Royal Mail Ship

Royal Mail Ship (sometimes Steam-ship or Steamer), usually seen in its abbreviated form RMS, is the ship prefix used for seagoing vessels that carry mail under contract to the British Royal Mail. The designation dates back to 1840.[1] Any vessel designated as "RMS" has the right to fly both the pennant of the Royal Mail when sailing and to include the Royal Mail "crown" insignia with any identifying device and/or design for the ship.[2][3][4]

It was used by many shipping lines, but is often associated in particular with the White Star Line, Cunard Line,[2][5] Royal Mail Lines and Union-Castle Line, which held a number of high-profile mail contracts, and traditionally prefixed the names of many of their ships with the initials "RMS".

While some lines in the past, particularly the Royal Mail Lines, called all their ships "RMS", technically a ship would use the prefix only while contracted to carry mail, and would revert at other times to a standard designation such as "SS".[6]


Originally the Admiralty operated these ships.[7]

The designation "RMS" has been used since 1840.[8] In 1850 contracts were awarded to private companies. Having the title "RMS" was seen as a mark of quality and a competitive advantage, because the mail had to be on time.

The most valuable route, with the highest volume, was between Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire), in Ireland, and Holyhead in Wales. The City of Dublin Steam Packet Company (CDSPCo) won the contract. They bought RMS St Columba and RMS Llewellyn from the Admiralty to supplement their Prince Arthur.

In the CDSPCo contract, in 1860, there was a penalty clause of £ 1 1s 4d for every minute's delay.

The Canadian Pacific Railway's trans-Pacific Royal Mail contract required the building of the first three of a fleet of steamships: the RMS Empress of China, RMS Empress of India and RMS Empress of Japan which regularly sailed between Vancouver and Asia beginning in 1891.[9] The RMS designation was also used on the ships White Star Line, P&O and the Cunard lines of the 19th and 20th century.

Modern times

In recent years the shift to air transport for mail has left only three ships with the right to the prefix or its variations: RMS Segwun, which serves as a passenger vessel in Gravenhurst, Ontario, Canada; RMV Scillonian III, which serves the Isles of Scilly; and RMS Queen Mary 2. QM2 was conferred "RMS" by Royal Mail when she entered service in 2004 on the Southampton to New York route as a gesture to Cunard's history.[2]

The Royal Mail continues a form of this tradition on modern day airliners. The UK's flag carrier airline, British Airways, is contracted to carry mail on some of its scheduled long-distance routes. Aircraft operating these routes with the facilities to carry mail are allowed to display the Royal Mail's logo and crest on their fuselage, usually alongside their registration markings.

Other designations

The less-common designations RMMV for Royal Mail Motor Vessel and RMMS for Royal Mail Motor Ship, were used for a period when RMS was restricted to steam-ships. Motor Vessel and Motor Ship indicated that propulsion was provided by diesel rather than steam.

The RMV Scillonian III carries the designation RMV for Royal Mail Vessel and is the only active RMV.

List of Royal Mail Ships

Service dates are the years with the status of Royal Mail Ship. Those highlighted are still in service with the status of Royal Mail Ship.

