this case, conservatism prevailed
and Persia became a paddle wheeler.
had also planned a sister for Persia to be built shortly after her,
in order to really give the Collins Line a run for the money. But fate
had other things in store for Collins’ company. His ships had a remarkable
tendency to get into trouble and accidents. The Arctic was lost
in 1854 and two years later the Pacific vanished without a trace
in mid-Atlantic, with over 180 people on board. The Collins Line lost the
public trust, and the fact that Persia collided with an iceberg
the following month but managed to stay afloat and reach New York made
the passengers choose Cunard for their crossings. Collins was out of the
really did not have to rush the building of the new ship. But, the unfortunate
accidents that Collins Line had suffered had really brought attention to
the matter of maritime safety. Although Cunard had always held safety as
a top priority, the high safety standards of the Persia would be
improved on her sister ship. And just like Persia, the new ship
would be built by the shipbuilding firm of Robert Napier & Sons, Glasgow.
25th 1861, the new vessel was launched and christened Scotia.
Like her older sister, she was a paddle steamer with two funnels and two
masts. In fact, she had been designed with three masts, but one was removed
during the construction. The two ships were not identical, since Scotia
was slightly larger and longer. And then there was the case of safety arrangements.
Scotia’s hull was divided into seven compartments by six transverse,
watertight bulkheads. She had a double bottom, and her hull was considered
by many to be the strongest yet built. This had been achieved through very
heavy framing, with frames 7 to 10 inches thick only 21 inches apart.
she could enter service for Cunard, the Scotia had to go through
her sea trials. These were performed quite satisfactory in March of 1862,
and the ship managed to reach 13.5 knots. It was however expected that
she would reach higher speeds once her
engines had been properly run
in. Her manoeuvrability also turned out to be very good, when she was easily
moved around in the Mersey within her own length. Apparently, someone on
board is to have stated that she was "as stiff as a church".
|After her conversion
in 1879, the Scotia emerged as a twin-screw cable layer with a single
funnel. (From the collection of Paul D. Edwards)
just a little short of a year after her launch, Scotia was ready
to set out on her maiden voyage. On May 10th 1862, she left
Liverpool for New York as flagship of the Cunard fleet. In command was
Captain Judkins, commodore of Cunard Line, who had been transferred from
a paddle steamer, Scotia did not have any steerage quarters. She
had been designed as a First Class ship only. Her passenger cabins were
located along the maindeck, each being nine feet in height. Scotia
could also offer several public areas, such as the Fore Saloon (45 feet
long, 20 feet wide and 8 feet high) and the Main Saloon (62 feet long,
20 feet wide and 8 feet high). They were both lighted from the sides by
plates of glass placed in the alternate panels, together providing dining
space for 300 passengers. To provide for her passengers during the crossings,
Scotia was also equipped with a bakery, a butcher, a doctor’s shop
and an icehouse to mention a few facilities. Above decks, there was a promenade
reaching from stem to stern.
soon settled into her service on the North Atlantic, gathering quite a
loyal following. When her engines had been run in, she managed to beat
the Persia’s westbound speed record in July of 1863, and the eastbound
record the following December, both times averaging more than 14 knots.
Since Cunard did not have a real competitor at this time, Scotia’s
records would remain unchallenged for another six years.
no matter how fast and luxurious as she was, the paddle-wheel arrangement
was somewhat of a burden to Scotia. Her great consumption of coal
made her very expensive to operate, and the fact that she only had First
Class accommodations made it impossible for Cunard to use her for the emigrant
business. Financially, she was not very successful. In fact, Cunard even
lost money on some of her voyages. But, she and her sister were very loved
ships among many travellers.
the technological progress caught up with Scotia. In 1869, she lost
the eastbound speed record to Inman Line’s City of Brussels – a
3,081 gross ton, single-screw steamer. The westbound honours remained hers
for another three years, but finally she had to give that up to the brand-new
White Star liner Adriatic in May 1872. Adriatic was a state-of-the-art,
single-screw liner with a sleek hull, a design that made the Scotia
look hopelessly old-fashioned and outdated. It would be another 13 years
before a Cunarder would hold the Blue Riband again.
stayed with Cunard for another four years, but by 1876 it was no longer
possible for the company to keep her in service anymore. The Russia,
a single-propeller steamer that had entered service in 1867, showed that
the paddle-steamers were definitely inferior. Cunard wanted a fleet of
modern ships, and thus there was no place for Scotia anymore. Her
sister, Persia, had been scrapped in 1872, and now the future looked
grim for Scotia too. In May of 1876, Cunard’s last paddle steamer
was laid up.
years she remained in lay-up, awaiting her future. Then, in 1879, she was
purchased by the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company for conversion
into a cable-layer. All of a sudden with a new career in sight, the Scotia
was sent to the Birkenhead yards of Laird for the extensive refit. She
emerged as a completely different ship, re-engined with one of her funnels
removed, and her paddle wheels
replaced by two propellers. Her tonnage had increased to 4,667 gross tons
and since she was no longer intended to break any speed records, her service
speed had been brought down to a modest 11.5 knots.
|A photo from the Scotia's
wrecksite, showing a few of her remnants. (From the collection of Paul
Scotia settled into a second career, this time employed to lay telegraph
cables. Obviously not as glamorous as the North Atlantic passenger trade,
she did experience a few dramatic incidents. In 1896, while 60 miles off
Eddystone, an explosion in her cable anti-fouling paint store caused serious
damage to the ship’s bow. Fortunately – probably thanks to the safety design
from her Cunard days – Scotia managed to stay afloat and reach port.
After repairs had been carried out, she was back in service again soon.
survived into the 20th century, and in 1902 she was sold to
the Commercial Cable Company for use as a repair ship in the Pacific Ocean,
based at Guam. However, after only two years with her new owners, on March
11th 1904 the ship ran aground on Spanish Rock on Catalan Bank
off Guam, while en route to Honolulu.
Scotia’s design proved reliable once again. Stuck on the reef amidships,
with both ends free, the ship’s iron hull managed to withstand the immense
strain until everyone on board had been rescued. But the hull could not
take such stress much longer, and before salvage could begin, the Scotia
broke her back and sank during a storm two weeks after the initial grounding.
remained where she had sunk, and around 1910 a salvage team managed to
recover all engine apparatus, with the exception of the crankshafts. In
the process, she was blasted flat from midships forward. Today, the remains
of the Scotia lies at a depth of 30 feet. Sitting upright, there
are still a few things recognisable from her glory days. The counter stern
is still there, as well as the double bottom and one boiler.
|The Scotia - Specifications:
||400 feet (122.2 m)
||47.8 feet (14.6 m)
||3,871 gross tons
||One two-cylinder side
lever steam engine, turning two side paddle wheels.