First to last

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Black and white photo of an elegant dining room

The first class dining room on the Carmania. Image courtesy of Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.

I believe the attraction of sea travel will continue to grow because there is one priceless thing that crossing the waves gives you – time. Once on board ship you are largely cut off from the rest of the world which to me is great news. There are no phones ringing, texts or e-mails demanding responses or friends and relatives calling.

I think it is pointless to answer mobiles or emails when travelling – nothing is so urgent that it can’t wait until the end of the voyage.
Shipping companies involved in the emigrant trade, such as Cunard and White Star, made their biggest profits from large numbers of steerage or third class passengers who were packed into dormitories.

The luxury first class side of the business was often seen as a marketing tool – glamorous, wealthy passengers gave ships such as Titanic and Lusitania a glittering aura which persists to this day.

People seeking a new life made up the bulk of passengers on liners 100 years ago. Others were travelling on business – very few people travelled for pleasure, as is the case now. The reason was that the liners, in the days before cheap air travel, were the only way large numbers of people could get overseas.

In the heyday of emigration by sea, in the years up to the First World War, even third class passengers enjoyed a relatively relaxing crossing. They had comfortable bunks, decent washing facilities and excellent wholesome food.

However, travel was a very different experience for wealthy people who were emigrating or moving to British territories overseas either for business reasons or in service of the Crown.

Before boarding ship, their domestic servants packed and organised the luggage, leaving their employers to enjoy the attractions of Liverpool. Once on board, rich people travelled in style.

Exhibits in the new emigrants’ gallery at Merseyside Maritime Museum include a photo of the first class dining room on the Cunard liner Carmania about 1913 (pictured here).

The opulent surroundings include potted palms, starched white damask napkins neatly arranged in place settings and beautiful display cabinets – all under ornate plaster ceilings supported by fluted columns.

On display is the ultimate luxury accessory – a pair of grape scissors used on Allan Line ships about 1900. Elegant ladies and gentlemen did not pull grapes out of the bunch as the juice might squirt over their gloves, gowns or shirts. Instead, they neatly snipped the stalks then languidly nibbled the fruit.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1.50 p&p UK).