A nice mix-up, this. The Great Western and Sirius raced each other across. The Sirius was the first ship steaming across the Atlantic, but the Great Western opened the first trans Atlantic steam service. Or did they?
Great Western and Sirius
race across the Atlantic
Nederlandse Verenging van Modelbouwers
Picture from The Lore of Ships, Gothenborg 1975.
Zvezda 1:100 model
The race across the Atlantic, in 1838.
SiriusThis must have been some race!
The ship was a cross-Channel ship of 700 tons (1986m3), almost twice the Savannah. Engine 380 horsepower. The British and American Steam Navigation Company wanted to open the first steam service with their British Queen. This ship was still at the builders' yard when it became clear that the Great Western would beat them to it. They then chartered the Sirius.
The Sirius left from Cork, Ireland, on 4 April 1838, and arrived in New York on 22 April with forty passengers. She may have inspired Jules Verne in Around the World in 80 Days, where the ship taking Fogg to London has to use all wood on board as fuel: The Sirius had really burned her cabin furniture, spare yards and one mast in an 18 days 10 hours passage, average speed 6-7 knots.
Brunel in front of
the Great EasternGreat Western
After renowned engineer Isambard Kindom Brunel designed the Great Western Railroad (London-Bristol is my guess — now the First Great Western), the company thought it might be cute to extend the line to New York. The first steamship designed specifically for trans Atlantic crossing was thus built.True enough—Savannah, Royal William and Curaçao originally had been built for other purposes.
Brunel designed a wooden 71 meter long ship of 1321 "burthen" - say 3500 m³ or over 3 times the Savannah. Her interior was half occupied by four boilers and a two-cylinder engine.
24 first-class passengers paid 35 guineas for the trip, which left Bristol to arrive in New York 15 days later, on 23 April 1838, just a few hours after the Sirius. However, Great Western had taken 3 days less and also had 200 tons of coal left upon arrival.
Sirius and Great Western held their race 12 years after Curaçao started the first regular trans Atlantic mail and passenger steam service between Holland and Curaçao (and presumably Paramaribo, Suriname). Which is a much longer way to go, too.
Most information came from
The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea
The Advent of Steam
Evolution of the steamship from paddle steamer, to screw-propelled vessel, to intro of marine compound engine in the United States, Europe, and the Far East. Also explained is the introduction of iron construction. Solid on industrial background.
Ships and the Sea
Lots of reliable info. Maybe a bit heavy on the English side, but after all, it is in English.
I know of no equivalent book in any other language anyway.
The Golden Age of Shipping.
The development of the merchant ship from early 20th century. Passenger ships, cargo liners and fishing fleets of the era. Economic reasoning behind the creation of many of these, showing major role of technology.
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