NameLineIn serviceLeft serviceStatus
AdriaticWhite Star19071934Scrapped
AlauniaCunard19131916Sunk by mine
AlauniaCunard19601969Sold 1969 to Brocklebank Line and renamed as Malancha, sold again in 1971 to Panama as Humi Nastta and fate unknown
AlbaniaCunard19111930Built in 1900 as Consuelo, bought by Cunard 1911 & renamed Albania, sold 1912 & renamed Poleric, scrapped 1930
AlcantaraRoyal Mail SP Co19131916Sunk by enemy action
AlcantaraRoyal Mail SP Co19261958Scrapped
AlmanzoraRoyal Mail SP Co19061948Scrapped
AmandaPickford & Black
AmazonRoyal Mail SP Co19061916Sunk by enemy action
AndaniaCunard19131918Sunk by enemy action
AndaniaCunard19211940Sunk by enemy action
AndesRoyal Mail SP Co19131929Scrapped after finishing career as the cruise ship Atlantis
AndesRoyal Mail Lines19391959Scrapped in 1971 after finishing career as a cruise ship
ArabiaPeninsular and Oriental18981916Sunk by enemy action
AragonRoyal Mail SP Co19051917Sunk by enemy action
ArlanzaRoyal Mail SP Co19121938Scrapped
Arundel CastleUnion-Castle19211959Scrapped
AsturiasRoyal Mail SP Co19251957Scrapped
AuraniaCunard19161918Sunk by enemy action
AtlanticWhite Star18711873Sunk after collision with rocks
AvonRoyal Mail SP Co1906 and 19191914 and 1929Converted as troopship in 1914, then as armed merchant cruiser 1915 and renamed HMS Avoca, return to owners and renamed Avon in 1919; scrapped 1930
BalticWhite Star19041933Scrapped
Ben-my-ChreeIoM Steam Packet18451860Wrecked
Ben-my-ChreeIoM Steam Packet18751906Scrapped
Ben-my-ChreeIoM Steam Packet19081915Sunk by enemy action
Ben-my-ChreeIoM Steam Packet19271965Scrapped
Ben-my-ChreeIoM Steam Packet19661984Scrapped
Ben-my-ChreeIoM Steam Packet19982008Currently on active service as RO/PAX vessel
BritannicWhite Star19151916Sunk by mine
BritannicWhite Star19291960Scrapped
BulimbaBritish India Steam Navigation Company18861922Built 1881, sold to China in 1822, scrapped in 1933.
Capetown CastleUnion-Castle19371966Scrapped
CampaniaCunard18911918Sank after collision with HMS Glorious
CarinthiaCunard19251940Sunk by enemy action
CarinthiaCunard19561968Sold 1968; renamed Fairland; scrapped 2006
Carnarvon CastleUnion-Castle1926 and 19501939 and 1963Commissioned as HMS Carnarvon Castle from 1939 to 1947.
CarpathiaCunard19031918Sunk by enemy action
CaroniaCunard White Star19481974Scrapped
CelticWhite Star19011933Scrapped
CedricWhite Star19031932Scrapped
ColumbaDavid MacBrayne18791936Scrapped
ColumbaDavid MacBrayne19641968Owned by the Secretary of State for Scotland, chartered to David MacBrayne. Renamed MV Columba in 1968. Currently in active service as Hebridean Princess.
DoricWhite Star19231935Scrapped after collision with the Formigny
DouglasIoM Steam Packet18581862Sold to Cunard, Wilson and Co. Later scrapped
DouglasIoM Steam Packet18641888Scrapped
DouglasIoM Steam Packet19011923Sunk after collision with Artemisia
Dunottar CastleUnion-Castle18901915Sunk during bad weather
Durham CastleUnion-Castle19041940Sunk by mine
EbroRoyal Mail SP Co19141954Scrapped after becoming NT Serpa Pinto
Ellan VanninCastletown Steam Navigation Company18541858Sold to the Government of Sardinia, renamed Archimedes
Ellan VanninIoM Steam Packet18831909Sunk during bad weather in the River Mersey, December, 1909
Empress of Asia[10]Canadian Pacific19131942[10]Sunk by enemy action
Empress of Australia[6]Canadian Pacific19221952[11]Scrapped
Empress of AustraliaCanadian Pacific19531956Scrapped
Empress of BritainCanadian Pacific19061930Scrapped
Empress of BritainCanadian Pacific19311940[12]Sunk by enemy action
Empress of BritainCanadian Pacific19561965Scrapped
Empress of CanadaCanadian Pacific19221943Sunk by enemy action
Empress of CanadaCanadian Pacific19291953Scrapped
Empress of Canada[13]Canadian Pacific19612003Scrapped
Empress of China[14]Canadian Pacific18911912Scrapped
Empress of England[15]Canadian Pacific19571970Scrapped
Empress of FranceCanadian Pacific19141931Scrapped
Empress of India[14]Canadian Pacific18911919Scrapped
Empress of IndiaCanadian Pacific19081928Scrapped
Empress of IrelandCanadian Pacific19061914Sunk after collision with SS Storstad
Empress of JapanCanadian Pacific19301966Scrapped after fire
Empress of Russia[16]Canadian Pacific19131945[16]Scrapped after fire
Empress of ScotlandCanadian Pacific1906 1930Scrapped
Empress of ScotlandCanadian Pacific19301966Scrapped after fire
Empress QueenIoM Steam Packet18971916Foundered on the Ring Rocks off Bembridge, Isle of Wight, February, 1916
FenellaIoM Steam Packet18811929Scrapped
FenellaIoM Steam Packet19371940Sunk by enemy action at the Dunkirk evacuation.
