The SS Sir Walter Scott began sailing in 1900. Sixty-two years earlier, on April 22, 1838, the SS Sirius set a milestone by becoming the first steamship to cross the Atlantic, landing in New York one day ahead of rival SS Great Western. The Sirius, at 700 tons was about 6 times larger than the Sir Walter Scott, but was still small to be crossing an ocean. It only made two voyages, then served the London to Cork route. The Sirius was built in Leith, by Robert Menzies & Sons.
An American diarist, former New York mayor Philip Hone recorded the Sirius' arrival. It is published in "The Diary of Philip Hone".
'April 23. — The British steamer "Sirius," Lieut. Richard Roberts, of the Royal Navy, commander, arrived here last evening, having sailed from Cork on the 4th. She has performed the voyage without any accident, except the slight one of grounding at Sandy Hook, from which she will have been extricated by this time. She has on board forty-six passengers.
The "Sirius" comes out as pioneer to the great steam-packet which is preparing to come to this country. She was to have sailed on the 2d inst. from Cork, and has been looked for with some anxiety the last three or four days; but the wind has been westerly during her whole voyage, and her passage has been longer than it will be hereafter. The arrival of the " Sirius '' is an event of so great an interest that the corporation of the city appointed a joint committee to receive and visit her on her arrival. This committee, of which Alderman Hoxie is chairman, have made arrangements with Mr. Buchanan for that purpose, and they will probably make a jollification on the occasion. It is stated in the morning papers that the " Sirius," since her departure from Cork, has used only fresh water in her boilers, having on board Mr. Hall's condensing apparatus.
It was an agreeable coincidence that the great steamboat of which the " Sirius" was, as I said, the pioneer, should have arrived this morning just in time to have dinner of St. George's Society, the red-cross banner floating from the windows of the " banquet hall," the Carlton House.
The "Great Western" (for such is the rather awkward name of this noble steamer) came up from Sandy Hook about two o'clock, passed around the "Sirius," then lying at anchor oft" the Battery, and, proceeding up the East river, hauled into Pike slip. She is much larger than her avant-courrier, being the largest vessel propelled by steam which has yet made her appearance in the waters of Europe. Her registered measurement is 1,604 tons, length 234 feet, breadth from out to out of the paddle-boxes 58 feet, with her engines and machinery of 450 horse power. She is commanded by Lieutenant Hoskin, of the Royal Navy, and owned by the "Great Western Steam Navigation Company." She sailed from Bristol on the 8th inst., four days later than the departure of the " Sirius" from Cork, performing thus her voyage, under the disadvantages of new machinery and a prevalence of head-winds, in fifteen days.
The city was in a ferment during the day, from the arrival of these two interesting strangers. The Battery and adjacent streets were crowded with curious spectators, and the water covered with boats conveying obtrusive visitors on board. The committee of arrangements of the Corporation have fixed upon to-morrow, at one o'clock, for the two Houses, with their guests, to visit the " Sirius," where a collation will be prepared for them, on which occasion her commander, Lieutenant Roberts, is to receive the freedom of the city.
The passengers on board the two vessels speak in the highest terms of the convenience, steadiness, and apparent safety of the new mode of conveyance across the ocean. Everybody is so enamoured of it, that for a while it will supersede the New York packets, — the noblest vessels that ever floated in the merchant service. Our countrymen, "studious of change, and pleased with novelty," will rush forward to visit the shores of Europe instead of resorting to Virginia or Saratoga Springs; and steamers will continue to be the fashion until some more dashing adventurer of the go-ahead tribe shall demonstrate the practicability of balloon navigation, and gratify their impatience by a voyage over, and not upon, the blue waters in two days, instead of as many weeks, thereby escaping the rocks and shoals and headlands which continue yet to fright the minds of timid passengers and cautious navigators. Then they may soar above the dangers of icebergs, and look down with contempt upon the Goodwin sands or Hempstead beach. As for me, I am still skeptical on this subject. It would be presumptuous in this age of mechanical and scientific miracles to doubt the success of any startling experiment, or even to hint the possible difficulty of a contrivance by which a man might bite off his own nose; but, after the experience I have had of such ships as the " England " or the " Sylvie de Grasse," I should hesitate to trust to the powers of the air or the fire-god for my transportation and safe-conduct over this rivulet of blue water of three thousand miles in width, which separates us from the land of our fathers.'