The relationship between Harland & Wolff and White Star Line began in 1869 and lasted until 1932. During that time Harland & Wolff built over 70 ships for White Star Line and while Titanic is the most famous of these, many others have eventful histories.
Here are some of the stories of life on board these ships after they left Belfast.
Born at sea
A log card from Baltic commemorates the birth of John J. Ranson O’Brien on board the liner on 13th February 1910. Following maritime tradition he was named after the ship's captain, John Ranson, and because the vessel was in American territorial waters at the time of his birth he was able to pass through immigration inspection at Ellis Island.
The abstract of the log describes fresh gales and rough seas in the days leading up to his birth, not ideal conditions for the expectant mother.
There is no information as to what class of passenger she was and whether she enjoyed the comfort of a First Class state room or was confined to a smaller cabin, such as in these photographs taken on board Baltic. In any event they arrived at their destination the next day
This menu was designed to celebrate the birthday of American president George Washington, almost 200 years after his birth. Issued on 22nd February 1929 during a Mediterranean cruise on board Adriatic, it includes a range of dishes from the east coast of America, rounded off with a slice of Washington pie.
A menu such as this is more likely to have been found in the First Class dining saloon than that of the Third Class passengers.
These photographs show the difference in eating arrangements on board Adriatic.
That said, all classes of passengers enjoyed a high quality of service. Perhaps as a means of reassurance some Third Class menus included a note saying ‘any complaint respecting the food supplied, want of attention or incivility, should be at once reported to the Purser or Chief Steward’.
A poem written on board Adriatic on 31st August 1919 tells the story of a woman having a great time by herself, although missing her husband terribly at the same time of course!
We learn that she travelled from Southampton to Connecticut to visit her brother and enjoyed dining out and coming home late. She also appears quite confident that, had she been single, she would have had no trouble in finding a sweetheart.
The photographs of the First Class lounge and writing room and the First Class ladies’ reading room on board Adriatic give us an impression of the surroundings enjoyed by literary enthusiasts as they crossed the Atlantic.
The calm before the storm
This memo of a log from Celtic describes a calm journey from Queenstown to New York in 1906 under a ‘light easterly breeze’. However, things did not remain calm in Celtic’s history.
In 1914 she was commissioned as an armed merchant cruiser and fitted with guns. In 1917 she struck a mine and narrowly escaped a torpedo attack. The following year she was unable to get away and was torpedoed in the Irish Sea, resulting in the death of six men. A number of White Star Line ships were used in the war but their size hindered their use in combat.
Instead, many of the White Star Line ships crossing the Atlantic at that time were used to carry troops. This mess card from Adriatic was used by a J.W. Gill, en route to Liverpool in June 1918. The photograph shows Harland & Wolff workers watching the launch of Celtic in 1901, when they could not have known what lay ahead.
Going for a song
Cedric, Celtic, Baltic and Adriatic were known collectively as the ‘Big Four’ and were all built at the turn of the twentieth century. This photograph, taken prior to the launch of Cedric in 1902, shows an unusual view of its construction workers lined up along the bow in proud celebration of their achievements.
Like Celtic, Cedric was also armed during the First World War and joined the 10th Cruiser Squadron but, unlike Celtic, she did not sustain any damage. However, she did suffer collisions with other vessels in 1918 and 1923, the first of which resulted in the sinking of Montreal, a Canadian Pacific liner.
Fortunately, Cedric went on to sail again as a cabin-class liner and, as this Grand Concert programme from 1931 demonstrates, there were celebrations on board once more.
Teutonic was the first ship built directly supported by the British Admiralty with the intention of enabling it to be readily converted for naval service. The print from The Graphic, 1st June 1889 illustrates the visit of Prince Albert Victor to the new Alexandra Dock. Teutonic was the first vessel to be fitted out in the new dock and was also the first of the White Star Line ships to have twin screws.
In August 1889 Teutonic took part in the Spithead Naval Review. Deck guns were fitted for the occasion and the ship was inspected by Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Prince of Wales.
On 26th June 1897 Teutonic was in Spithead again, this time taking part in a Royal Review of Her Majesty’s Fleet to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
A race across the Atlantic
Laurentic and Megantic were sister ships for White Star Line’s Canadian service. Laurentic was the first triple-screw liner and proved to be faster than conventionally powered liners. This was fortuitous, as in 1910 Laurentic was used to overtake a vessel which was reported to be carrying a murder suspect to Canada (more on that to follow!).
This ‘Hands Across the Sea’ postcard was used to promote White Star Line’s Swedish shipping agent and reflects the range and scale of the ever expanding fleet. However, despite its international reach, Laurentic came to a dramatic end much closer to home.
In January 1917 Laurentic ran into a minefield laid by a German submarine off Malin Head on the County Donegal coast. Two of the mines exploded, sinking the ship in under an hour. In total 354 lives were lost, though many died as a result of the cold. The ship was carrying thousands of gold bars worth over £5 million. The Royal Navy worked hard to recover the missing gold, although reports suggest that as many as 20 bars remain unaccounted for!
Drama on the high seas
In 1905, Dr Hawley Crippen lived in Holloway with his second wife Cora, better known by her stage name ‘Belle Elmore’. In 1910 Belle disappeared and Dr Crippen’s mistress, Ethel le Neve, was seen living at the house wearing Belle’s clothes and jewellery. Suspicions were aroused but although the police called at the house they could find no evidence of wrong-doing.
Dr Crippen and Ethel left first for Belgium and then embarked on a voyage to Canada on board the Canadian Pacific liner Montrose. Following their sudden departure the house was inspected again and this time partial human remains were found beneath the cellar. The body was identified as Belle’s and the evidence suggested that she had been poisoned.
Fortunately, the master of Montrose had become suspicious of a man travelling with a woman disguised as a boy and, still only just within range, sent a wireless telegram to alert the authorities. Inspector Dew of Scotland Yard boarded Laurentic, which was able to overtake the ship and arrive in Quebec before Montrose. He arrested Dr Crippen and Ethel le Neve and, travelling on Megantic, brought them back to the UK to stand trial.
Dr Crippen was convicted of murder and hanged at Pentonville prison, Ethel le Neve was acquitted and left the UK.
After the First World War there were more restrictions on emigration and, to make up for the shortfall in passenger numbers, White Star Line turned their attention to developing holiday cruises. The new ‘tourist’ class of passenger could avail of attractive rates for leisure travel. This catalogue is an example of the promotional material used by White Star Line at the time.
There were numerous leisure facilities on board these luxuriant ships. First Class passengers could use the Turkish baths, swimming pool, gymnasium or squash court, or enjoy time spent relaxing on deck as in the image featured on the catalogue. The photograph shows a First Class Turkish bath and cooling room on board Adriatic.