FenellaIoM Steam Packet19511973Sold 1973 and renamed Vasso M. Sank off Damietta, February 2, 1977
FranconiaCunard19631971See Ivernia.
GeorgicWhite Star19331954Scrapped
HomericWhite Star19221935Scrapped
IverniaCunard19551971Renamed RMS Franconia 1963, sold 1973 and renamed Feodor Shalyapin; scrapped 2004
Kenya CastleUnion-Castle19511967Sold to Chandris of Greece and renamed Amerikanis; used until 1996 and sold after 2000 and scrapped 2001
King OrryIoM Steam Packet18421858Sold 1858
King OrryIoM Steam Packet18711912Scrapped
King OrryIoM Steam Packet19131940Sunk by enemy action at the Dunkirk evacuation
King OrryIoM Steam Packet19461975Scrapped
King OrryIoM Steam Packet19901998Sold 1998
Knight of MaltaCassar Co. Ltd.19291941Wrecked
LaconiaCunard19121917Sunk by enemy action
LaconiaCunard19221942Sunk by enemy action
Lady DrakeCanadian National19281942Sunk by enemy action
Lady HawkinsCanadian National19281942Sunk by enemy action
Lady NelsonCanadian National19281939Acquired as hospital ship and later as troop ship by Royal Canadian Navy; returned to CN 1946; retired by CN 1952 and sold to Egypt as Gumhuryat Misr for Khedivial Mail Line, renamed Alwadi in 1960; broken up in Egypt 1968
Lady RodneyCanadian National19291953Sold to Khedivial Mail Line and renamed Mecca, then to United Arab Maritime Company in 1961; scuttled in Egypt 1967
Lady SomersCanadian National19291940Acquired by RN 1940 and sunk in Atlantic Ocean about 400 kilometres (250 mi) east of Ponta Delgada, Azores 1941
Lady of MannIoM Steam Packet19301971Scrapped
Lady of MannIoM Steam Packet19762005Sold 2005
LancastriaCunard19201940Sunk by enemy action
LeinsterCity of Dublin SP18961918Sunk by enemy action
Llandovery CastleUnion-Castle19141918Sunk by enemy action
LucaniaCunard18931909Scrapped after fire
LusitaniaCunard19071915Sunk by U Boat
MajesticWhite Star19221940Scrapped
MalojaPeninsular and Oriental19231954Scrapped
ManxmanIoM Steam Packet19201940Scrapped
ManxmanIoM Steam Packet19551982Scrapped
Manx MaidIoM Steam Packet19231950Scrapped
Manx MaidIoM Steam Packet19621984Scrapped
Manx VikingIoM Steam Packet19781987Sold 1987
MauretaniaCunard White Star19061935Scrapped
MauretaniaCunard White Star19391965Scrapped
MedinaPeninsular and Oriental19111917Sunk by enemy action
MonaIoM Steam Packet18321841Sold 1841
MonaIoM Steam Packet18781883Sunk in the Formby Channel, after being struck by the SS Rita
MonaIoM Steam Packet19031909Scrapped
MonaIoM Steam Packet19191938Scrapped
Mona's IsleIoM Steam Packet18301851Scrapped
Mona's IsleIoM Steam Packet18601883Converted to screw propulsion and renamed Ellan Vannin, sank 1909 in River Mersey
Mona's IsleIoM Steam Packet18821915Scrapped
Mona's IsleIoM Steam Packet19051948Scrapped
Mona's IsleIoM Steam Packet19501980Scrapped
Mona's IsleIoM Steam Packet19841986Sold 1986 and renamed Al Fahad; wrecked off Jeddah, June 2004
Mona's QueenIoM Steam Packet18531880Scrapped
Mona's QueenIoM Steam Packet18851929Recommissioned in 1915; returned to service in 1919; Scrapped by Smith & Company in Port Glasgow, 1929
Mona's QueenIoM Steam Packet19341940Sunk by enemy action
Mona's QueenIoM Steam Packet19461962Scrapped in 1981
Mona's QueenIoM Steam Packet19721995Scrapped in 2008
MooltanPeninsular and Oriental19231953Scrapped
NewfoundlandJohnston Warren Lines19251943Burnt out by enemy action
NiagaraUnion Steamship Co of NZ19121940Sunk by enemy action
Nova ScotiaJohnston Warren Lines19261942Sunk by enemy action
OceanicWhite Star18711896Scrapped
OceanicWhite Star18991914Scrapped
OlympicWhite Star19111935Scrapped
OramaOrient Line19111917Torpedoed by the German submarine U-62 south of Western Approaches
OramaOrient Line19241940Sunk by the German cruiser Admiral Hipper off Norway
OrizabaOrient Line18861905Wrecked off Garden Island, Fremantle
OrmuzOrient Line18861912Sold to Cie de Nav. Sud-Atlantique, renamed SS Divona; last owned by Union Industrielle Et Maritime (U.I.M) and scuttled in 1942 off Bizerta, Tunisia, raised and scrapped in 1946
OrmuzOrient Line19201927Ex-Zeppelin, 1920 renamed Ormuz, 1927 sold to North German Lloyd, renamed Dresden.
OrontesOrient Line19021916Lost RMS status in 1916–1917 while serving as a troopship. Laid up in 1921. Sold in 1922 and became the exhibition ship SS British Trade. Repossessed by Orient Line later the same year and reverted to Orontes (although not with the status of RMS). Scrapped in 1926.
OrotavaOrient Line18891906Served as a troop ship between 1899 and 1903 as a troopship during the Second Boer War. Scrapped.
OrubaOrient Line18891906Scrapped.
