They Wouldn’t Hire Noah Himself

JAMES DUGAN August 15 1950

They Wouldn’t Hire Noah Himself

JAMES DUGAN August 15 1950

They Wouldn’t Hire Noah Himself



SIR SAMUEL CUNARD, who founded the world’s largest steamship line in 1840, was originally a merchant prince of Halifax, N.S. The Cunard Line has been sovereign of the Atlantic for more than a century largely because Sam Cunard had a pretty complete idea of how to operate steamships before he ever saw one. In 1826, a year before the Dutch paddle-wheeler Curaçao became the first ship to cross the Atlantic entirely under steam, Sam wrote to a friend that “steamships properly built and manned” could cross the ocean and arrive “at their destinations with the punctuality of railway trains on land.”

Sam was no idle dreamer. He was the richest and go-gettinest merchant in Halifax, agent of the East India Company, owner of whaling ships, iron mines on Prince Edward Island, and Cape Breton coal mines. He had brought the first cargo of Canton tea direct from China to Halifax in the clipper Countess of Harcourt. He was a millionaire at 40.

He was well equipped to venture into steamship operation. His Bluenose sailing packets had held the Halifax-Bermuda mail contracts for years. In 1830 he became a £1,000 partner in Canada’s early steamship, Royal William, built in Quebec around Montreal engines. In 1833 Royal William became the second ship to cross the Atlantic entirely under steam.

Sam Cunard was born in Halifax in 1787, whence his father, Abraham, a Philadelphia Quaker, had emigrated when his crown allegiance made the new republic too hot for him. The family name was originally German, lip-changed from Kunders to Cunard.

In 1839, when Sam Cunard was a substantial ship operator of 52 years of age. he lit out from Halifax for England to have a go at his longdreamed-of scheme for an “ocean railway.” The bustling Canadian thought the time was ripe the British Admiralty was inviting bids for carrying mail to North America and a $225,000 annual subsidy was offered for carrying them on schedule.

Fanny Kemble, the famous actress, described Sam Cunard as he invaded Britain. “He believed in himself. He made both men and things bend to his will.” Fanny met the “shy, silent, rather rustic gentleman with the keen eyes, firm lips and happy manners” at Mrs. Norton’s saloon. Mrs. Norton was the reigning beauty and the favorite of Prime Minister Lord Melbourne. Sam had wasted no time lodging himself in the right place to find political favor.

The inside track on the mail contract was held by the magnificent 205-foot steamer, Great Western, the first designed specifically for the Atlantic crossing. The operation of Great Western guaranteed monthly mails to Halifax. Unabashed by the fact that he had no ships Sam moved with upsetting speed on all fronts at once. He had influence in the cabinet undoubtedly but he also had a solid reputation as a ship operator and when he held out the promise of a line, as against a single ship, to carry the mails he received a promise of the mail contract. Putting these two promises together he ended up with the mail subsidy and the beginnings of a steamship line.

Mark Twain put his finger on the red funnel formula when he found that it takes 15 years to tailor a Cunard captain to exact specification. Those masters have sunk U-hoats, berthed a Queenship without tugs and steered the line to the best of its 110 years.

Cunard took on two shrewd partners, Scottish ship owners George Burns and David Maclver, and ordered the first four sister ships of the famous line from David Napier. He swept through moneyed circles in Liverpool and Glasgow and raised $1 million in 10 days. The four sisters were 225-foot paddle-wheelers named for the lands they were to serve: Britannia, Acadia, Caledonia and Columbia, which set the “ia” suffix and the geographical names characteristic of most Cunard liners ever since.

Samuel Cunard was aboard the flagship Britannia on her maiden voyage to Boston in 1840. Partner George Burns prayed over the ship. Partner David Maclver reinforced the divine petition with the first of the company’s stringent safety orders to the crew.

Sam’s prodigal reception in Boston established the pattern of Yankee hospitality and hoopla which has greeted the Cunarders ever since. Cunard and Boston were good to each other. One time Britannia got herself embarrassingly frozen solid in Boston’s “ice-free” harbor. The townsmen turned out by the thousands and hacked a channel to the sea. Cunard ships were soon contributing $1 million a year in port dues.

Cunard was also aided by a cockeyed romantic idea held among U. S. ship operators that steamships were a novelty but clipper ships made the money. While the plodding Cunarders paddled punctually across the ocean, New England builders, led by the Nova Scotian genius of the clipper ship, Donald McKay, continued to launch the quixotic square-riggers for 30 years after Sam had proved steam was superior.

