R.M.S. Mauretania 1907-1935


 

By Eric Keith Longo

In Memory of Mrs. Florence Oxley Robson (neé Baker), 1903–2005

Originally published in 2006; revised in February 2008 with additional information and unpublished photographs. Further information and a correction added in September 2009.

Cunard naval architect Leonard Peskett (1858-1924) designed the Mauretania and sister Lusitania (1907), as well as their later running mate the Aquitania (1914).  Originally conceived in May, 1901 as a pair of three-funneled liners, the contracts for their turbines were signed by May of 1904.  Construction began on Lusitania in Spring at the John Brown Shipyard on the Clyde.  On August 18, 1904, under a custom 750 foot glazed building berth complete with moveable cranes and hydraulic equipment, the keel of hull No. 735 was laid at the yards of Messrs. Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd at Wallsend-upon-Tyne.  Two years later, at 4:15 p.m. on Thursday, September 20, 1906, the Duchess of Roxburgh christened this ship Mauretania and launched her into the Tyne.  Although a moody, overcast day with light rain, an audience of some 30,000 people gathered to witness the launch, many picnicking on either side of the river. Some chose to watch from higher points across the river, such as on Ballast Hill in nearby Hebburn.  Other than one yard worker injured by glass from the champagne bottle broken during the christening ceremony, the launch occurred precisely as planned and without incident.  The Mauretania came to rest just inches from where it was calculated she would within the strict confines of the river Tyne. 

Just one year after being launched, the Mauretania was nearing completion in the fitting-out basin at Wallsend.  All manner of work had been carried out in the twelve months since her christening.  Twenty-five massive “Scotch” boilers were dropped into her hull late that autumn by the 140-ton German crane Titan.  Her superstructure was built, her four huge funnels fixed, her trademark cowl ventilators installed, and her interiors, including the superb First Class public areas designed by noted architect Harold Ainsworth Peto (1854-1933), were fashioned from over thirty different rich woods and tastefully decorated with the finest fabrics and furnishings.  During the fitting-out one Swan employee working on the Mauretania selected a printed card showing her immediately after launch and sent it from Wallsend to his parents in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, on February 8, 1907.  The message is reproduced below without correction. (Printed postcard by Andrew Reid & Co., Ltd, Newcastle-on-Tyne.  Author’s collection.)

 

 

"Dear M & F,

just a line hoping you are well.  I make a start Monday morn 6 o'c on the ship all being well at S&H's.  Will take some good time to finish her now.  Tis a 4 funnel boat, these are fixed now, since this view.

Your L.S. P"

  

Throughout the year the local ferry services between Wallsend and Shields offered stops at both bow and stern for passengers to see this tremendous liner being finished.  Local photographers took full advantage of the opportunities provided by this period as well, producing large numbers of postcards which now record the progress of her fitting-out.  The watercolor rendering shown below was probably printed just after her boilers were dropped in.  This advert card bears a message briefly describing a visit to the area to see the liner and was posted on April 24, 1907, to East Sutton, Maidstone.  It is reproduced in part below without correction. (Author’s Collection)

 

“Dearest,

have just returned from north shields and saw this steamer.  Liverpool river is not on it with the ‘Tyne’ I never saw as many steamers in my life.  new castle is a great ship building place.…”

 

 

Figure 1. The Tyne General Ferry Company scheduled short stops every half-hour to afford a view of “the largest vessel in the world” under construction.  The sender of this card visited South Shields, stopped to see the Mauretania, sent this card, and then went on to North Shields and family before returning home. (Tyne General Ferry Co. printed advertising card.  Author’s collection.)

 

Figure 2. In this scarce port side photograph, taken in late August or early September from the southeastern corner of her launch cradle at a height of about 130 feet, the Mauretania lies in the fitting-out basin on the north side of the river some 100 feet from the shore.  The basin and the ship occupied nearly one quarter of the river’s width.  Access was gained by the large custom gangway shown amidships.  On either side two specially constructed mooring dolphins can be seen; these allowed continued access to the quayside for smaller ships. Lifeboats are aboard; funnels, deckhouses, and cowl vents have been painted and she is nearly ready for her preliminary trials in September. (Detail from a real-photograph postcard by A. B. of Newcastle.  Author’s collection.

 

The Mauretania underwent two sets of trials before delivery to Cunard.  On both occasions, thousands of locals and many photographers gathered along the river's edge to witness and record the world’s largest liner traverse the ten miles from Wallsend to Tynemouth and enter the North Sea.  It was common for early photographers to self-publish postcards, especially those featuring subjects with local interest.  These cards were produced in small quantities and were usually of the real-photograph or printed variety.  The many black-and-white cards that mark the September 17 departure, such as the beautiful real-photograph example below from a series by Frank and Sons, show the Mauretania with a primed unpainted hull.

