The line formed by Samuel Cunard in 1837 is possibly the most famous line today. They operated some of the most magnificent ships ever to play the Atlantic.
Cunard’s very first ship, Britannia, made her maiden voyage in 1840. Starting on 4 July 1840, she made Halifax, Nova Scotia, from Liverpool, England, in 12 days and 10 hours, continuing on to Boston, Massachusetts.
Britannia was a large ship for the period, 207 feet (63 m) long and 34 feet (10.3 m) across the beam, with three masts and a wooden hull. She was a side paddle steamer and also carried sails, as steam power in ships was still in its experimental stage. Cunard requested that his ship be commissioned to carry mail, thus becoming the first Royal Mail Steamer (RMS).
In January 1842 Charles Dickens and his wife travelled to the United States on Britannia. The weather was bad, he was seasick for most of the voyage and returned home on a sailing ship. He wrote that his stateroom was a coffin with a window and he truly believed the ship wouldn’t survive the crossing.
In 1849, Britannia was sold to Germany and renamed Barbarossa and was fitted with guns. She was later transferred to Prussia where she served as a barracks ship. Her end came when used for target practice in 1880.
With Britannia, Cunard proved that regular transatlantic service was possible using steam power.