The ‘Big Four’ of the White Star Fleet: Celtic, Cedric, Baltic & Adriatic

The ‘Big Four’ of the White Star Fleet: Celtic, Cedric, Baltic & Adriatic


The 'Big Four' Book cover.

‘A spectacular book…Excellent book. Well written with a multitude of pictures. One of the best…It is beautifully presented and a great treasure. A real gem. Painstakingly researched and beautifully presented. Highly recommend this one. Anything and everything you wanted to know…’


Chirnside, Mark. The ‘Big Four’ of the White Star Fleet: Celtic, Cedric, Baltic & Adriatic. The History Press; October 6th 2016. 192 pages. (Hardback)
Chirnside, Mark. The ‘Big Four’ of the White Star Fleet: Celtic, Cedric, Baltic & Adriatic. The History Press; May 1st 2018. 192 pages. (Softcover)

Click here to read a selection of reviews.


The White Star Line’s Celtic (1901), Cedric (1903), Baltic (1904) and Adriatic (1907), collectively known as the ‘Big Four’, served for a combined 110 years. Together they carried around 1.5 million passengers on the Liverpool to New York and Southampton to New York routes during their time in service. Arguably the most successful series of ships the company ever produced, they have been overlooked in maritime literature until now. In this ground-breaking book, Mark Chirnside relates the history of the ‘Big Four’, in many ways the forerunners of the famous ‘Olympic’ class ships. Features including a gymnasium and Turkish and electric baths were trialled on Adriatic before their use on Olympic, Titanic and Britannic. Charting their history from civilian passenger ships to armed merchant cruisers and troop ships in the First World War, The ‘Big Four’ of the White Star Fleet explores the adventures and experiences passengers and crew had on board over the decades.

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Book price: £20 plus postage. (Please note you will receive the most recent paperback edition first published in May 2018).


‘Mark has certainly shown his true colours in this book’. R. Lepien, 20 October 2016.

‘Excellent book. Well written with a multitude of pictures. One of the best… It’s nice to see lesser known liners and their interiors. Thanks again for a wonderful book.’ Neil Lucas, 24 October 2016. Facebook.

‘Mark is one of my favourite authors, you can’t go wrong with his books’. Peter Meersman, 25 October 2016. Facebook.

‘What a wonderful book… I had not realised before reading the book that Celtic was, at the time, the biggest ship in the world… It is beautifully presented and a great treasure.’ David Hume Elkington, 28 October 2016.

‘It is always a delight when Mark Chirnside authors a new book. His newest one deals with a neglected subject, White Star Line’s ‘Big Four’. The luxury liners Adriatic, the Baltic, the Cedric, and the Celtic each had long and lively careers while crossing the Atlantic.

‘This handsome edition is divided into 8 chapters:
1. The Colossus of the White Star Fleet
2. Crossings and Cruising
3. Liverpool & Southampton
4. The War Years
5. A Very Enviable Reputation
6. On the Rocks
7. The Last Lap
8. The Cruise of the Adriatic

‘There are also appendices of construction chronology, specifications, and passenger statistics.

‘An authoritative text is interspersed with rare accounts by people who sailed on these four ships. These rare glimpses by those who were there give this volume a more intimate quality and a rare window in the past. Passengers talk about beauty of the ships interior, the daily routines, unusual instances that made the voyages more exciting. And these voyages were exciting from powerful storms, sea rescues, darting across the Atlantic to avoid submarines, unfortunate groundings, and final goodbyes to the scrapyard. The author takes care to describe these instances in great detail, aided by the words of people who were there.

‘The infamous JP Morgan is quoted in the book talking about why he liked the Adriatic, “Ships have personalities. I like this one.” There was a lot to like about these vessels. The Adriatic had a pool, elevator, and turkish bath, among other amenities. These four ships had dining rooms with high vaulted ceilings, carved wood work and stained glass. Second and third class are not forgotten either. The author shows through photos how they are an improvement from older liners. Thumbing through the book, the reader will find rare images of the interiors, deck plans, onboard memorabilia such as menus, passenger lists, log cards, and souvenirs. Many of these items appear in a generous color section in the middle of the book.

