SS Pacific (1849)

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Steamship Pacific
Name: Pacific
Namesake: Pacific Ocean
Operator: Collins Line
Route: New York-Liverpool
Builder: Brown & Bell, New York
Cost: $700,000
Launched: 1 Feb 1849
Maiden voyage: 25 May 1850
Honors and
Blue Riband holder, 21 Sep 1850–16 Aug 1851
Fate: Sank off the coast of Wales, January 1856
General characteristics
Type: Passenger
Tonnage: 2,707 gross tons
Length: 281 ft
Beam: 45 ft
Propulsion: 2 × 95-in cylinder, 9-ft stroke side-lever engines, auxiliary sails
Speed: 12.5 knots
Capacity: Passengers: 200 1st class, 80 2nd class
Crew: 141

SS Pacific was a wooden-hulled sidewheel steamer built in 1849 for transatlantic service with the American Collins Line. Designed to outclass their chief rivals from the British-owned Cunard Line, Pacific and her three sister ships—Atlantic, Arctic and Baltic — were the largest, fastest and most well-appointed transatlantic steamers of their day.

Pacific's career began on a high note when she set a new transatlantic speed record in her first year of service, but after only five years in operation, the ship along with her entire complement of almost 200 passengers and crew went missing without trace on a voyage from Liverpool to New York. Pacific's fate remained a mystery for over 130 years, but in 1991 her wreckage was identified in the Irish Sea off the coast of Wales.


For several decades prior to the 1840s, American sailing ships had dominated the transatlantic routes between Europe and the United States. With the coming of oceangoing steamships however, the U.S. lost its dominance as British steamship companies, particularly the government-subsidized Cunard Line, established regular and reliable steam packet services between the U.S. and Britain.[1]

In 1847, the U.S. Congress granted a large subsidy to the New York and Liverpool United States Mail Steamship Company for the establishment of an American steam packet service to compete with Britain's Cunard Line.[2] With this generous subsidy in hand, the New York and Liverpool S.S.C ordered four new ships from New York shipyards and established a new shipping line, the Collins Line, to manage them. The Collins Line ships were specifically designed to be larger and faster, and offer a greater degree of passenger comfort, than their Cunard Line counterparts.[1] Design of the ships was entrusted to a noted New York marine architect, George Steers.[3]


File:Side-lever engine 1849.jpg
Diagram of one of Pacific's side-lever engines

Pacific's 281-foot wooden hull was built from yellow pine, with keel and frames of white oak and chestnut. Like her three sister ships, Pacific had straight stems, a single smokestack, three square-rigged masts for auxiliary power, and a flat main deck with two single-story cabins, one fore and one aft.[2] The ships were painted in Collins Line colors—black hull with a dark red stripe running the length of the ship,[4] and a black stack with a dark red top.

Pacific was powered by two side-lever engines built by the Allaire Iron Works of New York, each of which had a 95-inch cylinder and 9-foot stroke, delivering a speed of 12 to 13 knots. The running gear was designed in such a way that if one engine failed, the remaining engine could continue to supply power to both paddlewheels. Steam was supplied by four vertical tubular boilers, with a double row of furnaces, designed by the Line's chief engineer, John Faron.[5] Fuel consumption was from about 75 to 85 tons of coal per day, and auxiliary sail power was provided by three full-rigged masts.

The passenger accommodations were generous and spacious, and the cabins and saloons were elaborately decorated.[5] The ship could initially accommodate 200 first-class passengers; in 1851, accommodations for an additional 80 second-class passengers were added.[6] Customer service innovations on the Collins Line ships included steam heating in the passenger berths, a barber's shop, and a French maitre de cuisine.[4] The ships' high freeboards and straight stems also contributed to passenger comfort by providing added protection from seaspray and a steadier motion through the waves than typical passenger ships of the period.[7]

Service history

Pacific was launched on 1 February 1849 and made her maiden voyage from New York to Liverpool on 25 May 1850. She would retain service on the New York-Liverpool route for her entire career.[6]

