Oceanic: White Star’s ‘Ship of the Century’

Oceanic: White Star’s ‘Ship of the Century’

Oceanic book cover

‘A masterpiece!…A must have…Mark Chirnside has once again produced an outstanding piece of work’


  • Chirnside, Mark
  • Oceanic: White Star’s ‘Ship of the Century’
  • The History Press; November 2018
  • 144 pages
  • Softcover

Click here to read a selection of reviews.


Oceanic was the largest ship in the world when she was launched in 1899. The White Star Line’s ‘Ship of the Century’, she was their last express liner before the Olympic and Titanic and her lavish first-class accommodation became renowned among Atlantic travellers. Serving on the company’s express service for fifteen years, she earned a reputation for running like clockwork. Days after the outbreak of war, she was commissioned into the Royal Navy and converted into an armed merchant cruiser. However, her new-found status was not to last – she grounded on the rocks off Foula, in the Shetlands, within weeks and became a total loss. When she was wrecked, she had on board Charles Lightoller, Titanic’s senior surviving officer. Oceanic: White Star’s ‘Ship of the Century’ is the first book that looks at the entire career of this one-of-a-kind flagship. With human anecdotes, hitherto unpublished material and rare illustrations, Mark Chirnside’s book is a beautiful tribute to a unique ocean liner.

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‘I received Mark Chirnside’s new Oceanic book from Amazon, UK – I’m not noted for my patience – the book in one word is “Fantastic” well worth the extra postage and I think it’s a book that all ship lovers will like – great photos and just overall well done – a worthy book for this beautiful ship.’ – Ray Lepien, 8 November 2018. Facebook.

Got my copy yesterday and can’t stop reading that. It’s excellent! Full of pictures I’ve never seen and very comfortable to read! That’s how you earned to be one of the foremost authors in this field – with quality research and passion to the subject. I’m also glad I attended your lecture in Belfast earlier this year.  I hope this is not your last work? – Pavel Chlupac, November 2018.

Got completely embroiled in it, great book…I have to be engaged by the book from page 1 for me to sit with it in one go and I was…it’s a labour of love, and it shows’. – Tony Cannings, 18 November 2018.  Facebook.

‘as I expected, it was a masterpiece!’ – Iwan Davies, 6 December 2018.

‘When I first saw the subject matter of Mark Chirnside’s new book, Oceanic: ‘White Star’s Ship of the Century’ I was perhaps a little unsure as to how much material he could find to fill a book relating to what I had previously considered to be one of the line’s lesser-known vessels.

‘I should have known better than to cast doubts upon this author’s capability to unearth the most minute details relating to his chosen subject!

‘Having devoured Mark’s earlier books…I was prepared for an interesting read, but I consider that the author has surpassed the other books with this new one – probably because the subject has not been approached before, thereby making all of the information completely new to the reader.

‘A brief outline of the ship is that she was launched in 1899 when she was the world’s largest ship and the final “Fast liner” built before Olympic and Titanic. During her fifteen year period of service, she gained a reputation for her luxurious first class accommodation and reliability.

‘She was commissioned into the Royal Navy within days of the outbreak of World War One and converted into an armed merchant cruiser. Within weeks, however, she ran aground on rocks near Foula in the Shetland Islands and became a total loss.

‘The author mentions details of her few mishaps during her career, and, like all ships, there were a few, yet this book impresses upon the reader just how popular a ship she was. Titanic‘s surviving officer, Charles Lightoller who was aboard Oceanic during her final voyage, wrote in his memoirs many years later “I was never so fond of any ship as the Oceanic either before or since.”

‘For those with a general maritime interest, this book is a “must have” it contains a plethora of previously unpublished material including many fascinating photographs and drawings. The photographs of her first and second class passenger accommodations are breathtaking, whilst even her steerage quarters were good for the era.

‘In all, the author has managed to put together an easily readable and superb tribute to a much-loved ocean liner.’ – Geoff Whitfield, 23 December 2018. Encyclopedia-Titanica.

‘As a reader and enthusiast of Mark Chirnside’s books, I awaited the release of his latest work with great anticipation and once again, I haven’t been disappointed…
‘For those of you who have read and added The “Big Four” of the White Star Fleet to your collection, Oceanic: White Star’s “Ship of the Century” is in many ways the “sister” book and is beautifully illustrated with dozens of superb images; many of which we see for the first time.  Bringing together many of the world’s leading collectors, who generously allowed him access to their photographic collections and added to his remarkable skills as a world-class researcher, Mark Chirnside has once again produced an outstanding piece of work, which every serious shipping/White Star Line enthusiast should add to their library!’ – Clive Sweetingham. Atlantic Daily Bulletin December 2018: Page 38.

