Cunard Line’s famous transatlantic Queens have fascinating histories, now recounted by QM2 designer Stephen Payne in a new book.
Cunard Line has operated a series of famous transatlantic liners, with the famous ‘Queens’, from Queen Mary of 1936 to Queen Mary 2 of 2004, becoming well known throughout the world. Cunard owes its origin to the mail contract which it was awarded by the British Government through the Admiralty in 1838, since when it has been operating liners to take passengers and cargo across the Atlantic.
When the diminutive paddle steamer Britannia left Liverpool on 4 July 1840, bound for Halifax and Boston with a mail contract securing her employment on the route, the future for Cunard was bright, and for many years the line dominated the transatlantic route. However, several times the future of the enterprise looked less than secure as it fell behind the competition in terms of the size, speed and passenger offerings on its ships. Nonetheless, Cunard strived to advance and invested in new tonnage, such as Lusitania and Mauretania in 1907.
The Depression of the 1930s left Cunard once again vulnerable, with the company having a massive ship, half-built (the future Queen Mary) but without the funds available to complete her. The solution was to merge with its equally ailing one-time rival White Star Line under a government-brokered deal that included loans to complete the ship and secure funds for a second ship.
The naming of any new ships for the joint venture was problematic: should Cunard adopt its ‘-ia’ ending, or use White Star’s ‘ic’? The solution was neither, with a new naming nomenclature seeing the introduction of the now classic ‘Queen’ naming. This was originally confined to transatlantic liners, notably Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Elizabeth 2 and Queen Mary 2, but following Carnival’s acquisition of Cunard in 1998, all Cunard new-builds have been ‘Queens’.
The first of Cunard’s classic transatlantic liners was Queen Mary, which sailed from 1936 to 1967, having been built by John Brown & Company at Clydebank. The second Queen, Queen Elizabeth of 1940, played a major role in the wartime effort and went on to have a long career in the post-war era. Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were built as part of Cunard’s planned two-ship weekly express service between Southampton, Cherbourg and New York.
They were effectively replaced by the famous Queen Elizabeth 2, which entered service in the late 1960s, sailing on her maiden transatlantic voyage on 2 May 1969. At the time of QE2’s completion, Cunard’s finances were not in the best state, and indeed the company had lost £7.5 million during 1967 while she was under construction. So when she entered service, everything rested on the new Cunarder to save the company. Fortunately, she went on to have a long career both cruising and crossing, and became much loved by those who travelled on her. She is now retired in Dubai where, after much delay and partial reconditioning, part of the ship opened to visitors on 18 April 2018.
The most recent of the Line’s famous transatlantic ships is Queen Mary 2, the liner for the 21st century, which was built by Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard at St Nazaire in France and entered service in early 2004. Having been named by HM The Queen at Southampton on 8 January 2004, she left Southampton on her maiden voyage on 12 January 2004, heading to Fort Lauderdale. Now, Queen Mary 2 carries the Cunard flag round the world, and is one of a kind, being the only true ocean liner currently in service.
To buy your copy of this book, simply click here
For a money-saving subscription to Ships Monthly magazine, simply click here