RMS Etruria

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RMS Etruria
Name: RMS Etruria
Owner: British & North American Royal Mail Packet Company (Cunard Line)
Port of registry: British Red Ensign British
Ordered: 1883
Builder: Messrs John Elder & Co., Glasgow
Yard number: 286
Launched: 20 September 1884
Completed: March 1885
Maiden voyage: 25 April 1885
Out of service: August 1908
Fate: Scrapped in 1910
General characteristics
Class and type: Ocean liner
Tonnage: 7,718 gross tons
Length: 158.2 m (519 ft)
Beam: 17.43 m (57.2 ft)
Decks: 5
Installed power:
  • 9 double-ended boilers
  • 6 three-crank compound engines
Propulsion: single propeller
Speed: 19 knots (35 km/h)


  • 550 First Class
  • 800 Second Class


  • 500 First Class
  • 160 Second Class
  • 800 Third Class

RMS Etruria and her sister ship RMS Umbria were the last two Cunarders that were fitted with auxiliary sails[1]. RMS Etruria was built by John Elder & Co of Glasgow, Scotland in 1884. The Etruria and her sister Umbria, by the standards of the time, were record breakers. They were the largest liners then in service, and they plied the Liverpool to New York Service. RMS Etruria was completed and launched in March 1885, twelve weeks later than her sister Umbria.

The Etruria had many distinguishing features that included two enormous funnels which gave the outward impression of huge power. She also had three large steel masts which when fully rigged had an extensive spread of canvas. Another innovation on Etruria was that she was equipped with refrigeration machinery, but it was the single screw propulsion that would bring the most publicity later in her career.

The ship epitomized the luxuries of Victorian style. The public rooms in First Class were full of ornately carved furniture and heavy velvet curtains hung in all the rooms, and they were cluttered with bric-a-brac that period fashion dictated. These rooms, and the First Class cabins, were situated on the Promenade, Upper, Saloon and Main Decks. There was also a Music Room, Smoke Room for gentleman, and separate dining rooms for First and Second Class passengers. By the standard of the day, Second Class accommodation was moderate, but spacious and comfortable. RMS Etruria's accommodation compromised of 550 First Class, and 800 Second Class passengers. However late in 1892 this changed to 500 First Class, 160 Second Class, and 800 Third Class (Steerage) passengers.

Service on the Atlantic

File:Passenger Lisr RMS Etruria.jpg
Front cover of a passenger list for a voyage of the RMS Etruria

RMS Etruria was to start her regular service to New York from Liverpool, but the clouds of crises were looming, and by the New Year of 1885 a crises involving Russia's threat to invade Afghanistan was coming to a head. This was to bring Etruria's North Atlantic service to a halt temporarily, before she had even made her maiden voyage. On the 26 March, Etruria, and her sister RMS Umbria, found themselves chartered to the Admiralty. With the dispute reaching a settlement, Etruria was released from Admiralty service within a few days, although her sister was retained for six months.

On the 25 April 1885, Etruria finally made her maiden voyage under the command of Captain McMicken. She made the Atlantic crossing calling at Queenstown (Cobh). On her very next crossing, westbound (Liverpool to New York), she won the prestigious Blue Riband (see the table below) and proudly flew the pennant for Cunard.

Later in the year the Etruria was involved in a collision. On 20 September 1885, she was outward bound from New York and in Lower New York Bay, at anchor due to dense fog. The 4,276 ton cargo ship Canada, owned by the National Steamship Company of Limerick collided with the Etruria, on her starboard side. The Canada scraped alongside Etruria, ripping away a portion of her rigging, but fortunately there were no casualties. Both ships continued on their voyages.

Winston Churchill

An extract of a letter written aboard RMS Etruria by Winston Churchill

In November 1895, 20 year old Winston Churchill, a lieutenant in the 4th Hussars, snatched a few weeks' leave from his regiment to visit Cuba, with the aim of observing the Cuban Revolutionary War against Spain.

Getting there involved travelling by way of New York via Liverpool and Queenstown on the Etruria. Thus, on 9 November, Winston Churchill arrived in New York harbour aboard the Etruria, and first set foot in his mother's homeland and the city where she had been born and brought up. Three days later he travelled on to Cuba. Churchill returned to Britain early in 1896 travelling again on the Etruria.

On 6 January 1900, Etruria left Liverpool, and one week later she arrived in New York. On the 13th engineers were inspecting the ship, and on examination of the propeller shaft, they found cracks that were not there when the ship left Liverpool. Her sister ship had suffered a failure of her propeller shaft at sea in 1893, and do avoid the same fate the Etruria was confined to her pier until a replacement shaft was shipped over from Britain. After this was done, and the new shaft had been fitted in New York, she departed on 17 February for the homeward bound service. In 1900 the Etruria remained on the North Atlantic service while her sister was requisitioned to carry troops to and from South Africa during the Boer War. By July 1900 both the sisters were back on the North Atlantic service.