‘Mark Chirnside…first gives us an overview leading up to the building of the Oceanic.  The author makes good use of archival documents, newspaper reports, letters, and diaries to tell the story of the ship’s career.
One of the best features of this book is the plethora of unpublished photos of the Oceanic, many from the collection of Emil Gut.  These alone make the book worthy of purchase.  There is a large colour photo section that is filled with original paintings, postcards, menus, programs, passenger lists, and brochures.  If you are a collector of maritime memorabilia, you will enjoy this section immensely.
‘Those who want to know what life at sea was like during the early 1900s will be transported back in time through the rich text.  As on any ship, there is new life and deaths, accidents, parties, dancing, gala dinners, romance, foul weather, and clear sailing; each ship has a story.
‘Her encounter with the Titanic is of interest to many, and receives the proper coverage…If I had to find one fault, unlike some of Mark’s other books, this one is only lightly endnoted, so some sources and credits go unnamed.  Closing on this review, one of the nicknames for the ship was “The Queen of the Seas” and after reading this book, readers will agree that she truly was’.  – Mike Poirier, Voyage 107 Spring 2019: Page 120.

A great book to add to your collection if you’re interested in ocean liners, the story of the White Star Line, or just history in general – great choice of photos – interesting text – what more could a person want?’ R. Lepien, 29 April 2019. Amazon.co.uk 

‘Fabulous. Loved it.’ The Occasional Aristocrat, 15 July 2019.  Amazon.com

‘I’ve always thought that the Oceanic was one of the most handsome ships of the early 20th century. Bridging the gap between the ships of the late 19th century White Star line and the huge liners like Titanic that appeared just ten years into the new century, Oceanic was one of a kind. Both large and relatively fast she was a success but clearly not the path White Star would continue with. Sadly her career was cut short by the war. This book does an excellent job of detailing Oceanic‘s little known history.’  Charles B. Olson, 20 July 2019.  Amazon.com

Superbly researched account of this beautiful vessel and lavishly illustrated: As it to be expected of Mark Chirnside, this book does not disappoint. Interspersed with numerous photographs, illustrations and contemporary quotes, there is a detailed account of the history of White Star Line’s beautiful and graceful ship from its launch in 1899 to its sad demise in 1914.
The reader learns of the creation of another high quality vessel by the world-renowned shipyard of Harland & Wolff, Belfast, later to produce its most famous liner, Titanic.
I particularly enjoyed the personal accounts of both passengers and crew connected with the ship.
A lovely “coffee-table” book as well as one for the serious maritime researcher, there is very little to find fault with this publication. Perhaps, my only gripe is that the pages between 38 and 53 are not numbered, and that my fingerprints are obvious on the black paper in that section.’ Maureen, 3 October 2019. Amazon.co.uk

Awesome Book!  The latest instalment from Mark Chirnside and as always it doesn’t disappoint. Given Oceanic was in effect the mother of the Olympic class this is a must read for any Olympic class buff. Oceanic was a hugely successful and groundbreaking ship in her own right and was overdue to have a book written by such a knowledgeable and passionate maritime historian’.  Mr. D., 25 November 2019.  Amazon.com

‘An attractive and copiously illustrated “landscape” book on good gloss paper, though I would have paid for a hardback edition. There are chapters on origins and building of Oceanic, followed by the maiden voyage and then long chapters on Liverpool (1899- 1907) and Southampton (1907- 1914) service. Her loss after only a month of war is explained in detail. It was ridiculous to use such huge and vulnerable ships as armed cruisers: that should have been obvious from the start but the wreck of Oceanic served to prove the point.

Illustrations show the huge disproportion in space allocated to the three classes. There were no photos of third class in the original promotion but a couple have been unearthed and the bare barrack- like space provided shows why – although in fact these were far better facilities than most ships then provided. Two criticisms here: there are no full length profile plans to show the layout inside the ship and the landscape format is largely wasted since few illustrations make use of the full page width.

There is a fine 29 page colour section, largely featuring excellent contemporary post cards. The text is well written and includes quite a few anecdotes, indicating much research by Mr Chirnside: the famed Charles Lightoller, senior surviving officer of the Titanic, appears here during Oceanic’s peaceful service and also at the time of her loss.

