RMS Empress of China

RMS Empress of China

CP logoUpon completion of Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CPR) trans-continental railway Sir William Cornelius Van Horne embarked on the next phase of their strategy… the construction of Atlantic and Pacific fleets of ocean going steam ships to stimulate rail travel across the country.

Cornelius Van Horne

Cornelius Van Horne, founder of Canadian Pacific Railways

In 1887, Sir William chartered three vessels from Cunard Line; the SS Abyssinia, the SS Parthia, and the SS Batavia to establish the CP fleet. In 1891 the British government contracted the CPR for subsidized mail service between Britain and Hong Kong and Australia via Canada. This allowed the CPR to prefix the names of liners carrying mail with Royal Mail Ship (RMS). Three specially built “Empress” liners carried the Royal Mail from 1891 through 1912. They were RMS Empress of China, RMS Empress of India and RMS Empress of Japan. The eastern terminus for the Empress liners was the Port of Vancouver though all the Empress’ made Victoria a port of call.

The Royal Mail

The fastest of ocean-going passenger vessels around the world were contracted by the British Government to carry mail, a vital thread in the fabric of Empire. Such vessels were awarded the prefix RMS for “Royal Mail ship” and were afforded every courtesy for the mail’s expedient delivery. CP’s Pacific Empresses were Britain’s vital administrative link to the Orient.

Mail loaded aboard the Atlantic Empress’s in Liverpool, whisked across the Atlantic, trans-shipped to fast CPR trains at Rimouski, Halifax, or St. John for its journey across the continent to Vancouver where it was loaded aboard one of the Pacific Empress’s for the last leg of its journey to Yokohama, Shanghai, or Hong Kong.

The All Red Line

So was established “The All Red Line” upon which first-class English passengers could board a Canadian Pacific (CP) ship in Liverpool, sail the Atlantic, cross the continent via CPR, then cross the Pacific aboard yet another CP steam ship to arrive in Hong Kong or Sydney without having left The Empire,