 

 

Figure 3. A scarce postcard of the Mauretania on September 17 nearing Tynemouth being towed by two Dutch tugs, the Poolzee and Oceaan, which can be seen in the title image.  People on the aft docking bridge and in the accompanying small craft provide a sense of the liner’s great size.  The unpainted hull is easily visible on this postcard. (Real-photograph postcard by Frank & Sons, 81 West Street, Gateshead, Co. Durham.  Author’s collection.)

 

Color-tinted cards and prints of this event, such as the title image of this article, usually depict her with a black hull although she was still primed in September.  Souvenir postcards were being prepared in advance of her formal departure in October.  Photographs taken in September were tinted to show her in complete Cunard livery.  Most cards that purport to show the October departure actually depict the September event.  Even if the tugs accompanying her are not visible and the hull is too dark to discern, careful examination of the positions of the cowl vents and other details will reveal which event is actually depicted.  An example of one of the most visible clues is shown below.

 

 

Figure 4. Perhaps the easiest way to distinguish photographs taken on September 17 from those taken on October 22, apart from the hull, is the position of several cowl vents near her second-class deck house and behind No. 4 funnel (see Figure 3). (Detail left is from a real-photograph builder’s advert postcard by J. Taylor, 31 Carrick Street, Byker, Newcastle.  Detail right is from a previously unpublished anonymous private photograph.  Both graciously lent from the Collection of David Hutchings.)

 

Portrait photographer Gladstone Adams, whose local nickname was “Glady Adams of Whitley Bay,” captured the well-known image of the Mauretania passing the North Pier and entering the North Sea for her preliminary trials.  Adams self published both black-and-white real-photograph and color-tinted printed versions of his image to celebrate the event.  The scarce tinted version of Adams's photograph shown below is unusually accurate in that the Mauretania's hull is still unpainted.  It is interesting to note that her funnels have been rendered in red-orange instead of the usual bright crimson, a testament to Adams’s keen observation.

 

 

Figure 5. A signed color example of Gladstone Adams's self-published postcard of the Mauretania entering the North Sea at Shields for the first time.  The original photograph was taken rather hastily from a small foy boat near the South Pier.  Adams’s signature in ink as “Professional Photographer” is from the reverse message concerning his portraiture work. (Unpublished color-tinted printed postcard by Gladstone Adams of 18 Station Road, Whitley Bay, Northumberland.  Author’s collection.)

 

Perhaps something of the skill and pride of Gladstone Adams can be gleaned from his choice to utilize costly photomechanical color reproduction for some of his cards at a time when it was not often employed on private issues.  Indeed, most surviving examples of the Adams card are slightly cropped black-and-white real-photograph cards.  The example reproduced above, although originally printed in 1907, was signed and posted to nearby Coronation Crescent by Adams himself in 1920.  Born on May 16, 1880, at 4 St. Anne's Row, Newcastle, Gladstone Adams was a gentleman of wide interests and broad experience.  By age 21, he was studying photography, the 1901 census lists him as a photographer’s apprentice.  Adams opened his first studio in 1907 at Station Road, the same year he was invited to photograph the Mauretania leaving the Tyne.

 

 

Figure 6. Gladstone Adams's studio and photographic supply shop in Whitley Bay was near Albany Gardens at 18 Station Road, shown here looking west away from the Bay towards the new Station Clock, which was completed in 1910.  His establishment, on the extreme left, is just outside of the photographer’s frame. (Original anonymous printed postcard.  Collection of Melvin Studdy.)

 

Adams undertook an auto trip to London in a Daracq-Caron during an April, 1908, snowstorm.  He was going in support of his beloved Newcastle United against the Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Football Association Cup Final (Wolverhampton 3-1).  On the way, as the passenger bearing responsibility for keeping the windshield clear, he conceived a hand-operated windscreen wiper which he later developed and patented in April, 1911, with the firm of Sloan and Lloyd Barnes of Liverpool.  The original wiper is now in the collection of the Discovery Museum in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where the first turbine driven vessel Turbinia resides along with many items from the Mauretania herself.  Adams, along with his brother, also invented the sliding rowing seat and the trafficator, forerunner of the indicator light.  In 1918, while a Captain in the British Royal Flying Corps and providing photo reconnaissance, he furnished the photographic proof of the death of "Red Baron" Captain Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen in addition to organizing his burial.  In World War II, too old for active service, he joined the Whitley Bay Army Training Corps.  The Gladstone Adams Cup, given to him by cadets, is still presented each year.  In addition to his photography studios in Barras Bridge, Newcastle and Station Road, Whitley Bay, he served as official photographer for the Newcastle United Football Club.  In his later years, he served as Chairman of the Whitley Bay Urban District Council.  Adams died in 1966 at the age of 86.

 

Figure 7. Merchant Naval Officer Melvin Studdy as photographed by Gladstone Adams, c. 1957. (Courtesy of Melvin Studdy.)

