Cunard’s “Around the World Cruise” Centenary

Today marks the centenary of the chartering of Cunard’s ship Laconia by the American Express Company – initiating the “first ever continuous circumnavigation of the globe by passenger liner”.

The now famous “Around the World Cruise” began when the Laconia left New York on 21st November 1922 and headed westwards. Lasting over four months, the Laconia would call at over twenty ports and arrive back at New York on 30th March 1923. Although three other ships would circumnavigate the globe that winter, beginning their cruises in January 1923, the Laconia would be the first to complete such a route.

Around the World Cruise brochure cover

The above image is taken from the cover of a fold-out brochure from the Cunard archive. The fairly plain imagery advertises the 1922-1923 “Around the World Cruise” on the Laconia which would go on to be become one of Cunard’s most famous “firsts”. Descriptions within the brochure would have provided potential passengers with information about the facilities on board the Laconia and optional excursions available. A simple route map is also contained within.

Around the world cruise route map

Records within the Cunard archive relating to this specific cruise are few in number and are mostly limited to articles from the Cunard house magazine. Such examples include an article from the April 1923 edition (D42/PR5/6 pg116) which gives an insight into passengers’ experience of the world cruise:

“The new Cunard Laconia, which is about to conclude her world’s cruise, was in Yokohama during the New Year festivities. In an interesting letter, Dr. J. D. Doherty, the liner’s surgeon, says: “We had a delightful trip from ‘Frisco to the Hawaiian Islands, and all enjoyed the moderate temperature after the heat of the tropics. Hilo, in the Sandwich Islands, possesses a real volcano with a wonderful crater, continually belching up blood-red lava, and is intensely weird at night time. Honolulu is a most attractive spot, and everyone was charmed with the place and people. We got a marvelous reception, and as each person stepped shore they received a garland of flowers, which they wore round their necks. It is a prettycustom of all the islanders. It has a wonderful climate, gorgeous scenery of every variety, and we were fortunate to see it under the best possible circumstances. There are splendid beaches and excellent surf, where the sport is riding on surf boards or a queer kind of canoe. It is a paradise for the bather, as the shark is kept out by a coral reef which extends in front of all the beaches. The latest motors on tarred roads and glass-bottomed boats are also a novelty.”

Page from the Cunard magazine showing passengers on the Laconia cruise
D42/PR5/6 pg155

In the June 1923 edition of the Cunard magazine (D42/PR5/6 pg181) it was recorded that:

According to Captain F. G. Brown, the Laconia, which he commanded during her recent world cruise, was a source of considerable attraction at the various ports visited, particularly in Eastern waters. At a number of these ports the Laconia was the largest vessel ever to anchor there. Indeed, she was practically twice the size of the largest vessel previously to have used them. In several instances the local pilots were aghast at the thought of navigating a 20,000 tons vessel, but it is interesting to record that in each instance the Laconia was manoeuvred as if her gross tonnage was only a few hundred. Another fact worthy of record is that while the cruise was the first of its kind and no past experience could be used as a reference, only on one occasion was the Laconia not in keeping with her itinerary, and that was due to bad weather in the China sea. This speaks volumes for the liner’s steaming powers.

In grateful appreciation, the charterers of the Laconia, the American Express Company, on the liner’s return to New York, gave a dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel ” in honour of Captain F. G. Brown, R.D., R.N.R., and his staff of the R.M.5 Laconia, the first cruise-steamer to circumnavigate the globe.” The function was a most pleasing and successful gathering, at which a handsome silver cup was presented to the ship as a memento of her achievement”.

In the years following on from this historic voyage, many Cunard ships would undertake “Around the World” cruises or “World Cruises” as they are more commonly known. Within the business papers of the Cunard archive there is an array of illustrated brochures and in some cases associated papers from such cruises.

You can learn more about the Cunard Archive via the dedicated webpage which includes links to the online catalogues. All of the Cunard catalogues are also available in printed format for consultation in our reading room.