|Boston to Liverpool
27 Oct 1877
|Scythia & Parthia
1878 Saloon Passenger List
Liverpool to New York
SS Victoria built at Dumbarton 1870
Launched as SS Parthia for the Cunard Line
|Cunard Steamer Parthia
Leaving Boston Harbor 1871
(Oil on Canvas) by Xanthus Smith (1839 - 1929)
|Cunard Steamship Parthia
Parthia was one of four iron screw steamers ordered by Cunard for the emigrant trade from Ireland to New York and Boston. The ship was a flush-deck, open bridged vessel and the best ship in the Cunard fleet at the time. Her efficient compound engine reduced fuel costs by half from simple engines, with a corresponding reduction in coal storage bunker requirements and a considerable increase in freight space. Her hull was constructed of hand wrought, inch thick, iron plates, which later proved superior in ice-breaking capability during her many years in the Alaska trade.
Parthia is known to have arrived Boston with passengers from England on 10 April 1871. When leaving New York in 1874, she was involved in a collision with the White Star Liner Adriatic with only slight damage to Parthia. The fluke of the Parthia's starboard anchor drove through the Adriatic's quarter near enough to the water line to require that ship's return to New York for repairs.
In March 1880, she attempted to rescue a sailing ship, the 693-ton barque Mary A Marshall, partly dismasted and waterlogged, which she took in tow for 36 hours. Unfortunately, the barque then sank, but the crew was saved. In November of the same year, she rescued the crew from another ship, the James Edwards, foundering after losing her rudder in a gale; the Parthia's third officer was commended for his work in rescuing the crew of 22.
When General Gordon was attacking Khartoum, the Parthia made a trooping voyage to Alexandria to assist the Egyptian campaign of 1881.
On 27 October 1881, the Master of the Steam Ship Parthia certified a Liverpool to New York manifest of passengers.
In 1882 she ran aground outside New York harbor to avoid collision with the liner St. Germain.
The Parthia's 119th and final Cunard voyage was in December 1883 making the Boston to Queenstown run in 9 days 18 hours. She was afterwards laid up in the Mersey.
In 1884 she changed hands to Elder's Fairfield Yard in a shipping deal. Chairman Sir William Pearce, Bart, M.P., planned to operate her on a passenger and cattle service between Canada and Glasgow under the management of the Guion Line. The Parthia was refitted with 150 lb pressure boilers and a triple-expansion engine. This reduced her daily coal consumption from 47 tons to 25 tons. When refit was completed in the summer of 1885, Parthia was again chartered as a troopship to Egypt in the tragic failure to save General Gordon.
She sailed under charter to Money Wigram & Co., of London, in November 1885 with cargo and with a considerable number of emigrants to Sydney, Australia. After discharge, she sailed from Sydney to New York, and then from New York to Yokohama via Suez. At that time, construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway was approaching Vancouver. C-P's plan was to establish a steamship service to the Far East and to test the market the railway company chartered Parthia from Guion Line from February 1887 to August 1891. She made 20 voyages on the Pacific coast between Vancouver and the Orient until C-P secured the mail and auxiliary cruiser subsidy agreement, and had built the three famous clipper-stemmed "Empresses".
Parthia then reverted to the Guion Line, which had been her registered owner since 1889, and returned to England for another refit at John Elder's Fairfield Yard. After overhaul, she was renamed Victoria and returned to the Pacific in September 1892, working on the Vancouver, Victoria, and Tacoma to Hong Kong route under the ownership of the North Pacific Steamship Company, operated by Dodwell, Carlill & Co., taking time out to make three voyages between San Francisco and the Philippines as a US Army troopship during the Spanish-American War under the American flag of North American Mail Co.
After the war she traded on the trans-Pacific route for a short time and, when gold fever struck Puget Sound in 1900, the Dodwell interests sent the Victoria to Nome with hundreds of prospectors. In 1901, she sailed for Northern Pacific Steamship Company. She was sold to the Northwestern Steamship Company in 1904. During the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 she served as a blockade runner, carrying supplies to the Russian port of Vladivostok. In 1908, Northwestern Steamship Company was absorbed by the Alaska Steamship Company. In 1910, she survived a stranding on Hinchinbrook Island.
During the First World War, the Victoria earned very large freights on the trans-Pacific run, and profits were used to re-engine, renew the boilers, raise the decks, add to the superstructure, close the bridge and increase passenger accommodation and comfort. The work increased her gross tonnage to 3,817, and she then returned to the San Francisco - Seattle - Nome service.
In 1924, the Victoria was converted to burn oil fuel. While southbound in 1927, she blew off a cylinder cover and a U.S. Coast Guard cutter towed her into Akutan. In 1934, the Victoria inaugurated the first Arctic Cruise trip under the Alaska Steamship Co. The trip called at Nome and Kotzebue and then proceeded in to the Arctic ice pack taking the ship to within four miles of Wrangell Island, Siberia.
The ship was laid up at Lake Union from 1936 to 1939 due to the cost of meeting new U.S. fire and safety precautions. In 1941, however, the passenger accommodation was removed and she was employed in the Second World War on the Alaskan trade, operated until 1947 on the Alaska service with war supplies under the control of the War Shipping Administration. She was then returned to her owners who found that her 77-year old hand wrought iron hull was still in remarkably good condition, although it was extremely heavy by modern standards.
In November 1950, the ship's original bell was presented to the Cunard Steamship Company and installed on its new vessel Parthia (II). On 23 Aug 1952, she was laid up at Houghton, Lake Washington after 80 years of service. In 1954, she was sold to the Dulien Steel Products Company, which at once made it clear that it intended to re-sell the vessel. She was quickly purchased by the Straits Towage & Salvage Company and, by then the oldest USA steamer (The Marine Digest, 26 Dec 1953), converted into a log carrying barge and renamed Straits No. 27 in 1955.
In 1956, the Straits No. 27 was sold to Japanese shipbreakers and renamed Straits Maru. The tug Sudbury towed her across the Pacific to Osaka, Japan, where she arrived for demolition on 16 October, at the venerable old age of 86 years.
- Much material obtained from the LNRS Bulletin, vol. 42, no. 3, Winter 1998.
- Lawson, Will. Pacific Steamers (Glasgow : Brown, Son & Ferguson, 1927) p. 204
- Turner, Robert D. The Pacific Empresses: an illustrated history of Canadian Pacific Railway's Empress liners on the Pacific Ocean (Victoria, B.C.: Sono Nis Press, 1981), p. 11, 20
- Lawson, Will. Pacific Steamers (Glasgow: Brown, Son & Ferguson, 1927) p. 204
This page last updated 23 Feb 2021