Early days of Cunard
Samuel Cunard, Pioneer of Transatlantic Steam Navigation
Samuel Cunard was born in 1787, the son of a master carpenter in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He became a ship broker and later joined and expanded the family business to include ship broking, chartering and victualling various West Indies trading sailing ships. By 1838 some 40 sailing vessels were owned by his company which was renamed Samuel Cunard & Company.
In 1839 Samuel Cunard, in partnership with George Burns of Glasgow and David MacIver of Liverpool, established the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. This company won the contract from the Admiralty in London to operate a regular transatlantic mail service.
In July 1840 the newly built Britannia left Liverpool for Halifax to inaugurate this service carrying 63 passengers including Samuel Cunard and his daughter.
The company grew rapidly. New York replaced Boston as the Cunard American terminus. The first iron-hulled ship Persia sailed Liverpool - New York in 1856, followed over the next few years with smaller ships on secondary and Mediterranean services. In 1876 Samuel Cunard died and in 1878 the company was renamed the Cunard Steam Ship Company Ltd. There was much rivalry for speed between shipping companies and even between ships within the company. Efforts to modernise design both technical and interior were a priority.
1880 - 1914 Many new ships were built designed to carry passengers as well as cargo, including the famous sisters Lusitania and Mauretania which were launched in 1904.
The immediate post war period saw further expansion in the company. More ships were brought into service but the world depression of the 1930s had a disastrous effect on transatlantic travel. However government loans conditional upon the merger of Cunard with the White Star Company allowed the Queen Mary to be completed and launched in 1934 and the Queen Elizabeth in 1938. Earlier the same year Mauretania II was launched, the first ship built entirely by the Cunard-White Star partnership. All three were used as troopships during World War II.
After World War II competition from airlines became a threat especially in the business sector. Although many of those seeking a new life in North America continued to travel by ship, there was an increase in those looking to travel for pleasure. The Cunard Company responded positively to this trend and has continued to develop the cruising market, maintaining a standard of excellence acknowledged worldwide.
Some of the artefacts in our exhibition
Cunard Crest - This large Cunard crest was located on the exterior wall of the Cunard Company offices in Queenstown (now Cobh) from 1867 until the early 1900s. When the Cunard Line merged with the White Star Line in 1934 the crest was moved to a basement, where it remained until 1973 when it was given to Cobh Museum. In 2012 conservation work was carried out on the crest and it is on display in the entrance porch of the museum.
Copyright Cobh Museum 2014