News from 1914: Aquitania's maiden voyage

Mark Baber

Dec 29, 2000
The World Evening Edition, New York, 5 June 1914
Original article digitized by the New York Public Library
Retrieved from the Library of Congress' Chronicling America web site,

New Cunarder Makes First Trip Across in 5 Days 17 Hours 43 Minutes
Brings 1,019 Passengers and All Enthusiastic Over the Record Run

Life in New York harbor is just one leviathan of the seas after another
these days. To-day it was the Aquitania, without exception the most
luxurious vessel ever launched. Her maiden visit to New York was most
auspicious, for she was docked in twenty-five minutes with no more fuss or
excitement than would attend the landing of a motorboat.

The Aquitania made some wonderful records on her first trip across the
Atlantic. She was built for a maximum speed of twenty-three knots. On this
trip she averaged 23.10 knots all the way from Liverpool to Ambrose Channel
Light, and she was slowed down by fog and iceberg danger for many hours. In
the twenty-four hours ending at noon last Tuesday she covered 602 knots at
an average speed of 24.24 knots an hour. At times she made twenty-five
knots an hour in this run. She accomplished the voyage in 5 days 17 hours
and 43 minutes, and came in as spick and span and shining as a yacht.

The builders of the Aquitania have followed the racy lines of the Lusitania
and Mauretania in the newest and largest of British vessels. Despite her
length of 901 feet and her immense bulk the Aquitania looks trim and
graceful. That she is a tractable ship was shown in her debut in the North

She was passed at Quarantine at 7.45 o'clock this morning. Capt. W. T.
Turner, the veteran Cunard commander, was on the bridge with the pilot. At
9.15 o'clock he had his vessel off the Cunard line pier with fourteen tugs
hovering about her. At 9.40 o'clock the Aquitania was tied up to the dock,
the gangplanks were out and the passengers were going ashore.

There were 1,019 passengers on the Aquitania---334 first class, 213 second
class and 472 third class. The crew numbers about 1,000. Everybody on board,
passengers and crew, with one exception, pronounced the voyage the most
enjoyable in their experience.

The one exception was Lott Gadd, the barber. Even the honor of presiding
over the most lavishly appointed barber shop in existence did not modify the
gloom of Lott Gadd.

For twenty-five years he has been a ship's barber. Up to this voyage it was
his proud boast that he had never cut a customer. But never until this
voyage had he tried to shave a customer wearing a monocle.

"I was 'ypnotized," explained Lott Gadd. "I must 'ave been 'ypnotized. 'E
wouldn't take off his monocle. 'E shut 'is other eye, but 'e stared at me
with the monocle eye. 'E followed every movement. And so I cut 'm. It was
'orriblel! 'orrible!"

Advance notices sent from London of the money and care and taste expended in
fitting and decorating the Aquitania were justified in the eyes of those who
boarded the ship to-day. Recent new vessels have appeared to cap the climax
of luxury, but they are behind the Aquitania.

Tapestries, rugs, copies of old masters, color schemes in decoration worked
out by master artists, lighting effects and plans of arrangement of quarters
combine to make the ship a wonder. To improve on the decorations of the
Aquitania it will be necessary to use real gold and real diamonds for


Mark Baber

Dec 29, 2000
New York Tribune, 7 June 1914
Original article digitized by the Library of Congress
Retrieved from the Library of Congress' Chronicling America web site,

The Aquitania

(Copyright, 1914, by George W. Smalley)

The Aquitania, June 4

From all useful information concerning the exact sciences of shipbuilding
and seamanship this letter will be found entirely free. The world has been
flooded with accounts of that kind since the Aquitania came into being. In
the morning after her arrival in New York other floods will be let loose.
You yourself will overflow with them in other columns. I am a landsman with
no more technical knowledge of such matters than a landsman who once wished
to be a seaman absorbs in the course of many voyages. I content myself with
the humbler task of setting down impressions and perhaps a memory or two.
What else does the average reader care for? And I write for the average
reader, only as in this case he is a reader of The Tribune he is himself of
the elect.

But the more voyages you have made the readier will be your appreciation of
the size and splendor which make the Aquitania a paragon among all existing
ships. I use that as a convenient phrase. I have not seen the new German
monsters. I believe they are larger by some thousands of tons than this new
Cunarder. I do not care whether they are or not. I am an American of English
descent; with, so far as I know, no drop of any blood other than English in
my American veins. As we have no mercantile marine, that is reason enough
why I and why other Americans, also of English stock, should feel more at
home on an English ship. I have tried many others---German, French, Italian,
Spanish, Egyptian (in Ismail Pacha's day), Dutch,---and even American. On
anything but an English deck I feel myself an alien. On an English deck I
feel myself an American. And again I say I think I share this feeling with
many thousands of my countrymen.

