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Historical Materials: Vessels (Specific / Named)

Historical Materials  »  Vessels (Specific / Named)  »  "Caledonia" (Cunard Steamship)

"Caledonia" (Cunard Steamship)

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The "Britannias" were the first ocean steamship "liners," that is to say they were built to maintain regular departures "full or empty" as stipulated in a pre-advertised schedule. Four in number they were constructed in response to Samuel Cunard and his partners winning a contract from the Admiralty in 1839 for the twice monthly conveyance of mail from Liverpool to Boston via Halifax, the requirement being reduced to once monthly in winter; there was also a clause placing the steamers and the crew at the Admiralty's disposal in the event of war. Although it was Cunard who raised the finance to float the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company (popularly abbreviated to "Cunard Line") it was Robert Napier, the well known Clyde shipbuilder, who was technically responsible for the venture's resounding success. Due to his efforts and advice the service began in July 1840 with "Britannia" arriving at Halifax after a passage of ten and a half days from Liverpool—a considerable improvement on that of  sailing ships tacking against the prevailing westerlies. As portrayed in Lane's painting, the Bostonians welcomed the new service greeting each steamer's arrival with growing enthusiasm.
 
As required on entering port, the steamer displays her British ensign at the stern. The conventional U.S. courtesy flag at the foremast, serves as a token of respect to the host country. At the mizzen masthead is a plain blue flag bearing a central silver star. Rarely encountered this portrays the founding company's second house flag, succeeded in 1880 by the familiar red flag featuring a golden lion rampart. Supreme at the main masthead is a characteristic blue Elford Code flag hoist reading "3362." Reference to a copy of the 1848 Boston Signal book identifies the steamer as the Britannia class "Caledonia." There is no doubt about which of the four steamers is portrayed since the same source records "Britannia" as having number 3366. Additional confirmation of the steamer's identity stems from her figurehead, a simple full length female figure compatible with the conventional usage of "Caledonia"  to imply Scotland. "Britannia" also had a female figurehead but bearing the familiar shield and trident. To complete matters, the remaining two ships in the Britannia class, "Columbia" and "Acadia" (the old name for Nova Scotia) were allotted adjacent numbers 3364 and 3365 respectively.
 
The choice of a Scottish theme might be viewed as a well deserved acknowledgment to the vital technical role that Robert Napier and the Clyde shipbuilding industry played in the overall planning and logistics so vital to Cunard's success. Of equal significance aesthetically is the fact that Robert Salmon spent many formative years depicting the shipping and unsurpassable scenery of the Clyde before emigrating to United States and settling in Boston where his characteristic style was later to exert considerable influence over Lane and others of the developing luminist school. Aesthetically and technically, this splendid little painting speaks for itself and reflecting Lane' s explicit choice of subject might be fittingly described as "The Cunard Britannia class steamer 'Caledonia' entering Boston Harbor."
 
– A.Sam Davidson (March, 2013)

Related tables: Steamship / Engine-Powered Vessel / Coastal Steamer »

publication
Boston Directory
George Adams
1848
Published by James French, Boston
Volume 1848-49
Boston Public Library
Call number 39999059856813

See p. 30 of directory.

publication
"Splendid Naval Victory"
Danvers Courier as published in unidentified publication
Robert Bennet Forbes scrapbook
vol. 1, p. 4
Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum (SCR 4)

"SPLENDID NAVAL VICTORY. We have received intelligence by the arrival of the Caledonia of one of the most splendid naval victories ever achieved under the American flag..." This article is a humorous metaphor, comparing Forbes' mission to bring food to the starving Irish to a naval assault on the city of Cork.

Citation: "Vessels (Specific / Named)." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. http://fitzhenrylaneonline.org/historical_material/index.php?type=Vessels+%28Specific+%2F+Named%29§ion=%22Caledonia%22+%28Cunard+Steamship%29 (accessed May 23, 2017).
Please note that the information on this and all pages is periodically reviewed and subject to change.
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