Though not strictly of lake interest, the tragic end of a major passenger liner merits mention in these pages. It was with great shock that the world learned on January 9th of the loss by fire of the former QUEEN ELIZABETH while she lay at anchor undergoing renovation in Hong Kong Harbour,
QUEEN ELIZABETH, the flagship of the Cunard Line during her entire career with that company, was launched on September 28, 1938, at the Clydebank yard of John Brown & Co. She was to have entered the transatlantic service as running mate to QUEEN MARY on April 24, 1940, but the hostilities of the Second War diverted her to troop carrying duties. She was sailed to New York in March of 1940 under cover of the greatest secrecy to prevent any possible attack and the following month she was sent to Sydney, Australia, in convoy with QUEEN MARY to take up her emergency service. Records show that she steamed 492,635 miles during her wartime service and carried 811,324 service personnel.
It was not until October 16, 1946, that the vessel made her first scheduled departure from Southampton in passenger service. The next twenty-two years were largely uneventful and she was involved in no major incidents. Q.E. did not attract quite the following of devoted fans and repeat travellers that had honoured QUEEN MARY and AQUITANIA, whose years of service overlapped her own, but she was just as famous in her own right, being the largest passenger liner ever built. She had a length of 1,031 feet and her gross tonnage was 83,673. Her closest rival for the title was FRANCE, flagship of the C.G.T. (French Line), whose length exceeded that of the QUEEN by four feet, but whose tonnage was considerably less.
The ship was retired by Cunard in 1968 and was sold to a group who took her to Port Everglades, Florida. Renamed ELIZABETH, she served as a floating tourist trap, visitors being charged admittance to see her renowned furnishings. She did not prosper, however, and was soon sold to shipping magnate C.Y. Tung who proceeded to sail her to Hong Kong where she arrived under her own power on July 15, 1971.
Mr. Tung spent much money on refurbishing QUEEN ELIZABETH and she was to operate partially as a seagoing university and partially in the Pacific cruising service. In fact, bookings were already being made for her gala first trip, a figure-eight around the Pacific departing from Los Angeles on April 24th. She was renamed SEAWISE UNIVERSITY, her name being a pun on her owner's initials, and great publicity was gained by the fact that her magnificent public rooms had been retained in their original condition.
But she was never to make her second debut. On January 9, as many workmen aboard prepared for lunch break, the ship was found to be afire and the flames spread so rapidly that little could be done to save her. Fire fighting efforts were discontinued when it appeared that the ship would capsize, but the withdrawal of the streams of water made no difference and, on January 10, her decks a mass of twisted, smoking steel, the QUEEN rolled on her side in the mud of Hong Kong's busy port.
And so the world has lost one more reminder of that delightful era when people had the time and desire to enjoy elegance afloat. While the QUEEN ELIZABETH was with us, it was not too difficult to imagine the style of life aboard such famous floating palaces as AQUITANIA, OLYMPIC, the first MAURITANIA, BERENGARIA, MAJESTIC and ILE DE FRANCE.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.