When Sir Samuel Cunard—he had been knighted by Queen Victoria—died in 1865 the ruin of U. S. shipping was complete. Four years of civil war had driven American commerce from the seas. Sam’s epitaph was solemnly simple and complete, everything in a word, “CUNARD.”

Maclver and Burns carried on for a decade when son John Burns, the next great name in Cunard annals, took over. As the first Lord Inverclyde, Burns guided the company into the 20th century. Sam Cunard’s immediate heirs had no gift for steamship operation and the Burnses took over. In recent times the Bateses of the Brocklebank Line, founded in 1765 and absorbed by Cunard, have headed the Cunard Line.

The greatest crisis in Cunard history came when the second Lord Inverclyde took over from his father in 1900. The wolf was at the door. Inverclyde opened it for him and found that J. P. Morgan, Sr., had cast his imperial eye on the Cunard Line.

Morgan, who controlled U. S. railroads and banks, now proposed to take all the steamships on the Atlantic into a gigantic trust called the International Mercantile Marine. He tied in with some smart German manipulators, acquired North German Lloyd and another German line, the Belgian Red Star Line, the Holland-American Line, and three British companies, the largest of which was the doughty Inman Line. Morgan had them all but Cunard and its biggest rival White Star. Soon White Star slid into the Morgan portfolio. Morgan’s agents approached Lord Inverclyde to sell 51% of Cunard’s stock. Inverclyde held out for selling all of it!

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At this point British maritime pride entered the picture. The country seethed at the idea of losing one of its prime national assets. Parliament partially blocked the White Star deal by requiring that the majority stock must be held by British subjects, although operational control remained in Morgan’s grasp. To keep Cunard British, the government subsidized the line with $10 millions and put down a statute that none but British subjects could own Cunard stock, a law that still

Morgan was body-checked on the last pass before his goal. He roared vengeance; the great Morgan fleet would sweep the red funnel off the ocean. The Cunard directors benched Lord Inverclyde in 1905 because he had assented to the Morgan offer and put in William Watson, a British cotton broker of Charleston, N.C. Watson took the $10 millions and entered the maritime war by building the fabulous sister ships Lusitania and Mauretania. They were 790 feet long with quadruple-screw Parsons turbine engines and could steam at 28 knots with 3,000 passengers and crew apiece. In the year they were launched, 1907, Mauretania took the Atlantic Blue Ribbon for speed from Morgan’s best ship, Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Morgan’s combined lines cut fares. Cunard matched the cuts, plunging into its capital reserves. Neither could stand the price war and Morgan’s unwieldy organization sued for an armistice, proposing to share the transAtlantic business. Cunard agreed and kept up a red-hot shipbuilding program, which saw 13 new red funnel ships launched in five years. Morgan’s combination fell apart in 1912 at a heavy loss. That year British steamship companies throughout the world averaged 7% dividend.

The Mauretania held the Atlantic Blue Ribbon for 22 years and left New York on her last voyage the day Queen Mary was launched in 1934. (The new Mauretania came in 1939.) Her sister Lusitania became famous in another way in 1915 when she was torpedoed with a loss of 1,198 lives.

Breaking Windows With Gold

The Cunarders built in the fight with Morgan carried a million troops in World War I, but sustained heavy losses to U-boats. The Cunarders Phrygia and Valeria turned the tables by sinking U-boats with deck guns. Campania, fitted asan armed merchant cruiser, became the Cunarder to best a commercial rival by naval action. One fine day off Trinidad during the Kaiser’s War Campania spied a Hamburg-America steamer also gunned up as a naval auxiliary. The German ship had been renamed Cap Trafalgar. The Cunard crew, angry at the enemy presumption of using the name of Nelson’s great victory, up and sank the German vessel, then managed to elude the German cruiser Krön Prinz Wilhelm and got away.

Most of Cunard’s rivals sank them-

Down through the steamship century the U. S. Congress has been tireless in ladling out money to whip Cunard. In 1850 Congress decided to buy the ocean waves by sui s d;zing a leading clipper ship operator named E. K. Collins. Collins launched four remarkable steamships which quickly bested Cunard in speed and luxury. Cunard partner Maclver observed, “The Collins people are pretty much in the situation of breaking our windows with sovereigns, which, though very fine fun, is too costly to keep up.”

