Oceanic Steam Navigation Company or White
Star Line of Boston Packets, more commonly known as the
White Star Line, was a prominent British shipping
company, today most famous for its ill-fated luxury flagship, the
Titanic, and the
World War I loss of her sister ship,
the line merged with its chief rival, Cunard
, which operated as a separate entity until 2005 and is now
part of Carnival
Corporation & PLC
company bearing the name White Star Line was
founded in Liverpool, England by John
Pilkington and Henry Threlfall Wilson, and focused on the
White Star Line flag
trade, which had
increased following the discovery of gold
there. The fleet initially consisted of chartered sailing ships,
, Blue Jacket
(later renamed White Star
), Red Jacket
, Ben Nevis
. The fate of Tayleur, the largest ship of its day,
haunted the company for years, for it was wrecked on its maiden
voyage to Australia at Lambay Island, near Ireland.
company acquired its first steamship in 1863, the Royal
The original White Star Line merged with two other small lines,
Black Ball and Eagle, to form a conglomerate, the Liverpool,
Melbourne and Oriental Steam Navigation Company Limited. This did
not prosper and White Star broke away. White Star
concentrated on the Liverpool to New York
Heavy investment in new ships was financed by
borrowing, but the company's bank, the Royal Bank of Liverpool,
failed in October 1867. White Star was left with an outstanding
debt of £527,000, and was forced into bankruptcy.
The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company
On 18 January 1868, Thomas Ismay
a director of the National Line
purchased the house flag, trade name, and goodwill of the bankrupt
company for £1,000, with the intention of operating large ships on
the North Atlantic service. Ismay established the company's headquarters
at Albion House,
approached by Gustav Christian
Schwabe, a prominent Liverpool merchant, and his nephew, shipbuilder Gustav Wilhelm Wolff, during a game of
billiards. Schwabe offered to finance the new line if
Ismay had his ships built by Wolff's company, Harland and
Adriatic of 1871, (3,888
Ismay agreed, and a partnership with
Harland and Wolff was established. The shipbuilders received their
first orders on 30 July 1869. The agreement was that Harland and
Wolff would build the ships at cost plus a fixed percentage and
would not build any vessels for the White Star's rivals. In 1870
joined the managing
company. As the first ship was being commissioned, Ismay formed the
Oceanic Steam Navigation Company to operate the steamers under
began with six ships of the Oceanic class: Oceanic , Atlantic, Baltic,
and Republic, followed
by the slightly larger Celtic and
began operating again in 1871 between New York and Liverpool (with
a call at Queenstown).
Britannic and Germanic
of 1874, (5,000 GRT)
It has long been customary for many shipping lines to have a common
theme for the names of its ships. White Star gave its ships names ending in
-ic, such as Titanic.
The line also adopted a buff-coloured
funnel with a black top as a distinguishing feature for its ships,
as well as its distinctive house
, a red broad pennant
tails, bearing a white five-pointed star.
Oceanic of 1899, (17,272
During the late nineteenth century, White Star operated many famous
ships, such as Britannic
, and Majestic
. Several of these
ships took the Blue Riband
, awarded to
the fastest ship to make the Atlantic crossing.
In 1899 Thomas Ismay commissioned one of the most beautiful steam
ships constructed during the nineteenth century, the Oceanic
. She was the first ship
to exceed the Great
in length (although not tonnage). The building of
this ship marked White Star's departure from competition in speed
with its rivals. Thereafter White Star concentrated on comfort and
economy of operation instead.
In the late nineteenth century, shipbuilders had discovered that
when speed through water increased above about , the required
additional engine power increased in logarithmic
proportion: that is, each additional
increment of speed required a larger increase in engine power and
fuel consumption. With the coal
-fired reciprocating steam engines
of the time,
exceeding about required very high power and fuel
For this reason, the White Star Line committed to comfort and
reliability rather than to speed. For example, White Star's
cruised at with 14,000 horsepower, while Cunard's
Baltic of 1903 (23,876 GRT), one
of the Big Four
Between 1901 and 1907, White Star brought "The Big Four" (all
around 24,000 tons) into service: Celtic
, and Adriatic
. These ships carried
massive numbers of passengers: 400 passengers in First and Second
Class, and over 2,000 in Third Class. In addition, they had
extremely large cargo capacities, up to 17,000 tons of general
In 1902 the White Star Line was absorbed into the International Mercantile
(IMM), a large American shipping conglomerate. Bruce
Ismay ceded control to IMM in the face of intense pressure from
shareholders and J. P. Morgan
threatened a rate war. IMM was dissolved in 1932.
