Correspondence from the Naval Architect's Department make up the bulk of the collection. This includes the design, building and fitting-out of the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth, the latter including the fitting-out in New York and Singapore, proposals for new steamships, reports and surveys of damage to Cunard ships and correspondence and tender documents of the Q3, the proposed new liner to replace the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. The Marine Engineer's Department holdings consists of steamship abstracts of logs as early as 1858, voyage data books, dry docking reports, wartime managed ships, and monthly claims statements. The collection also includes photographs, including ones of interiors, taken by Bedford Le Mere, publicity brochures and postcards of the sinking of Campania I. There are plans of approximately ninety vessels covering the period c.1840-1970 in the Ship Plan Collection (listed on database - please ask staff for further details). Administrative records, including passenger lists and records of the Port Line, are held by the Liverpool University Archives; its catalogue is in the reading room.
B/CUN/1/1 Administration 1912
B/CUN/2/1-2 Financial 1927-1970
B/CUN/3/1 - 18 Naval Architect's Department 1920 - 1966
B/CUN/1 - 12 Marine Engineer's Department 1858 - 1970
B/CUN/5/1 Staff 1904 - 1966
B/CUN/6/1 - 3 Photographs, Paintings and Drawings, and Postcards 1866 - c. 1990
B/CUN/7/1 - 6 Miscellaneous 1878 - 1988
|Administrative / biographical background:
In 1838 the British government, impressed by the advantages of steam over sail for making regular passages, invited tenders to carry the transatlantic mails by steamer. The contract, which carried a subsidy, was won by Samuel Cunard, a prominent merchant and shipowner of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and an advocate of steam. With the help of Robert Napier, the Clyde shipbuilder, and his partners George Burns and David McIver, who already owned a coastal steamer business, he set up the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. The service started with four wooden paddle steamers in 1840. In 1847 the service was increased to a weekly sailing in each direction. In 1852 the firm introduced screw-propelled ships on its Mediterranean service but, with its emphasis on reliability and safety, retained paddlers for its main service until the mid-1860s. By this decade iron hulls became standard too. It was also a period of reduced subsidies and increased competition from lines such as Inman, National and White Star. In 1878 it was reinvigorated as the Cunard Steam Ship Co., Ltd. and the fleet modernised. The 14,000-ton twin-screw liners, Campania and Lucania (1893) were milestones in terms of both size and speed. However, by 1902 with the formation of the American combine, the International Mercantile Marine, and German competition it was under threat. In 1904 it took the bold step of building the steam turbine-powered 20,000-ton Carmania. Its success led to the building (with government assistance) of two 32,000-ton express liners, Mauretania and Lusitania (1907) which captured the Blue Riband.
The line had contributed to naval campaigns from the Crimean War onwards and in the First World War it lost thirteen of its twenty-six ships, including Lusitania, which was torpedoed in 1915. Carmania fought a notable action as an armed merchant cruiser and other vessels were used as transports, hospital ships, armed cruisers and a seaplane carrier.
After the war the fleet was rebuilt and included the ex-German liner Berengaria (formerly Imperator). The express service was moved from Liverpool to Southampton in 1919 and eventually two large liners, Queen Mary (1936) and Queen Elizabeth (1940) were built with government help. Both played vital roles as troopships in the Second World War. The White Star Line was acquired in 1934.
The line prospered after the war but passenger traffic declined in the 1960s, leading to a change from regular transatlantic services to cruising only, and to entry into the Atlantic Container Lines consortium for cargo services in 1966. In 1971 it was taken over by Trafalgar House Investments Ltd., which continue to own cruise ships, including Queen Elizabeth 2 (1969) and the container ship, Atlantic Conveyor (a replacement for the ship of the same name sunk in the Falklands War in 1982). The rest of the cargo shipping (Cunard-Brocklebank) was merged with Ellerman's remaining shipping interests and sold to Andrew Weir Shipping in 1991.
In 1996 Trafalgar House Investments Ltd. was taken over by Kvaerner PLC and the International passenger shipping business operated under the name Cunard. The Cunard business was sold to Carnival Corporation in 1998.