Unicorn was the first ship to sail for Cunard Line.
The Unicorn was Cunard’s first ship, and predates Britannia. However unlike Britannia which was the first ship built for Cunard Line, the Unicorn was not originally built for the company.
Unicorn was built in 1836 in Greenock, Scotland. The 700-ton ship was a paddle driven steamship, constructed for George & James Burns, who used the ship to link UK ports on the west coast of Scotland and England. George and James Burns would later go on to work with Samuel Cunard in forming the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Co., which later became known as Cunard Line.
In 1840 the wooden-hulled Unicorn was acquired by the newly established Cunard Line. At this time work was well underway on construction of Britannia – Cunard’s first purpose built steamship. Unicorn was utilised by Samuel Cunard on a test voyage between Liverpool, Halifax and Boston in May 1840 – weeks before Britannia set sail in July.
The Unicorn’s transatlantic crossing was a success and created a great deal of public interest in the new Cunard steamship service. This was a smart PR move, as by the time Britannia joined the fleet, many people on both sides of the Atlantic had heard of the company and its new steamships.
While Britannia (and her fleet mates Acadia, Caledonia and Columbia) went on to establish the first ever regularly scheduled Atlantic service, it was Unicorn that inaugurated the Cunard Line’s services, and the ship was later used to run east coast ferry services in support of the Cunard transatlantic crossings.