Raymond Whitcomb

(A collaboration between the author and Kevin Griffin Managing Director The Cruise People, London)

In writing Penguins and Polar Bears, I referenced Tourist Third Cabin: Steamship Travel in the Interwar Years. However, I quickly found that the book was really about steamship company labour practices, and only had minimal value with some information, early on in the book, to US immigration acts. I recently made another effort at reading it, and found that it was largely based on material from the Cunard archive, with some input from French sources. I still did not finish the book, and really cannot recommend it. Buried on pp117, in a discussion regarding women at sea, was a very brief reference to a US travel company, Raymond & Whitcomb (R&W) and a North Cape cruise in 1937 with the Franconia.

Penguins does in fact reference 45day North Cape Cunard cruises on the Franconia and Carmania during the interwar years, see pp43. It would seem that at least the Franconia was operated under charter, or in cooperation with R&W. It is possible that the Carmania, like the Carinthia, was used in some years.

The company had not come up in any other sources, which I realized in retrospect focused on European lines. I had assumed from this that Americans were generally not interested in polar travel1, although some did. In researching the company, I found that Walter Raymond and Irvine Whitcomb established it in 1879 in Boston, and that they organized North Cape cruises from 1921 through 1939. Kevin Griffin, who provided information from his archives for Penguins, found many original references to the company and the ships it used. He also sent me this note from his book about Clarke Steamship:

Raymond-Whitcomb, whose New York office was a block from Clarke’s on Fifth Avenue, no longer had access to the European liners it had been using. In 1939, it had run the Normandie, now laid up in New York, down to Rio de Janeiro for Mardi Gras and other ships to the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and the North Cape. It had also chartered the 32,583-ton Roma from the Italian Line for a couple of summer cruises from New York to Boston, Bar Harbor, Gaspé, Quebec, the Saguenay and Bermuda. But for 1940, it had to turn to Clarke to put together a summer program of ten cruises with the New Northland to accommodate 1,750 travellers, or about 75 per cent more than the Roma had carried in 1939. These cruises were a first for the New Northland. With the exception of weekend Saguenay excursions, her St Lawrence cruises had always been longer. She would now leave Montreal every Saturday until August 31, finishing her last cruise in Montreal on September 7.

It is not entirely clear from the material retrieved on line whether R&W chartered the ships used, or booked space on an existing cruise. However, as Kevin notes above, they certainly chartered ships when opportunities arose. There does not appear to be any history of the company, although Kevin did advise me that the company chartered the Regina Renaissance2, ex-Renaissance 7 and that she had replaced the 1929-built Argonaut, which they had been using since 1967. Regina Renaissance now sails for Noble Caledonia as the Hebridean Sky. The Regina Renaissance charter ended in 1998, and it would appear that in later years, possibly from 1967 onwards, the company offered cruises exclusively to members of the Smithsonian Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art, although a 1986 advertisement3 indicates that they also worked with the American Geographical Society. It was how the company promoted these cruises between 1992 and 1996 that appears to have led to its downfall. On 19 June 1999 there was a summary judgment, in favour of the US Postal Service, against to company for U$398,960.05 for using a special non-profit mailing rate rather than third class mail for 6.1million pieces of mail4.

Ephemera is scattered among several US institutions and there does not appear to be a central repository of information about the company. If any readers can provide additional information this would be welcome.

A few pieces about Raymond and Whitcomb North Cape cruises retrieved from the internet are reproduced on the following pages; the first illustration gives an idea of the extent of their activities. Available information on cruise ships and itineraries to the North Cape, by year, is given below.

1921 Emperor of India5 North Cape, Scandinavia and Continental Ports and Scotland

1922 Osterley6

1923 Araguaya7

1924 Franconia

1925 Franconia8 Iceland, North Cape, Norwegian Fjords, Sweden, Denmark, Holland

1929 Franconia9 Reykjavik, Hammerfest & North Cape, Lyngen, Trondheim, Fjords, Bergen

1930 Carinthia Iceland, Midnight Sun the Norwegian Fjords, and Cities, Leningrad, Moscow, Sweden, Denmark.

1931 Carinthia Includes two days in Leningrad and two in Moscow.

1937 Franconia

No information available on other years. It appears that Russia was added from 1930. All North Cape Cruises commenced at the end of June. It is only in a single advertisement for the Franconia 1925 cruise that reference is made to “return home at any time”, implying passage on a transatlantic vessel from the UK to New York

There is some confusion over the name of the ship that the company used in 1921. An advertisement (see later) states that it was the P&O liner Emperor of India, or Kaiser-i-Hind. However, the Hindi name translates as Empress of India, not Emperor, see the picture below of Kaiser-i-Hind from www.ssmaritime.com

The web site also states that Cunard10 chartered the Kaiser-i-Hindi from P&O in June 1921 and renamed her Emperor of India. Probably a necessary name change as Cunard also had the Canadian Pacific liner Empress of India on charter from August 1921 to March 1922, when she returned to CP on the Liverpool to Quebec City route as Montlaurier. She had been chartered to replace the Mauritania, which suffered a fire on E Deck in late July 1921, and was sent to Liverpool for repairs and conversion to oil firing.

Sleuthing by Kevin Griffin, and some rationalization by the author suggests the following scenario11:

  • R&W approached Cunard to charter the Mauretania, but Cunard declined and offered the Kaisar-i-Hind as an alternative. We do not know why the ship was available12, but its appointments made it quite attractive for cruising. See the smoking room photograph below.

