From the Guide to the Records of Merseyside Maritime Museum, volume 1: Cunard Line. 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. But by 1902 with the formation of the American combine, the Interna¬tional 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 (see volume 2). 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. Cunard owned a number of important subsidiaries. Anchor, Brocklebank and White Star are described under their own sections.
The museum's holdings consist mainly of plans and records from the naval architect's offices and a rich collection of printed ephemera in the SAS and DX miscellaneous collections including menus, postcards and souvenir brochures. Administrative records, including passenger lists (1840-1853) and records of the Port Line, are held by Liverpool University Archives.
For further details see the attached catalogue.