 

As a young boy in the 1940’s, Merchant Navy Officer Melvin Studdy befriended Gladstone Adams.  The Studdy families were long established residents of both Whitley Bay and Newcastle with ancestry dating back to around 1780.  One of Mr. Studdy's relatives, Robert Studdy, worked on the Mauretania at the Neptune Boiler Shop.Mr. Studdy, whose family was often photographed by Adams, fondly remembers him as "a kindly, tweedy type of Englishman who sadly has all but vanished now."  The photographer once related the story of how he managed to catch his remarkable image of the Mauretania to the boy.  Adams was invited to photograph the liner with the press but apparently overslept and missed the boats arranged for the media.   Quickly improvising, he rented a small foy boat (used to tie up ships and propelled and steered by one oar at the stern - a near impossible task) and took that out onto the Tyne.  This afforded him a different vantage than most others that day who were limited to views from the press boats, allowing him to capture her starboard side and the North Pier.  He remained very proud of his photograph, hanging a large color reproduction on the staircase leading to his second floor rooms at Station Road a half century after taking it.

Another photographer from Whitely Bay, B. Graham, recorded the September 17 departure in a series of sequential real-photograph postcards.  The example shown below depicts the Mauretania nearing the port turn at the North Pier.  As is often found on post cards of popular local events, there is a written description on the reverse even though the card was never posted.  This postcard, like so many very early postcards of the Mauretania, seems to have been bound for Australia.  It has been reproduced in part without correction.

“Dear Bill,

This is her leaving the Tyne on her first trials.  On the right hand side is the old and new lighthouses.  We live about just 2 miles along the coast on the same side.  The boat is just entering the North Sea in the photo.  All those tugs are the ones that helped her out & you can compare her size by them.  I might say they are larger tugs than the Melbourne ones.”

 

Figure 8. A detail of the Mauretania at Tynemouth rounding the North Pier and Head light on her first trip out.  The original North Pier was breached during the Great Storm of 1897.  The old Light is still visible on the extreme left.  The new 2,400-foot-long North Pier and its larger Head Light were commissioned in 1898, and the lighthouse was opened just three months after this photograph was taken.  The steam crane used during construction of the new Head Light is visible between the two Lights.  Graham captured this image from near the Black Middens rocks, south of the Norman Priory and Benebal Crag. (Detail from an unpublished real-photograph postcard by B. Graham of Whitley Bay.  Author’s collection.)

 

Figure 9. The “new” lone North Pier and Head Light in North Shields as they appear today, looking much as they did when the Mauretania steamed past a century ago. (Courtesy of FREEFOTO.com)

 

The Mauretania returned to the Swan yards on September 20 after the completion of her first speed trials off the coast of Scotland and her low-speed maneuvering trials off Whitley Bay.  She achieved 25.73 knots on the St. Abbs Head Mile although it was reported she vibrated badly.  During one run, while working up considerable speed, an order was received in the engine room for “…a considerable and immediate reduction in revolutions.”  The trials Captain made his request because he was, in his words, “…being shaken of my bridge.”  She was replaced in the fitting-out-basin for weight redistribution and had some measure of additional bracing added to her stern to resolve the problem, whatever its true extent.  She was painted into full Cunard livery upon her completion, final furnishings were added and she was made ready for her first voyage to Liverpool.  Shortly before her departure, confectioner John Crape visited the Tyne and took the photograph below, showing her freshly painted and awaiting her departure on October 22.

 

Figure 10. This candid photo card shows the completed Mauretania at the fitting-out basin at Swan in early October.  The roof of her custom 750 foot glazed launch cradle can be seen behind her, and another set of covered building sheds are near her bow.  Behind her superstructure, between the two covered berths, are the Neptune Joiners Sheds and the Platers Sheds.  Perhaps less than two weeks after this photograph was taken the Mauretania left for Liverpool and her formal trials. (Unique unpublished private photocard by John Crape of Sunderland Street, Houghton-le-Spring.  Author’s collection.)

 

On the morning of October 22, the Mauretania, the world’s newest and largest turbine driven vessel, was joined by the first and smallest, Charles Parsons’ Turbinia of 1894.  She was to accompany the Mauretania on her way down to Shields, but the last minute failure of an often-temperamental air valve caused a delay in the planned departure time.  Interestingly, both vessels were built at Wallsend.  Eight months before, on January 11, the Turbinia was nearly cut in half during the launch of the Crosby.  She was repaired, but it was decided to remove her from the water and place her on the banks of the Tyne.  In 1926 she was cut in two, and her aft section, with propellers and engines, was displayed at the South Kensington Museum in London.  In 1959 she was removed from display and, with a reconstructed midsection, was restored and put on exhibit at the Municipal Science Museum in Newcastle.  She underwent a total restoration in 1983 and has been on permanent display at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle-on-Tyne since 1996 along with a scale model of her beside the starboard bow of a 1:48 builder’s model of the Mauretania lent by Swan, much as the two appeared together in 1907.

 

        

Figure 11. (Above left) Charles Parsons’ 100-foot Turbinia, star of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Fleet Review of 1897 at Spithead where she astonished onlookers by racing at 34 knots, is dwarfed just 10 years later by the immense Mauretania in the early afternoon light on the morning of October 22, 1907, at Wallsend. (Detail from an unpublished real-photograph postcard by J. Taylor, 31 Carrick Street, Byker, Newcastle.  Author’s collection.)

