Business with the Emigrants
Since about the 1660s onwards passengers (merchants, settlers and indentured servants) were carried regularly to North America and the West Indies. It was due to the huge demand for North American cotton as raw material for the British textile industry as well as American timber that in 1818 regular sailing packet lines from Liverpool to the New World were established. They brought emigrants across the Atlantic to North America and taking cargo back to the UK on the return trip. With the almost exclusive use of steam vessels as of the 1860s the freight could be transported even faster. The shipping lines’ motivation of using steam vessels and hence providing a more reliable and regular service was to obtain the sought after postal contracts with the government which were extremely lucrative. Eventually Cunard, White Star and the other Lines would concentrate almost exclusively on the passenger traffic as the mass emigration set in during the late 1800s.
For a long time the British vessels had an extremely bad reputation with regard to diseases, poor provisions and accommodations coupled with bad behaviour of the crew members on board. However, the reason for why they were able to stay competitive and even beat the European competition by far is based on the low prices for the Atlantic crossings. Due to the monopoly for transporting Irish and English passengers the shipping lines could count on constantly high occupancy of their steerage and hence calculate prices which were in favour of the passenger. This is also why many German and Scandinavian emigrants took the indirect route from Hamburg to Great Britain to continue their journey to the US from there.