All considered, this is a fine book and I am pleased this much effort has been made to cover ship which, though very notable in her day, had a life of only 15 years and was soon eclipsed by larger and ultimately more famous liners. Many thanks to the author, and also to the History Press, for supporting this effort.’ Ralph Cook, 30 January 2020.  Amazon.co.uk

‘While some of The History Press’s ocean liner books can be horribly padded affairs, this one is lean and efficient, all 144 pages (including a 27-page color insert) devoted to the RMS Oceanic from her inception in the late 19th century to her avoidable loss early in World War I. As is expected from Mark Chirnside, it’s scrupulously researched, meticulously detailed within the limits of its page count, and packed with rare photographs and period illustrations. Although with the exception of her collision with the Kincora and a number of onboard suicides, Oceanic led a fairly uneventful life, he does a fine job describing the ship’s construction, career, her beautiful interiors, and some of her most famous passengers and crewmembers.

Considering the relative obscurity of the subject, this book is quite nicely illustrated. Along with a slew of black and white photos of the ship’s exterior, we get a number of candid photographs of life onboard, images of some of the public spaces, plans of the accommodation spaces, and color postcards, advertisements, sailing schedules, and menus. There are also a couple of drawings depicting the ship’s structure and a few modern-day images of the wreck. Unfortunately, it’s rather dryly written in places and loses a half star as a result. It loses another half star because of the paperback format, which does something of a disservice to the quality of the contents. I also wouldn’t have minded a bit more technical data, even if it was confined to an appendix.

This isn’t a perfect book, but considering that History Press’s “Unseen” series seems to have died, and 99% of liner books are about another White Star ship (you know which one…) I’m glad it exists. Hopefully, more books like this one are in the works.’ Daryl C, 9 June 2020.  Amazon.com

‘Very impressive.  Once again, Chirnside goes above and beyond.  I’ve been an avid historian of the White Star Line for almost 20 years now, focusing primarily on the immigrant traffic they handled and how they impacted the market on the North Atlantic and abroad. From the early years of White Star’s operations in the early 1870’s, they strived to improve conditions for steerage passengers which few other shipping companies even remotely bothered with.

Oceanic entered service at a time when White Star really began ramping up their improvements to Third Class accommodations. The similarities in layout which carried over from that used aboard Teutonic and Majestic, included a limited number of two and four berth cabins reserved for married couples and families with children, while single passengers were berthed in large dormitory-style rooms. According to an issue of the Titanic Commutator, Third Class accommodations consisted of 10 compartments (5 forward for single men, 5 aft for single women, married couples and families), with at each end two on the middle deck and three on the lower deck. Also provided aft on the upper deck were a smoke room and reading room.

The changes White Star made with Oceanic started with several small dining rooms scattered about, appearing to have one small dining room placed in each compartment in the aft compartments, while forward single men were provided with several long tables with benches… Mark Chirnside provided the missing link to determining how Third Class was laid out aboard Oceanic, as I noticed in a photograph in his book showing the compartments single men were berthed in, the same baseboards and coat hooks were seen in use in the photo of the room aboard Medic, which is probably what the ‘closed’ quarters provided for single women looked like. Also provided is a photo of the type of cabins reserved for married couples and families, which were to become the standard by the time Titanic entered service 13 years later.

What really struck me about the photograph provided by Chirnside of the Third Class berths was how spacious it was compared to that of other liners of that era, especially the German liners, which I still see as basically ‘glorified cattle boats’. I did a side by side comparison of deck plans of the Oceanic with North German Lloyd’s Kronprinz Wilhelm of 1901. The two ships were roughly the same size (Oceanic was 40 feet longer and 3,000 tons heavier) and were designed to carry about the same number of passengers. However, the Kronprinz was designed to carry the same number of steerage passengers as Oceanic, only in literally half the space.

Aside from this, I really admired the details Chirnside included and the sheer number of photographs. With so much information like this being lost to history, it’s admirable to see its beauty, splendor and character preserved.’ Christian Cody, 17 July 2020. Amazon.com

‘While most histories of White Star focus on the second ship of the Olympic class (which didn’t even complete a single crossing) Mark Chirnside brings to life perhaps White Star’s most successful ship in a detailed and beautifully illustrated account of her career. The largest liner of her day, she had a dedicated following – and it might be argued that the Olympic Class were merely a bloated version of the Oceanic. Learn about the predecessor to the Olympic class (which sadly also befell the same fate as the second ship, but under the command of the Admiralty, and with no loss of life.)’ Peter Laing, 15 August 2020. Amazon.co.uk

‘Very good and interesting book . My great grandfather worked on the Oceanic. So really enjoyed this . Thankyou.’  Hayley S, 13 February 2021. Amazon.co.uk

‘Not especially long but well researched and with an unusual number of images for a ship of that era. Highly detailed history of probably the last great British liner of the Victorian era. For serious ocean liner enthusiasts it’s well worth adding to your collection.’  Ad Orientem, 18 January 2021. Amazon.com