Collins grabbed the headlines and the passengers in his reckless attempts for speed records. In 1854 the Collins steamer Arctic was pouring on the coal in the fog belt off the Grand Banks when it struck the French steamship Vesta. Among the 322 drowned were Collins’ family. The surviving lifeboat held 14 passengers and 34 crew members, a proportion which tended to discourage Collins Line ticket sales and reflected on U. S. seamanship. Cunard kept plodding along safely. Collins lost two more ships in racing disasters and went out of business in eight years.

From the Kaiser’s War to Hitler’s War, Congress handed out $900 millions in ship subsidies and then appointed an investigating committee to see what had happened. The committee reported there was no merchant marine to show for it. Last year Congress gave United States Lines $67 millions to build a super-dooper rival to the Cunard Queenships. United States, as she will be called, is costing three times as much as Queen Mary, and will be bankrolled with operational subsidies to compensate for the lower crew wages on Cunarders. Cunard’s attitude toward this grand patriotic impulse is not as much trepidation as it is envy. Parliament does its best by Cunard, but can’t get that kind of dough.

The Germans Wipe Themseves Out

When a legislature becomes steamship-proud the people have to pay for it. The landlubbing taxpayer, who never takes a deepwater voyage in his life, pays for the baked alaska and Turkish baths of ocean travelers through building subsidies, operating subsidies, mail subsidies and wage differential subsidies. Legislatures justify the pay-out because of national pride and the usefulness of express liners in war. Between wars the leisure class enjoys the benefits of patriotism and preparedness.

The German shipowner, always a tenacious contender or. the Atlantic, periodically wipes himself out in wars. Take the sad story of North German Lloyd’s monster sisters Vaterland, Imperator and Bismarck, launched in 1912 as the biggest liners afloat. In 1914 they were promptly laid up as prisoners in their own harbors by the Royal Navy. In 1918 they were shared out as war spoils. White Star got Bismarck, which became Majestic. Cunard took Imperator and dubbed her Berengaria. United States Lines drew the huge Vaterland and operated her as Leviathan, lushly backed with government subsidies. Leviathan was a costly flop, while the British made money with the other sisters. The sole war prize liner left of German building between the two world wars, Europa, is entering service this summer as the French Line’s Liberte.

The French play the subsidy game cautiously. Ninety years ago Louis Napoleon got so brave with his taxpayers’ money that he put up a subsidy which allowed French steamers to make a round trip to New York without passengers and show a profit. The superb French Line today nearly pays for itself.

“No One Leaves This Ship"

Mark Twain put his finger on one of Cunard’s virtues when he said, “The Cunard people would not take Noah himself until they had worked him up through all the lower grades and tried him 10 years. It takes them about 10 or 15 years to manufacture a captain and when they have got him manufactured to suit at last they have full confidence in him.” The Cunard Line, in fact, practically invented the tradition of the steamer captain.

The original partners, instead of hiring waterfront types, recruited their crews among respectable skilled tradesmen who had never been to sea, lectured them endlessly on safety, prayed over them at sailings, and even required the skippers to read the Anglican service every Sunday at sea. The skippers were told never to leave port against their judgment, never to race other ships, never to strain to keep schedules. At the same time the mail contracts provided $4,000-a-dav penalties for arriving late. Somehow the Cunard masters satisfied George Burns’ conscience and Sam’s pocketbook This tended to build character: it made a new breed of captain, ready to go down with the ship or up to the ba rone tage.

The skipper had to be resourceful. Captain C. H. E. Judkins took Persia into New York Bay in 1858 and was boarded by a health officer; the Yankee suspected smallpox and ordered the skipper to put no one ashore. Judkins said he would comply. The health officer started for the ladder and found Judkins blocking his way. “I regret to tell you, sir,” said the captain, “that I am ordered to allow no one off this ship.” The official ordered him to dock immediately, where he had Judkins arrested. The town roared at the joke. Judkins was acquitted and had to push back to the ship through throngs who wanted to buy him a drink.

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Captain Daniel Dow, “Paddy the Irishman,” a famous Cunard master 40 years ago. forgot the regulations on the day war was declared in 1914. Paddy was on the bridge of Lusitania, eastbound two days from Liverpool, training his glasses on a strange fellow-traveler —a surfaced German U-boat which had been cruising alongside for some hours. The sub and the ship received wireless messages simultaneously that war had been declared. Paddy rang his engineroom bells for full steam, veered off his course and ran headlong into a fogbank, violating three of George Burns’ sacred safety rules. Paddy reached Liverpool safely.

In 1945 Captain Sir Robert Irving of Queen Elizabeth came up Ambrose Channel with 20,000 homecoming troops aboard and was warned that there was a complete tugboat strike in New York Harbor. He continued on into the North River at 10 knots, turned his 85,000-ton vessel broadside and inched into his berth under his own power. Among liner men Sir Robert’s tugless arrival is one of the new legends of the sea.