OtrantoOrient Line1926 and 19481939 and 1957Served as troop ship HMTS Otranto during World War II. Sold to the British Iron & Steel Corporation as scrap and broken up at Faslane.
Peel CastleIoM Steam Packet19121939Scrapped
Pendennis CastleUnion-Castle19591980Scrapped
PeverilIoM Steam Packet18841899Sank off Douglas after a collision with SS Monarch 16 September 1899
PeverilIoM Steam Packet19291964Scrapped
Port KingstonImperial Direct West Mail Co19041911Sold to Union Steamship Co of NZ; renamed Tahiti; sank 1930
Prince of WalesIoM Steam Packet18881915Scrapped
Queen ElizabethCunard White Star19471968Launched in 1940 and served as a troop ship until 1946. Scrapped after arson fire.
Queen Elizabeth 2Cunard White Star19692008Currently a floating hotel in Dubai.
Queen MaryCunard White Star1936 and 19471940 and 1967Served as a troop shop from 1940 to 1946. Decommissioned in 1967; currently restaurant/hotel/museum in Long Beach, California
Queen Mary 2 Cunard 2004 Conferred the status of Royal Mail Ship as a gesture to Cunard's history but does not carry mail. Currently in active service as a cruise ship.
Queen of the IsleIoM Steam Packet18341845Sold 1845; eventually reported lost off the Falkland Islands
Queen VictoriaIoM Steam Packet18881915Scrapped
QuettaBritish-India SN Co18811890Wrecked
Ramsey TownIoM Steam Packet19041936Scrapped
RemueraNew Zealand Shipping Co19111940Sunk by enemy action
RepublicOceanic Steam Navigation d/b/a White Star Line19031909Sunk after collision with another ship
RotoruaNew Zealand Shipping Co19101917Sunk by enemy action
RhoneRoyal Mail SP Co18651867Wrecked
Royal AdelaideCity of Dublin SP18381849Sank
Rushen CastleIoM Steam Packet18981947Scrapped
SaxoniaCunard19541999In 1962 renamed Carmania; in 1973 sold & renamed Leonid Sobinov, scrapped 1999
St HelenaHM Government19771990Ex-Northland Prince. Lost RMS status in 1990 and renamed St Helena Island. Renamed Avalon in 1990 and Indooceanique in 1993. Scrapped in 1996.
St Helena HM Government 1990 2018 Sold to Oman as MNG Tahiti.
ScillonianIsles of Scilly SC19261955Scrapped
ScillonianIsles of Scilly SC19551977Sold and eventually sank after owner abandoned her in 2004
Scillonian III Isles of Scilly SC 1977 Currently in active service. Officially designated Royal Mail Vessel but has the status of Royal Mail Ship. Currently the only ship still carrying mail for Royal Mail.
Scythia ICunard18741899Scrapped
Scythia IICunard19211958Scrapped
Segwun Muskoka Lakes Navigation Co 1887 Built as SS Nipissing, then as Segwun 1925, out of service from 1958 to 1981; restored 1972–1981 and returned to service since 1981. The only remaining steam-powered Royal Mail Ship.
SlavoniaBritish-India SN Co19021909Wrecked
SnaefellIoM Steam Packet18631875Sold 1875
SnaefellIoM Steam Packet18761904Scrapped
SnaefellIoM Steam Packet19101918Sunk by enemy action
SnaefellIoM Steam Packet19201945Scrapped 1948
SnaefellIoM Steam Packet19481978Scrapped 1978
SnaefellIoM Steam Packet20062011Built 1991, acquired 2006, sold 2011.
Southampton CastleUnion-Castle19651978Sold to Cost Armatori of Italy with Good Hope Castle and renamed Paola C; scrapped in China 1984
StrathairdPeninsular and Oriental19311961RMS status removed in 1954 and renamed SS Strathaird. Scrapped.
StrathnaverPeninsular and Oriental19311962RMS status removed in 1954 and renamed SS Strathnaver. Scrapped.
SylvaniaCunard19572004Sold 1968 & renamed Fairwind; scrapped 2004
TahitiUnion Steamship Co of NZ19111930Hull holed by broken propeller; sank
TayleurWhite Star (not OSNC)18531853Ran aground
The RamseyIoM Steam Packet18951915Sunk by enemy action
TitanicWhite Star19121912Sunk after collision with iceberg
Transvaal CastleUnion-Castle19612000Sold 1966 to Safmarine and renamed "SA Vaal"; left Royal Mail service 1969; scrapped 2003
TrentRoyal Mail SP18411865Scrapped
TynwaldIoM Steam Packet18461886Sold 1866
TynwaldIoM Steam Packet18861888Sold 1888
TynwaldIoM Steam Packet18911934Sold 1934
TynwaldIoM Steam Packet19361939Sunk by enemy action
TynwaldIoM Steam Packet19471974Scrapped 1975
TynwaldIoM Steam Packet19861990Sold and left Royal Mail service 1990; scrapped 2007[17]
TyrconnelIoM Steam Packet19111932Scrapped
Viceroy of IndiaPeninsular and Oriental19271942Sunk by enemy action
VictoriaIoM Steam Packet19071957Scrapped
VictoriaEast African Railways & Harbours19611977Lost status when EAR&H was dissolved; still in service as "MV Victoria"
VictorianAllan Line19041929World's first steam turbine ocean liner; scrapped 1929
VikingIoM Steam Packet19051954Scrapped in 1954
Windsor CastleUnion-Castle19221943Sunk by enemy action
Windsor CastleUnion-Castle19601998Scrapped