  • The North Cape cruise was successfully completed and terminated in Tilbury.

  • The ship undertook four to five voyages13 for Cunard, which is consistent with ssmaritime stating that ship returned to P&O at the end of December 1921.

 

 

The interior appointments of the ship, even though built in 1914, were very similar to P&O’s Viceroy of India (built1929), and would make her eminently suitable for cruising. Compare the photograph below from ssmaritime with the photograph in Penguins and Polar Bears of the Viceroy of India Smoking Room on page 42.

P&O records for the ship state that in 1921 Cunard chartered the ship for at least one round North Atlantic trip, and for a charter to The American Tourist Company. No such company can be found, and it may be the original record noted (as with the Osterley) that there was a charter to an American tourist company, without naming R&W. There are further errors in both P&O and ssmaritime, as the article in:

https://www.atsu.edu/museum-of-osteopathic-medicine/wp-Content/uploads/2019/04/Osteopathic%20Physician/TheOsteopathicPhysicianVol40No4Oct1921.pdf about the cruise by Dr Riley does not support the assertion of constant fog, nor that there was a stokehold explosion that killed three Indian firemen, and badly scalded four engineers. This may have occurred on another voyage for Cunard, but we don’t know what these were.

 

 

Interestingly, the cruise terminated at Tilbury, and we presume that guests were able to take passage back to New York on another Cunard ship. See the comment on pp2 above regarding the 1925 cruise. Dr and Mrs. Riley flew to Paris, and returned later on the Berengaria. This was the modus operandi for the Caronia cruises that commenced in 1951. The cruises started in New York, terminated in Southampton; included in the cruise fare was a passage home on one of the Queens. See pp51 in Penguins.

Kevin Griffin further advised that Cunard’s Mauretania was to undertake a North Cape and Fjords cruise from Britain 01-22 June 196514. Ports of call were Oslo, Bergen. Reykjavik. It was described as Cunard’s first sailing from Britain to the Fjords since 193915. This suggests that Cunard undertook such sailings from Britain in the pre-war years. It is interesting to speculate whether Cunard ran a Fjords cruise in 1921 following the one for R&W on the Kaisar-i-Hind during which the stokehold explosion occurred. If they did, it was not a regular occurrence as the list of cruises from Britain between 01 May and mid-July for 1936 in Ian Collard’s British Cruise Ship does not have a Cunard White Star northern sailing. This suggests that Cunard may have used the ship in 1921 for cruises to the Mediterranean, Spain and North Africa, which they were doing in 1936.

Ships used by Raymond and Whitcomb during the interwar period

Name

Built

GRT

1st Class

2nd Class

Primary Service

Emperor of India

1914

11,430

315

233

UK/Bombay

Osterley

1909

12,129

282

130

UK/Australia

Franconia

1923

20,175

221

356

Liverpool/ New York

Carinthia

1925

20,277

240

460

Liverpool/ New York

Araguaya

1906

10,537

285

100

UK/South America

Kludas notes that both Franconia and Carinthia were used extensively for cruising. Araguaya refitted 1920, but not converted to cruising until 1926. 3rd Class and Tourist numbers omitted from all ships.

Note from the following advertisements that R&W usually limited the passenger complement to 400.

 

 

 

 

 

1 Other companies involved in US cruise travel were Thomas Cook, FC Clark, Frank Tourist Company. Not known whether they offered North Cape cruise; research is ongoing.

2 Internet sources indicate that the ship was under charter to Raymond Whitcomb (incorrectly Raymond & White in Wikipedia) from 1992 to 1998.

3 A 28 day Viking exploration cruise in an un named Royal Viking Ship.

4 U.S. vs. Raymond Whitcomb Southern District of New York, New York City. https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp2/53/436/2290181/

5 See note at the end of this piece.

6 An Orient Line ship built 1909, scrapped 1930. P&O had a major shareholding in Orient Lines from 1919 and their ship fact sheet notes that an American tourist agency chartered her for three North Cape cruises in 1922

7 A Royal Mail Lines ship

8 Fifty-nine page booklet available in HathiTrust Digital Library, Ann Arbor MI

9 Diary of July 8-19 portion of the cruise by Camille Cross in NY Public Libraries.

10 I have contacted the Cunard Archive at University of Liverpool, but the auto response did not give me confidence I would receive an early reply.

11 Note that both the official P&O history for the ship, and ssmaritime appear to be in error. I have contacted the P&O Archivist, but again an early response may not be forthcoming.

12 British families in India tended to sail home in the late spring to avoid the heat of the Indian summer, returning in the autumn. Thus there could have been a lull in passage demand during the northern summer. Also, the P&O Fact Sheet notes that the ship operated seasonally on the UK/Bombay route. Based on the tenure of Lord Reading, who sailed on the ship from Tilbury to take up his position as the new Viceroy of India on 03 April 1921, she would have been back in the UK late May, thus available for charter in June.

13 From Bonsor, North Atlantic Seaways.

14 Fairplay Vol 213 1964

15 She was painted a pale green, similar to the Caronia in 1962, and cruised exclusively from then until sold for scrap in October 1965, so the Fjords cruise was one of the last ones made by the 1939 built ship. The last one was a Mediterranean cruise.