RMS Empress of India (1891)

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Empress of India
Name: 1891-1914: RMS Empress of India
1914-1919 SS Loyalty
Owner: 1891-1914: Canadian Pacific Railway
1914-1919: Maharaja of Gwalior
Port of registry: 1891-1914: Canada
1914-1919: British Raj, Gwalior
Builder: Naval Construction & Armament Co., Barrow
Laid down: 1890
Launched: 30 August 1890 by Lady Louise Edgerton
Maiden voyage: 8 February 1891
Fate: Scrapped in 1919
General characteristics
Class and type: Ocean liner
Tonnage: 5,905 tons
Length: 455.7 ft
Beam: 51.2 ft
Propulsion: Three masts
twin propellers
Speed: 16 knots
Capacity: 50 1st class passengers
150 2nd class
up to 400 steerage passengers

RMS Empress of India was an ocean liner built in 1890-1891[1] by Naval Construction & Armament Co., Barrow, England for Canadian Pacific Steamships.[2] This ship would be the first of two CP vessels to be named Empress of India,[3] and on 28 April 1891, she was the very first of many ships named Empress arriving at Vancouver harbor.[4]

The Empress of India regularly traversed the trans-Pacific route between the west coast of Canada and the Far East until she was sold to the Maharajah of Gwalior in 1914.[5]

Royal Mail Ship

This Empress enjoyed the "RMS", meaning "Royal Mail Ship." This is the ship prefix still in use today by seagoing vessels which carry mail under contract by Royal Mail.

In 1891, Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and the British government reached agreement on a contract for subsidized mail service between Britain and Hong Kong via Canada; and the route began to be serviced by three specially designed ocean liners. Each of these three yachtlike vessels was given an Imperial name.[6]

The RMS Empress of India and her two sister-ships -- the RMS Empress of China and the RMS Empress of Japan -- created a flexible foundation for the CPR trans-Pacific fleet which would ply this route for the next half century.[5]


File:Barrow Works 1890.jpg
Barrow-in-Furness, shipbuilding yards (1890).

The Empress of India was built by Naval Construction & Armament Co. (now absorbed into Vickers Armstrongs) at Barrow, England. The keel was laid in 1890.[5] She was launched on 30 August 1890 by Lady Louise Egerton, sister of Lord Harrington.[7] The 5,905-ton vessel had a length of 455.6 feet, and her beam was 51.2 feet. The graceful white-painted, clipper-bowed ship had two buff-colored funnels with a band of black paint at the top, three lightweight schooner-type masts, and an average speed of 16-knots. This Empress and her two sister-ship Empresses were the first vessels in the Pacific to have twin propellers with reioprocating engines.[8] The ship was designed to provide accommodation for 770 passengers (120 first class, 50 second class and 600 steerage).[6]

The SS Empress of India left Liverpool on 8 February 1891 on her maiden voyage via Suez to Hong Kong and Vancouver. Thereafter, she regularly sailed back and forth along the Hong Kong - Shanghai - Nagasaki - Kobe - Yokohama - Vancouver route.[5] In the early days of wireless telegraphy, the call sign established for the "Empress of India was "MPI."[9]

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, as when it was discovered that a passenger from Hong Kong to Kobe showed signs of smallpox, and the vessel was held in Yokohama port until the incubation period for the disease had passed.[10] The cargo holds of the Empress would have been routinely examined in the normal course of harbor-master's business in Hong Kong, Yokohama or Vancouver.[11]

On 17 August 1903, the Empress of India collided with and sank the Chinese cruiser Huang Tai.[5]

The vessel was repoted sold on 19 December 1914, to the Geakwar of Baroda (also known as the Maharajah of Gwalior), said to be the richest of the Indian princes).[12] The former Empress was re-fitted as a hospital ship for Indian troops. On 19 January 1915, the ship was renamed Loyalty. In March 1919, she was sold to Scindia S.N. Company in Bombay (now Mumbai). In February 1923, the ship was sold for scrapping at Bombay.[5]

CP Empresses of India
In 1921, Canadian Pacific added two German-built vessels to the Empress fleet; and initially, both were confusingly re-named Empress of China. Within months, one of these ships will be re-named the SS Empress of India and the other will be re-named the SS Empress of Australia. A quick explanation will help distinguish these the quite different ships which each sailed with the same name.

  • The first SS Empress of India was a 5,905-ton vessel, launched in 1890 from Barrow, England. She would be sold in 1914, re-named SS Loyalty in 1915, and scrapped in Bombay in 1919.[5]
    • A CP sister-ship, the first SS Empress of China, was also a Barrow-built, 5,905-ton vessel; but she was launched a few months later, in 1891. She was wrecked on a reef at Tokyo Bay in 1911, and subsequently scrapped in 1912.[13]
  • The second SS Empress of India was a 16,992-ton vessel launched in 1907 from Gestemunde, Germany as the SS Prince Freidrich Wilhelm. The ship was purchased in 1921 by Canadian Pacific and then immediately, the ship was re-named Empress of China for only a short time.
    • This second SS Empress of China and of India will be re-named several more times -- as the SS Montlaurier in 1922; and as the SS Montnairn in 1925. The ship was scrapped 1929.[13]

In other words, this vessel from Barrow is the first of two CP ships named Empress of India.


  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. Simplon Postcards: Empress of India, 4 images
  3. The second of two ships named SS Empress of India (1908) was built for Norddeutscher Lloyd Line (NDL), purchased by CP in 1921, then re-named.
  4. Tate, E. Mowbray. (1986). Transpacific Steam: The Story of Steam Navigation from the Pacific Coast of North America to the Far East and the Antipodes, 1867-1941, p. 144.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Ship List: Description of Empress of India
  6. 6.0 6.1 Miller, William H. (1984). The First Great Ocean Liners in Photographs, p. 52.
  7. Musk, George. (1981). Canadian Pacific: The Story of the Famous Shipping Line, p. 63.
  8. Tate, p. 145.
  9. Trevent, Edward. (1911) The A B C of Wireless Telegraphy: A Plain Treatise on Hertzian Wave Signalling, p. 13.
  10. Dept. of Agriculture, Canada. (1907). Report of the Minister of Agriculture for Canada, p. 12.
  11. Parliament, Canada. (1892) Sessional Papers, p. 223.
  12. "Empress of India Sold; Gaekwar of Baroda Buys Liner to Serve as Hospital Ship," New York Times. 20 December 1914.
  13. 13.0 13.1 White Empress fleet: 20 ships, descriptions


External links

See also