Figure 12. (Above right) The 1:48 scale model of the Turbinia alongside the builder’s model of the Mauretania at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle-on-Tyne.  This display recreates the historic meeting of the two turbine vessels on October 22, 1907. (Courtesy of Jim McGinlay.)

 

Figure 13. The Turbinia fully restored at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 2006. (Courtesy of Kyle Johnstone.)

 

Figure 14. Published here for the first time, this dynamic, candid snapshot of the Mauretania was taken October 22 from a tug tied to her immense stern just moments after parting from her gangway and mooring dolphins at the fitting-out basin. Lady Inverclyde rang the engine telegraph to start the Mauretania’s trip down the Tyne and the time was entered in the log as 2 p.m., much later than initially planned.  The churning water of her wake gives an impression of the power of her four massive seventeen-foot three-bladed propellers.  Signs on her stern rails warn of their strength.  The men in the foreground and those on the aft docking bridge provide a sense of scale.  After more than three years of construction, fitting out, and intricate decoration, she was finally leaving the Swan yards for Liverpool and Cunard. (Unique unpublished anonymous private photograph.  Author’s collection.)

 

Figure 15. The Mauretania, surrounded by numerous small craft and thousands of spectators onshore, passing down the Tyne late in the afternoon of October 22, 1907.  She arrived at Liverpool for the first time two days later on the morning of October 24.  (Unique unpublished anonymous private photograph.  Author’s collection.)

 

After waiting in vain for the Turbinia’s valve problem to be corrected, the Mauretania eventually left the Swan Yards alone at 2 p.m. and started making her way down the Tyne towards North Shields.  She completed the ten mile journey from Wallsend in about eighty minutes, entering Tynemouth in mid-afternoon.  As evening fell the Mauretania faced the open North Sea.  She paused for some a considerable time under a just-full moon to adjust her compasses and for other last minute preparations to be carried out.  Lady Inverclyde was on the bridge as the tugs departed and to her went the honor of ordering the Mauretania on her first official voyage north. The log noted the time she entered the North Sea as 6:10 p.m.  To mark this occasion, Thomas Bell (Chairman of the Wallsend Slipway Company) presented Lady Inverclyde with a delicate diamond bracelet.  Among the dignitaries aboard for this historic journey were Lord Inverclyde (Chairman of the Cunard Line), G.B. Hunter and Wigham Richardson (of Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson), Leonard Peskett, and C.G. Hill (representing the Admiralty).  On the second day of this “jolly trip” a group of about forty men assembled between the first and second funnels for a group portrait.

Massive crowds once again lined both sides of the river to see the Mauretania finally leave the place of her birth.  One spectator wrote home to Manchester the next day to relate his experience. (Title image.  Color-tinted, printed postcard showing a black-hulled Mauretania, actually taken on September 17, posted at 3:15 P.M. on October 23. Auty Series G.H. N/C 6037.  Author’s collection.)

 

“Dear Mother,

I went to Tynemouth yesterday to see the Mauretania leave the Tyne.  It was well worth seeing.  I wish you had been there. There were thousands present.”

 

As she entered Tynemouth and prepared to enter the North Sea, the Mauretania was accompanied by a great many small craft.  In one such small boat was Florence Oxley Robson (neé Baker) of East Percy Street, North Shields.

 

Figure 16. (Above left) Florence Oxley Robson at age five with her mother Emily and brother Lance, age three, circa 1908.  (Courtesy of the Robson Family.)

 

Figure 17. (Above right) Florence Oxley Robson in December, 2003, at the age of 100. (Courtesy of the Robson Family.)

 

Mrs. Oxley Robson witnessed this event as a small child from a rowboat with her father, Henry Baker, a well regarded gentleman who was a Quartermaster Sergeant in the Tynemouth Volunteer Artillery and an early member of the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade (which was founded in 1864 after the passenger steamer SS Stanley was wrecked on the Black Middens, a large rock formation off the north bank of the Tyne), serving from 1883 until his retirement in 1927.  Seeing the tremendous Mauretania pass from such a small boat left a very strong impression on the young girl:

"My earliest memory is of seeing a great big ship go past.  My father had a little boat, a rowing boat that he kept on the river, and my earliest remembrance is of being in this little boat with father on the river.  There was this great big thing went past and he said to me: 'Now, remember this, it's very important.'  When I asked him afterwards and I said, 'I was sick on my bonnet strings,' he said, 'Yes, you were.'  I was no good on the sea, and he said it was the Mauretania going out - but I didn't realize it at the time.  He just told me to remember it, and I did remember it.  When I asked him after, that's what it was - the Mauretania leaving the Tyne for the maiden voyage in 1907."

 

An anonymous photographer captured the scene at Tynemouth on September 17, very much as Mrs. Oxley Robson and her father would have seen it just one month later.

