A Right Royal Welcome: Liverpool Celebrates with Cunard's Three Queens

26 May 2015

Cultural Studies | History

Liverpool’s Three Graces, The Royal Liver Building, The Cunard Building and The Port of Liverpool Building, lit up to celebrate Cunard’s 175th anniversary. Photo by James Morgan. Sourced from www.cunard.co.uk

Liverpool has a lot to be proud of. A vibrant city with a rich heritage, Liverpool has brought us The Beatles, world class football, and striking architecture such as the Liver Building and Metropolitan Cathedral. Liverpool’s docks also carry the city’s legacy as a world famous port. With over 50 ports built along 7 miles over the last 300 years, Liverpool became a hub for commercial shipping and a key location for those wishing to migrate to and from the UK. With over 11 million migrants crossing the Atlantic between 1860 and 1900 alone, nearly a third started their journey by sailing from Liverpool. 

It’s no surprise that one of the most recognisable shipping companies started out in Liverpool, and has kept close ties with the city ever since. The Cunard Line formed in 1840 as the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, and sailed its first ship, Britannia, from Liverpool to Boston in July of that year. The Cunard Line has been synonymous with Liverpool ever since, and wanted to celebrate their 175th anniversary with the city in truly spectacular style. 

The Three Queens in formation in front of Liverpool’s Three Graces. Picture by Christopher Ison. Contact +447544 044177, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Sourced from www.cunard.co.uk

Over the bank holiday weekend, Cunard sailed their Three Queens liners into the Mersey to provide an extraordinary show for spectators at Liverpool’s Pier Head. Arriving one after the other, the Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria all docked in Liverpool on Bank Holiday Monday. With fireworks displays, musical performances, and even a ‘river ballet’ performed by the three ships themselves, over 1.3 million visitors experienced the buzz created by Cunard’s illustrious liners. You can read all about the Three Queens’ arrivals and see more fantastic pictures at www.liverpoolecho.co.uk or www.cunard.co.uk

These events piqued the interest of the whole team working on Adam Matthew’s Migration to New Worlds project. Available from November, Migration to New Worlds documents the history of those travelling from the UK, Europe and further afield to places like America, Canada and Australia in primary sources digitised from 15 different museums and archives. Naturally, Liverpool and the Cunard Line looms large in our resource.

Image © Liverpool Record Office. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Contributed by the Merseyside Maritime Museum and the Liverpool Record Office, the Migration to New Worlds resource includes some wonderful visual resources documenting the history of the Cunard’s ships, from an 1843 drawing of the Hibernia to photographs of ships like the Skirmisher sailing out of Liverpool in 1884, right in front of the Liver Building itself. Also included are breath-taking watercolours of Cunard’s liners, as well as journals and diaries written by passengers on-board Cunard ships. These primary resources provide a unique insight into the scale of Cunard’s shipping operation and their remarkable vessels, as well as what it was like to actually sail from Liverpool to places like New York and Boston in the perilous 1800’s. 

The obvious excitement in Liverpool this weekend reminded me of two amazing pictures in particular. Firstly, the beautiful drawing above from the London Illustrated News shows that the departure of a Cunard ship was just as exciting in 1881 as it is in 2015. Jubilantly waving from the deck at the passengers on a boat below and the receding Liverpudlian coast, these scenes were recreated this weekend as the Three Queens arrived and departed, with the passengers of the Queen Mary 2 even singing a hearty chorus of “Hey, Jude” as they came to dock. 

Image © Liverpool Record Office. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Secondly, we couldn’t resist sharing this incredible watercolour painting of Cunard’s first Queen Mary ocean liner, digitised from the collection at the Liverpool Record Office. Painted by William McDowell in March 1936, Cunard’s first Queen Mary was built in 1934 and sailed her maiden voyage in 1936, carrying passengers regularly across the Atlantic. Eventually retired in 1967, she is moored in Long Beach, California, where she serves as a popular tourist attraction.


Migration to New Worlds features primary sources taken from leading archives such as Museum Victoria, The National Archives, Merseyside Maritime Museum and the California Historical Society. Available from November, it tracks the migration of people from Great Britain, mainland Europe and Asia to the New World and Australasia. To find out more, click here.

About the Author

Rachael Gardner - Stephens

Rachael Gardner - Stephens

Joining Adam Matthew in January 2015 has given me the chance to work with exciting and diverse material, from photographs and dispatches for Migration to New Worlds, to British diplomatic papers for our forthcoming project on the Middle East - perfect fodder for a history geek!

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