RMS Empress of Britain (1906)

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Empress of Britain
Name: 1906-1923: RMS Empress of Britain
1924-1930: SS Montroyal
Owner: 1906-1930: Canadian Pacific Railway
Port of registry: 1891-1914: Canada
Builder: Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Govan, Scotland
Laid down: 1890
Launched: 11 November 1905
Maiden voyage: 5 May 1906
In service: 1906
Out of service: 1930
Fate: Scrapped in 1930
General characteristics
Class and type: Ocean liner
Tonnage: 14,189 tons
Length: 458.8 ft.
Beam: 65.7 ft.
Installed power: Two funnels, two masts, twin propellers
Propulsion: Quadruple expansion steam engines
Speed: 18 knots
Capacity: 310 1st class passengers
470 2nd class
up to 730 steerage passengers

RMS Empress of Britain was a transatlantic ocean liner built by Fairfield Shipbuilding at Govan on the Clyde in Scotland in 1905-1906[1] for Canadian Pacific Steamship (CP). This ship -- the first of three CP vessels to be named Empress of Britain[2] -- regularly traversed the trans-Atlantic route between Canada and Europe until 1922, with the exception of the war years. This Empress was distinguished by the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) prefix in front of her name because the British government and Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) had decades earlier reached agreement on a contract for subsidized mail service between Britain and Hong Kong via Canada.


The Empress of Britain was built by Fairfield Shipbuilding in Govan near Glasgow, Scotland.[3] She was launched on 11 November 1905.[4]

File:SS Empress of Britain in 1905.jpg
SS Empress of Britain at Liverpool in 1905.

The 14,189-ton vessel had a length of 458.8 feet, and her beam was 65.7 feet. The ship had two funnels, two masts, twin peopellers and an average speed of 18-knots. The ocean liner provided accommodation for 310 first-class passengers and for 470 second-class passengers. There was also room for 730 third-class passengers.[4]

The SS Empress of Britain left Liverpool on 5 May 1906 on her maiden voyage to Quebec. Thereafter, she was scheduled to sail regularly back and forth on the trans-Atlantic route.[4] In the early days of wireless telegraphy, the call sign established for the "Empress of Britain was "MPB."[5]

On her second voyage, the Empress of Britain made the west-bound trip from Mouville to Rimouski in five days, 21 hours, 17 minutes -- a new record,[6] which was a credit to her Captain, James Anderson Murray, and to her shipbuilders.[7] Both the Empress of Britain and her sister ship, the ill-fated RMS Empress of Ireland were the fastest ships making the trans-Atlantic run at the time. In 1914, the Empress of Ireland sank in the St. Lawrence River with great loss of life.[4]

Much of what would have been construed as ordinary, even unremarkable during this period was an inextricable part of the ship's history. In the conventional course of trans-Pacific traffic, the ship was sometimes held in quarantine if a communicative disease was discovered amongst the passengers. Similarly, it would have been expected, for example, that the ship would notify authorities in Halifax that one passenger had died from pneumonia en route to Canada from Europe.[8]

Less than two weeks after disaster struck the RMS Titanic in the North Atlantic, the Empress of Britain also struck an iceberg on 26 April 1912; but the reported damage was only slight.[9]

On 27 July 1912, the Empress of Britain rammed and sank the British collier SS Helvetia in fog off Cape Magdelene in the estuary of the St Lawrence River.[10]

World War I

In 1914 she was re-fitted to become one of the Admiralty's Armed merchantmen. She joined Admiral Archibald Peile Stoddart's squadron in the South Atlantic. She later patrolled between Cape Finisterre and the Cape Verde Islands.[4]

In May 1915, she was recommissioned as a troop transport and carried more than 110,000 troops to the Dardanelles, Egypt and India. She also carried Canadian and US expeditionary forces across the North Atlantic.[4]

On 12 December 1915, while passing through the Straits of Gibraltar, she collided with and sank a Greek steamer.[4]

Post-war years

The end of the War in Europe meant a change for the Empress of Britain. Reports of the arrival and departure of the Empress of Britain were published in the New York Times in December 1918, but the Liverpool-New York route was not long-lasting.[11] By March 1919, she resumed the Liverpool-St.John, New Brunswick service for one round-trip voyage. Then the vessel was then converted from coal to oil fuel and her passenger accommodations were modernised. On 9 January 1920, she returned to active service on the Liverpool-Quebec crossings.[4]

In October 1922, the Empress begin sailing on the Southampton-Cherbourg-Quebec route.[4]


In 1924, the ship was re-named the SS Montroyal. Her accommodations were altered to carry 600 cabin passengers and 800 third-class passengers. On 19 April 1924, She was returned to service sailing on the Liverpool-Quebec route.[4]

In 1926, her accommodations were again altered to carry cabin, tourist and 3rd class passengers. She completed eight round-trip voyages in that year. In 1927, the ship was transferred to the Antwerp-Southampton-Cherbourg-Quebec route.[4]

The Montroyal commenced her final voyage from Antwerp on 7 September 1929. Including this last voyage, she had completed 190 round-trip crossings of the North Atlantic.[4]

On 17 June 1930, she was sold to the Stavanger Shipbreaking Co. and was scrapped. The owner of the Sola Strand Hotel bought the lounge from the shipbreakers and incorporated it into his hotel as the Montroyal Ballroom. The beautiful woodwork is still a feature of this building which now houses the Norwegian School for Hotel Management.[4]

List of voyages

6 January 1922; departs Liverpool for St. John, New Brunswick; master: Capt E Griffiths; 286 passengers.

See also


  1. The disambiguation date used in this article's title is not the year in which the hull is launched, but rather the year of the vessel's sea trial or maiden voyage.
  2. The second of three ships named SS Empress of Britain (1931) was built for CP; and the third SS Empress of Britain (1956) was also built for CP some years later.
  3. Johnston, Ian. "Govan Shipyard" in Ships Monthly. June 1985.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 Ship List: Description of Empress of Britain
  5. Trevent, Edward. (1911) The A B C of Wireless Telegraphy: A Plain Treatise on Hertzian Wave Signalling, p. 13.
  6. Musk, George. (1981). Canadian Pacific: The Story of the Famous Shipping Line, p. 162.
  7. Great Britain Meteorological Office. (1913) Report, p. 137.
  8. Dept. of Agriculture, Canada. (1910). Report of the Minister of Agriculture for Canada, p. 67.
  9. ____________. (1913) The American Library Annual: 1913, p. 143.
  10. "Liner Sinks Collier; Turns Back to Port; Empress of Britain Cuts Helvetia in Two In a Fog on the St. Lawrence," New York Times. 29 July 1912.
  11. "Shipping and Mails," New York Times. 9 December 1918.

Further reading

External links

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