U. S. Admiral Emory Land says, “Our present civilization is the child of the steamship.” Since the waterfall thunder of the paddle first sounded on the Atlantic, steamships have created cities and have strewn the world’s goods like cornucopias. They have decided the logistics of war and carried peaceful peoples to each other. The biggest mark of steamships on human history was the populating of Canada and the United States. Since 1840, 40 million immigrants have come to North America, practically all of them by steamship. It would take the two Cunard Queens 190 years of ceaseless weekly shuttling to carry the lot.

The “old” immigration, mainly from Britain and Ireland, was the first great population lift—8 million people by 1880. Then began the “new” immigration which extended its human stockpiling far into eastern and Mediterranean Europe, bringing 32 million souls in 40 years. It was perhaps the greatest ethnic event in history.

Traffic in Human Hopes

The steamship made the emigrant and the emigrant made the steamship lines. Both of them made us what we are today. Many an elderly Canadian will remember the loathsome steerage, but more will recall the better dormitory type of accommodation which emigrants found after 1900. The improvement came about through an inherent annoyance of ship operation; while ship owm rs could not build vessels numerous i n tugh or big enough to handle the westbound traffic, those same ships had to return to Europe almost empty. Ships in which the eager emigrant would suffer filth and disease were not fit for tourists or commercial travelers going the other way. To get eastbound loads ship owners had to give the emigrant the same decent quarters westbound.

To make money on the return voyage to Europe steamship lines cut rates and bid for a new class of traveler students, teachers, and the lower middle class who were willing to travel in sociable dormitory style. TransAtlantic fare rates tell the story: In

Great Western, the first steamer designed for the Atlantic crossing, accommodation inferior to tramp ships today cost more than $200, a rich man’s fee in those days. In 1921, in the immigrantdesigned steamers, a student could travel to the Continent, make a twomonth bicycle tour, and return for a total outlay of $100.

The peak year of North American immigration was 1907, when Cunard launched Lusitania and Mauretania and J. P. Morgan was operating nine steamship lines in the traffic of humanity and its aspirations. In 1907 nearly a million and a half new Americans crossed the Atlantic. Cunard attempted to get a monopoly on the human freight from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The line contracted with the Hapsburg regime to handle all its human exports through the port of Fiume for $40 a head. The government had several reasons to welcome the arrangement: it could get rid of landless peasants in bulk, prevent men of military age from escaping, and get a cutback on the $40 the emigrants paid for passage. But the stubborn peasants doublecrossed everybody; they walked to Hamburg, Germany, and embarked on cheap Morgan ships, or they slipped into Adriatic ports and sailed to the streets of gold at $8 a soul. Cunard got only 40,000 government-stamped emigrants.

History, News And Profits

But fat days are here again. T he top boom year in trans-Atlantic travel is 1950. Cunard has 15 passenger ships passing each other in parade on the North Atlantic tracks. Six of them come to Canada, after having served the largest pilgrim flurry of our day — 200,000 British and displaced persons since 1946. The rest serve the U. S. where the door by the Statue of Liberty is slightly ajar. Millions came there once in steamers, now hundreds dribble through on immigration quotas. The eastbound ships are full of students, stenographers, the car dealer with two slow months, the girl who wants to get married (an old steamship type), and the retired couple. A few decks above recline Noel Coward, Virginia Mayo and Lord Beaverbrook. Seven out of every 10 travelers from this continent to Britain are listening to a Scottish stewardess and a cockney bartender on a Cunard ship.

Although Southampton is now the home port of the Cunarders, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, Mauretania and Caronia, the company headquarters are still in Liverpool, from which the first paddle-wheelers sailed. There on the Merseyside is the Cunard Building, a grim granite hulk. The cavernous corridors are lined with glass cast's holding models of past Cunard liners, like so many stuffed birds who once flew free.

Cunard’s board chairman is hrederick A. Bates, brother of Sir Percy who built the Queenships. Below the granite eminence he can see Sloyne Pool in the grey river and the Cunard buoy, where Cunard steamships have moored since IH40 when Halifax s Sam Cunard embarked in Britannia for Boston. Below him is the pontoon landing stage, where a Cunarder lull of Hillman Minx convertibles, T’angye pumps, and Stilton cheese is loading passengers.

Cunard makes money. It makes history and news This has been going on for 110 years and rival shipowners anafraid it will last much longer than that.