Online exhibition illustrates 100 years of Cunard

Renowned photographer Mary McCartney curates online exhibition illustrating 100 years of amazing images from Cunard – the cruise line that was founded in Liverpool. Tony McDonough reports

Elizabeth Taylor
Film star Elizabeth Taylor aboard Cunard vessel Queen Mary. Picture from Cunard


A new online exhibition offering a fascinating glimpse into 100 years of cruise line Cunard – a company that has a long history with Liverpool.

Renowned photographer and filmmaker Mary McCartney, daughter of former Beatle Paul McCartney and late wife Linda, has sifted through countless images to curate the exhibition which opened on March 2.

Called Sea Views, it features never-before-seen imagery from the Cunard archive, together with photograph submissions from the public.

Sea Views includes glamorous and esteemed guests, from Elizabeth Taylor and Rita Hayworth to Bing Crosby and Nelson Mandela, illustrating some of Cunard’s archival gems across the century

It marks two momentous milestones in Cunard’s history – that more than 100 years ago Cunard was the first cruise line to introduce onboard photographers and the centennial anniversary of the first ever round the world voyage on Cunard’s ship, Laconia.

Originally called theBritish and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, Cunard was established in 1839 at 14 Water Street in Liverpool.

Its first ship, Britannia, set sail from the River Mersey on July 4, 1840, headed for Boston in the US via Halifax in Canada.

As the business grew it needed a new home and relocated in August 1857 to  8 Water Street, on the corner with Rumford Street. By 1877 Cunard operated 46 vessels running services across the Atlantic as well as in the Mediterranean and Black Sea.

On July 11, 1913, King George V and Her Majesty Queen Mary visited the Mauretania. This began a tradition of strong links between the royal family and the shipping line.

In 1917 Cunard completed the construction of its new waterfront headquarters, a 180,000 sq ft Cunard Building at the Pier Head. Designed by William Edward Willink and Philip Coldwell Thicknesse, it was based on the Farnese Palace in Rome, family home of Pope Paul III.

At one point more than 1,000 people were employed by Cunard in the building which also housed the ticket hall and lounge for first class passengers. Second and third class passengers were dealt with in the basement.

However, over the course of the 20th century Southampton became the centre of the British cruise industry, helped by its closer proximity to wealthy customers in London.

Cunard relocated its operations to the south coast in 1967. Now Grade II-listed, the Cunard Building is one of the Three Graces, along with the Royal Liver Building and the Port of Liverpool Building. It is now home to Liverpool City Council.


Rita Hayworth
Film star Rita Hayworth was another Cunard cruise line customer. Picture from Cunard
Canadian troops board Queen Mary in 1940 bound for Europe. Picture by Cunard
Queen Victoria
Cunard’s Queen Victoria in the Mersey for the Three Queens event in 2015. Picture by Tony McDonough


As a tribute to its original home, Cunard brought its 175th birthday celebrations to the Mersey in 2015. Its current vessels Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth all sailed into the river for the Three Queens spectacular.

Boasting images from Cunard’s photography archive together with an incredible number of photos submitted by past and present guests of its iconic cruise liners, Sea Views is a culmination of the century’s rich history.

Mary McCartney said: “Curating the Sea Views exhibition for Cunard has been a fulfilling project for me as a photographer and filmmaker.

“It was a joy to dig deep into the archives and discover never-before-seen photographs that capture the essence of Cunard’s signature moments, showcasing the glamour, elegance, and adventures families and friends shared together.

“It was not just about showcasing the history, but also celebrating the millions of travellers who have embarked on unforgettable voyages across the globe. 

“As I went through the archives and read the stories submitted by passengers from all corners of the world, I was struck by the strong sense of community and connection that Cunard has fostered over the years.”

Click here to view the Sea Views exhibition

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