SS La Touraine
The French Line
The Compagnie Générale Maritime came into being in 1855. Their initial services were limited to Rouen and Algeria, Havre and Hamburg, and Marseilles and Antwerp with calls at Spanish and Portuguese ports. In 1861 the Company changed their name to — Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (CGT), more popularly known as the French Line. They undertook the first contract to carry French mails to United States, Antilles and Mexico. The vessels engaged in their New York route were mostly built in the 1860s and were fine specimens of contemporary naval architecture. In the early 1880s demands for acceleration in speed and improvements of service brought more sophisticated and larger vessels to the Company’s fleet. This finally led to the advent of the La Touraine, the first twin-screw steamer (having two screw propellers, which usually revolve in opposite directions) of the French Line. Gradually a few more identical ships began to appear following revised terms in the postal contracts which increasingly needed larger and faster ships.
The Ship ...
Just before the 1890s, the French Line planned for a new ship that, along with higher technical abilities and improved passenger facilities, would also ensure the tradition of elegance and service. Prompted by such imperatives a new ship was launched on 23 March 1890, she was christened La Touraine. The moment La Touraine rolled out to sea leaving her mother Dock, she became the sixth largest ship ever built till then, her predecessors were the Great Eastern, City of Paris, City of New York, Majestic, and Teutonic. In her maiden voyage from Le Havre Touraine had made it to New York on 20 June 1891 in just six days, seventeen hours and thirty minutes.
The Touraine had almost instantly become one of the most popular liners on the North Atlantic with her handsome lines, two widely spaced squat funnels and appealing look. Her faster speed and outstanding steadiness even in rough weathers earned her the nick name of ‘Steady Ship’. During a transatlantic crossing in July 1892 she could clock up a record speed of 21.2 knots over the measured mile. Nonetheless, the French Line overhauled her twice in 1900 and 1902 and added bilge keels to the bottom of her hull to further stabilize the ship. As a result La Touraine, as was said during those days, became ‘as smooth as an iron over a linen cloth’. However, during the overhauling one of her three original masts was removed and her capacity to carry third class passengers was raised from 600 to 1000. Though in the process the ship’s gross tonnage went down to 8429.
While at Le Havre in January 1903, La Touraine faced a serious fire that entirely ruined her grand staircase, as well as the first class dining saloon and cabins. But when the ship resumed her service following necessary mending, she looked even more elegant. Record has it that, ‘La Touraine was one of the first French ships to boast [of] an outstanding kitchen. Just as on the much later Île de France and Normandie, she attracted gourmets from all over the world. She was also one of the first French liners to be called ‘a piece of France itself’. The company slogan at the time was “You are in France as soon as you cross the gangplank!” La Touraine was also the first ship with the modern Cabin Class — merging first and second class in 1910. In the old days, the term “Cabin Class” was associated with old, surpassed vessels, but now it started a new era. Together with the new CGT-liners Chicago and Rochambeau, La Touraine sailed into many more successful Years of French service.’ And, furthermore, ‘In 1912, La Touraine made some special Canadian voyages between Le Havre and Halifax and a year later she was placed on the Québec and Montreal summer service. During World War I, La Touraine served as an armed merchant cruiser and later as a troop ship. When the war was over she continued for some years in French Line service, but as the ship began showing signs of age, in 1922 she was sold and became a grey-hulled hotel ship in Göteborg, Sweden, during the Industrial and Agricultural Fair. For this occasion La Touraine was renamed to Maritime. In August she was again offered for sale, and two months later, in October, she was sold to the breakers at Dunkerque.’
On 17 August 1895 Vivekananda left New York aboard La Touraine for Le Havre in France, He was accompanied by Francis Howard Leggett, a highly successful and wealthy American businessman, who had meanwhile become his ardent admirer. When the ship reached Le Havre on 24 August, they took a train for Paris. The Swami remained in Paris for slightly above a fortnight before leaving for London on September 10. His lectures in London began on 22 October 1895. A letter he wrote during this time reads: ‘I had eight classes a week apart from public lectures, and they were so crowded that a good many people, even ladies of high rank, sat on the floor and did not think anything of it.’ This excludes the lectures and talks he gave on invitations at many clubs, societies and private drawing rooms. On 27 November 1895 he sailed from Liverpool aboard the SS Britannic to take up the reign of his American work once again.
SS La Touraine
The grand interior of La Touraine
Menu Card of La Touraine
Transatlantic Steamship Ticket of 1859
CGT Piers in New York in Early 1900
Le Havre in 1890s