RMS Umbria and her sister ship RMS Etruria were the last two Cunarders that were fitted with auxiliary Sails. RMS Umbria was built by John Elder & Co of Glasgow, Scotland in 1884. The “Umbria” and her sister “Etruria” by the standards of the time were record breakers. They were the largest liners then in service and they plied the Liverpool to New York Service. RMS Umbria was launched by the Honourable Mrs Hope on Wednesday 25 June 1884 with wide coverage by the press. The reason being that she was the largest ship afloat, apart from the “Great Eastern“ ,but by this time that ship was redundant.
The “Umbria” had many distinguishing features that included two enormous funnels which gave the outward impression of huge power. She also had three large steel masts which when fully rigged had an extensive spread of canvas. Another innovation on “Umbria” was that she was equipped with refrigeration machinery, but it was the single screw population that would bring the most publicity later in her career. The ship epitomized the luxuries of Victorian style. The public rooms in the 1st class were full of ornately carved furniture and heavy velvet curtains hung in all the rooms and they were decorated with bric-a-brac that period fashion dictated. These rooms and the 1st class cabins were situated on the promenade, upper, saloon and main decks. There was also a music room, smoke room for gentleman, separate dining rooms for 1st and 2nd class passengers. By the standard of the day 2nd class accommodation was moderate but spacious and comfortable. By early October 1884 “Umbria” had completed her sea trials and on the 1st of November 1884 she set of to New York on her maiden voyage. She was commanded by Captain Theodore Cook. He was Cunard’s senior captain, having served his apprenticeship in the days of square-rigged sailing ships.
RMS Umbria started her regular service to New York from Liverpool but the clouds of crises were looming and by the New Year of 1885 a crises involving Russia's threat to invade Afghanistan was coming to a head. This was to bring “Umbria’s” North Atlantic service to a halt temporarily. On 26 March “Umbria and her sister RMS Etruria found themselves charted to the Admiralty. Shortly after this date the dispute with Russia was settled and RMS Etruria was returned to the North Atlantic service, but not the “Umbria”. she was retained for a further six months as a precaution. She had been fitted with guns and it was thought that should the need arise she would have been a powerful auxiliary to the new ironclad Navy of the era. In September 1885 Umbria was released from government service and resumed the Atlantic service. She worked away for the next few years without any major incident.
|PRICES OF PASSAGE ABOARD R.M.S.UMBRIA, MAY 1895|
|From Pier 40, North River, foot of Clarkson Street, City of New York|
|Every Saturday, New York-Queenstown-Liverpool|
|1st Class||1st Class||1st Class||1st Class Return||1st Class Return||1st Class Return||2nd Class Cabin||2nd Class Cabin||2nd Class Cabin Return||2nd Class Cabin Return||Under 1 Year old|
|Records of RMS Umbria & RMS Etruria|
|The Blue Riband of the North Atlantic|
|RMS Etruria||1885 (16/8- 22/8)||Cunard||Queenstown]]||Sandy Hook||2801||6/5/31||18.73|
|RMS Umbria||1887 (29/5-4/6)||Cunard||Queenstown||Sandy Hook||2848||6/4/12||19.22|
|RMS Etruria||1888 (27/5-2/6)||Cunard||Queenstown||Sandy Hook||2854||6/1/55||19.56|
On 12 April 1890 the RMS Umbria set of on her usual voyage from New York with 655 passengers aboard. Five days out, in the Mid-Atlantic she came across the stricken Norwegian barque “Magdalena”(see Link below). She had struck an iceberg and was waterlogged. Captain Gunderson and his crew of eight were very luck to have been spotted by the “Umbria”, who rescued them after Gunderson had finished the “Magdalena” off by setting fire to her. Four days later all were landed safely back at Liverpool. The rest of that decade the RMS Umbria ran the Atlantic service trouble free but at the start of the 1890s would not be so uneventful. On 17 December 1892, RMS Umbria left Liverpool with, after stopping at Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland, 400 passengers aboard along with large amount of mail. She was due to arrive in New York on Christmas Day. By the 28th of December she still had not arrived and speculation in to what had delayed her was growing. News came on 29 December from the steamship “Galileo” who had passed her on Christmas Day. She appeared disabled. The master of the “Galileo” also reported that she displayed three red lights, indicating that she was un-manageable, but did not require assistance. The weather was said to be foul with a severe north-westerly gale. Another steamer called the “Monrovian” had also passed her but reported the Umbria to be in good shape. On 30 December the steamship “Manhanset” reported that again the RMS Umbria did not require assistance and that she was carrying out repairs to a broken shaft. In fact the “Umbria’s” troubles had started on Friday 23 December at around 5.25 pm. Her propeller shaft had fractured at the thrust block. Her main engines were stopped immediately and the Umbria drifted helplessly in gale force winds and a heavy sea. The chief Engineer worked relentlessly with his staff to make repairs to the shaft. Later that day at 8.15 pm the steamship “Bohemia” had agreed to tow the ship to New York, but the line broke around 10 pm in the severe storm and visibility was nil. Next morning there was no sign of the “Bohemia” and once again the Umbria was drifting helplessly. Then came the encounters with the other two steamers but by the 26th the Cunarder “Gallia” and the “umbria” had established contact with each other and after some communications between masters, the Gallia had refused to stand-by and carried on her Voyage, the Umbria was left to make repairs. The chief engineer achieved this on the 27th of December and very slowly she set of for New York. She arrived there at 11 pm on Saturday 31 December 1892 and her arrival was witnessed by thousands of New Yorkers who had gathered to cheer her safe arrival. When the excitement had died down the recriminations started which ended when Cunard prepared a statement explaining why the “Gallia” had continued on without assisting the Umbria. Further repairs were carried out on the Umbria and she returned to Liverpool on 4 February 1893. By 1 April she was back on the service.
By 1908 the careers of the two sisters “Umbria” and “Etruria” was coming to an end, however because of mishaps to, first RMS Etruria and then to Umbria’s replacements RMS Campania and RMS Lucania who were temporarily laid up, RMS Umbria had a reprieve until 1910. Her last voyage started on 12 February 1910 and her return crossing stared on 23 February. She arrived in the Mersey for the last time on Friday 4 March 1910 and as soon as her passengers had disembarked, work began on dismantling all her fixtures and fittings. Within days she was sold for scrap for £20,000 to the Forth Shipbreaking Company and she was taken to Bo'ness, Scotland. There is no doubt that RMS Umbria and her sister were considered, in their day, to be giants of the North Atlantic. In all she made 145 round trips to New York.