‘The photos of on board life make this book a particular delight. Many were taken by passengers and crew and reside in the collection of the author and other collectors. Unique photos of different parts of the ship such as the engine room will delight the technological ships fans. Amusing pictures of locals diving off the deck of the ship into the waters of Funchal or passengers gathered around Captain Marshall give it a “you-are there” feeling. Particularly rare are the ones of those of the Celtic held fast to the rocks in 1928. Sadly this would be the end of the ship and as we read, she was slowly dismantled on the spot.

‘This book will no doubt become a favorite and a valuable resource for those who want to learn more about historic ships.’ Mike Poirier, 10 November 2016.

‘Another great book from Mark Chirnside. White Star’s Celtic, Cedric, Baltic & Adriatic were impressive and highly successful liners. They are often overlooked, however, since they were not “express” liners and operated on the Liverpool-New Your route. This book goes a long way to rectifying that situation. The in-depth text describes the adventures careers of “The Big Four.” The Celtic was damaged twice in World War I and was lucky to survive. Adriatic represented the epitome of ocean liner development for White Star when she entered service in 1907. She had many features that would later be installed in Olympic and Titanic. Highly Recommended!’ Brent Holt, 3 December 2016.

‘Over the last ten or fifteen years, Mark Chirnside has rightfully gained a reputation within the maritime community as being a first-rate historian. As a maritime historian and author myself, I know how difficult it is to turn up new material and follow the trail of evidence to correct conclusions. I’ve worked with Mark on several projects, and he always manages to help me find some valuable nugget of information that I need, just when I need it. Yet every time I pick up one of Mark’s new books, I’m astonished to see what he has managed to put together.

‘So much has been written about the Titanic – and now, although to a lesser extent, her sister ships Olympic and Britannic – that it is easy to forget that they were just three ships of the White Star Line’s fleet. Their immediate predecessors, the so-called ‘Big Four’ liners, have gone largely overlooked except as a footnote to the Titanic tragedy. Not any more. These four ships, so long forgotten, have finally been given they treatment they deserve. Mark has collected a treasure trove of information, first-hand accounts, technical data, photographs, and ephemera on this quartet of liners. The format is beautiful.

‘This isn’t a plug for a friend… Mark knows me well enough to know that if I thought it wasn’t good, I would say so as tactfully as I could. This book is a real gem, and I’m proud to add it to my collection of maritime volumes.

‘If you like ships, don’t hesitate… just pick up a copy. You will be astounded.’ J. Kent Layton, 14 December 2016.

‘Mark Chirnside’s latest effort does a great job covering these important ships. It fills a gap in shipping history. This is an enjoyable read with an excellent selection of pictures.’ Mark T. Jaynes, 10 January 2017.

‘I can’t think of a better book than this about the ‘big four’. There’s some great research here along with great pictures. The only reason I bought this book was because it’s written by Mark Chirnside and I’m a fan of everything he’s ever written. I have to say this was well worth the price AND time I spent reading it!’ Tony P, 1 February 2017.

‘Thank you so much for the copy of your magnificent book. It is a great tour de force, painstakingly researched and beautifully presented.’ Frank Grenfell, 10 February 2017.

‘Interesting book. Titanic has garnered so much attention over the years it is refreshing to read about some of the successful work horses of the Atlantic ferry and their contributions to immigration and the allied success in WWI.’ Amazon Customer, 18 March 2017.

‘Great book of this series of liners from H&W in Belfast, I wish that Mark will do a book like this of the Oceanic 1899 as well.’ Robert Mostervik, 23 April 2017.

‘I got this after reading Mark Chirnside’s book on RMS Olympic. This was another excellent read and well worth it for anyone interested in white star line history.’ Mr. D., 6 May 2017.

‘Absolutely superb piece of work. Got this as a gift and it really couldn’t have been done any better. Anything and everything you ever wanted to know about these often overlooked quartet of famous liners is here, along with the single best gathering of photographs, interiors and exteriors, you’ll ever find. There are also numerous deck plan and detail items, notes about the several updates these ships received through their careers, and contemporary advertising and nostalgic souvenir pieces as well. There are even a few photos of surviving pieces of furniture and fixtures that still exist and are in private hands in England to this day. If you’re an enthusiast of historic ocean liners, you cannot go wrong with this book. The research that went into this is extremely impressive, the text is well-written and insightful, and the photos and illustrations are not to be found anywhere else. I’d give it six stars if possible. HIGHLY recommend this one – cannot imagine anyone who enjoys historic liners not being fascinated with this book’. Nachtjager, 12 July 2017.