See also


  1. The first citation in The Times is from 18 August 1840.
  2. Royal Mails employees Courier newspaper page 20 August 2007
  3. QM2 Archived 13 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  4. "United Kingdom – Royal Mail". Flags of The World. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  5. Maxtone-Graham, John et al. (2004). Queen Mary 2, p. 184.
  6. By Wireless from R.M.S. Empress of Australia. "Royal Gifts Gladden 172 On Lonely Atlantic Island" (Tristan da Cunya)," New York Times. 24 March 1935; Robinson, Samuel. (1924). Official report of Capt. S. Robinson, R.N.R.,: Commander of the Canadian Pacific S.S. "Empress of Australia", on the Japanese earthquake, the fire and subsequent relief operations.
  7. The Admiralty took over the Packet Service from the General Post Office in 1823.
  8. The first citation in The Times is from 18 August 1840.
  9. Kennedy, John. (1903). The History of Steam Navigation, pp. 147–151.
  10. "Empress of Asia Sunk Last 4 Feb.; Canadian Pacific Liner Hit by Five Bombs in Flight From Singapore MOST OF TROOPS ESCAPED 16,909-Ton Ship Abandoned After Four-Day Fires Had Ruined Her Interior," New York Times. 20 May 1942.
  11. 40-year-old Ship Makes Last Trip; Empress of Australia, Luxury Liner and Troop Carrier, on Way to Scrap Heap," New York Times. 1 May 1952.
  12. "British Announce Empress Ship Loss; Admiralty Fixes Death Toll at 45 Out of 643 Aboard Canadian Pacific Liner TORPEDOES FINISH JOB U-Boat Overtakes Burning Ship in Tow and Completes Task Started by Bomber Ship Attacked Three Times Women and Children Calm," New York Times. 29 October 1940.
  13. "Transport News and Notes; Empress of France Will Be Retired," New York Times 27 November 1960.
  14. Kennedy, p. 150.
  15. "Lady Eden to Launch Ship," New York Times 5 May 1956.
  16. "Pacific Air Routes Replace Ship Line; Canadian Company Abandons Pre-War Service of Fleet, Maps Overseas Flights," New York Times. 10 April 1949.
  17. "MV Antrim Princess (1967)". Retrieved 29 April 2017.


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