My first sea voyage was made as the guest of Captain Steadman, commander of
the U. S. steamship Vienville, from New York to Port Royal, South Carolina,
in the early autumn of 1861. My first Atlantic voyage was in the Cunard
steamship China, their first screw, in 1866, with Mr. Richard H. Dana, to
teach me the rudiments of the art and mystery of going to sea. I was on the
White Star Teutonic in 1889 when she made the most memorable of trial trips,
from Liverpool to Spithead, with a hundred of the celebrities of that day as
guests and the German Emperor and the Prince of Wales as the star visitors
at Spithead. And only the other day, in 1907, I embarked on the Lusitania on
her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York.

I have therefore a variety of standards by which to measure the Aquitania.
The Teutonic was the expression of the personal genius of the late Mr.
Ismay, head of the White Star Line. He was a man of a most original and
creative mind, and in the Teutonic was to be found the germ of almost every
improvement since made in the building of passenger ships. She was the
prioneer. [sic] She showed the way. She was an almost perfect ship. She was,
for her time, a perfect ship.

The Aquitania is about five times as large as the Teutonic. She has,
therefore, about five times the opportunity to provide conveniences and
luxuries for the passengers; and of this opportunity she has made full use.
Judged by modern standards, the Teutonic was a yacht. In everything except
size, so is the Aquitania; she steers not less handily. Each of her
adornments is a personal appeal; in other words, when you first walk on
board you feel that it has all been done for you. It is like the welcome
which the practised politician in high place gives, or used to give, to each
one of his myriad visitors. He says ''Delighted to see you." [Note: In the
original, the letters "De" in "Delighted are italicized.] But the visitor
alters the accent to suit himself, and the sentence as he repeats it to his
fellow citizens of Oklahoma becomes, "Delighted to see you." [Note: "you" is
italicized in the original.]

Nor will the passenger be mistaken. The list---even the passenger list---is
a motley list, but to each one of this variegated company there is a similar
greeting---when you arrive and as long as you stay---from officers,
stewards---everybody with whom you come in contact. The business of the
captain and his lieutenants is to navigate the ship, Sad in that they for
the greater part help, as they ought. But there are officers of the hotel as
well as of the ship. With them the passenger is always In touch. They can
make him comfortable or uncomfortable, and to make him comfortable they
spare no pains. That is the spirit of the ship. I dare say if you found
your way down to the engine room the same spirit would be there. Even the
passenger who begins to ask before Liverpool is out of sight on what day and
at what hour the ship will arrive In New York receives a soft answer. This
information is exclusively in possession of the stewards, and to be able to
impart, even in the most imaginative form, sweetens their lives.

If the vastness of the ship is what first impresses you, and perhaps weighs
upon you, you forget it in the scene of beauty which surrounds you. The
Aquitania has the one supreme merit above all others in her scheme of
decoration, and that is lightness or almost whiteness. Gone are the days
when corridors and dining rooms were black with precious woods---whether
oak, cherry, mahogany, or whatever else. The Mauretania is the last of that
school, She is a noble and beautiful ship, but she is dark. The Lusitania,
her immediate predecessor, was cheerful and debonair; and still is. In the
Aquitania I have seen no room except the smoking room---which Liverpool
calls the smoke-room of---of which the walls and ceiling are in oak. in all
the other public saloons the effect is of daylight and sunlight. In none of
the rooms meant for ladles is there a hint of gloom. Pearl white, cream
white, ivory white, pale gray white, white and many other shades, but only
here and there a touch of more sombre hue.

The great spaces stretch endlessly past you. The ship's interior, you may
say, was put up to auction. Decorators of English and European reputation
were invited to compete with each other. Each was on his mettle. For
sumptuousness of design the prize must be given to the dining saloon:
treated in Louis Seize style. Next to that and in contrast I should put the
library, where symmetry, delicate truth of proportion, delicate ornament are
kept rigidly yet gracefully down to the business of ornament, which is to be
the handmaiden of architecture and by no means to flaunt as the mistress of
the higher art. The lounge may come next, in its rather freehanded treatment
of precedents dating from Sir Christopher Wren. In each of the three the
furniture covers, the carpets and curtains are an integral part of the
decorative scheme. Gilding is freely but not exuberantly used where it
belongs. The companion ways and staircases are made a meeting ground of
competing methods: and the eye never wearies of the gilt bronze railings.

