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British shipping companies (C)

Last modified: 2011-06-10 by rob raeside
Keywords: cunard | white star | lion | star: 5 points (white) | globe |
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Cunard White Star Company (Cunard Line)

[Cunard White Star houseflag] image by Roger Moyer and António Martins, 14 Aug 1999
[Flag shown here is an older version - the present-day version can be seen on page 81 of "British Flags and Emblems" by Graham Bartram.]

At the turn of the century the two principal British steamship lines operating in the North Atlantic were the Cunard Steam Ship Company and the White Star Company. These two lines were amalgamated and became the Cunard White Star Company, and for many years the ships of the amalgamation flew the House Flags of both the Cunard and the White Star. The Cunard flag, which used to be flown above that of the White star, has a red field charged with a golden lion rampant guardant. The White Star flag is a “broad pennant” with two tails and charged with a white five-pointed star. In 1968 the flying of the White Star flag was discontinued and only the Cunard flag is flown by Cunard ships.
Jarig Bakker, 14 Feb 1999, quoting [bar71]

The lion holding a globe seems to be the crest of a coat of arms (it is standing on a torse), making some sort of pattern with the Bibby Line house flag: Red flag with a golden crest on it. The lion further shows surprisingly human features and a crown.
António Martins, 14 Aug 1999

Cunard Line. The flag was changed to the version shown in 1878 (some sources quote 1880) and any resemblance to human features probably lies in the viewers eyes. The lion may well have a benign (well fed) face but my guess is that the emblem is more a symbol of British pride and power originating in an uninhibited era. A study of video shots of the flag indicates that the lion emblem shown here is too large by around 25%. Unfortunately it was not possible to make out the finer detail apart from the fact that the lion is standing on a wreath, but the version shown here appears otherwise accurate unlike various sources where the portrayal varies for design with several omitting the wreath on which the lion stands whilst a couple omit the crown but I have not seen any suggestions that the design was ever altered so it would appear to have been unchanged since its inception. A swallow-tailed version is used by the fleet commodore.

Originated 1840 as the British & North American Steam Packet Co. principally founded by Samuel Cunard, becoming known as the Cunard Line and then in 1878 it was reformed as Cunard Steam-Ship Co. Ltd. The original flag was a double pennant of blue with a white saltire over plain red [see image below] and this flag is also associated with D & C McIver, David McIver being a partner with Samuel Cunard in the setting up of the new concern. Between around 1850-1880 another flag is reported to have been flown at times, being a blue swallowtail with a white star but its function is unclear. Such a flag is reputed to have been used by A. Cunard & Sons of Nova Scotia for whom Samuel Cunard, who was born Canadian, worked prior to going to England [no indication is given of their being related]. Suggestions are that this flag was either a personal flag of Samuel or was used by the senior captain of the time.
Neale Rosanoski, 16 February 2004

"Flags and Funnels of the British and Commonwealth Merchant Fleets" shows this flag with a thin version of the White Star Line as a streamer hoisted above it.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 16 June 2006

[Cunard White Star houseflag] image by Rob Raeside

Abraham Cunard, an American loyalist of German extraction, moved north to Canada after the War of Independence. His son Samuel became one of the leading businessmen in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He was awarded the Admiralty contract to carry mail by steam ship across the North Atlantic and to carry out the agreement founded the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. The mail service was inaugurated by 'Britannia' in 1840. In the 1850s the company extended its services to take on a Liverpool-Mediterranean route. In the early 1870s Cunard's supremacy in the North Atlantic was challenged by the White Star Line; this revitalized the company's performance and it embarked on a programme of new building.