 

Figure 18. The Mauretania leaving Tynemouth.  Snapped by a photographer on September 17, possibly using an early Kodak No. 2 camera, this photograph was taken from southeast of East Percy Street near the area of Black Middens and closely matches the view Mrs. Robson had from her father’s rowboat the following month.  The South Pier and Headlight can just be seen about a mile in the distance on the left.  A September 17 image is once again substituted for October 22. (Unique unpublished anonymous private photograph.  Author’s collection.)

 

Mrs. Robson was born in North Shields and lived there for over 100 years, very close to the locations shown in these photographs.  Although unable to interview Mrs. Robson directly, I was informed that when told of this article, she expressed delight that people were interested in her memories of these events.  Mrs. Robson was a remarkable woman with a very keen mind who lived a very full and varied life.  She was a founding member of the East End Sunbeams, a girls concert party that staged shows around North Shields and served as secretary of the East End Carnival in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  Both organization raised funds for the Royal Jubilee Infirmary.  An Associate of the London School of Music, she continued to teach piano locally until the age of 84.  Mrs. Robson often remarked "No one can say I have had a dull life."  Sadly, Mrs. Robson passed away in August of 2005 at the age of 102.

 

Figure 19. No longer being towed, the Mauretania completes a turn at speed on October 22 or 23 in the North Sea during her trip to Liverpool.  Not yet provisioned for her first crossing, she is riding high.  The performance of her boilers, turbines, and several other measurements were informally recorded.  On October 23, it was entered into the log that she had reached a maximum of 21.9 knots. (Unique unpublished anonymous private photograph. Author’s collection.)

 

For this delivery trip from Tynemouth to Liverpool, titled “North About” on the log, the Mauretania passed the coast fairly closely to provide her dignified guests a continuous view of the beautiful rugged coastline.  She would head north, west over the highlands and then south through the Hebrides. With light winds and smooth seas she made from 18 knots to over 21 knots an hour on this voyage; typically 20.6 knots or more.  The Mauretania’s progress was delayed for an hour at 6 a.m. on the morning of October 23 due to rocks. She reached the Mersey at 5 a.m. the morning of October 24 and entered the Canada Dry Dock by 9:30 a.m. By evening the Mauretania was fully dry docked. Her hull was cleaned and she was given a general grooming along with some repainting. She remained in dry dock until October 30 when she was prepared for her formal trials on the west coast of Scotland.

 

 

Figure 20. Having completed her delivery voyage and after her early-morning maiden arrival at the Liverpool Docks on October 24, the Mauretania awaits placement in the Canada Dry Dock. Her “B” Deck promenades are covered with canvas awnings from coaling. The date of this postcard image was determined by comparison with a nearly identical image from a personal keepsake photo album presented to Leonard Peskett By W. Earnest Lord after this “jolly trip” (so noted in the album) to Liverpool. (Unpublished anonymous real-photograph postcard. Author’s collection.) 

 

After being coaled, she left for her formal trials on the morning of November 3.  On the evening of November 6, under Chief Engineer John Currie, the Mauretania averaged 26.75 knots during the last run of the Measured Mile at Skelmorlie in the Firth of Clyde and returned to Liverpool on November 7.  She spent the next week being loaded with all the provisions necessary for her maiden voyage – from tons of coal to delicate flowers.

 

 

Figure 21. The Mauretania builds steam as she passes Castle Wemyss and the Station Clock Tower on the Measured Mile at Skelmorlie, November 6. (Detail from an unpublished bas-relief color-tinted printed postcard from the Alliance Series, 115, Newgate Street, London, E.C., published by Taber from a Davidson Bros. Real Photographic Series postcard.  Author’s collection.)

 

 

Figure 22.  Her first Commander, Captain John T. Pritchard looking out to sea on the port bridge wing, likely photographed during her formal trials in November as part of the Davidson Bros. trials Series. (Detail from a real-photograph postcard by Davidson Bros. Real Photographic Series, London and New York.  Author’s collection.)

 

With approximately 50,000 onlookers present, the Mauretania left the Prince’s Landing Stage in Liverpool for her maiden voyage to New York at 7:30 p.m. on November 16, 1907.  Despite extreme weather, she set a daily distance record of 624 miles in 25 hours – faster than the LusitaniaFor two hours during the height of the storms encountered on her first westbound crossing, while struggling against winds of 50 MPH and with 60 foot seas, she could barely manage 3 knots an hour.  A very dangerous situation developed on the bow when the 10-ton spare anchor broke free and had to be secured manually.  The Mauretania reached New York on November 22, making the voyage in five days, five hours and ten minutes and averaging 22.21 knots.  She departed on her maiden return voyage at 1:35 P.M. on Saturday, November 30 and quickly passed the White Star liner Baltic along the way which had left New York two days earlier.  Despite encountering initial fog, the Mauretania made the crossing in four days, 22 hours and 29 minutes, averaging 23.69 knots and taking the eastbound Blue Riband from her sister and holding it for the next 22 years.   She continued her regular crossings, adding Fishguard Station as eastern departure point for the mail in August of 1909.  On September 25, 1909 Mauretania claimed the westbound Riband. Now she held both, permanently, for the next two decades.   

