Cunard 175: a voyage through history

This year marks the 175th anniversary of the inauguration of one of the most famous shipping companies in the world – Cunard. As celebrations commence this month across the country, Special Collections and Archives opens a new exhibition. This is the first to occupy the full extent of our newly-expanded exhibition area, and we encourage visitors from within and beyond the University to come and explore the company’s fascinating history through its business archive.

Cunard 175 display

Cunard 175 – a voyage through history showcases a selection of records from the unique resource that is the Cunard Steamship Co. Ltd archive. Cunard’s rich heritage is represented through original documents and photographs, bringing to life the story of the company’s early years through to the Golden Age of transatlantic travel.

The archive of the Cunard Steamship Co. Ltd contains most of the surviving business records produced by Cunard since it became a limited company in 1878. Occupying over 400 linear metres the archive is a unique source for researching Cunard’s growth and development. Arranged to reflect the departments and functions of the business, many of the records date from the inter-war period.

As one of the longest-serving names in shipping history, Cunard is a name recognised throughout the world. The exhibition will introduce visitors to the history of Cunard through themes such as its early years, life on board and serving the country. The following are a selection of some of the unique records that are on display:

  • Passenger list for Halifax and Boston (Jul 1840-Dec 1844)

Charles Dickens is listed as a passenger on the voyage from Liverpool to Boston on 3rd January 1842.  He travelled with his wife and her servant who is not named. Unimpressed by his first voyage on board Cunard’s Britannia, Charles Dickens wrote about his experience in his travelogue, American Notes.  The cabin was described as being “a profoundly preposterous box”.

  • Staff magazines (1918-1927)

The Cunard Magazine was a house magazine, first produced in January 1918.  It was initially set up as a means to keep in contact with Cunard staff on active war service, in an effort to show the company’s support and to keep up morale. Staff members were encouraged to submit their contributions to the magazine, which appear in the form of correspondence, stories, poems, anecdotes, sketches and articles.

Cunard display 3

  •  Captain Dutton’s Abstract Journal for the Umbria (1897-1903)

This handwritten volume contains a record of the numbers of troops, doctors and nurses who were carried on transport voyages during the Boer War. As a company Cunard has served a role in every major conflict that Great Britain has been involved with since the Crimean War in 1853. During such times the company has offered significant contributions in terms of maritime experience and assistance involving both its land and sea resources.

  •  Life on Board 1920s-1950s

A selection of photographs and publicity materials visually portray the glamour and opulence that passengers could expect on board a Cunard ship.

 D42-PR2-1-97-F20Cunard display 2

Cunard 175 – a voyage through history will run until 1st September. Cunard’s anniversary celebrations continue later in the year when an exhibition of original promotional posters from the Cunard archive will open at the University’s Victoria Gallery & Museum. Further details will be posted later in the summer.

In the meantime, One Magnificent City will officially launch during Light Night, on Friday 15th May. This seven-week programme of activities will celebrate Cunard’s heritage across the city. A brochure detailing how visitors can enjoy these festivities in full can be viewed online:

Further information about the Cunard Archive can be found on the SC&A website.