May be defined as powered passenger-carrying vessels running a regular scheduled service across oceanic routes. Before the introduction of the jet passenger plane, it was the shipping lines, running passenger ships on a regular schedule, that were the primary means of connecting one continent with another. During the heyday of the passenger shipping companies the French had, and still have, the Messageries Maritimes, the Germans the Hapag Lloyd and the Hamburg–South America Lines, and the Italians the Lloyd Triestino and Italia Lines, and their ships linked their countries with every corner of the world. But it was the British, with their far-flung empire, that predominated in this form of transport: P. & O. (Peninsular & Orient) ships sailed to India and Australia, Blue Funnel ones went to China and Japan, Union Castle ships, each with the word ‘castle’ in its name, ran regularly to and from South Africa, while the Royal Mail Line went to South America. These were only a few of the best-known companies, and during a century or more (1840–1960) they, and many others, were founded and then grew, before merging with others, or with one another, until their names finally disappeared as the era of the ocean liner drew to a close. Nowadays, it is the transatlantic route that is best remembered for the biggest, fastest, and most luxurious, ocean liners.
The First Ocean Liners.
The British paddle steamer Enterprize was the first to attempt to establish a regular scheduled route—to India—in 1823. This came to nothing and it was an American, Junius Smith, who first started a regular ocean service after issuing the prospectus for the British & American Steam Navigation Company in 1835. His intention was to run a two-weekly service, with four paddle steamers, two built in the USA and two in Britain. The American steamers never materialized but in England the 1,850-ton British Queen and the 2,350-ton President were built for the company. Delays to the British Queen forced the company in April 1838 to charter another paddle steamer, the 700-ton Sirius. However, the British Queen made several crossings after that and was joined by the President in 1840. But the President was underpowered and when she foundered in 1841 she sank the company as well. A more successful early ocean liner was Isambard Brunel's Great Western, which arrived in New York only hours behind the Sirius. The first passenger steamship built specifically for transatlantic crossings, she was followed by the two other Brunel creations, the Great Britain and the Great Eastern.
In 1840 the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, always known as P. & O., started a regular ‘Steam conveyance from London and Falmouth to Vigo, Oporto, Lisbon, Cadiz, Gibraltar, Malta, Greece, the Ionian Islands, Egypt, and India’, though those travelling to India had to travel overland between Alexandria and a Red Sea port to pick up a sea connection to their destination. With the aid of more Admiralty contracts for delivering mail the service was extended to Singapore and Hong Kong in 1845, and to Australia in the early 1850s.
Subjects: Maritime History.