(1870) was a British mail liner originally operated by the Cunard Line
Cunard Line is a British-American owned shipping company based at Carnival House in Southampton, England and operated by Carnival UK. It has been a leading operator of passenger ships on the North Atlantic for over a century...
on the Liverpool–New York route. She later served the Guion Line
The Liverpool and Great Western Steamship Company, known commonly as the Guion Line, was a British passenger service that operated the Liverpool-Queenstown-New York route from 1866 to 1894. While incorporated in Great Britain, 52% of the company's capital was from the American firm, Williams and...
on the same route and the Canadian Pacific Line
CP Ships was a large Canadian container shipping company, prior to being taken over by Hapag Lloyd in late 2005. CP Ships had its head office in the City of Westminster in London and later in the City Place Gatwick development on the property of London Gatwick Airport in Crawley, West Sussex.The...
in the Pacific. In December 1891, Abyssinia
was destroyed mid-Atlantic without loss of life by a fire that started in her cargo of cotton, further highlighting the danger in carrying both cotton and passengers on the same ship.
Development and design
With the success of the Russia
(1867), Cunard ordered a new fleet of iron express liners for the New York mail route. Abyssinia
was the fourth of the five liners required for a weekly service. Abyssinia
and her sister, Algeria
were the first Cunard express steamers built to carry stearage passengers, a concept that was proved viable four years earlier by the Inman Line
The Inman Line which operated from 1850 until its 1893 absorption into American Line, was one of the three largest 19th century British passenger shipping companies on the North Atlantic, along with the White Star Line and Cunard Line...
. As completed in 1870, Abyssinia
carried 200 first class passengers and 1050 stearage. She had a service speed of 12.5 knots and was a full knot slower than Russia
Cunard employed Abyssinia
on the Liverpool, Queenstown, New York service. All five of the new Cunarders on this route were quickly rendered out of date by White Star's
The White Star is a fictional, cruiser class combat spacecraft type in the science fiction television series Babylon 5.- Depiction :The White Star-class was designed and built through a collaborative effort between the Minbari religious caste and the Vorlon Empire...
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...
of 1871. For example, Abyssinia
and her sister burned 90 tons of coal per day as compared to 58 tons for the Oceanic
. While Inman and other rivals quickly installed compound machinery and modified passenger quarters to match White Star's new fleet, Cunard did not. Finally, in 1879 the privately held Cunard line was reorganized as a public stock corporation to raise the capital needed to rebuild the fleet.
In 1880, Cunard sold Abyssinia
to the Guion Line when that company needed a mail liner to replace the wrecked Montana
. Two years later, Abyssinia
finally received compound machinery. In 1884, she was transferred to the John Elder shipyard to partly finance Guion's new Blue Riband
The Blue Riband is an unofficial accolade given to the passenger liner crossing the Atlantic Ocean in regular service with the record highest speed. The term was borrowed from horse racing and was not widely used until after 1910. Under the unwritten rules, the record is based on average speed...
winner, the Oregon
The Oregon was a record breaking British passenger liner that won the Blue Riband for the Guion Line as the fastest liner on the Atlantic in 1884. She was sold to the Cunard Line after a few voyages and continued to improve her passage times for her new owner...
. Unable to make the payments, Guion returned its new record breaker to Elders and continued to operate Abyssinia
. At the same time, Elders also acquired the former Cunarders Batavia
as trade ins for the sale of Oregon
to Cunard. In 1885, Stephen Guion himself died and his firm was reorganized with Sir William Pierce of Elders as the new chairman.
In 1887, Pierce chartered Guion's Abyssinia
along with Elder's two other former Cunarders to Sir William Van Horne to begin steamship service in the Pacific, extending the Canadian Pacific Railway
The Canadian Pacific Railway , formerly also known as CP Rail between 1968 and 1996, is a historic Canadian Class I railway founded in 1881 and now operated by Canadian Pacific Railway Limited, which began operations as legal owner in a corporate restructuring in 2001...
's transportation services from England, across the Atlantic to Canada by steamship, across Canada by railroad, and finally across the Pacific to Japan, China and India by steamship. Abyssinia
opened the new Pacific service, with 22 first-class and 80 steerage passengers. She required only 13 days to reach Vancouver from Yokohama, arriving there on 13 June 1887, establishing a new trans-Pacific record. Abyssinia's
freight shipment of silk and tea was transferred to rail, arriving in New York (via Montreal
Montreal is a city in Canada. It is the largest city in the province of Quebec, the second-largest city in Canada and the seventh largest in North America...
) on 21 June, and loaded onto another ship arriving in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...
on 29 June. Abyssinia
was returned to Guion when Canadian Pacific took delivery on the three new "Empress" liners.
Guion placed Abyssinia
back on the Liverpool-Queenstown-New York route. Her first eastbound return trip cleared New York on 13 December with 57 passengers and 88 crew with various cargo including cotton. At 12:40 pm on 18 December 1891 off the coast of Newfoundland
a fire broke out in her cargo hold which quickly overpowered her crew's firefighting efforts. Captain G.S. Murray ordered the ship to be abandoned. Lookouts onboard the eastbound Norddeutscher Lloyd liner Spree
spotted the smoke from Abyssinia
and removed all passengers and crew by 4:15 pm. Abyssinia
sank shortly after. Spree
made port with the survivors in Southampton
Southampton is the largest city in the county of Hampshire on the south coast of England, and is situated south-west of London and north-west of Portsmouth. Southampton is a major port and the closest city to the New Forest...
on 21 December.
- Vancouver: From Milltown to Metropolis, Alan Morley, Mitchell Press, Vancouver (1961), pp. 97–99.
- SS Abyssinia immigrant ship information
- Abyssinia on Chris' Cunard Page http://www.chriscunard.com/abyssinia.php