As for cabins or staterooms or "regal suites"---a phrase which need not be
perpetuated---it is but a choice. Nothing has a more modern note than the
two hundred single cabins. Time was, not so very long ago, when there were
none, and men---to use Burke's phrase---pigged together within the same
walls if not in the same trundle beds. The horrors of the middle passage or
of the Pullman night service go out on sea before they do on land. The
ingenuity by which inside rooms on the C deck have direct communication with
sun and air is one of the novelties which prove how little there is left of
that old Cunard conservatism which for so many years delayed progress. There
was a long period when the red funnels of the Cunarders were the beacon
lights of the North Atlantic. They meant safety. They did not always mean
comfort. The Aquitania is a white flower of Revolution. I take it the policy
of this great company may now be summed up: "Nothing rejected because it is
new; nothing adopted merely because it Is new"; which we shall all accept as
a wise and sane policy.

I leave to others comparisons between this ship and her two German and one
White Star rivals. It cannot be said that any one of these three has been
lucky from the beginning. Those who like German ideas of art and of comfort
may be commended to the Imperator and the Vaterland. The Olympic wan an
early attempt at bigness and luxury; and is not Mr. Roosevelt, fresh from
his experience of the River of Doubt somewhere, if anywhere, in South
America, sailing these northern seas on an auspicious errand to Madrid?
Messages came to us yesterday from the Olympic announcing his presence.
Messages were sent to the great explorer by some of his friends on the
Aquitania, to which no answers seem yet to have been returned.

As I cannot begin to touch on the points I wish to and ought to, I leave the
Aquitania to speak for herself. Built and engined, as the Lusitania was, by
the great Clyde firm of John Brown & Co., she is, for the present, the last
word in mercantile marine architecture. Good authority asserts, and I have
no doubt truly, that as a sea-resisting structure of steel she has no
superior, perhaps no equal. The expert and professional writers give full
and very interesting details: of which the public is no judge. The passenger
wishes to know about matters that affect him daily and directly. In such
matters he is himself an expert. He will like to bear that no vibration is
discoverable in any part of this floating city where passengers belong; nor,
so far as I know, anywhere else. As to motion there has been no test. The
Atlantic has been a level plain. But the notion of a vessel that is free
from motion always is a chimera. When the Atlantic withdraws itself from
under the forefoot of a ship, big or little, that ship will pitch. With a
heavy beam sea she will roll; and with a beam sea under the counter she will
both roll and pitch.

It is known that there have been strikes among joiners and other sorts of
workmen on the Aquitania during her construction. The strikes have put her
some six months back, and but for the indomitable determination of the
Cunard company would have delayed her sailing far beyond the appointed day,
May 30, when she actually did sail. Her second cabins are still incomplete,
and there are minor deficiencies all over the non-essential parts of the
ship, daily being put right by cohorts of artisans. They matter little. We
do not find ourselves uncomfortable in the hands of Mr. Purser McGubbin,
manages this hotel with unyielding geniality. Mr. Allison is the chief
steward, whose executive ability and kindly personal interest have been
shown on the Lusitania for seven years.

The same passenger wishes also to know that the vessel of his choice is
safe, but he does not take ship expecting disaster. If it makes him happier
to know that the Aquitania is encumbered with the maximum number of
lifeboats, capable of carrying, if they can be launched and in favorable
circumstances, the 4.230 souls aboard, well and good; let him be happy. But
a fatalistic spirit is best. "Things are what they are," said Bishop
Berkeley, "and the consequences of them will be what they will be." Let him
go on board with that all-comprehending phrase in mind. Superstitions
prevail. Most of my acquaintances in London, when they knew I was going on
this first voyage, pulled long faces and cheerfully hoped I should get there
safely. The Titanic is unforgotten.

We have had, for the most part, summer seas. We had, for two days, much fog.
Twice we have been near formidable fleets of icebergs enwrapped in fog.
Tuesday night for five hours the ship was going dead slow in this undesired
vicinity of ice, and for some time was actually stopped. No "racing," you
perceive; no attempt at a record for a first trip. Yet the ship, which was
supposed to have a maximum speed of 23 knots, developed from noon Monday to
noon Tuesday an average of over 24; a log of 602 miles, and again the same
Wednesday to Thursday. In between she dropped to 527; by reason, as above
said, of ice and fog. Captain Turner is not a man to lose his head. I will
tell you a story of him.

He commanded the Mauretania, and that ship was within a few hours of the
Titanic before her loss. He received on the Mauretania the same warning
messages about ice which the Titanic received and disregarded. Captain
Turner was asked what he did when these messages reached him:

"What I did? I put my ship about and steamed 90 miles to the south; then put
her on her course again."

On the Aquitania are, I think, seven officers in all, holding masters'
certificates; of whom any one is competent at any moment to take charge of
and command her. They are all master mariners. So are the captains of all
Atlantic liners. But I will take leave to express my opinion that Captain
Turner, who holds the blue riband of the North Atlantic, is the master
mariner of all.

G. W. S.


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