‘I’ve found Mark Chirnside’s The “Big Four” of the White Star Fleet an excellent choice to expand my knowledge of these ships…
‘The book carries the stories of “The Big Four” all the way from launch to their ends. In addition to accounts from their passenger carrying years, we also see how each survived the First World War…A chapter also describes the wreck of the Celtic in 1928: the rescue of the crew and passengers, and there are a number of photos of her after she hit the rocks off Queenstown Harbour. These photos and the accompanying text, show us the gradual dismantling of the hulk, and the sad end of a great ship.
‘The photos of the book are usually crisp and sharp, except in the few cases where the available source material is just not that good. Also included is a twelve page colour section, illustrating the ships, their interiors, and various advertising materials. After reading “The Big Four” I know much more about these ships, and how they led into the planning for the “Olympic” class. It is a good addition for anyone’s shipping library’. – Bill Wormstedt, Titanic Commutator 2017; Volume 42 Number 217: Page 23.

‘I knew little about this series of liners, and enjoyed the fact that these ships were so profitable, and such an important part of liner history. What a well written and illustrated book of the pre-Olympic/Titanic liners of the White Star Line. So lucky to have access to this overlooked portion of early 1900s liner history.’ Russell, 4 August 2017.

‘Love the book. Lots of great images mixed with a wonderful writing style. Clear, concise, and to the point.’ The Occasional Aristocrat, 1 March 2018.

‘Very nice looking good quality book. Very pleased it is for a gift, which I believe the recipient will appreciate and enjoy.’ Gizmo, 3 November 2018.

‘The book was full of useful information. Learned a lot about these ships. I was very happy with this purchase.’ Nancy VanHuss, 16 November 2018.

‘As usual with History Press the book is beautifully produced, and this one features no less than 271 illustrations in its 185 pages, including quite a few full page views of the ship. This is not, however, done at the expense of the text since Mr Chirnside has much to say and he quite cleverly blends the history of four ships into a seamless and logically arranged narrative. For example the build history of the first three is combined in one chapter whilst another focuses on Adriatic which was in many ways quite different, with more public rooms (Turkish baths, etc), many more suites, structural changes to the hull and superstructure and more boilers for greater power.

There are eight chapters, which of course cover the history chronologically, and notable events are fully detailed, such as the WW1 torpedo attacks on Celtic; there is a whole chapter covering her shipwreck in 1928. However lesser known incidents get due mention, including the explosion aboard Adriatic in 1922. In David Hutchings book on Mauretania there are frequent references to large scale desertions amongst the crew, especially (and unsurprisingly) from the stoke hold, but there is no such comment here. Presumably there was rather less pressure on the men than in the express steamers, but problems must have arisen and it is to be noted that these four remained coal fired through to the end of their careers.

The illustrations are superb and ‘groups’ of them cover a single theme, such as General Pershing traveling aboard Baltic in 1917. To appreciate these, though, it is necessary to read some very long picture captions, many of which are printed on a small scale – I have to read those with a magnifying glass. There are many interesting photos of interiors, though as usual the third class is rather short changed, not being a feature of much contemporary promotion. ‘Third’ was however very superior for the early 20th century: a few years earlier most Atlantic liners were really emigrant ships employing huge, crude dormitory areas. There are a number of deck plans, some of these being located in the excellent 20 page colour section, but there are no full length profile illustrations and so the exact location of the public rooms and blocks of accommodation within the hull is not always entirely clear.

All considered this is an excellent book detailing liners which have never before received such coverage. Locating all those photographs must have entailed much research. Although this is a very fine softback I would have paid the extra for a hardback edition.’ Ralph Cook, 22 February 2020.

‘Excellent, well researched, liberally illustrated, with many images that were new to me. Highly readable though not a lot of excitement. But that’s kind of the point when writing about a class of successful ocean liners that were comfortable, reliable, popular with the traveling public, and profitable for their owners.’ Ad Orientem, 18 January 2021. Amaz