John Pilkington, son of the Pilkington Glass Company’s founder Christopher Pilkington, established the White Star Line in 1845. The company originally operated packet sailings to the East Coast of the USA and started using the White Star name in 1849.
When the Australian Gold Rush was underway in 1852, it was estimated that between the years of 1852 to 1857, 226,000 people left Britain to find their fortune in the Australian gold fields. The first vessels of the White Star fleet were chartered sailing ships for the Liverpool to Melbourne route. One such ship that plyed the trade was the White Star chartered iron clipper RMS Tayleur.
RMS Tayleur, a new-iron hulled ship was constructed at the Tayleur & Company’s Bank Quay shipyard at Warrington. She was a little under 2000 in tonnage, had four decks with the capacity to carry around 650 passengers, as well as 1,900 tons of cargo. When she was launched and set sail from Warrington for Liverpool on the 4th of October 1853 there was much celebration and pride expressed by the local community. She subsequently made her maiden voyage from Liverpool to Melbourne Australia, on the 19th of January 1854, with 652 passengers and crew.
On leaving Liverpool on her maiden voyage, it became apparent when leaving the Mersey that the ship’s compass readings were not accurate, and became particularly clear when she hit very rough weather. It became almost impossible for the crew to steer the ship and instead of travelling south, the ship was travelling west when the gale blew up and she found herself off the coast of Ireland, at Lamby Island, north of Dublin Bay, where she foundered after hitting rocks with the loss of 372 lives. Anchors had been weighed but the line broke resulting in her being dashed against the rocks. Some passengers scrambled with much difficulty onto the rocks and survived, but many families having left Liverpool with so much ambition for the their futures, disappeared below the waves on the 21st of January 1854.
The disaster, of which we now know White Star had more to come, was by the Board of Trade stated to have been caused by the iron hull affecting the ship’s compasses causing them to be read incorrectly. The rudder also was a new design that had not been adequately tested on this type of ship.
It was in 1867 that Thomas Henry Ismay, aged 30, purchased the old White Star Line from the managing owner of the existing fleet of mostly wooden clippers, with the intention to progressively move forward to constructing ships made of iron only. This was the beginning of the special relationship with Harland & Wolff the Belfast shipbuilder, who built so many ships for the White Star Line. It was the same decade that Joseph Bell, Chief Engineer of the RMS Titanic was born – on the 12th of March 1861, also the American Civil War began in April 1861 and hostilities continued until 1865.