In 1839 Samuel Cunard (1787-1865) a shipowner from Nova Scotia, founded the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. Its purpose was to provide a scheduled steamship service to carry mail across the Atlantic.
On 4th July 1840 Cunard’s first ship, the 1,156-ton Britannia, left Liverpool and arrived on schedule in Halifax, Nova Scotia just ten days later, marking the company’s beginnings in transatlantic travel. Within a year Britannia and her three sister ships were providing the first timetabled weekly steamship service across the Atlantic.
Samuel Cunard made safety a priority and took a measured and steady approach when it came to the introduction of new technology. This conservative stance enabled his company to survive fierce competition from rival shipping companies. Within a few decades the importance of the mail contract was dwindling as emigration became Cunard’s next guarantee of success and prosperity.
- Contract of Co-partnership (May 1840)
Contract of Co-Partnership dated 5th, 23rd, 25th, 26th and 28th May 1840, between the Hon. Samuel Cunard of Halifax in Nova Scotia, Merchant, on the one part, and the persons to the contract of Co-Partnership. The name of the firm to be The British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company.
- Passenger list for Halifax and Boston (Jul 1840-Dec 1844)
Charles Dickens is listed here as a passenger on the voyage from Liverpool to Boston on 3rd January 1842. He travelled with his wife and her servant. Unimpressed by his first voyage on board Cunard’s Britannia, Charles Dickens wrote about his experience in his travelogue, American Notes. The cabin was described as being “a profoundly preposterous box”.
In celebration of the Cunard Company’s Jubilee, a dinner was held on board the Scythia at Liverpool. Choices included 'turtle soup', 'ducklings' and 'ice cream'.