The North Atlantic Companies were hard hit by the 1930s recession and in 1934 Cunard took over White Star to form the Cunard White Star Line. Competition from air travel led to passenger retrenchment from the 1960s. The 'Queen Mary' and 'Queen Elizabeth' were sold but the company launched a new liner, the 'Queen Elizabeth 2' in 1969. In the 1970s the company diversified into cargo carrying. It is at present part of the American Carnival Corporation, with a fleet of three ships, cruising worldwide, including on its traditional transatlantic route."
Jarig Bakker, 10 August 2004

A different version appears here:, a Flickr photo uploaded by Chris Frame on 24 Oct 2009. It is a red field, yellow emblem consisting of the crest as described above, ensigned by a royal crown and flanked by six laurel wreaths on each side, tied together by a ribbon at the base. As used on peaked caps, apparently.
Jan Mertens, 29 November 2009

White Star Lines

[White Star Lines houseflag] image by Jorge Candeias, 14 Feb 1999

It’s a red burgee with a white 5-pointed star.
Jorge Candeias, 14 February 1999

The White Star flag is a “broad pennant” with two tails and charged with a white five-pointed star. In 1968 the flying of the White Star flag was discontinued and only the Cunard flag is flown by Cunard ships, except on one day of the year, April 20th, when the two flags are flown together in commemoration that this is the birthday of the last surviving officer of the old White Star Line.
Jarig Bakker, 14 February 1999, quoting [bar71]

White Star Lines. In 1867/8 the founder Thomas Henry Ismay bought the goodwill and flag of another White Star Line which had just gone bankrupt and when he set up his company two years later the flag became theirs. Sources relate this as though the flag remained unchanged but according to Basil Lubbock in "The Colonial Clippers" the original flag has a star of 6 points. After the merger with Cunard the ex White Star ships flew their old flag superior to that of Cunard whilst Cunard and all new tonnage reversed the procedure so the sale of the last of these ships, "Britannic", for scrap in 1960 would have seen the end of the White Star flag on top. The fleet commodore used a white bordered version. With regard to the once a year display of the two flags at the end, another version gives it as April 20th being the anniversary of the merger. One other point about these two companies and their merger is that it was for the trans-Atlantic passenger trade only and The Cunard Steam-Ship Co. Ltd. continued in its own right to operate its cargo ships on the Mediterranean trade and it was the initial owner of 62% of Cunard White Star Line, buying the balance in 1947 and then in 1949 bringing everything back under its name.
Neale Rosanoski, 16 February 2004

Living near Liverpool, the original homeport of what was first the White Star Line and later Cunard White Star, I often have occasion to pass by the Cunard Building on the Liverpool waterfront. This is a massive structure exuding the height of Edwardian self-importance, although it is quite nicely done up inside. This was the original building from which the president of the line spoke to thousands of friends and relatives of passengers and crew on the occasion of the loss of RMS Titanic in 1912 and the sinking of RMS Lusitania in 1915. From time to time I have seen this flag flying from the roof of the Cunard Building, but it does not seem to be flown on any fixed basis or schedule; on some days one can see it flying and on other days the flagstaff is bare.
Ron Lahav, 18 Febraury 2004

The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, more commonly known as The White Star Line was a prominent ship operating company, most famous for its emigrant ship, the RMS Titanic. It was founded in Liverpool as the Aberdeen White Star Line by John Pilkington and Henry Threlfall Wilson, and focused on the Australian trade, which had recently increased following the discovery of gold there. It merged with other small lines, the Black Ball and Eagle Lines to form a conglomerate called the Liverpool, Melbourne and Oriental Steam Navigation Company Limited. It failed in October 1867. Thomas Ismay, a director of the National Line, purchased the bankrupt company in January 1868, with the intention of operating large ships on the North Atlantic service. He had formed a partnership with Sir Edward Harland of the shipbuilders Harland and Wolff, to provide the ships and the shipbuilders received their first orders on 30 July 1869. As the first ship was being commissioned, Ismay formed the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company which absorbed the original Aberdeen White Star Line. In 1902, the White Star line was absorbed into the International Mercantile Marine (IMM), a large American shipping conglomerate. By 1903, IMM had managed to absorb the Dominion, Atlantic Transport, Leyland, and Red Star lines. They also came to trade agreements with the German lines Hamburg-Amerika and Norddeutscher-Lloyd. Bruce Ismay ceded control to IMM in the face of intense pressure from shareholders and J.P. Morgan.

