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Transatlantic Sailing Packet JAMES MONROE 1815
The sailing packet James Monroe was a remarkable and exceptionally historic transatlantic sailing packet. This ship pioneered the scheduled transatlantic crossing and in many ways is the sailing predecessor of the transatlantic ocean liner. The Black Ball Line was founded in 1817. Owned by a group of American merchants, it owned and operated a fleet of sailing packets, purchased from various shipbuilders, that sailed between
The James Monroe and the Birth of Black Ball Line:
Soon after America's "War of 1812"
“Regular traders” had plied the seas since 1700, when the Britannia was launched for the
Before 1817 the nearest approach to scheduled sailings was achieved by packet brigs of the British Government mail service, operating between
On the 24th October 1817, five
“In order to furnish frequent and regular conveyance of GOODS and PASSENGERS the subscribers have undertaken to establish a line of vessels between
The advertisement was signed by Isaac Wright and Son., and Francis Thompson. Later the names of Benjamin Marshall and Jeremiah Thompson were added. Four vessels were chosen for the venture; one was to sail from
On the morning of the 5th January 1818, the sailing packet James Monroe lay at her berth alongside Pier 23 on
Church bells chimed out the hour of departure and soon the last dispatches were placed aboard. The tide turned and Captain Watkinson gave the word. Sailors sprang to life and cast off the gaskets as the topsails were mastheaded. Lines were hauled in as the James Monroe slid out past the wharf into the
The James Monroe arrived in Liverpool on the 2nd February 1818, a respectable time for the season, especially when compared with the majority of other ships sailing at the same time. The return passage started on the 3rd March, but the ship was forced to return to Liverpool for repairs after a storm in the Irish Sea. James Monroe returned to New York only a week before her next scheduled sailing to Liverpool.
The Heyday of the Transatlantic Sailing Packets:
And thus, on
the 5th January 1818, the departure of the first
packet ship to leave
line did not immediately prosper. Turpentine, cotton and naval stores,
coastwise from the South to
The ships, though essentially no different from any of the individually owned “regular traders”, were brand new and excellently equipped. They were all flush deck, with a caboose or galley and the housed-over long boat between the fore- and main-masts. The long-boat, which was, of course, securely lashed, carried the livestock, - pens for sheep and pigs in the bottom, ducks and geese on a deck laid across the gunwales, and on top hens and chickens. The cow-house was lashed over the main hatch, and there were also other small hatch-houses and a companion aft leading to the comfortable and well appointed cabins. The steerage passengers lived in the between-decks amidships, and the crew’s forecastle was in the fore-peak. Freshly killed ducks, geese and chicken were available for the First Class passengers, while fresh milk became a regular feature.
Still, they were
considered superior to the British and
French packets of the day that carried the important mail and
American ports. The packet service from
Monroe and her three sister ships, the Amity, Courier,
and Pacific, were all about 400 tons.
joined the line; some of them 500 tons register. Joining the Black Ball
"Downhill" races across the North Atlantic to Liverpool were
sailor slang term for the faster passage from
The Black Ballers were broad of beam and blunt of bow; sturdy sailing ships built for cargo and safety rather than for speed. They had fine straight lines and were heavily sparred to carry a vast spread of canvas. By crowding on sail they could increase their speed considerably, but it was dangerous going. Many a packet was lost in a storm, before her great array of sails could be furled.
One of the early packet disasters to occur was the sinking of the Black Ball Liner Albion, off the Irish coast, near Kinsale, in 1822. However despite these dangers and the occasional disaster, the packets kept to their schedules with remarkable accuracy. The speed with which their hardy masters and mates drove their ships across the Atlantic is still the marvel of seafaring men. The packets established an average time schedule of 22 days from New York to Liverpool and 40 days on the more difficult return voyage. This schedule seldom was departed from by more than a day or two.Early records were set by the Black Ball Liner
The term “packet”, later used to designate the famous “line” ships, had from the first been loosely applied and has caused much confusion. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a packet design; before 1817 “packet” meant any vessel, whether brig, sloop or square-rigger, that functioned as a carrier of freight. The Black Ball Line called its ships packets to distinguish them from the irregular “regular traders”. The name clung to scheduled vessels through the evolution of naval architecture from the bulbous prow and broad beam of the Black Ballers to the sharper-bowed more graceful ships of the clipper era.Nobody tried to compete against the Black Ball Line for the first few years, but by 1821 everybody wanted a sailing packet line. In 1821 Thomas Cope of
By the 1830s the American packets sailed at fixed times to predetermined destinations regardless of the weather and with them went the government mail and important private commerce. Passengers, both American and foreigners, hailed this new service and flocked to South Street to book passage to Europe. Foreigners, Canadians, West Indies merchants and English officers from the Canadian provinces preferred sailing the fast American packets home to
It was in
the years 1835-40 that the packets reached their peak. Some of the
during this period exceeded 1000 tons. In 1840 at the height of the
The Rise of the Steamship:
alongside the rise of the Sailing Packets, steam began to compete on
the transatlantic crossing, however it was not until after 1850 that
this competition began to really be felt by the sailing packet lines.
