All Aboard

27 May 2008 by Stephen

colour illustration showing people and dining equipment lurching around on board a ship

G Humphrey’s ‘An interesting scene on board an East Indiaman showing the effects of a heavy lurch after dinner’

Sea air gives me an appetite and it has to be really rough to put me off my food. I fondly remember the old Isle of Man ferry which always sounded the dinner gong immediately after casting off from Douglas, so there were no excuses for wavering.

The welcome return of cruise liners to Liverpool’s waterfront puts into focus Britain’s historical association with sea travel as the world’s greatest maritime nation. As an island, Britain has always depended heavily on sea travel. Until the invention of aircraft, for example, everyone travelling to and from Britain had to do so by ship.

Until the late 19th century sea travel was often unpleasant and hazardous. It was usually undertaken only when absolutely necessary.

At the Merseyside Maritime Museum there is a hilarious coloured engraving of 1818 by G Humphrey called “An interesting scene on board an East Indiaman showing the effects of a heavy lurch after dinner”. Passengers on board a sailing ship attempt to eat at a table as the ship lurches from side to side, scattering food and drink.

Few sailing ships had more than the most basic facilities for passengers, who were largely left to fend for themselves. Early steam ships were usually able to provide reliable, scheduled services regardless of the weather. By the end of the 19th century the age of the floating palaces had arrived, providing comfortable accommodation for passengers.

Although today competing with aircraft and Channel Tunnel trains, ships still carry millions of people to and from Britain every year. Ferries can compete with aircraft because they carry large numbers of road vehicles as well as foot passengers. They can also compete with Channel Tunnel trains because they transport more vehicles and people to a wider range of destinations. Roll-on, roll-off car ferries were widely introduced on routes to and from Britain in the mid-1960s.

In the past holiday cruises were often seen as being for the very old or very wealthy. In recent years, however, they have become less expensive and they are experiencing a boom. People of all ages enjoy cruising because the ships provide the facilities of floating hotels and holiday resorts while moving from place to place. Among the other attractions are sunshine, fresh sea air, excellent food and exotic locations.

Other exhibits include a publicity model of the passenger / vehicle ferry Stena Hengist dating from about 1990. She was operated by Stena Sealink Ltd on the English Channel routes between 1990 and 1993.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo.

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