RMS Mauretania Home
|Built By:||Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson|
|Length Overall:||790 feet|
|Length Between Perpendiculars (b.p.):||760 feet 0 inches|
|Draught:||33 feet 6 inches|
|Gross Tonnage:||31,937.69 registered|
|Career:||November 16, 1907 – October 2, 1934
Eighteen ninety-seven was a bad year for British maritime prestige. In that year, a new, ultra-fast and ultra-luxurious ocean liner entered service with the Norddeutscher Lloyd (North German Lloyd) Line. She was named Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. She took the speed prize for the fastest trans-Atlantic crossings from the British, and was followed in short order by a stream of other German steamships from North German Lloyd and Hamburg-Amerika which completely stole the show on the Atlantic.
In 1899, the White Star Line – Cunard’s primary British competitor – put the new Oceanic into service. She was a fine, luxurious ship, that outpaced Cunard’s best ships of the time. Cunard was in a desperate position, and needed to respond with new tonnage. When American financier J. P. Morgan bought out the White Star Line in 1902, dealing British prestige yet another blow, the stage was set for Cunard to make its move. It approached the British Government and obtained a loan for the construction of two new liners that, they hoped, would put their company in the top spot on the North Atlantic while simultaneously returning the Atlantic speed and comfort prizes to Great Britain.
Construction of the two vessels, which were eventually named Lusitania and Mauretania, commenced within a day of each other. The Mauretania‘s keel was laid on August 18, 1904, a day after that of her sister. The John Brown shipyard on the River Clyde was engaged in constructing the Lusitania, while the English firm of Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson at Wallsend on the Tyne River would build the Mauretania. While both ships would fight for British ocean supremacy, while in service they would also vie with each other in friendly competition: a Scottish-built ship verses an English-built one.
The Mauretania entered service a few months after her sister, Lusitania, starting her maiden voyage on November 16, 1907, from Liverpool, England. Although the two ships were sisters, built from a single original concept, and sharing very similar overall machinery and accommodative layouts, there were differences between them. The Mauretania, for example, sported large cowl-like ventilators along her Sun Deck; large and unabashedly all-business, they gave the Mauretania a purposeful look as they competed with her quartet of funnels for visual attention. The face of her superstructure as it rose from the Forecastle was shaped differently, and her Promenade and Boat Decks overhung the primary hull of the ship for much of their length. Below, there were differences in the two ships’ machinery. Inside, the schemes of decoration for the two ships could not have been more different. The Lusitania relied on light colors and looks splendid in black-and-white photographs. Yet the Mauretania‘s rich, warm wood panelling and other details were so marvelous that they earned her the nickname “Mauretania the Magnificent”. Unfortunately today it is difficult to comprehend the true beauty of these spaces, since black-and-white photographs do them little justice.
“The first impression of the Mauretania is one of colossal size, the last is wondering amazement at the forethought and design which appear in details, trivial in themselves, but of supreme importance to individual comfort, of the fittings. Only those who saw the ship in the narrow waters of the Tyne can realise her huge dimensions. Eight hundred feet long herself, she floated abreast the builders’ yard in a river less than 900 feet wide, which runs in a narrow cleft between low hills. In that narrow valley the great bulk of the ship made a prodigious spectacle, and over the valley before the start on the maiden voyage the smoke from her four great funnels moved like a pall.” – Nature magazine, October 31, 1907.
The Mauretania‘s maiden voyage was a weather nightmare. She was pummeled by enormous seas, high winds, and squall after squall. Queasy passengers depopulated the Dining Saloons in droves. The ship’s strength was thoroughly tested, and she emerged with flying colors.
The Mauretania was slightly longer (790 feet instead of 787) and larger (31,938 tons instead of 31,550.47) than the Lusitania, thus holding the titles of ‘world’s longest’ and ‘world’s largest’ ship from the time she entered service until June 1911 when the White Star liner Olympic made her maiden voyage. Contrary to popular belief, during their concurrent careers the Mauretania proved to be more popular liner than the Lusitania, carrying more passengers overall and a higher average passenger list.1
During the Great War, the Mauretania was at first laid up while the Lusitania remained in service. She was slated to enter service on the North Atlantic alongside the Lusitania in the spring of 1915, but just before that transpired, the older sister was torpedoed and sank in a ghastly 18 minutes. After this, the Mauretania saw service as both a hospital ship and a troopship, emerging the war unscathed.
The first post-war voyage of the Mauretania came on March 6, 1920, from Southampton instead of Liverpool, her pre-war English terminus. She continued to sail from Southampton for the remainder of her career, and could frequently be seen in company with other legendary liners of the day: Majestic, Berengaria, Olympic, Leviathan and many others.
She remained the holder of the Blue Riband through the 1920’s; although for a time there was some concern that she could lose the speed record to the Leviathan, the U.S. Line vessel never, in point of fact, exceeded the Mauretania‘s average speed for an entire crossing.
In 1929, the Mauretania finally lost the Blue Riband to the German liner Bremen. With the onset of the Depression, and her own advancing age, the ship began to make a series of pleasure cruises. For this guise the ship was painted white. She was eventually laid up in late September of 1934, and was subsequently sold for scrap.
On the evening of June 30, 1935, the first watch aboard the liner in months began; steam was raised in her boilers for the upcoming trip to the scrapyard. Her final departure was made the next day, on July 1, 1935. A large crowd gathered to bid the ship farewell. They sang ‘Auld Lang Syne’ as the ship cast off from the quay; a few passengers who had been invited for the depressing final trip stood at the rails and picked up the refrain.
The video below is British Pathé newsreel footage of the final departure from Southampton.
The ship finally docked at the Rosyth shipyard where she was to be broken up, and her engines were rung off for the last time. Thus ended the life of one of the most historic and remarkable Atlantic liners in history.
Considering her long career and fascinating story, the Mauretania is one of the least well represented ocean liners among illustrated books. This beautiful hardback volume with dustjacket, soon to be released from The History Press, will go a long way to remedying that neglect.
As of June 2015, this all-new publication has been released in the United Kingdom. It is available from The History Press. Retailers in the United States will release the book later, but I will shortly be setting up a pre-order page via my eCommerce site, TMB Studios, for limited edition signed & numbered copies of this volume. Stay tuned for details on how to order direct from me!
More book details.
1 Please see Lusitania: An Illustrated Biography, 2015, Amberley Books, Box: “Lusitania or Mauretania – Which Was More Popular?” for full details and a breakdown of the numbers; my thanks are also due to Mark Chirnside for supplying me with the summary of his research on this subject in time for inclusion in the 2010 volume. His original article is available here.