 

The Mauretania continued to improve her speed and beat her own records during her first years in service.  Later she provided vital wartime service as a transport (1915, 1916), hospital ship (1915-16), and a twice-dazzle-painted, armed troopship (1918-1919). During this period she carried 78,363 troops, wounded, and medical staff without the loss of a single life.  After conversion to fuel oil, several additional refits in the 1920’s and over 220 crossings, she finally surrendered the coveted  Blue Riband to the new German NDL Bremen IV on her maiden voyage departing July 16, 1929*.  She spent her last 15 months painted white as a dedicated cruise liner visiting the southern islands. This tropical scheme earned her many eloquent new nicknames such as “The White Queen”, but also drew less reverent comparisons by some of her crew who called her “a wedding cake gone wrong.” 

 

After the Cunard-White Star merger she was retired, departing New York after a large farewell on her final crossing to Southampton on September 26, 1934 (the day the Queen Mary was launched) and eventually sold to Metal Industries on April 2, 1935 for Ł77,000.  The Mauretania did return to the Tyne twice – once for repairs and conversion to oil fuel following a devastating fire on July 25, 1921 and her final visit on July 3, 1935, while on her way to the breaker’s yard at Rosyth.  Correspondent David Walker, placed aboard by the Daily Mirror to record the final 488 mile journey north, reported that “…It was from the Tyne that she came triumphantly to answer Germany’s North Atlantic challenge nearly 30 years ago.  In brilliant sunshine aeroplanes zoomed around her like flies, and as we gradually left smaller boats behind, we could just hear the sounds of hundreds of voices singing Auld Lang Syne.  All the way north ships of every kind – even sailing vessels – have saluted the old lady.”  At Tyneside, with horns blaring, she fired rockets from her bridge in a last gesture.  Then, at about 10:15 a.m., she signalled a final, simple, and poignant message to the town of her birth and men who built her so many years before.  “Goodbye, Tyneside.  This is my last radio.  Closing down forever, Mauretania.”  A lone tramp steamer she encountered the next day while heading to her demise sent a message that summed up the feelings of many; Goodbye old lady, it’s a damn shame.”  In just nine months the Mauretania, once the unsurpassable fastest liner on the Atlantic, would be an oily rusting hulk on the damp shores of a windy dockyard on the Southern coast of Fife.  Four months later, after nearly 27 years of service in peace and war, one of Britain’s first and perhaps the finest of the old four-funnelled liners, the Mauretania, was now established in maritime history, but as memory only; her last remnants ended up unceremoniously in some Lanarkshire charging box destined for an unknown secondary life.

 

Passing into History

 

The magnificent ship that was the Mauretania was gone by the autumn of 1936.  The fond memories of travel aboard her have receded into the last century; today they are gingerly held by only a very precious few.  All of the various items saved from the scrapping of this vessel, the fittings and fixtures from the auctions both past and present, the paneling, woodwork and numerous pine and teak souvenirs - all represent the respect and sentiment reserved for this vessel.  That these furnishings and souvenirs were produced and preserved in such quantity by so many is testament to the pride held for one of the fastest and most beloved of liners to ever cross the Atlantic.  More exists from this liner than perhaps any other.  They allude to the greater human story of the many that built and served in her over her rich 27-year career and the souls she carried.  From the upper Officers to the “Black Gang” that powered her, the traveling dignitaries and wounded wartime troops, the honeymoon couples, illicit lovers and vast warrens of steerage passengers embarking on new lives who represented the bulk of her passengers and revenue, this vessel touched all who knew her in a personal way.  As Franklin Delano Roosevelt commented in 1935, in his letter protesting her scrapping, “…Every ship has a soul, but the Mauretania had a soul you could talk to.”  It might also be said the Mauretania, along with her short lived sister Lusitania, best represent the first generation of truly great ocean liners of the twentieth century.  These vessels embodied the combined expression of many new technologies of the Industrial Revolution, culminating in a sublime synthesis of engineering and artistic achievements that rendered them as vast, breathing and moving works of handmade socio-industrial works of art - the likes of which will not be seen again. She was not the largest of the 14 four funnelled liners, not the longest serving despite her incredible grip on the Blue Riband, nor did she suffer the tragic fate shared by some of her contemporaries, but she holds, even today, a special place in the hearts of those who remember the stories of her construction and service in both peace and wartime.