The White Star Line and immigration
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, millions of
people immigrated to the United States and Canada. White Star was
among the first shipping lines to have passenger ships with less
expensive accommodation for Third Class passengers, in addition to
First and Second Class. The Oceanic
-class liners of
1870-1872 carried up to 1,000 Third Class passengers. The "Big
Four" of 1901-1907 all carried over 2,000 Third Class passengers.
White Star advertised extensively for immigrant passengers.
from Great Britain or Ireland, but large
numbers also came from continental Europe, Russia, and even
the Middle East.
No exact figures
are available, but White Star liners may have carried as many as
two million immigrants.
Olympic class ships
Titanic of 1912 (46,328
The Cunard Line was the chief competitor to White Star.
response to Cunard, White Star ordered the Olympic class
liners: Olympic, Titanic, and Britannic.
While Cunard was
famed for the speed of its ships, the Olympic
to be the biggest and most luxurious ships in the world.
was originally to be much larger than
, and named Gigantic
; her name was changed
shortly after the sinking of Titanic
. The Olympic
was the only ship of this class that was profitable for White Star.
sank on its maiden voyage, while
was requisitioned by the British government
before she was fully fitted, and used as a hospital ship
during World War I
hitting a mine on November 21, 1916.
Georgic of 1932, (27,759
In 1927 the White Star Line was purchased by the Royal Mail Steam Packet
(RMSPC), making RMSPC the largest shipping group in the
In 1928 a new Oceanic
proposed and her keel was laid down that year at Harland and Wolff,
but the ship was never completed. She was to have the new
diesel-electric propulsion system and maintain the thousand foot
dimensions that had originally been planned for Gigantic
and the unbuilt Ceric
s keel was
dismantled and the steel was used in two new smaller ships built
for the White Star: RMS
. Both of these ships entered service in
1930; they were the last liners White Star built.
RMSPC ran into financial trouble, and was liquidated in 1932. A new
company, Royal Mail Lines Limited, took over the ships of RMSPC and
its subordinate lines including White Star.
In 1933 White Star and Cunard were both in serious financial
difficulties because of the Great
, falling passenger numbers and the advanced age of
their fleets. Work had been halted on Cunard's new giant,
Hull 534 (later the Queen Mary), in 1931, to save money.
In 1933 the
British government agreed to provide assistance to the two
competitors on the condition that they merge. The agreement was
completed on 30 December 1933.
The merger took place on 10 May 1934, creating Cunard White
. White Star contributed 10 ships to the new
company while Cunard contributed 15 ships. Because of this, and
since Hull 534 was Cunard's ship, 62% of the company was owned by
Cunard's shareholders and 38% of the company was owned by White
Star's shareholders. A year after this merger, Olympic
the last of her class, was removed from service. Two years later,
in 1937, she was scrapped.
In 1947 Cunard acquired the 38% of Cunard White Star it did not
already own, and on 31 December 1949 it acquired Cunard White
Star's assets and operations, and reverted to using the name
"Cunard." From the time of the 1934 merger, the house flags of both
lines had been flown on all its ships, with each ship flying the
flag of its original owner above the other. After 1950, only
, the last surviving White
Star liners, continued to fly the White Star burgee on a regular
basis above the Cunard house flag. All other ships flew the Cunard
flag over the White Star flag until 1968.
White Star Line today
The White Star Line's London offices, named Oceanic House, still
exist today. They are just a block off Trafalgar
Square, and one can still see the name on the building
over the entrances.
