CUNARD’S ‘QUEENS’ AND THE 1960S

By the 1960s, it was evident that air travel was in the ascendant. The days of crossing the ocean by ship were coming to a close as passengers increasingly chose the faster aeroplanes, the North Atlantic ferry giving way to cruising. Frequently, it is said that the Cunard ‘Queens’ (Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth) were ‘ghost ships’ and often sailed with as few as two hundred passengers. The purpose of this short page is to provide a few figures which help to highlight that these liners were still popular:

 
Queen Mary
Queen Elizabeth
 
Passengers carried
Number of crossings
Average passenger list
Passengers carried
Number of crossings
Average passenger list
1956
61,954
44
1,408
73,875
44
1,679
1957
58,193
42
1,386
68,719
44
1,562
1958
54,928
40
1,373
69,806
44
1,587
1959
52,293
43
1,216
65,722
47
1,398
1960
49,440
42
1,177
61,323
44
1,394
1961
47,032
44
1,069
56,048
44
1,274
1962
48,449
47
1,031
53,104
43
1,235
1963
52,543
43
1,222
54,887
40
1,372
1964
44,718
40
1,118
44,391
33
1,345
1965
43,458
40
1,086
52,177
41
1,273
1966
28,904
34
850
28,501
27
1,056
1967
28,774
30
959
36,858
34
1,084

While these figures only show the total number of passengers and the average passenger lists for any given year, the averages do help to demonstrate that the two liners enjoyed great popularity even in their twilight years. Passenger lists of only a few hundred were seen in the winter months on occasion, yet they were by no means as frequent as popular belief would seem to signal.

At the same time, the view that the Queen Mary was more popular than her sister seems to be misplaced – in every single year during the 1956-67 period the Queen Elizabeth had higher average passenger lists. All too often, popular myth seems to belie the true historical facts. It is also possible to examine the total number of passengers each liner carried over their entire careers, by citing two interesting sources. How many passengers did Queen Mary carry? The answer is found by turning to Neil Potter and Jack Frost’s The Mary: The Story of No. 534, which was updated by Lindsay Frost and issued as a third edition (Shipping Books Press; 1998), page 221:

‘She had steamed 3,794,017 miles and carried more than 2,114,000 people.’

In comparison, her sister Queen Elizabeth appears to have a slight edge in terms of the total number of passengers she carried. David Hutchings’ fine RMS Queen Elizabeth: From Victory to Valhalla (Kingfisher Publications; 1990) documents this information, pages 95-96:

‘She had crossed the Atlantic 896 times; she had carried over the years 2,300,000 passengers (excluding her war service) and had steamed 3,472,672 miles.’

These estimates seem to have been made on a comparable basis - civilian passengers carried outside of their war service - and so do the mileage figures, for Queen Elizabeth’s career was shorter than her sister’s. Not only does it seem that both ships carried more passengers than they were given credit for in the 1960s, but it also seems to be true that Queen Elizabeth was consistently more popular than her sister (contrary to popular belief), and indeed had the edge in carrying slightly more passengers than Queen Mary did over a shorter career. It is often the case that by examining issues in detail, popular belief has a lot to answer for - for myths can be repeated so frequently that they gain a false credibility that they do not deserve.

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