RMS Oceanic (1870)

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RMS Oceanic
RMS Oceanic
Career (UK) Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Name: RMS Oceanic
Owner: White Star Line
Operator: chartered to Occidental & Oriental Steamship Company (1875 - 1895)

Liverpool to New York (1871 - 1875)

San Francisco, Yokohama and Hong Kong (1875 - 1895)
Builder: Harland and Wolff, Belfast
Launched: 27 August 1870
Maiden voyage: 2 March 1871
Out of service: 1895
Fate: sold for scrap 1896
General characteristics
Tonnage: 3,707 gross tonnes
Length: 420 ft 4 in (128.12 m)
Beam: 40 ft 10 in (12.45 m)
Propulsion: steam and sail
Sail plan: 4 masted
Speed: 14.5 knots (service speed)
Capacity: 166 first class and 1,000 third class passengers
Crew: 143

RMS Oceanic was the White Star Line's first liner and an important turning point in passenger liner design.

Design and construction

Oceanic was built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, and was launched on 27 August 1870, arriving in Liverpool for her maiden voyage on 26 February 1871. Powered by a combination of steam and sail, she had twelve boilers generating steam at 65 pounds-force per square inch (450 kPa), powered a single four cylinder compound steam engine, 2 x 78 inch (1.98 m) and 2 x 41 inch (1.04 m), with a stroke of 60 inches (1.52 m). A single funnel exhausted smoke and four masts carried sail. The hull was constructed of iron and divided into eleven watertight compartments. Oceanic could carry 166 first class and 1,000 third class passengers, with a crew of 143. White Star had spared no expense in her construction, and the contemporary press described the ship as an "imperial yacht".

Innovative features included positioning the first class passenger cabins amidships, away from the vibration of engines and with the least ocean movement. Third class passengers were placed at the bow and stern of the ship. All first class could be seated at once in the first class dining saloon amidships. Portholes in the ship were much larger than on contemporary liners, providing more light. Running water was available for most if not all the first class cabins. There were also electric bells to summon a steward.

Service history

Oceanic left for her maiden voyage from Liverpool on 2 March 1871 carrying only 64 passengers, under Captain Sir Digby Murray. Not long after departing, she had to return because of overheated bearings. Her voyage restarted on 16 March. From that point onward, Oceanic was a success for White Star.

Three sister ships were constructed in rapid succession: the Atlantic, Baltic, and Republic. All were of the same approximate dimensions with differences in tonnage.

In January, 1872, the Oceanic underwent a refit, during which a large forecastle was added to help prevent the bow being inundated during high seas. Two new boilers were added to increase steam pressure and thus engine power, and the four masts were shortened.

Oceanic continued sailing with the White Star line on the Liverpool to New York route until 11 March 1875, when she was chartered to the Occidental & Oriental Steamship Company, for service between San Francisco, Yokohama and Hong Kong. White Star provided the officers, while the crew was Chinese. The ship itself remained in White Star colours, but flew the O&O flag. During the repositioning voyage from Liverpool to Hong Kong, the Oceanic set a speed record for that route. Later, she also set a speed record for Yokohama to San Francisco in December 1876, and then broke her own record over that route in November, 1889, with a time of 13 days, 14 hours and 5 minutes.

On 22 August 1888, the Oceanic collided with the coastal liner City of Chester just outside of the Golden Gate; the latter ship sank, killing 16 onboard.[1]

In 1895, the Oceanic was returned to White Star, who planned on putting her back into service. She was sent back to Harland and Wolff for re-engining, but when the ship was inspected closely, it was found to be uneconomical to perform all the work needed. Instead, she was sold for scrap, leaving Belfast for the last time on 10 February 1896, under tow, for a scrapyard on the River Thames.


  1. The New-York Times, 23 August 1888


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