Canadian Pacific Steamships on the Clyde

By on Sep 4, 2017 in Canadian Pacific, Clyde River and Firth, Duchess of Atholl, Duchess of Bedford, Duchess of Richmond, Duchess of York, Empress of Britain, Empress of Scotland | 0 comments

The ships of the Canadian Pacific Line were well known on the Clyde, transporting Scots to and from Canada. The company also had deeper ties, coming to the shipyards on the river for many of the fine vessels for their Atlantic and Pacific routes as well as those for coastal and lake services. What follows in this article is a brief photographic record of many of the fine ships both on the Clyde and at other locations. It is by no means comprehensive in its coverage of Company.

The Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in 1886. In 1891, the Pacific Mail contract was awarded to the Canadian Pacific Railway and they had three liners built by Vickers Naval Construction and Armament Co., at Barrow for the service from Vancouver to Japan, China and Hong Kong. The first of the three vessels was named Empress of Japan and she was followed by her sisters the Empress of China and the Empress of India. At over 5,900 tons and 455 feet long by 51 feet in the beam Empress of Japan was capable of 16 knots and had accommodation for 160 first-class passengers, 40 second-class passengers and 700 in steerage. She held the Pacific Blue Riband for almost twenty years.

Empress of Japan is seen in an Adamson photograph from a slide on trials on the Clyde and in a Gowen, Sutton postcard in service at Vancouver.

Empress of Japan on trials on Clyde (Adamson)

Empress of Japan leaving Vancouver

The weak link in the Canadian Pacific monopolizing the mail service to Hong Kong was the lack of a fast connection across the Atlantic from Liverpool to Canada. After a decade of relying on other companies to provide connections, the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company entered the Atlantic trade from Liverpool to Canada in 1903, using second-hand tonnage. The increase in emigration from Britain and Europe in general after the turn of the century allowed profits to be made even with slower ships. One of the ships was the Montrose, built at West Hartlepool by Raylton Dixon & Co. in 1897 for Elder, Dempster & Co. She had sailed in their Avonmouth to Montreal service when the company took over the service, but was requisitioned for the Boer War and in 1901 was rebuilt. Capable of just 12 knots on service, she was too slow to compete on the prestigious Liverpool route and as part of the Beaver Line subsequently moved to sailings from Antwerp and London. Montrose became famous in 1910 when the American physician, Hawley Crippen, made his escape on her to avoid arrest for his wife’s murder. He was recognized on-board after a description was sent by wireless to the vessel and arrested on arrival and subsequently convicted and hanged.


The premier service with the mail contract from Britain to Canada was provided by the Allan Line with connections through Glasgow and Liverpool. Despite calls for a “20-knot service to Canada,” there were limitations in accelerating the service as the approach to Halifax and the Gulf of St Laurence was dangerous with dense fogs and iceberg hazards. Sailing up the St Laurence to Montreal was also fraught with difficulties and limited the size of the ships that could be employed. Early in the new century, the Allan Line introduced the turbine steamers, Victorian and Virginian of their service from Liverpool to Canada, and in order to compete the Canadian Pacific Company went to Fairfield in Govan for two new fast vessels of their own. These were Empress of Britain and Empress of Ireland, not turbine steamers, but comparable in speed with the Allan Liners. Negotiations were carried out to add these two steamers to the mail contract for the Atlantic route, spelling the eventual demise of the Allan Line.

The first Empress of Britain was launched from the Fairfield Yard on November 11, 1905. At 14,200 tons she was 550 ft long she left on her maiden voyage from Liverpool to Quebec on May 5 the following year. The needs to develop the mail service put the Allan Line under considerable pressure and in 1909, the company was bought out by the Canadian Pacific, although the sale was not generally publicized and both companies continued as before, right up until 1915.

Empress of Britain at Liverpool

Empress of Britain at Liverpool

After a brief spell as an armed merchant cruiser in 1914, the Empress of Britain became a troop transport and survived the war, returning to her owners in March 1919 and being rebuilt and converted to oil fuel by her original builders in August that year. The ship was no longer able to compete as a first class liner, designated by an “Empress” name, and in April 1924 she was renamed Montroyal with her tonnage at 15,600 carrying 600 cabin class and 800 third class passengers in the European immigrant trade to Quebec. She was laid up in September 1929 and scrapped the following year. The unfortunate Empress of Ireland sank after a collision at the end of May, 1914.


