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Beautiful sisters

26 October 2009 by stepheng

Model of a ship with smaller baots around

Model of RMS Mauretania

Throughout our lives chance can play a decisive part – perhaps I am tempting fate but I believe you can change the course of events. I do not subscribe to the theory that events follow a predestined path.

The following story, though, tests my credulity. It really looks as if this was all pre-ordained, not simply a German U-boat captain seeing his chance and ruthlessly taking it.

They were both hugely popular in Liverpool but one of the beautiful sisters was to have a tragic end while the other carried on until the close of her natural life.

The Lusitania and Mauretania were both built in 1907, the pride of the Cunard fleet. They were bigger, faster and more luxurious than any liners before them – but were soon eclipsed by other giants of the seas as the race to capture lucrative business became ever faster.

The two ships were the first express transatlantic liners fitted with steam turbines. Although more renowned for their luxurious elegance, they also carried many Third Class passengers emigrating to the USA on the Liverpool – New York route.

The 31,550-ton Lusitania had a successful career until she was torpedoed by a submarine in May 1915 while heading for Liverpool, with the loss of 1,201 lives.

There were plenty of famous people on board, many of whom died. The artistic world lost such talents as the playwright Charles Klein and the founder of Dublin Art Gallery Sir Hugh Lane.

The business world was devastated by the loss of leading moguls such as multi-millionaire Alfred Vanderbilt and Paul Crompton, a director of the Booth Steamship Co, who died along with his wife and six children.

Lusitania sank in just 18 minutes and there was a terrifying scramble for the boats, and many people were trapped below decks because of the speed of the sinking.

An etching by W L Wyllie in the new emigrants’ gallery at Merseyside Maritime Museum shows the Lusitania in the River Mersey shortly before the First World War.

A 1:6000 scale model depicts the Mauretania at the Princes Landing Stage in 1911 (pictured). Among other ships on the river are tugs, a paddle steamer, ferry boats and fishing craft.

Mauretania captured the coveted Blue Riband (westerly) in September 1909 when she crossed the Atlantic at an average speed of 26.06 knots – a record which lasted 20 years.

She served as both a troopship and hospital ship during the First World War before resuming passenger services. Mauretania was scrapped in 1935.

There’s more on the Lusitania, including items recovered from the ship, on our main site.

Maritime Archvies has also put together an information sheet on the Lusitania. There are also sheets on the great transatlantic liners and the Cunard Line

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).

  1. Andy says:

    [Sigh]

    I still think the OLYMPICs — and specifically, OLYMPIC herself, in her original configuration — were the most beautiful, best-proportioned big liners of that day.

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