It is quite frequent now to see large crowds at Liverpool’s Pier Head when liners and cruise ships come in but at one time it was a very common sight indeed.
I can remember many people shouting and cheering when the Empress liners departed on scheduled Atlantic crossings. It was a memorable spectacle – just like this occasion more than 50 years earlier.
The Lusitania, from her maiden voyage to New York to her sinking by a German U-boat submarine eight years later, was Liverpool’s favourite liner among the many using the port.
The 31,550-ton Cunarder was a popular berth for many of the city’s seafarers who took pride in being members of the crew of this beautiful ship.
It was 7 September 1907 when Lusitania left Liverpool on her maiden voyage under the command of Commodore James Watt. She steamed into New York on 13 September after a trouble-free voyage – one she was to repeat many times before her terrible end.
At the time she was the largest ocean liner in the world and held that distinction until her equally lovely sister Mauretania entered service in November 1907. Both ships were also the world’s fastest liners when they held the Blue Riband for crossing the Atlantic.
Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Titanic, Lusitania and the Forgotten Empress (of Ireland) gallery has many items linked to all three doomed ships.
Both Lusitania and Mauretania were ordered by Cunard to restore Britain’s superiority over German ships in the Atlantic passenger trade. The year they entered service was particularly significant because Liverpool was celebrating the 700th anniversary of King John’s charter.
More than 200,000 people lined the banks of the River Mersey to watch Lusitania leaving on her maiden voyage. When Mauretania came into service they worked together providing an express service between Liverpool and New York.
The museum displays include a letter written by Mr C R Minnitt on the Lusitania’s first trip. He told his friend Ethel Poole: “You should have heard the people cheer.”
A card featuring an engraving of the Lusitania invites VIPs to view the liner in the Mersey three days before her maiden voyage. A contemporary colour brochure shows Third Class accommodation including Ladies’ Room, Smoking Room and a four-berth room.
A photograph of the First Class Dining Saloon features its splendid upholstered chairs with crystal glass on sumptuous tablecloths.
All this was sent to the bottom of the Irish Sea on 7 May 1915 with the loss of nearly 1,200 lives including many Liverpool crew members.
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 p&p UK).