Queen Mary 2 begins tribute to Cunard’s first transatlantic voyage exactly 175
The city of Liverpool was in party mood on Saturday as it marked exactly 175 years since the cruise line Cunard launched the first successful crossing of the Atlantic by steamship – thereby revolutionising the world of travel.
Scores of Liverpudlians flocked to the Pier Head many dressed in colourful costumes that would not have been out of place at the Rio Carnival. To coincide with the successful sailing to America of Cunard’s first flagship, the Britannia, the city was attempting to beat the world record for the number of people on a catwalk.
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The firm is celebrating its 175th birthday Photo: ALAMY
Others came simply to get a close up view of Cunard’s flagship, the Queen Mary 2, docked here briefly before setting off on exactly the same voyage as the Britannia had on July 4, 1840 – from Liverpool to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and then on to Boston.
Although it has been almost 50 years since the last Cunard Transatlantic sailing from Liverpool, the cruise line is remembered with great affection here. In the late 19th century, when Cunard had its headquarters in Liverpool, almost 12,000 Liverpudlians worked for the liner, 1,000 alone at the magnificent Cunard building on the waterfront, and the name alone was synonymous with glamour and style.
Two concerts were held for the flagship?s passengers and region?s dignitaries
“When I was a boy we all knew someone who worked for Cunard,” Tony Concepcion, the Lord Mayor, told the crowd packed into Liverpool’s magnificent Anglican Cathedral for a commemorative service. “And if you worked for Cunard, you never walked alone.”
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Lord Prescott, the former deputy prime minister, started working life as a steward on Cunard’s ships. And although life for staff was not as luxurious as it was for passengers, there had been a “great spirit of comraderie”, he said, adding that the trips to America gave crew members a certain status in post-war Britain. “We were known as the Cunard Yanks and the Hollywood waiters,” he said.
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Queen Mary 2 will make the voyage to Halifax in six days – twice as fast as Britannia in 1840 Photo: GETTY
Other speakers, including the news broadcaster Michael Buerk, reflected on the fact that in addition to pioneering ever more luxurious ways of crossing the ocean – and developing a clientele that included royalty, politicians and film stars alike – Cunard had also played a key role in many of the wars in which Britain had been involved. Cunard vessels transported the horses used in the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War; many Cunard ships had been used in the transportation of troops in both the first and second world wars. Carol Thatcher revealed that during the Falklands War, her mother, then prime minister, had suffered sleepless nights about the decision to use Cunard’s QE2 ship to transport 3,000 soldiers to the South Atlantic.
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The Cunard story combined “joy, grief, kindness, humanity, sacrifice and service, ” said the Rt Rev Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool. “But Cunard has steamed on steadily for 175 years; a testament to human enterprise, skill and valour.”
The ship will sail into New York on July 14 Photo: GETTY
As it still does. Shortly after 10 pm, the crowds were treated to a dramatic display of fireworks which lit up the Mersey. On board the Queen Mary 2, passengers waved the American and British flags and to the stirring sounds of Jerusalem and the American national Anthem, the voyage finally got underway. With further anniversary celebrations ahead, it promises to be quite a special one. Even after 175 years, the prospect of crossing the Atlantic by ship has lost none of its lure. Next stop Halifax.
At just after 10pm, following a dramatic firework display over the Mersey, the QM2 was due to set sail on the latest in the Cunard’s long line of Transatlantic adventures. It promised to be quite a voyage.
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Virgin Trains (08719 774222; virgintrains.com) has regular high speed services between London and Liverpool; single fares from 15 pounds one-way.
Experience an extraordinary two-week luxury cruise on Cunard’s Queen Victoria around the southern Mediterranean in the company of some of the Telegraph’s best-loved contributors, including cartoonist Matt Pritchett, art critic Alastair Sooke, wine correspondent Victoria Moore and historian Dr Bettany Hughes. Call 0333 005 9159 or see telegraph.co.uk/cunardcruise