Lady Mary Wood
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Lady Mary Wood was a paddle wheel steamer built in 1842. It is said to be named after the wife of Charles Wood, who was the Secretary to the Admiralty. It had a gross tonnage of 556 and a horsepower of 250. In 1845, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O Co.) established the first regular monthly mail service. Under the new contract with the government, the company would despatch mails to China via Ceylon, Penang, Singapore and Hong Kong. Lady Mary Wood was the first mail steamer to be dispatched under that contract. It arrived in Singapore on 4 August 1845.
First Mail Steamer
P&O was already profitable when it won the mail contract between England and Alexandria, and the route between Suez and Calcutta. Securing the contract to Singapore and Hong Kong further established its position in the region. At that time, the steamers would take 140 hours to travel from Ceylon to Penang, 45 hours from Penang to Singapore, make a stopover in Singapore for 48 hours, before completing its journey to Hong Kong in another 170 hours. In its inaugural journey, Lady Mary Wood set sail from London on 24 June 1845 and arrived in Singapore on 4 August 1845, after an eight-day passage from the Point de Galle, Sri Lanka. She brought mail from London in a record time of 41 days. On its return journey, Lady Mary Wood carried a total of 4,757 letters from Singapore, the bulk of which were bound for Great Britain and Europe. The monthly arrival of letters made a significant impact to the economic and social landscape of Singapore as it kept Singapore up-to-date with the happenings on the other side of the world. Such contacts grew as the frequency of mail increased from once to twice a month in 1853.
The early cruise industry was dominated by P&O. Cruising was a recent innovation that came with the introduction of steamships. Previously, people traveled by sea primarily for economic and commercial reasons. Seeing the potential in “sea travel for leisure”, the company charged £160 for a transit in Egypt on board the Lady Mary Wood. The P&O promoted this new idea of pleasure voyages for the wealthy by inviting English poet and writer, William Makepeace Thackeray on an all-expenses-paid trip to the Mediterranean and to pen his adventures for a book to be published at home. This is commonly thought to be one of the first instances of the marketing of vacations on the high seas. Thackeray was on board Lady Mary Wood for a week. During this time, he recorded his favourable impressions of his voyage on the Lady Mary Wood from Southampton to Egypt in his travelogue titled, Notes on a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo, which was published under the pseudonym Michael Angelo Titmarsh. The account first appeared in a popular magazine, then as a travel book. In the publication, he disclosed that it was the P&O Co. who had arranged for the excursion on the Lady Mary Wood. Shortly after the publication, many were inspired to embark on similar tours.
The Eastern route between Point de Galle and Hong Kong via Singapore had already commenced in 1845. Initially, two ships, the Lady Mary Wood and Braganza were used. Besides functioning as a mail steamer and a passenger cruise liner, it is also said that the Lady Mary Wood was used to ferry troops from India to control the 1848 rebellion in Ceylon.
Marsita Omar and Kartini Saparudin
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(Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 MOO -[HIS])
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The information in this article is as valid as at 2008 and correct as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.