The Cunard Line was the direct competition to White Star Line as their fame and success mounted. In 1933, White Star and Cunard were both in serious financial
difficulties because of the depression, falling passenger numbers and the advanced age of their fleets, particularly, White Star's. In 1933, the British government agreed to provide assistance to the two on the condition that they merge. The merger took place on the 10th May, 1934, creating Cunard-White Star Limited. The house flags of both lines were flown on all its ships until 1947 when Cunard bought the remainder of the White Star shares and the White Star Line ceased to exist. For more details, see this Wikipedia page.
Esteban Rivera, 29 June 2005

Currie Line

The Currie Line Ltd. was a Scottish company out of Leith with giving origins dating back to 1800 eventually becoming the Leith, Hull and Hamburgh [later to become "Hamburg"] Steam Packet Co. in 1852 with James Currie joining the company in 1862. There seems to some confusion in their records as they refer to the takeover in 1919 of the Hull & Hamburg Line fleet [it is not clear whether they are referring to a company of that name or the Leith, Hull and Hamburg] previously managed by Donald Currie who was the brother of James, whereas my flag sources from 1885 are showing that James Currie was the operator of Leith, Hull & Hamburg. Whatever, it is clear that James Currie and Leith, Hull & Hamburg and the flag were all operating well before the 1913 date. James Currie would seem to have taken over the Leith, Hull & Hamburg company at some point, trading mainly through it until 1940 when its name was change to Currie Line Ltd. [Hamburg being considered inappropriate] and then in 1969 they were acquired by Anchor Line Ltd.

"Flags and Funnels of the British and Commonwealth Merchant Fleets" shows this flag but shaped as a burgee (i.e., tapering), not as a rectangular swallowtail flag.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 16 June 2006

The original flag may have had a red border all around with the emblems being centralised with such a version being shown by Reed 1891. However the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce chart for 1885 shows a triband format but as a tapered swallowtail and sources from thence have varied between whether it was tapered or not with presumably the non tapered flag held by the National Maritime Museum under the name of Leith, Hull & Hamburg Steam Packet Co. Ltd. being the definitive.
Neale Rosanoski, 14 April 2005

Prior to 1862, the company (Leith, Hull & Hamburg S.P. Co.) was under the control of Robert Barclay of Barclay, Curle Shipbuilders, Glasgow. Owing to ill health, he sold the shipping company to the brothers Donald and James Currie. Copies of old letters show that Donald Currie acted as the principal director while James took over the management. The Company was now known as the Leith, Hull & Hamburg S.P. Co.- Managers James Currie & Co.
   Donald Currie owned a further two companies, the first was the well known Castle Line which later amalgamated with the Union S.S. Co. to form the Union Castle Line. The second concern was the Liverpool & Hamburg Line of Liverpool which ran cargo services from Liverpool, Manchester, Preston & Glasgow to Germany and the Baltic. In 1871, a couple of vessels were transferred from the Leith company to run private mails from Dartmouth to South Africa.
   After the Great War, the Liverpool & Hamburg Line was taken over and managed by the Leith company but the routes continued to operate until after WW11 when a severe decline in trade made them redundant. In 1940 the company became a public concern under the name of Currie Line Ltd.


1) Donald Currie’s Liverpool & Hamburg Line, Liverpool (see also Castle Mail Packet Co.)

[Currie Line houseflag] image by Ian Thomson, 3 September 2009

2) Leith, Hull and Hamburg Steam Packet Co., Leith

A) First Known Flag

[Currie Line houseflag] image by Ian Thomson, 3 September 2009

B) flag from late 19th Century to 1940 approx.

[Currie Line houseflag] image by Ian Thomson, 3 September 2009
C) Main flag from 1940 approx

[Currie Line houseflag] image by Ian Thomson, 3 September 2009

D) Commodore captain / ship

[Currie Line houseflag] image by Ian Thomson, 3 September 2009

Please note that the bottom cross is not a ‘plus’ cross but more like the letter “T” when crossed. This error has been repeated in many of the reputable books regarding flags and funnels. The change to a rectangular flag after WW11 seems to have been made unofficially, as perhaps it was easier to make than a burgee.

Although I have access to most of the company records, I have never found out the significance of the flag. I have consulted many experts on the subject including the great grandson of James Currie, the appropriate members of the World Ship Society and various libraries and museums.
Ian Thomson, 3 September 2009

British Shipping lines: continued