Robert William Browne: Printer on board the Mauretania

Robert William Browne was born in Somerset Street in Belfast in 1881 to Margaret and Robert , also a printer. Robert, his younger brother James and their parents moved to Wolverhampton by 1885, where the youngest of the family, Gilbert, was born. By 1901, they were living at 182 Alderson Road, Wavertree, Liverpool. His father was working as a printer compositor – two of his sons had followed him into the trade, Robert as an apprentice compositor and Gilbert as a machinist. Their brother James was a solicitor’s clerk. The 1911 census shows Robert and his wife Edith living at 8 Odsey St Liverpool. Robert had married Edith Dawber in Liverpool in 1909, and by 1911 they had a one year old daughter Edith Eileen. In the census of that year, Robert had proudly and rather unusually listed his occupation as “Printer on board the S.S. Mauretania”, the wonder ship of the period. It’s extraordinary to think that it is likely that he is the printer of the “bills of fare etc” named as Mr. Browne by Captain Turner in a note written on a postcard of the ship in 1913. Browne would also have printed the extract of the ship’s log on the reverse of the postcard. He was still working on board the Mauretania in 1919.

The Gill Brothers and the Queen Mary

Gill Menu 1 1930s (3)The first menus to be used on board the RMS Queen Mary for her inaugural cruise in September 1936 were printed in black type on good quality white paper and inserted into a series of pre-printed card covers showing the works of art to be seen on board. Cunard’s printers usually used a combination of standard serif and san serif typefaces to set menus – a decade later, the Queen Elizabeth’s 36 cases of type included a range of Winchester (6-48 pt) and Stephenson Blake’s Granby (8-48pt) for this purpose. Alongside these, her printers had access to a range of Linotype’s Metro Light and Metro Bold (18-30 pt), designed by W.A. Dwiggins as an alternative to modernist typefaces like Futura, Kabel and Erbar.  It had a softer, more decorative quality than these, and would have suited the purposes of the liner.  Similar serif and san serif faces were in use on board the Queen Mary, although it had at least one addition to these.  Eric Gill’s Jubilee, originally called Cunard, was used on her early menus. A calligraphic face issued by Stephenson Blake in 1935, its name had been changed when it was used for the announcement of the Silver Jubilee of King George V’s accession to the throne. This surely added to Cunard’s original interest in the face, perhaps being considered entirely fitting given the national sponsorship and naming of the new ship, and certainly bolstered the sense of the ship as a national symbol. Eric Gill’s brother, MacDonald Gill, was commissioned to create the illuminated map featured in the first class dining room and one wonders whether it was this connection that had led to the design of the ship’s typeface.

Gill Menu 2 1930s (3)

An Evolving List of Ships’ Newspapers

Printed or Manuscript?
Walmer Gazette (Walmer Castle, 1841, Manuscript?)
The Sootee Samee / The Samarang Gazette (The Samarang, 1852, Manuscript?)

The Marco Polo Chronicle (The Marco Polo, 1854)
The Champion of the Seas Times (The Champion of the Seas, 1855)
The Great Britain Gazette (The Great Britain, 1861)
The City of Brisbane Times (The City of Brisbane, 1862)
The Atlantic Telegraph (The Great Eastern, 1865)
The Kent Chronicle (SS Kent, 1877)
The Parthia Evening Post (Cunard, Parthia, 1882)
The City of Rome Express (City of Rome, 1890)

Wireless and Printed
Transatlantic Times (American Line, SS St Paul, 1899)
Cunard Bulletin (Cunard, Etruria, Lucania, Campania, 1903)
Cunard Daily Bulletin (Cunard, Campania, 1904)
The Ocean Post (Netherlands Merchant Navy, 1909)
The Ocean Times (White Star Line, 1912)
Wireless Mail (Royal Steam Packet, Union Castle and Pacific Steam Navigation Company, 1912)
L’Atlantique (French Line, pre 1914)
The Atlantic Daily News (Scandinavia America Line, pre 1914))
Atlantic Post (Hamburg America Line, pre 1914)
The Lloyd Post (Norddeutcher Lloyd, pre 1914)
Daily Mail Atlantic Edition (Cunard / Daily Mail, Berengaria, Aquitania, Mauretania, 1923)
Daily Mail Atlantic Edition (Cunard / Daily Mail, Anchor Line ships, replaces Sheet Anchor, 1924)

Ships’ Newspapers

Atlantic Daily Mail (2)This June sees the digitisation of the Daily Mail Atlantic Edition more than ninety years after it was first printed on board the Berengaria in 1923. This will surely give us a rare insight into the role that on-board printing facilities played in life at sea. But the idea of producing a newspaper on the open wave is one that has enchanted us for a long time. The earliest newspaper to be printed on a passenger ship that I’ve come across was produced in the early 1850s. Prior to this there is a tradition of newspapers or journals produced in manuscript on board ship – such was the interest in them that these were sometimes reproduced afterwards in print on land. There is at least one instance prior to the 1850s where a reference to a ship’s newspaper is tantalisingly unclear regarding the means by which it was produced: The Walmer Gazette was published on board the Walmer Castle in 1841. Could it perhaps have been printed?
It was often the sheer novelty of gathering news, setting type and printing on the open wave that drew comment from landlubbers. Reports of early newspapers focus on their role in the relief of boredom or, worse still, cabin fever. The appeal of gossip both to captive audiences on socially claustrophobic journeys and to those seeking to provide them with entertainment is also clear. The application of wireless technology from the turn of the century changes the focus of discussions about ships’ newspapers – the availability of ‘new’ news was seen to bridge the final gap between home and sea via the great floating palaces of the early to mid-twentieth century. One was no longer really ‘all at sea’.