Accessibility.SkipToMainContent

Umbria

The Glasgow-built Cunard liner RMS Umbria was a pioneer in several ways – including the use of refrigeration and experiments in the transmission of news telegrams by radio – but also goes down in history for being the last of its kind in other respects.

The Glasgow-built Cunard liner RMS Umbria was a pioneer in several ways – including the use of refrigeration and experiments in the transmission of news telegrams by radio – but also goes down in history for being the last of its kind in other respects.

Built by the Glasgow company John Elder, Umbria and sistership Eturia were the last Cunard vessels to carry sails, the last Cunard mail steamers, the last single-screw vessels of any kind to hold the Blue Riband and the last North Atlantic express steamers to be fitted with compound engines.

Umbria attracted a lot of attention when launched in 1884. At 7,718 tons gross and 502ft loa, the vessel was the largest in regular service and the most powerful single screw liner ever built.

Umbria and Eturia cost £400,000 each – almost £50m in today’s prices – and were designed with defence duties in mind, complying with Admiralty requirements for use as an auxiliary naval cruiser. It was a condition that half their crews should belong to the Royal Naval Reserve and that they, and the ship, should be ready for war deployment at one week’s notice. Barely six months after coming into service, Umbria was pressed into action with the Royal Navy between March and September 1885.

Umbria had reached 20 knots on sea trials and took the Blue Riband for the fastest Atlantic crossing in 1887, with a passage from Queenstown to Sandy Hook of six days, four hours and 42 minutes – an average speed of 19.22 knots. In July 1887 Umbria encountered a huge wave during a voyage to New York. The watchkeeping officer, 40ft above the waterline, said he had been unable to see the crest; and the wave not only smashed the crow’s nest to pieces, but also smashed the forward hatch and put out the white masthead light, some 60ft above the waterline.

In November of the following year, Umbria was involved in a collision with the French freight ship Iberia in foggy conditions off the US coast. A court ruled that Umbria was largely to blame for the accident, as it had been travelling too fast for the prevailing conditions.

In April 1890, RMS Umbria rescued the crew of the Norwegian barque Magdalena, which was in trouble after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic. And in December 1892, Umbria ran into problems after the propeller shaft fractured during a severe gale mid- ocean. The engineers were praised for working for three days to carry out repairs to enable the vessel to reach New York safely.

Umbria had a second spell of military service in 1900, running for six months between Southampton and South Africa as a troop carrier in the Boer War. In 1903 the ship was caught up in a bizarre bomb scare, when New York police received a warning that an explosive device had been placed onboard. A search uncovered a box containing 100lb of dynamite attached to a crude timed fuse. A note sent to the police claimed that this was the start of a Mafi a war against British-flagged shipping.

Umbria made its final voyage early in 1910 and was sold for scrap to the Forth Shipbreaking Company after completing a
total of 145 round trips across the Atlantic.

Become a Nautilus member today