A Look Back At Thomas Cook – The Early Pioneers Of Cruising – A Brief History.

With the recent closure of travel industry giant Thomas Cook, I thought I’d take a look back to a time that truly showed Thomas Cook as the pioneers of cruising as we know it today. Not a lot of people know that while it never operated its own cruise ships, like recent days competitor Thomson Holidays, Thomas Cook nevertheless had a significant impact on the early days of cruising. From organising its first cruise to Norway’s North Cape in 1875, using the chartered Norwegian barque President Christie, to organising full World Cruises from 1925. In 1880, not long after its first North Cape cruise, Thomas Cook found itself promoting cruises from New York to Bermuda, the West Indies, and Canada.

Early Days To Bermuda.

In 1880, one of Thomas Cook’s main suppliers in North America became the Quebec Steamship Company. With the arrival of the Intercolonial Railway at Halifax, the Quebec & Gulf Ports Steamship Co, now rebranded, introduced two new ships to the New York-Bermuda-West Indies run, both purpose-built for the trade. Around this time, the company appointed Thomas Cook & Sons as its passenger agents, replacing Stevenson & Leve. The Orinoco appeared in 1881, and the Trinidad in 1885.

By 1888-89, the Quebec Steamship Co’s “Bermuda & West Indies” schedule was advertising weekly winter sailings. A departure by one of the two ships from New York’s Pier 47 every Thursday, would arrive in Bermuda on Sunday. The line’s schedules beckoned tourists: “For a delightful winter excursion, the trip to Bermuda has not it’s equal. A short, refreshing ocean sail in one of these strong and elegantly equipped steamers will transpose you from the rigid and unpleasant winter weather to the balmy clime of the southern seas, to an island famed for its scenery and clad in the freshest verdure of spring.”

West Indies Cruises From New York.

In 1894 the Quebec Steamship Co began operating what it called “Special Cruises” from New York to the Windward Islands of the Caribbean, which it began to offer every January and February. The usual itinerary included St Thomas, St Croix, St Kitts, Antigua, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St Lucia, Barbados, St Vincent, Demerara (British Guiana) and, starting in 1895, Jamaica. Again with Thomas Cook in the foreground as passenger agents.

The 1895 “Winter Cruises” brochure described their success: “During the Winter season 1893-94, Madiana made a series of cruises to the West Indies, and during the past summer, the Orinoco performed a similar service to the Maritime Provinces of Canada. These cruises were eminently successful in every possible way, and afforded unbounded satisfaction and pleasure to the participants.”

With fares between $130 and $275 per passenger, soon rising to a minimum of $150, these cruises were for the well off. They were successful enough, however, that in 1895 the company dedicated three ships, the Madiana, the Orinoco and the Caribbée, to make one cruise each, all departing in February.

By 1896, five departures were offered, starting with the Madiana on January 10, and running through to March 17. Further on, discussing the service, the 1895 brochure added that: “The cuisine will be of the highest character, and the food provided the very best the markets afford. This department is in competent hands, the chief stewards are of French nationality. And have had many years’ experience in the company’s service. They will be assisted by a large and efficient staff, all speaking French as well as English.”

Summer Cruising To The Gulf of St Lawrence.

The Orinoco’s 1894 cruise from New York to St Lawrence had set out for Saint John, Halifax, Charlottetown, Gaspé, Tadoussac, the Saguenay River, and Quebec. By this time Thomas Cook was operating from offices in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco. The 1894 cruise was so successful that the company decided to schedule the Orinoco for more summer cruises from New York to Quebec in July and August 1895. Meanwhile, the company continued to advertise the Miramichi, its mainstay in St Lawrence, as its “St Lawrence Line to Maritime Provinces”.

1894: The Bermuda Line.

In 1894, the Quebec Steamship Co introduced dedicated service to Bermuda when a newly rebuilt Trinidad opened a separate New York-Bermuda shuttle without continuing to the West Indies. Her length overall had been increased from 270 feet to 320 feet, and she received a second funnel in the process. When the Quebec Steamship Co purchased the Pretoria from Britain’s Union Line in 1897, she was engaged primarily to the West Indies, and especially on the winter cruises from New York. While she did later sail to Bermuda, the Trinidad and Orinoco kept their places as the regular Bermuda ships. The purpose-built Bermudian followed in 1905 and became the first ship of the Furness Bermuda Line when Furness Withy & Co purchased the Quebec Steamship Co in 1919.

And so it went, with Thomas Cook relying on its widespread network around North America to book new cruise passengers to Bermuda, the West Indies, and St Lawrence. These same offices would be booking World Cruises from 1925 on. Founded in 1841, today Thomas Cook is no more.

Not a lot of people know that.

Bye for now.

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About Me

Hi there, Having recently reached the landmark age of 40 (which of course we all know is the new 30), and having just packed my son off to school for the first time this week, I was thinking to myself at which point did I become so sensible, responsible and…

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