Between 11 and 21 September, Pacific made a record passage from Liverpool to New York with an average speed of 12.46 knots, breaking the previous record of 12.25 knots held by the Cunard Line's Asia, and thus winning the coveted Blue Riband for fastest transatlantic crossing. Pacific would hold the record for less than a year however, as her sister ship Baltic would set a new record the following August with a new record speed of 12.91 knots. Between 10 and 20 May 1851, Pacific also set a new eastbound record with an average speed of 13.03 knots, beating the previous record of 12.38 knots set by the Cunard Line's Canada. Again however, the record would stand for only nine months before being broken again by Pacific's slightly more powerful sister ship, Arctic.[6]

In 1851, Pacific's passenger accommodations were increased to include an additional 80 second-class passengers. On 4 December 1851, Pacific rescued the crew of the barque Jesse Stevens, which had foundered in the Atlantic several hundred miles southeast of Newfoundland. In 1853, Pacific's mizzen mast was removed,[6] presumably in order to reduce drag.


On 23 January 1856, Pacific departed Liverpool for her usual destination of New York, carrying 45 passengers—a typically small number for a winter voyage—and 141 crew. For this voyage, she had both a new captain and first mate, neither of whom had much transatlantic experience, and also a new chief engineer, who was unfamiliar with Pacific's engines. After the ship failed to arrive at New York, other ships were sent to conduct a search, but no trace of the vessel was found. Contemporaries concluded that Pacific had probably hit an iceberg off Newfoundland, as the ice had been particularly bad that year.[8]

Pacific's disappearance remained a mystery for 135 years, but in 1991, divers in the Irish Sea discovered the bow section of the ship a few miles northwest of Anglesey. The ship had only travelled about sixty miles from her Liverpool departure point before sinking. The cause of Pacific's demise is still unknown, but the most likely explanation is some sort of catastrophic accident, such as a fire or a boiler explosion.[9]

Wyn Craig Wade mentions the missing ship in his 1979 book "The Titanic: End of a Dream." Wade wrote "the only clue in this instance had been a note in a bottle, washed ahore on the west coast of the Hebrides: On board the Pacific from Liverpool to N.Y. - Ship going down. Confusion on board - icebergs around us on every side. I know I cannot escape. I write the cause of our loss that friends may not live in suspense. The finder will please get it published. W.M. GRAHAM. The location of wreck to the Hebrides does make a note in the bottle theory feasible. The confirmation of ice so far south in the Irish Sea and confirmation of W.M. Graham as passenger on the ill fated liner have yet to be determined.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Fry, p. 66.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Morrison, pp. 411-412.
  3. Morrison, p. 411.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Morrison, p. 420.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Morrison, p. 412.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 North Atlantic Seaway by N.R.P. Bonsor, vol.1, p.207, as recorded at Ship Descriptions P-Q, The Ships List website.
  7. Fox, pp. 120, 124-125.
  8. Fox, pp. 135-136.
  9. Fox, p. 136.


  • Bonsor, N. P. R.: North Atlantic Seaway, Volume I, unknown edition, page 407.
  • Fox, Stephen (2003): Transatlantic: Samuel Cunard, Isambard Brunel, and the Great Atlantic Steamships, HarperCollins, page 135, ISBN 978-0060195953.
  • Fry, Henry (1896): The History of North Atlantic Steam Navigation: With Some Account of Early Ships and Shipowners, Sampson Low, Marston and Company, London.
  • Morrison, John Harrison (1903): History Of American Steam Navigation, W. F. Sametz & Co., New York. Reprinted in 2008 by READ BOOKS, ISBN 9781408681442.

Wade, Wyn Craig: "Titanic: End of a Dream" 1979, p. 57

Preceded by
Holder of the Blue Riband (Westbound)
1850 - 1851
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Atlantic Eastbound Record
1851 - 1852
Succeeded by

Template:Collins Line steamships

de:Pacific (1849)