On this day in 1839, Samuel Cunard, having won a government contract to provide mail service from Liverpool to Halifax, Boston, and Quebec, wrote to Messrs. Kidston & Sons of Glasgow, Scotland, declaring his need for steamboats of 300 horsepower and approximately 800 tons, stating, "I shall want these vessels to be of the very best description and to pass a thorough inspection and examination of the admiralty."
Of the four ships commissioned, the first to be delivered was the Britannia, which was launched less than a year later on February 5, 1840; she was followed in two months by the Acadia, and then the Caledonia, whose maiden voyage came in September of the same year; finally, in January 1841, the Columbia set off for the first time on the newly established two-week mail route. All four one-funneled ships were constructed of wood, propelled by paddles, and traveled at a speed of 9 knots. Ninety six years later, the three-funneled Queen Mary, also built in Scotland, was 70,000 tons heavier than her forebears, formed of steel, propelled by quadruple screws, and possessed single reduction steam turbine engines. Additionally, the original batch of Cunarders could accomodate 115 first class passengers. In 1936, the Mary had room for 776.
Cunard Notes and Queries by William White
Photo: Public domain