This historic photo is very sad, at least to anyone who appreciates the beauty, power and history of the great ocean liners of the 20th century. Across the sad mud flats where this lonely boat is abandoned, to the right, the ship painted white, is the great Cunard liner Mauretania, and to the left, the black ship is the White Star Liner Olympic. Although both of these ships were quite famous in their own right, both were overshadowed by being the sister ships to two infamous liners that perished in epic disasters; Mauretania‘s sister was Lusitania, torpedoed by a German submarine during World War I, and Olympic’s was of course the Titanic, sunk on its maiden voyage in 1912. This photo is timely to show because today is the 105th anniversary of the launching of Olympic, which occurred in Ireland on October 20, 1910.
This picture was taken in 1935 in Southampton, England. The two liners, which at this point were owned by the same company, had been declared surplus and retired after many years in service. At the time this picture was taken both were about to be sailed away to shipbreakers’ yards in Scotland. Mauretania wound up in Rosyth and Olympic in Inverkeithing. This was a sad end for the great ships, which like most large passenger liners became unprofitable during the Great Depression. Olympic had briefly been both the largest and most luxurious liner afloat at the time of her 1911 maiden voyage. Mauretania was for a long time the fastest North Atlantic liner, holding the speed record from 1909 to 1929. When her engines were taken apart in 1935 they were found to be as clean and in as perfect working order as they were the day they were installed.
The lives and careers of ocean liners have always been fascinating to me. This is the subject of my fairly obscure 2005 novel Romantic, Memoirs of a Great Liner, whose fictional main character (it’s a ship) is based on the life stories of several great liners, and which ends with a sad scene very much like this picture.