Lewis links with Cunard remembered as 175th anniversary marked

Picture courtesy of Stornoway Amenity Trust who featured this story in their 2009 Homecoming calendar.
Picture courtesy of Stornoway Amenity Trust who featured this story in their 2009 Homecoming calendar.

The 175th anniversary of Cunard was marked with a three day celebration in Liverpool this week - but many will not be aware of a Lewis family’s part in the company’s origins.

The MacIver family from Uig, initially established a marine-based business on the Clyde in the late 1700s which they later moved to Liverpool. Together with the Burns family from Glasgow and Samuel Cunard from Nova Scotia they formed the British and North American Steam Packet Company - which was shortened to Cunard.

On July 4th 1840, they started a monthly mail service between Liverpool, Halifax in Canada and Boston, Massachusetts. In 1847, the Hibernia, a wooden Cunard paddle steamer, captained by Alexander Ryrie from Stornoway, broke the Atlantic record for a crossing from Halifax to Liverpool in nine days, one hour and 30 minutes at an average speed of 11.67 knots.

In 1917, Donald Murdo Maclean (pictured left) from Stornoway joined Cunard as an apprentice and went on to get his master’s ticket in 1925. After distinguished wartime service, he rejoined Cunard in 1946 and between 1948 and 1962 he commanded ten Cunarders, including Caronia (34,183 tonnes); Mauretania (35,677 tons); Queen Mary (81,237 tons); and Queen Elizabeth (83,673). As Commodore of the Cunard Fleet, he was admitted to ‘be a Burgess and Freeman of the Burgh of the Barony of Stornoway’ in 1961.

To mark the 175th anniversary in Liverpool this week three famous ocean liners sailed together for the first time to mark the occasion.

The Queen Mary 2, the Queen Victoria and the Queen Elizabeth saluted the city of Liverpool where the transatlantic line began in 1840.

Thousands of people lined the River Mersey to watch the synchronised sailing display.

As the fleet completed its manoeuvres, the Red Arrows performed a fly-past.

The Cunard company revolutionised travel in the 19th Century with its steam ships which added speed and safety to journeys which had previously been made on less reliable sailing ships.

By the early part of the 20th Century, the company’s “big three” liners - Mauretania, Berengaria and Aquitania - were the primary means of passenger transport across the Atlantic.

The shipping company moved its headquarters from the Cunard Building on Liverpool’s waterfront to Southampton in 1965.