In the years before the great "superliners" such as the Mauretania, Imperator and Olympic were even dreamt up, smaller passenger liners with limited capacities plied the North Atlantic in a constant competition for profit and prestige. In fact, this constant game of one-upmanship even pre-dates the coveted Blue Riband of the Atlantic; once metal hulls replaced those of wood, shipping lines were able to utilize newly expanded design limitations to trump one another.
The RMS Oceanic entered service during this period, her title as the world's largest liner gaining a surge of popularity - and business - for two years. Despite losing the record to White Star Line fleet-mate RMS Celtic in 1901, Oceanic continued to be adored by the travelling public for her comfort, refined elegance and sleek lines. Her gorgeous twin funnels, being extremely tall and narrow, were a defining feature that evoked an air of dignity and majesty about the 700-foot vessel.
Oceanic's interiors were utterly spellbinding. Very little captured imagery remains, given the infancy of photography at the time. However, from the few lucky shots of her interiors made available, one can gain a sense of the sheer brilliance of her design. Even Kaiser Wilhelm II, White Star Line's rival in shipbuilding, is quoted to have called Oceanic "a marvel of perfection in building and fittings" upon seeing the recently completed liner. Not even the tiniest, most irrelevant details were left untreated with a meticulous eye for intricacy and craftsmanship. Even her smoking room, which would invite the residue of many a cigar, was subject to a near-insane amount of detailed woodworking and decoration.
Public spaces such as the library and dining rooms, with their domed ceilings and fine woodwork, were well-received by the public as well as the competition. Known affectionately as "The Queen of the Seas", Oceanic was a favourite of many - except for perhaps some of the crew. Despite her fine furnishings and elegant atmosphere, there was trouble below decks. She was the first White Star liner subject to a mutiny; in 1905, 35 stokers were upset with the liner's officers over the working conditions onboard, resulting in their conviction and imprisonment.
Oceanic encountered her fair share of mishaps and events, one of which was her accidental ramming and sinking of the Waterford Steamship Company vessel SS Kincora. She sliced into the vessel in thick fog, killing seven. near-involvement in the RMS Titanic's maiden voyage mishap with the liner New York. The sheer size of the famous luxury liner resulted in the New York being sucked in towards her stern, snapping free from her mooring lines. Oceanic was docked beside New York, and those onboard bore witness to what could have actually been an accident that might have saved Titanic from an even worse fate. Oceanic, ironically, recovered 3 bodies in Collapsable A from the doomed liner's sinking in May 1912.
Oceanic was commissioned as an armed merchant cruiser in 8 August 1914 under orders from the Admiralty. Fitted with 4.7 inch guns, she departed Southampton on naval service. She only lasted two weeks. Due to poor, ill-informed judgement pertaining to the charting of her course, the newly designated HMS Oceanic slammed into the notorious Shaalds of Foula on 8 September 1914, a reef known to rest just feet under the surface off the isle of Foula in the Shetlands that is nearly impossible to identify in calm seas. The ship ran directly onto the Shaalds and was a total loss - the first Allied passenger vessel casualty of the First World War. She was cut down to the water level in 1924 by salvagers, and the last remnants of her strong hull were removed in 1979. Yet even today, divers can visit the very little that remains of the Oceanic, though it isn't a recommended dive for novices.
The legacy of the Oceanic is in her lasting appeal. She, in my opinion, was one of the most innocently beautiful liners and was the mascot for the furious yet friendly competition between shipping lines until it turned ugly and became a tool of war. Indeed, innocence is a lost art. The second White Star Liner to bear this name, RMS Oceanic of 1899 will remain one of the most respected and majestic ocean liners of the age - an age which has long since passed.
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Photo Credit (unless stated otherwise): Wikimedia Commons