City of Rome was a British passenger liner of the Inman Line that was designed to be the largest and fastest liner on the Atlantic. While often regarded as the most beautiful liner to ever cross the Western Ocean, she proved to be a major disappointment and was returned to her builders after only six voyages. Barrow transferred City of Rome to the Anchor Line which operated her on various routes until she was scrapped in 1902.
Development and design
The completion of Guion's Arizona in 1879 forced all of the major Atlantic companies to consider building new greyhounds. Designed by William John (who would later design the United States first battleship, the USS Texas), Inman's answer was a much larger ship designed to cross the Atlantic at 18 knots. City of Rome carried 520 First Class passengers in quarters of especially high quality along with 810 steerage. She was also one of the first liners lit entirely by electricity.
The contract called for a steel hull, but the builder, Barrows, convinced Inman to accept iron because of difficulties in securing sufficient supplies of the then relatively new metal. Twin screws were at one point contemplated but rejected. The machinery consisted of three sets of inverted tandems and delivered only 75% of designed horsepower. City of Rome also drew too much water because of inadequate calculations when iron was substituted for steel. As a result, she reached just 15.75 knots on trial. Her cargo capacity was also only 2,200 tons, instead of the 3,800 tons specified.
In August 1882, Inman rejected City of Rome after only six voyages because of her inadequate performance. Barrows lost the lengthy litigation that followed. The Anchor Line was associated with Barrows and was given the responsibility to operate Barrow's white elephant. After Barrows modified the machinery and reduced weight, City of Rome reached 18.25 knots on new trials. Starting in May 1883, Anchor placed her on the Liverpool-New York route where she proved comfortable and popular, but unprofitable because she lacked a suitable consort. Various attempts were made to overcome this difficulty, including pairing City of Rome with the National Line's America in 1886, but none of these arrangements proved satisfactory.
In 1891, City of Rome was withdrawn from Liverpool and moved to the Glasgow-New York route, paired with vessels half her size. Her accommodations were now 75 First, 250 Second and 1,000 steerage. In September 1898, City of Rome was chartered to repatriate Spanish naval POWs captured by the United States. In 1899, she was damaged in a collision with an iceberg. The following year, she was employed as a troopship for the Boer War. At the end of this duty, City of Rome was sold to a German scrap firm. The ship actually returned to transatlantic duty for a short period before scrapping and ran the Glasgow - Moville - New York route in late 1900. By this time the ship was clearly reaching the end of its serviceable life. One of these sailings departed Glasgow on Thursday 27 September 1900 arriving in New York on Monday 8 October 1900. During this trip the ship suffered two major mechanical breakdowns: the first stoppage on Sunday 30th Sept for 14 hours (reportedly a blown cylinder head,) and then again on Wednesday 3rd Oct for about 4 hours in very heavy seas.
Automaton of the ship
SS City of Rome featured as an automaton, sold at auction in New Zealand in March 2010, where it had previously been in a collection of automata held by the late John Patrick Newman. The automaton featured in a travelling exhibition of automata that travelled through England, Europe, Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s. The exhibition was the London Mechanical and Electrical Exhibition. It is believed the automaton was made in the 1880s as an advertising piece to illustrate the ship to potential passengers. The automaton featured the ship sailing in front of a revolving pulley driven backdrop, with waves undulating below it, and a hot air balloon floating aloft. The automaton was in need of repair to the masts and rigging and sold at auction for NZ$7,000.
- Gibbs, C. R. Vernon (1957). Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean: A Record of Atlantic Steam and Motor Passenger Vessels from 1838 to the Present Day. John De Graff. OCLC 225962096.
- Art+Object (March 2010). "The Newman Collection: Saturday, March 6, 2010" (.PDF). p. 28. http://www.artandobject.co.nz/files/Content/Pdf/2010/02/24/17,57,59,AO_Cat34.pdf. Retrieved 17 August 2010.
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