For 160 years the name Cunard has reigned supreme over the world’s oceans and Isle of Man Post Office is delighted to present a miniature sheet of stamps to mark this momentous occasion.
Rarely has there been a more exciting time in the history of the Cunard company since Sir Samuel Cunard left Liverpool in1840 bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia and Boston aboard his paddle steamer RMS Britannia.
When Sir Samuel set out to deliver mail across the Atlantic 168 years ago, he little realised he was taking the first step on an epic journey to create the finest experience in ocean travel. It was in these early years that a relationship between Cunard and Royal Mail began which is still in existence today. Mail used to be carried in four foot canvas bags onboard Cunard liners and although the service was originally beset with problems, over time reliability improved and by 1929 15 million letters had been transported without the loss of a single mail bag.
In the early days Cunarders had to deliver mail to the Manhattan Post Office but by the 1920s vessels were met at Quarantine by three US Postal Service mail boats. The mail boats would tie up alongside the Cunard vessel in a pre-arranged order, letters destined for the US and South America would be off loaded to starboard while those for Canada, Mexico, China, Japan and Australia to port.
Even when bad weather prevented ships from docking at Pier 45 in New York, the mail boats would meet the ship down river. Mail posted onboard a Cunard vessel was postmarked ‘Paquebot Mail’ and passengers would use paper and envelopes bearing the ship’s name such as ‘At sea onboard RMS Caronia.’ With the arrival of air travel across the Atlantic, the volume of mail carried aboard Cunard vessels dropped dramatically. However, even today, a small quantity is still carried and the vessels retain the very special title of ‘Royal Mail Ship.’
Today Cunard’s liner Queen Elizabeth 2 prepares to sail her farewell voyage before going into retirement. She is the company’s longest serving liner and has always enjoyed extraordinary popularity. Day after day, throughout these last 40 years, in all ports all over the globe she has commanded the attention of an adoring public.