 

 

 

Figure 23. Heading for the breaker’s yard, the Mauretania stopped for a final farewell at Tynemouth, at 10 a.m. on July 3, 1935.  A last message was radioed to the town that built her 30 years before.  She had been painted white for cruising two years earlier, and her masts had just been clipped at Southampton so she would pass under the Firth of Forth Railway Bridge.  Her aft lifeboats and docking bridge equipment are now gone, sold in May at the auction of her fittings in Southampton and removed She flew a 22 foot blue ribbon on her foremast which read simply “1907-1929.”  Each foot of the ribbon represented one year she held the Blue Riband – a record still unsurpassed. (Unique unpublished anonymous private photograph. Author’s Collection)

 

 *The Mauretania did make a powerful and impressive attempt to regain the Riband one last time the following month on her August 16, 1929 eastbound crossing under the command of Captain S.G. S. McNeil, R.D., R.N.R. and Chief Engineer Andrew Cockburn, O.B.E. (the Lusitania’s last Senior Second Engineer).  In anticipation of the Bremen’s challenge the Mauretania had undergone extensive engine modifications in November of 1928 which, in addition to the lavish refit topside, had increased her maximum output from 70,000 to 90,000 HP.  Astonishingly, she broke all of her own previous records on this crossing, averaging 27.22 knots overall with her propellers averaging 211.5 revolutions per minute, almost 32 turns per minute more than originally intended.  At the end of the journey, on the 106-mile stretch between Eddystone and Cherbourg, the Mauretania actually managed 29.7 knots.  Although she did not recapture the Riband (the Bremen averaged 27.83 knots on her crossing and the Mauretania 27.22 knots on this crossing), her grand effort by no means passed unnoticed and even the Bremen wired good wishes.  At 10 P.M. on Thursday, August 22, 1929, live from the South Western Hotel in Southampton (where many of the Titanic’s First Class passengers stayed before embarking), Captain McNeil was interviewed by the B.B.C. about the voyage and attempted record.  He told his listeners that the Mauretania had done her very best and then hailed his ship, commanding her to say goodnight “like a good girl” by sounding her whistles three times.  A microphone had been placed on the bridge and the Mauretania’s “voice” was heard on radio sets across England.  It is noted with emphasis that when compared, the speed averaged by the Bremen on her July 1929 eastbound maiden crossing and that of the Mauretania on her August 16, 1929 eastbound crossing, after nearly a quarter of a century of improvements in hydrodynamic engineering, differed by little more than half a knot.

 

A Brief Chronology:

 

Originally conceived, May 1901, first design submitted 1902

Admiralty loan negotiations began March 1902, terms finalized July 1903

Merger between Swan Hunter Ltd. and Wigham Richardson Ltd. May 1903

Turbine contracts signed by March 1904

Keel laid, August 1904

Official work order between Cunard and Swan signed, May 1905

Framing completed, February 1906

R.M.S. Mauretania, hull number 735, launched, September 1906

Boilers dropped in and funnels fixed late 1906/early 1907
Trials (informal), September 1907
Delivery voyage, “North About,” October 1907 
Trials (formal), November 1907, best speed November 6, 26.75 knots last run average
Maiden westbound voyage, November 1907, 22.21 knots averaged

Maiden eastbound voyage, November 1907, 23.69 knots averaged (first east Riband win)

Finaly fitted with four bladed propellers October 1908

First exceeded 26 knots in service, voyage 26, September 1909 (westbound Riband won; both held until 1929)

Record turnaround, Liverpool to New York and back in 12 days, December 1910

Royal Visit to the Mauretania, July 1913

Onboard explosion kills 4 and damages the starboard high pressure cylinder, January 1914

Lusitania sunk by U-20, May 1915

 

World War War Service 1914-1919:

Transport (first requisitioned and released 8/14, returns to normal service 8/14 to 10-14), first transport trips (ducky scheme, 5/15-8/15, evades torpedo by a reported 5 feet due to her speed)

Hospital Ship (white hull, green stripes, red crosses, buff funnel possibly with illuminated crosses for night illumination, 10/15-1/16), repainted dark while laid up at Gareloch

Transport (painted into drab presumably medium grey scheme while underway, 10/16-11/16), Wartime Admiralty assigned plaque number: “G.1620” (11/1916)

Laid up at Greenock (1917)

Recalled, “dazzle” painted with two Wilkinson schemes (curvilinear, mostly black, blue and green, app. 3/18 to app 7/18, diamond, mostly varied blues and greys, app. 8/19 to app. 4/19), and finally employed as a fully armed Transport (3/18 to release 5/19), Wartime Admiralty assigned name: “H.M.S. Tuberose” (3/1918, “Tuber Rose” according to Captain A. H. Rostron), Largely disarmed after the Armistice, continues limited Government duties until Summer 1919 in a dusky scheme with dark superstructure

 

Begins exclusive commercial service from Southampton, September 1919

Fire at Southampton, July 1921, oil conversion at Swan, returned to service March 1922

First cruise, voyage 140 (NY to Med), January 1923

Turbine overhaul began November 1923, nearly lost in the Channel, returned to service May 1924

Engine modifications, H.P increase November 1928, returned to service January 1929

Lost Blue Riband to the NDL Bremen, voyage 226, July 1929

Fastest service crossing, voyage 227, August 1929, 27.22 knots averaged in eastbound bid for Riband

Steams 12,400 miles in one month crossing the Atlantic 4 times, 1931

Briefly achieves 32 knots an hour steaming along the Florida coast, July 1933

Opens Western Docks at Southampton, October 1932

Painted white for cruising with green boot-topping and pale green deck heads at Berth 108, May/June 1933