Two further ships of the Empress class were added in 1912. Both came from the Fairfield yard. Empress of Russia was launched on August 28, 1912 and at 16,800 tons was 570 ft long. Her maiden voyage in April of the following year took her to the Pacific where she maintained the Asian routes from Vancouver, along with her sister ship Empress of Asia. Empress of Asia was launched on November 23, 1912 and at 16,900 tons was also 570 ft long. Her maiden voyage was in June of the following year. She remained in service until 1942 when she was sunk off Singapore. Empress of Russia survived the war but was scrapped after a fire in 1945.

Empress of Asia off Gourock (Robertson)

Empress of Asia entering Vancouver Harbour

Empress of Asia entering Vancouver Harbour

Empress of Asia leaving Vancouver Harbour

Empress of Russia fitting out at the Fairfield yard, Govan

Empress of Russia leaving Vancouver Harbour

The Canadian Pacific ordered two Cabin Class liners, Metagama and Missanabie from Barclay Curle & Co. Ltd., of Scotstoun. These were 12,400 ton ships, 500 ft long by 64 ft inbreadth. As one-class ships they did not have first-class accommodation but were designed to promote commerce at a more economic rate as immigrants and their families made frequent trips to their homeland. Metagama had an unfortunate collision on the Clyde with the steamer Baron Vernon that is the subject of an earlier article.

Metagama in Prince’s Dock

Metagama off Gourock (Robertson)


At the end of World War I, the Canadian Pacific Company acquired a number of vessels to conduct the emigrant trade. Melita was launched at Belfast in 1917 and after a period trooping, joined the trans-Atlantic trade. She was laid up in 1934 and sold to Italian owners.

Melita on the Mersey

Melita at Dalmur in 1934

Montcalm was launched at Messrs John Brown & Co., of Clydebank on July 3, 1920. She was 16,400 tons, 546 ft long by 70 ft in breadth. She was a handy ship that served as an armed merchant cruiser in the Second World War and was broken up at Faslane in 1952. A sister ship, Montclare, followed from Clydebank the following year. Launched on December 18, 1921, she also served as an armed merchant cruiser and later became a submarine depot ship. She was a familiar site in Rothesay Bay where the flotilla was stationed between 1947 and 1951. Montclare was broken up at Inverkeithing in 1958. She had the unfortunate experience of running aground on Little Cumbrae on March 22, 1931, when her 300 passengers had to be taken off. She was reflected by tugs with little damage.


Montcalm on the Mersey on August 10, 1934

Montcalm on the Clyde (Robertson)


Montclare aground off Little Cumbrae in 1931

Montclare at Rothesay in 1951 (Valentine)

In 1917, Canadian Pacific had taken over the Allan Line’s 1913 Beardmore built 18481 ton Alsatian that was serving as an armed merchant cruiser. In 1919 she was rebuilt and renamed Empress of France, lasting till 1935 when she was broken up at Damuir.

Empress of France (ex Alsatian) (Gieves)

Empress of France (ex Alsatian) (NPA) 

Empress of France (ex Alsatian)

Empress of France at Govan with Anchises in 1934 awaiting demolition

The Admiral von Tirpitz at 21,800 tons and launched in 1913 was acquired as part of war reparations in June 1921, and after refitting was renamed Empress of Australia to be used for the Pacific routes. She was given new engines at Fairfields in 1926 and survived trooping duties in World War II to be scrapped in 1952.

Empress of Australia coming down the Clyde with the tugs Flying Serpent and Flying Condor

Empress of Australia off Gourock (Robertson)

A third addition, built as the Kaiserin Auguste Victoria in 1905, was renamed Empress of Scotland in 1922. The Prinz Friedrich Wilhelm built in 1907 was briefly named successively Empress of China, then Empress of India before becoming Montlaurier in 1922.

Empress of Scotland

Montlaurier off Gourock (Roberson)

Other liners of the Allan Line that survived the war were renamed towards the end of 1922. Corsican became Marvale, Scotian became Marglen, Tunisian became Marburn, and Victorian became Marloch. These were all cabin-class steamers.


There was also new building at the Fairfield yard after the war. The Empress of Canada came down the ways on August 17, 1920. At 21,500 tons, she was 625 ft long by 78 ft in the beam and was designed for the Pacific service.

