Stories of Early Steamships

With History of 

Transatlantic Voyage and Ellis Island

A Timeless Monk And ...


Swami Vivekananda was an Indian Monk who first took Vedanta Philosophy to the West when he attended the World’s Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893. For those yet to know who exactly this Monk was may note that a simple search with his name in any browser shall bring about no less than ten million responses in less than 60 seconds. During the last decade of the nineteenth century Vivekananda had twice been to America and Europe, where he ceaselessly moved from one place to another and delivered his message for slightly less than five years for which mankind would seemingly remember him forever. His travels kept him afloat on the Seven Seas aboard ten great steamships of giant companies. Here a broad canvas is made available with the history of those ships that took him around the world during his two Western sojourns


When the Swami left Bombay for his first West-bound voyage on 31 May 1893, Indian History was utterly unaware that this journey would open its vistas to episodes of unlimited impact. Vivekananda was waved off by two men, Munshi Jagmohanlal, the private secretary of an Indian Raja; and Alasinga Perumal, a South Indian school teacher. The latter, foremost among his early admirers in Madras, was instrumental in making the voyage possible. Both the men accompanied the Swami up the gangway and remained on board till the final hour came when they prostrated themselves before their beloved Swami in final salutation and left the ship with moist eyes. The Ship chugged out of the port with the monk who, barring those having had interacted with him meanwhile around the country, was almost unknown in the subcontinent he always referred to as ‘My India’. The following nine grueling years tasted every ounce of his physical and mental stamina. But he kept the prophecy he had made a few years back while leaving Benares, ‘…[I] shall not return until I have burst on society like a bomb-shell…’. Posterity raised him to immortality for his spiritual abundance and, more so, for what he gave to mankind during those nine exhausting years. But before leaving the earth he knew that what he gave would never wane.

The Burgeoning Steamships

History has it that: ‘On July 4, 1840, Britannia, the first ship under the Cunard name [Cunard Line], left Liverpool with a cow on board to supply fresh milk to the passengers on the 14-day transatlantic crossing. The advent of pleasure cruises is linked to the year 1844, and a new industry began. During the 1850s and 1860s there was a dramatic improvement in the quality of the voyage for passengers. Ships began to cater solely to passengers, rather than to cargo or mail contracts, and added luxuries like electric lights, more deck space, and entertainment. … The endorsement by the British Medical Journal of sea voyages for curative purposes in the 1880s further encouraged the public to take leisurely pleasure cruises as well as transatlantic travel.’
Besides, ‘The steamship, by virtue of its regularity even more than speed, revolutionized world-wide mail communications and there was no prouder vessel than bearing the imposing prefix “R.M.S.”, Royal Mail Steamship, “conveying the Mails and Dispatches, under contract with Her Majesty’s Government.” For the traveler, taking passage in an R.M.S. meant safety and speed, and promised the Victorian virtues of seasoned British officers, stout seamen, whether from Bristol or Bengal, a plentiful bill of fare and an irreproachable dignity derived from sailing with the English Mails.’

© : Somenath Mukherjee (See MORE )​