But for the next two decades there were no ocean crossings by steam vessels out of New York. In the late 1830s interest in transatlantic steamships was revived. In 1830 the Dutch steamer Curacao had crossed between the Netherlands and Curacao, while in 1833 the Royal William had crossed from Nova Scotia to Liverpool.
The British and American Steam Navigation Company had expected to open the first steam-powered regularly-scheduled "packet" transatlantic service with their S.S. British Queen. However this ship was still under construction in the shipyard. Therefore as they realised that their rival ship S.S. Great Western (Great Western Steamship Company) was already completed and ready to sail, they quickly chartered the Sirius.
The Sirius, which was an Irish Sea steam packet travelling between London and Cork. The Sirius had a displacement of 700 tons and was 178 feet (54 m) long with a breadth of 26 feet (7.9 m), considerably less than the Great Western. Part of the passenger accommodation was removed to make room for extra coal bunkers. The Sirius set off from the River Thames on the 28th March 1838 heading for Cork, where she replenished her coal bunkers and left for New York on the 4th April with 97 passengers. Though the Sirius narrowly beat the Great Western to New York, arriving on the 22nd April, they had to burn the cabin furniture, spare yards and one mast to do it, inspiring the similar sequence in Jules Verne's "Around the World in Eighty Days (1872). The Great Western meanwhile arrived the following day, with 200 tons of coal still aboard, and after only 15 days at sea. Great Western was subsequently awarded the Blue Riband for setting the record for fastest transatlantic crossing at 8.66 knots (16.04 km/h), beating Sirius which clocked in at 8.03 knots (14.87 km/h). The Great Western had completed the crossing in just 14.5 days.
In many ways the P.S. Great Western was the first Transatlantic Ocean Liner. She continued to sail between Liverpool and New York carrying passengers until 1846, completing 45 crossings in eight years. In 1847 she was sold to the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company and used on the West Indies run. Later, after serving as a troopship in the Crimean War, she was broken up at Castles' Yard, Millbank on the River Thames in 1856.
1840 Samuel Cunard inaugurated his scheduled transatlantic steamship
service from Liverpool to Boston, USA with the P.S. Britannia that the
sailing packets really experienced serious competition. Later the North
American terminus was moved to New York. But Cunard had learned from
the regularity of the schedule offered by the old sailing packets of
Black Ball Line and combined it with the steamship technology showed
off by the P.S. Great Western and put the two together. As a result he
created a scheduled transatlantic steamship service and gave birth to
Cunard Line. Samuel Cunard had won the Royal Mail contract from the
British Government and eventually Cunard Line dominated the
transatlantic passenger liner business.
Monroe, the ship had started it all, continued in service until 1850
when she was wrecked off the Tasmanian coast, however happily all on
board were saved in a daring rescue by a passing ship.
the steamship was really making itself felt with the sailing packet
lines. The steamship City of Glasgow set the pace in 1850 when a profit
was made by carrying 400 emigrants. By 1863, 45% of British emigrants
to America travelled by steamship and just three years later the figure
had risen to over 80%. The major sailing packets continued for a wile,
but three of the five largest sailing packet lines all closed down just
before 1878. By the summer of 1878, even the famous Black Ball Line had
closed. The steamship had won and forced the sailing packets out of
business on the transatlantic crossing. It was the end of an era.
By 1870 the square-rigged sailing
clipper ships were still profitable on the longer
runs from America and Europe to
(c) The AJN Transport Britain Collection 2008 A Edward Elliott