A year to forget

File:Rms etruria.jpg
The Etruria at sea with her sails hoisted

In 1901 the Etruria, along with her sister ship, was fitted with a wireless, putting her right in the forefront of this new technology. On the 22 February 1902, Etruria left New York and was due to arrive in Queenstown on 1 March. On the 26 February she radioed the Umbria to pass on messages to one of her passengers. However, that evening her propeller shaft fractured leaving her drifting helplessly. She tried with no success to radio the Umbria again to report her predicament. In the days before the Titanic disaster, radio operators did not man their sets 24 hours a day. Eventually she managed to attract the attention of the Leyland ship William Cliff, by firing distress rockets. The William Cliff stood alongside in an hour and stayed with her during the night whilst attempts were made to repair her. Etruria then made sail and the William Cliff took her in tow; the ships headed for Horta, in the Azores, which were 500 miles to the south-east of her stricken position.

She arrived in the Azores on Sunday, 9 March, and on the 15th her passengers and mail were transferred on to SS Elbe, which had been chartered for the task on the 10th. It was summer 1902 before the Etruria was repaired and back in service, but in October, after a particularly rough Atlantic crossing, her propeller shaft again showed serious cracks and she was taken out of service and waited in New York for yet another new shaft to be sent over and installed. It was the 1 November before she set sail for home again, 1902 had been a very bad year for the ship.

More bad luck

1903 did not start too well for the Etruria either. On the 28 February she was leaving New York and ran aground on sand and mud in the entrance to Gedney Channel. Fortunately, after she was refloated later the same day there was no damage found and she set off on her voyage to Liverpool.

Later in the year, on the 10 October, the Etruria was only four hours out of New York when at 2:30pm the ship was struck by a rogue wave. The wave was reported to be at least 50 feet high, and struck the ship on the port side. The wave carried away part of the fore bridge and smashed the guardrail stanchions. A number of First Class passengers were sitting in deck chairs close to the bridge, and they caught the full force of the water. One passenger, a Canadian, was fatally injured, and several other passengers were hurt.

January 1907 saw the death of two of Etruria's sailors as they tried to secure the lashings of the starboard anchor in very rough weather, during a westbound crossing.

The end of Etruria's Career

The two 23 year old sisters were now getting to the point where technical progress had well and truly overtaken them. The RMS Lusitania and Mauretania were off the drawing board, were slowly taking shape, and were due to enter service in late 1907.

On Wednesday the 26 August 1908, RMS Etruria was moving astern from her pier in Liverpool to anchor opposite the Princes' Landing Stage, where her passengers would embark. Unfortunately a hopper crossing the Mersey came too close to the Etruria and was violently rammed by her. Etruria's rudder and propeller were thrust deep into the hopper, almost severing it in two. However, being impaled on the Etruria's propeller prevented the hopper from sinking. Both vessels drifted helplessly in the Mersey, and the hopper was violently crushed against the landing stage. This not only spelt the end for the hopper, but finished the career of the Etruria as well. Her propeller, rudder and steering gear were seriously damaged, and the accident put paid to any idea of her sailing to New York. Etruria's passengers were put up in hotels and then caught the Umbria later in the week. As for the Etruria, she was taken into dock, where temporary repairs were made.

She would not cross the Atlantic again, and after spending time laid up[2] at Birkenhead, she was finally sold for the sum of £16,750 in October 1909. On the 10 October 1910, the Mersey tug Black Cock took the Etruria in tow to her final destination of Preston, Lancashire, where she was broken up.

Prices of passage aboard RMS Etruria, May 1895
From Pier 40, North River, foot of Clarkson Street, City of New York
Every Saturday, New York-Queenstown-Liverpool
1st Class 1st Class 1st Class 1st Class Return 1st Class Return 1st Class Return 2nd Class Cabin 2nd Class Cabin 2nd Class Cabin Return 2nd Class Cabin Return Under 1 Year old
$75 $90 $175 $125 $150 $315 $40 $45 $75 $85 Free outward

The Blue Riband

Records of RMS Umbria & RMS Etruria
The Blue Riband of the North Atlantic
Steamer Date Line From To Nautical Miles Days/Hours/Minutes Knots
RMS Etruria 1885 (16/8- 22/8) Cunard Queenstown Sandy Hook 2801 6/5/31 18.73
RMS Umbria 1887 (29/5-4/6) Cunard Queenstown Sandy Hook 2848 6/4/12 19.22
RMS Etruria 1888 (27/5-2/6) Cunard Queenstown Sandy Hook 2854 6/1/55 19.56
Steamer Date Line From To Nautical Miles Days/Hours/Minutes Knots
Etruria 1885 (1/8-7/8) Cunard Sandy Hook Queenstown 2822 6/9/0 18.44
Etruria 1888 (7/7-14/7) Cunard Sandy Hook Queenstown 2981 6/4/50 19.36


External links

Preceded by
Atlantic Eastbound Record
1885 – 1889
Succeeded by
City of Paris
Holder of the Blue Riband (Westbound)
1885 – 1887
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Holder of the Blue Riband (Westbound)
1888 – 1889
Succeeded by
City of Paris

de:RMS Etruria pl:RMS Etruria