Final service voyage, number 318, New York to Southampton, September 1934, 24.41 knots averaged

Retired and laid up at Berth 108 of the Western Docks, with the old Olympic October 1934

Sold for scrap to Metal Industries Ltd., April 1935

Public auction of fittings at Southampton by Messrs. Hampton and Sons Ltd., May 1935
Final voyage (Southampton to Rosyth), July 1935
Final public Inspection at No. 1 Drydock, July 1935
Scrapping began, July/August 1935, average output 500 tons a week
Remaining lower hull beached, April 1936 at No. 3 Tidal Beach
Final lift hauled ashore, August 1936

 

 

 

Acknowledgements:

Special thanks to Eric Sauder for his continued friendship, support and for formatting, proofreading and hosting this article. Thanks also to David Hutchings for researching and kindly sharing numerous details from her trials logs and for lending the two superb images in Figure 3.  Thanks to John Maxtone-Graham for generously sharing his vast knowledge.  

Many thanks to Melvin Studdy for kindly answering my questions and providing family memories and photographs  Most sincere thanks to Michael Robson for sharing the recollections of his mother, Mrs. Florence Oxley Robson (neé Baker), to whose memory this article is dedicated, and for kindly providing personal family images.  Thanks also to Kath Smith, project worker at the North Shields Library Club (http://www.libraryclub.co.uk/memories.php) for putting me in touch with Mrs. Oxley Robson and her family.  Sincere thanks also to Kyle Johnstone for lending his excellent recent photograph of the restored Turbinia at the Discovery Museum and to Jim McGinlay for the photograph of the Mauretania and Turbinia models.  Thanks to FREEFOTO.com for the use of the beautiful modern North Pier photograph.

Many thanks go to Jim Kalafus for reading the final manuscript and making several valuable suggestions.  And thanks to Rob Kamps of the Netherlands for his keen proofreading eye.

Lastly, Archie Nicol recently shared much appreciated information and images allowing the correct identification of the location shown in Figure 21.

 

A Brief list of Sources:

Ocean Liners of the Past – Lusitania and Mauretania (originally published as Special Edition Shipbuilder Vol. 2 in 1907, reprinted by PSL, 1970, both consulted)

The Cunard Turbine-driven Quadruple-Screw Atlantic Liner Mauretania (originally published in 1907, reprinted by PSL, 1987, both consulted)

Mauretania: The Ship and her Record by Gerald Aylmer (originally published in 1934, reissued by Tempus Publishing in 2000 with an additional chapter by Janette McCutcheon, containing several scarce illustrations, both consulted)

Mauretania: Landfalls and Departures of Twenty-Five Years by Humfrey Jordan (originally published in 1936, reprinted by PSL, 1988)

The Only Way to Cross by John Maxtone-Graham (originally published in 1972, reprinted by PSL, 1983)

R.M.S. Mauretania at the Tyne and Wear Archives: http://www.tyneandweararchives.org.uk/mauretania/index.htm

The New York Times, The New York Herald, The Daily Mirror etc. 1904-1936

About the Author:

Eric Keith Longo, of New York, is happily obsessed with the identification and preservation of the visual record of the Cunard Express Liner R.M.S. Mauretania.   He is an avid collector of original unpublished Mauretania photographs, one-off photo-cards, glass slides, mail and postcards of all types, onboard memorabilia, scrap souvenirs and relics.  His interests also include painting and the study of materials relating to the 17TH century Dutch, collecting unpublished candid 35mm Kodachrome slides and photographs taken at the 1939/40 New York World’s Fair, the authentication of prime vintage Classic Hollywood autographs and the digital restoration of vintage prints and transparencies.  Eric was recently contracted by the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., to select and restore some of his own 1939/40 New York Fair color slides and b/w prints to be published for the first time in the Museum’s upcoming World’s Fair architecture textbook (Yale University Press, October 2010).  Also completed were the color correction and restoration of 29 rare unpublished 35mm slides for Mark Chirnside’s last book R.M.S. Aquitania: The Ship Beautiful, again gone to reprint and the historical research and digital recreation of a Lumičre Bros. Autochrome color plate depicting the Lusitania at New York on September 13, 1907 for an upcoming article.  Eric also restored one of his prints of the Mauretania for John Maxtone-Graham’s last book Normandie.  After these projects and assisting with other liner and Fair related books and articles for friends, (most recently research and image identification for Bill Cotter’s The 1939/40 New York World’s Fair, published by Arcadia Press in 2009, assisting Mark Chirnside with some details for his most two recent Titanic Historical Society Commutator articles and consultation for a Virtual Reality 1939 New York World’s Fair along the Sims line), Eric is returning to painting with traditional natural pigments ground in oil over lead primed glue sized black walnut panels. You may write to him at magikbilly@yashoo.com

All text and photographs © Eric K. Longo 2008 & 2009 except where noted.

 


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