Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cunard Line, Boston and the Boston Cup

This article, written by Michael Gallagher, public relations executive and historian for Cunard Line, is part of an ongoing series of key moments in Cunard Line's history

QE2 Captain Ian McNaught (left)
passes the Boston Cup to Queen Mary 2
Commodore Ronald Warwick (right)

On 1 May 2004, Cunard flagship status passed from Queen Elizabeth 2 to Queen Mary 2 and the company sought a physical symbol to represent flagship status. Enter the Boston Cup! In a moving ceremony, QE2's Captain Ian McNaught handed the Cup to Queen Mary 2's Commodore Ron Warwick, and later that day attending guests, including Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, transferred by boat to the new flagship for lunch. After lunch they gathered at the stern of Queen Mary 2 and enjoyed the traditional British hymns and anthems waiting for QE2 to sail past.

When she emerged from the mist, the music was dramatically replaced with “Isn't She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder. Nothing more appropriate could have been played and there was not a dry eye on those aft decks – even those of the Deputy Prime Minister. Later that night, with the Boston Cup on board, Queen Mary 2 sailed for the first time as Cunard flagship.

Former flagship QE2 (left) sails past new flagship Queen Mary 2 (right) in Boston in 2004

In early 1840, Boston was preparing for the mid-July arrival of the first transatlantic mail ship, Britannia. The East Boston Company had spent about $40,000 to build a dock for Britannia and her sisters. An elaborate festival to welcome the ship and company founder Samuel Cunard was planned by a committee of Boston merchants who appreciated the vast difference the ship would make to the commercial world as a whole and to Boston in particular. Samuel Cunard would be the hero of the occasion and an honoured guest. The merchants commissioned a magnificent silver cup, which was made by the city's most outstanding silversmith, Obadiah Rich (1809 - 1888) for Lows, Ball & Company.

Standing two and a half feet high, the Boston Cup is vase-shaped with two handles. Spirited dolphins form the handles and cast coral and shells of all sorts decorate its base. The cartouche bears the inscription:

Presented by citizens
of Boston, Mass
to the
Honourable Samuel Cunard
of Halifax N.S.
Whose Enterprise established the line of
British Mail Steam Packets
Liverpool Eng. - Halifax N.S.
Boston, U. States of America

The Boston Cup originally had a lid on it. Stamped inside the foot, on the bottom of the Cup is “O RICH” in gothic letters above a griffin facing left, with “BOSTON” below, in a circular enclosure with concave sides; and on the base is a silver label inscribed with “Manufactured by Lows, Ball & Co. Boston USA.”
The Boston Cup

Subscriptions were taken for a public dinner in Samuel Cunard's honour that was planned for his arrival in Boston aboard Britannia. An enormous canvas pavilion or tent was spread from the roof on the south side of the East Boston Hotel over an area large enough to contain tables for two thousand guests. The long balconies on the south side of the hotel could be used by the ladies, who could not otherwise have been accommodated. Columns supporting the tent were wreathed with evergreens and bouquets of flowers. In the middle, an arch was erected with the single word “Cunard” inscribed on it in gold. To the right was a painted canvas of the American eagle and the name Fulton and to the left, another with the British arms and the name Watt, commemorating the importance of the invention of the steam engine to the event at hand. People came by day and night to inspect the pavilion and “gape in astonishment” at the size and beauty of the banners and emblems embellishing it.

Britannia arrived in Boston around 2200 hours on 18 July and cannons were fired in salute from the Cunard Wharf and the revenue cutter Hamilton, which was illuminated and dressed in flags. In spite of the hour crowds gathered at the wharf to welcome the ship, Samuel Cunard and the “freshest news ever to arrive in Boston from England.”

The festival to celebrate the arrival began at 1400 on 21 July. The subscribers to the dinner and honoured guests assembled at the Cunard Wharf and toured Britannia before following the Boston Brigade band as it marched to the pavilion. A “good” dinner was enjoyed and then the toasts began. Josiah Quincy, “President of the Day,” drank to Samuel Cunard’s good health, happiness and prosperity. A new rendition of “Rule Britannia” was played and, to cheers, more toasts followed – to Queen Victoria, to Captain Woodruff, to the British Ambassador, to Watt and Franklin, and to the city of Boston. In his sermon, Ezra Gannett proclaimed, “I confess that no event which has occurred since the commencement of the present Century seems to me to have involved more important consequences to this city.”

Samuel Cunard himself was to have spoken at the public dinner, but he was a shy and diffident man. He rose and, barely audible, thanked the crowd but said that as he was unaccustomed to public speaking, he wouldn’t. And he sat down. He was then presented with the Boston Cup but had to return it to Lows, Ball & Company straight after the dinner as it wasn’t quite finished. When it was re-presented, or whether Samuel Cunard ever saw it again, is unknown.

In 1967 the Cunard Deputy Chairman “found” the Boston Cup in an antiques shop in Maryland (without its lid) and it was re-presented to Cunard and placed aboard Franconia when she made the first Cunard visit to Boston since World War II, to bring it to the U.K. In the mid 1970s, the Cup was placed on display aboard QE2 and remained there until it was presented to Queen Mary 2 in May 2004.

The Boston Cup is surely one of Cunard’s greatest treasures and is shrouded in a great deal of mystery.

Within a short period of time, Cunard had boosted the economy of the eastern seaboard, and the company's relentlessly reliable connection to Britain made the distant so much nearer. The service into Boston increased the city’s prosperity, its population soared by 39,000 between 1840 and 1845, its trade doubled, the city's foreign business doubled, and to Boston came new workers and great prosperity. In ten years Cunard paid the amazing sum of $10 million in dues to United States Customs.

Britannia stuck in the ice during Boston Harbor visit in 1840

What Samuel Cunard did for Boston, Boston never forgot when, on 30 January 1844, the people awoke to a strange and awesome sight. The entire Boston harbour was a solid sea of ice, and wedged in tight, helpless and unable to turn a paddle, was Britannia, "Boston's most beloved ship."

Her sailing date was only three days away and, with 65 passengers booked, she was carrying the all-important mail. The Admiralty Contract which Samuel Cunard had bravely taken on had stipulated penalties of £15,000 for each missed sailing and £500 for every 12-hour delay. Four late arrivals, statistically possible with untried technology on the Atlantic, would have completely wiped out the annual £55,000 subsidy.

A great wave of sympathy and friendliness toward Britannia's plight "swept the people." Boston Mayor Martin Brimmer called on the Selectmen and the Merchants to a hurried Council at the Exchange. Mayor Brimmer declared money had to be raised to cut Britannia out of the ice: "There must be no expense to Mr. Cunard." A total of $3,000 was raised immediately, and at dawn on 1 February 1,500 men were hard at work with horses and ploughs, picks and axes and apparatus of every sort. Thousands turned out on the ice on skates to watch and cheer, and there were horse-sledges and boats on runners and tents for refreshments. The third day "saw the miracle performed" – the people of Boston had cut a great canal in the ice, 10 miles long and 200 feet wide.

Britannia was free. Samuel Cunard offered $1,500 toward the cost, but the city rejected his offer.

Boston and Cunard will always share a special relationship, and the Boston Cup will sail on future Cunard flagships symbolising this link forever.

Source: Cunard Line
Photos courtesy of Cunard Line. All rights reserved. May not be copied or used without permission.