The French passenger tender Nomadic
, the last surviving
vessel of the White Star Line, was purchased by the Northern
Ireland Department for
in January 2006. She has since been
returned to Belfast, where she is to be restored under the auspices of
the Nomadic Preservation Trust along with the assistance of her
original builders, Harland and Wolff.
She is intended to
serve as the centerpiece of a museum dedicated to the history of
Atlantic steam, the White Star Line, and its most famous ship, the
. Also, the Cunard Line has introduced the White
Star Service as the name of the brand of services on its ships
RMS Queen Mary 2
MS Queen Victoria
the future MS Queen
. The company has also created the White Star
Academy, an in-house programme for preparing new crew members for
The White Star flag is raised on the Queens
on every 15
April, in memory of the Titanic
- On 21
January 1854 wrecked off Lambay Island, with the loss of 380 lives, out of 652 on
- In 1873 the was wrecked near Halifax, costing 585 lives.
1893 vanished on the Atlantic ocean with 74 passengers and crew
after departing Liverpool for New
York. Her wreck has never been found.
- In 1907 ran aground off the coast of England, but in the
largest rescue of its kind, all 456 passengers and 141 crewmembers
were rescued. The ship was deliberately broken in two, with the
stern half being rebuilt with a new bow.
- In 1909 the was lost after a collision with the liner . Four
lives were lost in the collision and the ship remained afloat for
over 39 hours before foundering.
September 1911 was involved in a collision with the warship
Hawke in the Solent, badly
damaging both ships.
- In April 1912 was lost after colliding with an iceberg, taking 1,517 passengers with her.
first White Star ship lost during World War I was Arabic , torpedoed off the Old Head of
Kinsale Ireland on 19 August
1915 killing 44.
following November, the second sister ship of Titanic,
HMHS Britannic, was lost
after either striking a mine in the
Channel off Greece or getting
torpedoed. She sank in less than 50
minutes with the loss of 21 lives and was the largest vessel sunk
in the war.
1915 the is narrowly missed by a German torpedo in the Mediterranean Sea. No lives were lost.
- On 3 May 1915 the former Germanic (then in service as a
Turkish troop transport) was torpedoed by the British Submarine
E-14. The ship survived the attack
with no fatalities.
May 1916 Ceramic was
narrowly missed by two torpedoes from unidentified U-boat in
- In 1916 the was torpedoed 3 times and sunk by U-20, killing 5.
- On 25 January 1917 Laurentic struck two mines laid
by German submarine U-80 and sank
with a loss of 354 lives.
- In May 1917 was torpedoed and sunk by the German coastal
minelayer sub, UC-66, in English
Channel, killing 22 crew members.
June 1917 Ceramic was
narrowly missed by one torpedo from unidentified U-boat in English
- In July 1917 Ceramic
was chased for 40 minute by unidentified U-boat firing its deck
- In August 1917 Delphic
was torpedoed 135 miles off Bishop Rock by German U-boat UC-72 and sank with the loss of five
- On 12 May 1918, the Olympic rammed and sank the U-boat
U-103 which had tried, and failed,
to torpedo her.
- On 19-20 July 1918 Justicia
(owned by the British Government and managed by White Star) was
torpedoed twice by U-46 but she
remained afloat. Later in the same day, she was torpedoed two more
times by U-46 and again managed to
stay afloat. The next morning, as she was towed by HMS
Sonia, she was torpedoed two more times by U-124 and finally sank, killing 16 crew
- In September 1918 Persic was
torpedoed by U-87 off of the Scilly
Islands, but was able to limp off and out run the sub. She was
towed in and repaired, resuming her service.
- In October 1917 Celtic ran
up on a mine laid by U-88 near
Cobh, Ireland, killing 17. She was repaired and put back into
military service. In June 1918, she was torpedoed by UB-77 in the Irish Sea, killing 7. Once
again, she was able to escape the sub and limp in to port with her
own steam. She was repaired and once again put back into service,
serving through the remainder of the war without incident.
- On 15 May 1934, while steaming in a fog, the Olympic
rammed the Lightship Nantucket,
sinking it and killing seven of the crew.
- In November 1940 Laurentic was torpedoed and
sunk by U-99
off Northern Ireland with the loss of 49 lives.