Remarks of Carol Marlow
Cornell Club of New York
On 8 November 2007, Carol Marlow, President and Managing Director of Cunard Line addressed
the Cornell Club of New York. Her remarks described the history of Cunard and how that history
defined the company today (this page); covered Cunard today including challenges relating to
QUEEN MARY 2 and QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 (page 2); and concluded with a discussion of
QUEEN VICTORIA, a ship that will be a large part of Cunard’s future (page 3). Ms. Marlow’s
remarks are excerpted below.
Cunard’s Historical Roots
When people think about Cunard, they think about luxury, they think about British-ness, they think about
film stars - - those are the types of things people tend to associate with our service. However, if you had
said that to Samuel Cunard back when he started the company, he would have looked quite blankly at
you. “What are you talking about, that isn’t what Cunard is at all.” Because he was actually a gentleman
from Halifax in Nova Scotia, he wasn’t British at all. He was a very successful businessman, he had
interests in mining, building canals, importing tea and he had a principal sailing business which took most
of his time. He had a great knowledge of steam ships which was the business he was about to embark on
in his fifties. In those days, [people that age] were either retired and enjoying themselves if they were
successful as he was or they were dead. So actually, it was quite a remarkable business to start up at his
time of life.
Why did he do it? Well, he answered an ad in The Times, which had managed to work its way over to
Halifax, Nova Scotia, saying they were looking for someone to set up a regular steamship service to carry
the mail between Britain and North America. And he got a vision for it. He decided that this was what
he wanted to do.
He sent back his bid, he won the tender, and then he started looking for backing for the venture. Of
course, nobody wanted to back him because they thought he was mad in Halifax. He came over to
England and he eventually found backing there. In Glasgow, he met some people who would build him
the ships. So, his whole venture was realized and on the Fourth of July 1840, the first of his ships,
BRITANNIA, set sail from Liverpool and went across to Halifax.
It went across very successfully. He was onboard with his daughter and there were some other
passengers who were purely incidental because the whole venture was to carry the mail.
His service became widely known as being very reliable and more passengers got excited about this
opportunity and started traveling with Cunard. So, his passenger business started to grow. But, he had
no real interest in the passengers. He had no facilities and no special luxury. Indeed, someone who
traveled with him in 1842 was Charles Dickins and he said that his cabin was a “profoundly preposterous
He started to build up his fleet. The mail went successfully over the Atlantic and gradually the number of
passengers increased. At that time, people started thinking about emigrating from the Old World to the
New and so this emigration market started to go with Cunard. Of course, then others saw the
opportunity and came into the marketplace. The other lines were mostly subsidized by their national
governments whereas Cunard wasn’t, of course. The transatlantic trade grew and grew.
Because of Cunard’s reliability, his ships were requisitioned for war by the British government. The
Crimean War in the 1850s, his ships were taken out. In fact, it was a Cunard ship that carried all of the
horses for the charge of the Light Brigade. It was a Cunard ship that took all the wounded soldiers over
to Scutari to Florence Nightingale’s hospital.
While he was doing that and earning a baronetcy for doing so, his business was going to all the
competitors. In the second half of the 1800s, more and more people went across the Atlantic. Cunard
realized that maybe he better start taking these passengers seriously and he better start doing something
with the ships and start in to compete with these other lines that were far more sensible in terms of what
they were offering.
He started to get more sensible. He had the first ship that had children’s facilities aboard, the first ship
that had a library onboard, the first ship that had en suite facilities onboard. I say “he” but sadly [Samuel
Cunard] had died by then and so I mean his successors had decided to develop the line.
It wasn’t until 1907 that the first really palatial Cunard ship came, which is MAURETANIA, and that was
really the beginning of the floating palaces of the sea. Those words that we associate with Cunard, the
luxury and the service, started to come in then. The Golden Age of travel started to happen and the
company built more and more ships.
The 1920s was a great time for the Golden Age of Travel and going across the Atlantic. The company
wanted to build a new ship, the QUEEN MARY. But, the Depression happened, Cunard’s revenues
went down and they had to seek a loan from the government in order to complete the ship, which the
government eventually gave on the understanding that Cunard would merge with White Star and take over
their line and sort out their transatlantic operations. That was when Cunard White Star came into being.
Things moved on, the business went from strength to strength. The QUEEN MARY and the QUEEN
ELIZABETH were used in the Second World War and carried a lot of the troops from here to Europe.
In fact, Churchill said that the war was shortened by a year by Cunard taking on each vessel some
16,000 troops [per voyage] over to the war.
The next thing to bother the Cunard Line was the advent of air travel. In 1959, when the first jet went
across the Atlantic and everyone said “ocean travel is dead, everyone will go by air from now on.” But,
Cunard Line wasn’t going to have any of that. They agreed that QUEEN MARY and QUEEN
ELIZABETH probably would go but they decided to build another one, which is QE2.
Eventually, QE2, after a quite troubled build, came in 1969 and, of course, everyone said she was a total
waste of space, that she would be mothballed in six months, what was the point, it was ridiculous and air
travel would be the winner. But, QE2 is still with us whereas Concorde, the pride of the airline industry
There’s a partial history. You can see a very entrepreneurial start to the business, you can see a lack of
regard for any sort of passengers and a realization that passengers were the future and a realization that of
a need to compete with the competitors out there and the business developed from there.
Above: The Cunard house flag
flutters over Queen Elizabeth 2.
Right: A silver cup given to Samuel
Cunard upon BRITANNIA's first
transatlantic crossing in 1840.