THE world’s first cruise ship was hit by a string of horror tragedies which saw the sea ‘claim its prettiest prize’ and its captain come to a gruesome end.
Modern day cruise liners owe much of their existence to the SS Prinzessin Victoria Luise, a German ship of the Hamburg-America Line which set sail in 1900.
Eerie photographs reveal its glamorous interior with lavish artwork, furniture and elegant fittings.
It had been designed with luxury in mind, boasting 120 first-class cabins, a library, gym, stateroom, ballroom, art gallery and even a darkroom for photography enthusiasts on board.
A string quartet were set up to play on the dining saloon balcony at dinner time and local musicians would be welcomed aboard while shore hopping.
The sea had claimed one of its prettiest prizes”
John Malcolm Brinnin
The mind-blowing ship was named after its creator’s daughter, Victoria Luise and made to replicate “the finest European hotels”, according to design historian Bruce Peter.
The SS Prinzessin Victoria Luise was slower than other large vessels riding the waves but it was revolutionary in its purpose – derived from German shipping tycoon, Albert Ballin’s vision.
His idea, which shaped the future cruise liners as we know them, was born in 1988.
Ballin rose to success after transforming his father’s immigration agency into a shipping business.
The industry tycoon achieved fame after turning freight ships into passenger carrying vessels.
There was already a ship called the SS Augusta Victoria which would ferry passengers across the North Atlantic, however it wouldn’t leave the port for much of the winter.
As reported by Smithsonian Magazine, Daniel Finamore, associate director of exhibitions at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, explained the shipping giant realised he needed “to maximize use of their large ships” by “organizing pleasure cruises to Caribbean ports and warmer climates during winter.”
Modern cruise ships owe a huge debt of gratitude to pioneers like Albert Ballin”
Ballin vowed to improve his business and created a 58-day trip stopping off at beautiful Mediterranean locations all the way to the Orient.
It was dubbed the “floating hotel” and met with great popularity which led to the birth of the SS Prinzessin.
In 1899, Ballin hired shipbuilder Blohm & Voss to build the 407-foot, 4,419-ton cruise ship.
It could travel up to 16 knots while the Titanic reached 23 – around 20mph.
But the Prinzessin was described as: “Designed for a class of service which hitherto has been performed by the regular ships of this company, the first vessel of her kind to be built purely for yachting [leisure cruising] purposes”, in February 1901, by Scientific American.
In fact, author and historian John Malcolm Brinnin wrote: “The real breakthrough in pleasure cruising, at least as the 20th century would come to know it, was the single-handed gesture of Albert Ballin,” in his book The Sway of the Grand Saloon: A Social History of the North Atlantic,
Six of the world’s deadliest shipwrecks
SS Eastland – July 24, 1915
One of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history occurred when the SS Eastland capsized on the Chicago River – of the estimated 2,500 people on board at the time, more than 800 were killed.
SS Kiangya – December 4, 1948
Th SS Kiangya was officially carrying 2,150 refugees – almost double its official capacity – when it exploded at the mouth of the Huangpu River, killing up to 4,000 people.
SS Sultana – April 27, 1865
The deadliest maritime disaster in U.S. history occurred when the side-wheel steamship SS Sultana exploded on the Mississippi River.
Cost cutting led to a leaky boiler and more than six times the number of recommended passengers on board.
The boiler ruptured and hundreds were killed in the initial explosion, with more trapped when the overloaded decks collapsed killing 1,800 people.
RMS Lusitania – May 7 1915
The RMS Lusitania was attacked by a German U-boat and sank in just 18 minutes killing 1,198 passengers.
MV Doña Paz – December 20, 1987
The passenger ferry MV Doña Paz hit an oil tanker, the MT Vector about 110 miles south of Manila. The collision ignited the 8,800 barrels of oil and gasoline on the Vector, and just 26 of more than 4,400 passengers and crew on both ships were saved.
MV Wihelm Gustloff – January 30, 1945
The MV Wilhelm Gustloff was the pride of the Nazi Kraft durch Freude (“Strength Through Joy”) program.
It was built with a capacity of 1,900 people but was carrying an estimated 10,000.
Three torpedoes fired by a Soviet submarine hit the vessel and it sank in the Baltic sea in just over an hour.
It is estimated 9,000 lives were lost, making it history’s deadliest shipwreck.
The cruise ship was hailed by passengers who revelled in the stylish cabins, equipped with baths and spacious living areas.
It was a welcome improvement over the SS Augusta Victoria which had been lacking in amenities and was too big for ports in more popular tourist destinations.
Overall, the Augusta Victoria had not offered the same level of luxury and sophistication as its successor.
The Prinzessin first set sail from Hamburg on June 29, 1900 to embark on a 35 day trip.
It travelled to the West Indies and Venezuela while also venturing to the Med, Norway and Baltic seas on subsequent journeys.
I cannot account for his act except on the theory that his pride was crushed by the accident, and that he believed that only death would wipe out what he regarded as his disgrace.”
In the winter months passengers could enjoy adventuring around Caribbean shores for some much needed sunshine.
Other hotspot tourist destinations in its lifetime included New York, France, England, Ireland, Scotland, the North Cape and St Petersburg.
Unfortunately the SS Prinzessin fell victim to the sea on December 16 1906 in Kingston, Jamaica after only six years of service.
Captain H. Brunswig veered towards the wrong lighthouse while trying to navigate a tricky harbour and smashed into shallow rocks at around 9.30pm.
The captain’s charts were also incorrect as a volcanic eruption had recently altered the seabed.
Travelling as 14 knots, the ship’s bow suffered significant damage and despite their best efforts, rescue teams could not free the liner.
Passengers had to remain on board until the next day, but none were injured.
Tragically the Captain H. Brunswig fatally shot himself in his cabin.
An HAPAG executive said at the time: ”I cannot account for his act except on the theory that his pride was crushed by the accident, and that he believed that only death would wipe out what he regarded as his disgrace.”
The once glorious SS Prinzessin Victoria Luise soon disintegrated into a shipwreck.
A Jamaican news outlet reported at the time that waves were seen “breaking over her pitilessly,” and the liner was “abandoned and left to her fate.”
Brinnin wrote in Grand Saloon: ”The sea had claimed one of its prettiest prizes.”
Ballin would later go on to build another cruise ship called The Meteor, however the Titanic tragedy eight years later saw the industry dwindle.
Nevertheless, “modern cruise ships owe a huge debt of gratitude to pioneers like Albert Ballin,” said Peter McCracken, a librarian at Cornell University.
“His contribution to maritime history—particularly as the father of modern leisure cruising—is incalculable,” he added.