(Image: MaritimeDigital Archive, public domain)
Despite visiting New York City on several occasions, I’ve yet make it to Ellis Island, where my great grandfather landed on April 5th, 1906. But when a friend told me of the Ellis Island Foundation, I did some digging and sure enough, there he was! Twenty two-year-old Englishman Thomas Hillman from Morecambe, Lancashire, sailed from Liverpool to New York aboard RMS Carmania, which, as it turns out, had a rather rich history.
Built for Cunard Line by John Brown & Company of Clydebank, RMS Carmania was launched on February 21st, 1905. Designed to compete for the coveted Blue Riband, Carmania and her sister ship Caronia were the largest vessels in the Cunard fleet at the time of launch. Sailing the Liverpool-New York route from 1905 to 1910, she suffered a major fire that year but was repaired in time to rescue survivors of SS Volturno (which caught fire and sank in a storm) in October 1913 under the command of Captain James Clayton Barr (above).
During World War One Carmania was converted into an armed merchant cruiser sporting eight 4.7 inch guns. Based in Bermuda, her crowning glory came when she engaged and sank the German merchant cruiser SMS Cap Trafalgar (above left) at the Battle of Trindade (above top). Despite extensive damage (above right) and casualties, Carmania crossed the Atlantic to Gibraltar for repairs and spent the next two years patrolling the coast of Portugal and the Atlantic Islands, before steaming to Gallipoli.
(Image: author unknown, public domain)
Ending her wartime service as a troop ship tasked with transporting Canadian soldiers home from Europe, Carmania’s grand internal features were finally refitted in 1923 and passenger service resumed. Less than a decade later, in 1932, the decorated liner was broken-up by Hughes Bolckow & Co. of Blyth, Northumberland. (Above: sister ship RMS Caronia.)
As for my great grandfather, he worked on Grand Central Terminal, started drinking for the first time during Prohibition and finally returned to Europe to fight in the Great War. Eventually, he set-up a building company in Lancashire with the money he’d saved in New York. And thanks to that experience, the main thoroughfare through his home town Morecambe proudly bears the name Broadway. (Captain J.C. Barr later took charge of RMS Carpathia, the ship that rescued the Titanic survivors.)
If you enjoyed this article, don’t miss our feature on Titanic: The Rise, the Fall and the Birth of a Legend