Empress of Canada fitting out at Govan

Empress of Canada off Gourock (Robertson)

Empress of Canada leaving Vancouver

Empress of Canada with the Steele and Bennie tug Wrestler off Gourock (Roberson)

Trade expanded during the 1920s and the demand for cabin-class was met by orders for four “Duchess” vessels. Duchess of Atholl was launched at the Dalmuir yard of Messrs William Beardmore & Co. on November 23, 1927. Like her sisters, she was 582 ft in length by 75 in the beam and 20,100 tons. The Duchesses could accommodate 580 cabin class, 486 tourist class and 500 third-class passengers, and were used on the Atlantic service and cruising duties out of New York.

Duchess of Atholl off Gourock (Robertson)

Duchess of Atholl

The other three came from the Clydebank yard of Messrs John Brown & Co. Duchess of Bedford was launched on January 24, 1928 and was the first into service on the first of June the following year. Duchess of Richmond followed her into the water on June 18, and the last of the sisters, Duchess of York on September 28.

Duchess of Bedford off Greenock

Duchess of Bedford off Gourock (Robertson)

Launch of Duchess of Richmond in 1928

Duchess of Richmond

Duchess of York of the Tail of the Bank

Duchess of York off Gourock (Robertson

Duchess of York

Duchess of York heading off down the Firth

All were requisitioned for trooping duties in World War II, and only the Duchess of Bedford and Duchess of Richmond survived the emergency. After refitting at Fairfields the former was renamed Empress of France and the latter Empress of Canada. The Empress of Canada was destroyed by fire at Liverpool in January 1953 and the Empress of France was withdrawn and scrapped in 1960.

As the Great Depression hit world trade, the Canadian Pacific Company added two more memorable vessels. A new Empress of Japan for the Pacific service was launched at the Fairfield yard on December 17, 1929. She was 644 ft in length and 84 ft in breadth and 26,000 tons. In August of the following year, she took up her duties on the Pacific and served until requisitioned as a troop ship during World War II in November 1939. She was renamed Empress of Scotland in 1942 and survived the war, going on to the Atlantic service in the 1950s. She was sold to the Hamburg-Atlantic Line in January 1958 and was renamed Hanseatic.

Empress of Japan fitting out at Govan

Empress of Japan leaving Vancouver

From the Clydebank yard of Messrs John Brown & Co. came the flagship Empress of Britain which at 42,300 tons was the largest in the fleet. She was 733 ft in length by 98 ft in breadth and was launched on June 11, 1930. Empress of Britain was designed for the Quebec service from Southampton and also undertook cruising duties until requisitions for war service in November 1939. She was sunk at the end of October, 1940.

Empress of Britain under construction (Canadian Pacific)

Empress of Britain ready for launch (Canadian Pacific)

Launch of Empress of Britain (Canadian Pacific)

Tugs moving Empress of Britain to fitting out berth (Canadian Pacific)

Leaving Clydebank for the last time

Empress of Britain passing Dalmuir

Empress of Britain passing Bowling (Canadian Pacific)

Empress of Britain passing Bowling

Empress of Britain off Port Glasgow

The Second World War took a heavy toll on the Canadian Pacific. Empress of Scotland and Empress of France maintained the Atlantic crossing until new building was approved in the mid-1950s. New funnel colorings were adopted with a red and white checkered motif. Vessels on tender duties also sported the checkered flag on their masthead.

A Maid on Canadian Pacific tender duties off Greenock

Empress of France at Fairfield August 20, 1948

Empress of France

Empress of France on the Clyde

Empress of Scotland

Empress of Scotland with Franconia off Greenock

Off Greenock

Empress of Scotland off the Cowal shore on June 19, 1954

Building the first of the new vessels, Empress of Britain, was allocated to the Fairfield Co. of Govan. At 25,500 tons, she was 640 ft long by 85 ft on the beam and was launched  on June 22, 1955.

Empress of Britain at Fairfield May 21, 1955

Launch of Empress of Britain at Fairfield June 22, 1955

Empress of Britain fitting out at Govan September 24, 1955

Empress of Britain in King George V Dock

Empress of Britain in King George V Dock

Empress of Britain in King George V Dock

In service, the new Empress of Britain partnered with Empress of Scotland until she was joined by her consort Empress of England, built on the Tyne in 1956. Empress of Canada was also built on the Tyne in 1960.

Empress of Britain off Greenock, June 27, 1959

Empress of Britain off Greenock

Empress of England off Greenock on May 20, 1960

Jeanie Deans tendering Empress of England off Greenock Esplanade (Fitzwilliams)

Musk, George; Canadian Pacific, Holt Rinehart and Winston of Canada Ltd, Toronto, 1981.

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