One Hundred Years Ago – The Allan Line’s Alsatian, later Empress of France – Trans-Atlantic – Trans-Pacific – World Cruises

CalgarianAt this time a century ago, Glasgow’s Allan Line, a very innovative company that was among the first to stretch many of its passenger liners by adding new midsections in the 19th Century, was preparing to introduce two new trend-setting ships to the North Atlantic in 1914. The first of these, the 18,481-ton Alsatian, was built by William Beardmore & Sons in Glasgow, while the 17,515-ton Calgarian was completed by the Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd of nearby Govan.

Ordered as quadruple-screw turbine-propelled vessels, these ships had advanced turbine propulsion for their time and were the first on the North Atlantic to be equipped with the new warship-like cruiser stern instead of the traditional counter stern. With a capacity for 1,750, of whom 250 travelled in first class, 500 in second and 1,000 in third, they were the largest liners yet built for the Canadian route between Liverpool, Quebec and Montreal, with winter service to Halifax and Saint John when the St Lawrence was closed by ice.

An Allan Line publicity piece described the ships while they were being built: “The fittings of the general rooms, which occupy the entire structure on A Deck, harmoniously blend luxury and comfort, the decorations being entrusted to firms whose names are world-famous. The public rooms comprise the Lounge, Library and Reading Room, the Card Room, and the Smoke Room. On the Upper Promenade Deck there is a Cafe, Smoke Room and Gymnasium. The promenade decks – which constitute a special feature of the ships – are of great length and spaciousness, with extensive closed-in Promenade for recreation in all kinds of weather.”

The Alsatian departed Liverpool on her maiden voyage on January 17, 1914, for Halifax and Saint John, while the Calgarian would follow on May 22 to Quebec. But their initial service to Canada was but brief.

That summer, with the onset of the Great War, both ships were requisitioned by the Royal Navy for use as armed merchant cruisers. Regrettably, the Calgarian was sunk by a U-Boat off the cost of Northern Ireland on March 1, 1918. This ship had been at the scene of the Halifax Explosion on December 6, 1917, when her crew had assisted in the rescue and medical relief after the French ship Mont Blanc, loaded with explosives, and the Norwegian Imo were in collision in the harbour. More than 2,000 people died in the resulting explosion.

During the conflict, the Allan Line was taken over by Canadian Pacific and in 1919 the Alsatian was refitted as an Atlantic Empress, taking on the new name of Empress of France. Her maiden voyage as an Empress left Liverpool on September 26, 1919, for Quebec. In 1923, she became one of four ships to circumnavigate the world from New York, following Cunard Line’s 19,695-ton Laconia by only a few weeks. The Empress of France made a number of world cruises in the 1920s, as did her fleetmate, the 24,581-ton Empress of Scotland.

In May 1922, the Empress of France became one of the first Canadian Pacific ships to serve Southampton, when her route was changed from Liverpool to sail between Southampton and Quebec via Cherbourg, to which the port of Hamburg was soon added, before Southampton.

Empress of France in VancouverAs well as seeing the Pacific on her world cruises, the Empress of France spent a year in the Trans-Pacific trade when in October 1928, she sailed from Southampton for Suez, Hong Kong and Vancouver (where she is seen above in this Walter E Frost photo). There, she substituted for the 1922-built 21,517-ton Empress of Canada, first of the name, which was sent to Fairfield’s to be re-engined for more speed. The Empress of France sailed Trans-Pacific until October 1929, when she left Hong Kong again for Liverpool.

In September 1931, Empress of France made her final voyage from Southampton to Cherbourg and Quebec.  Having been displaced by the new 42,348-ton Empress of Britain, she was laid up in the Clyde and finally scrapped at Dalmuir, where she had been built, three years later. In all, the first Empress of France had a career that spanned twenty years, which in addition to her war service included ninety-nine Trans-Atlantic voyages, five Trans-Pacific voyages, and eight cruises.

The Cruise People still book world cruises today, not only on Cunard Line but also with other carriers such as Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, with their 28,890-ton Europa and several other lines, as well as on cargo-passenger ships. For further details please call us in London on +44 (0) 20 7723 2450 or e-mail cruise@cruisepeople.co.uk 

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About thecruisepeople
Specialists in sea travel - ultra-luxury cruising, freighter travel, small ships and expedition voyages.

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