RMS Oceanic 1899 was a transatlantic ocean liner built for the White Star Line. She sailed on her maiden voyage on 6 September 1899 and was the largest ship in the world until 1901. At the outbreak of World War I she was converted to an armed merchant cruiser. On 8 August 1914 she was commissioned into Royal Navy service.
On 25 August 1914, the newly designated HMS Oceanic departed Southampton to patrol the waters from the North Scottish mainland to Faroe. On 8 September she ran aground and was wrecked off the island of Foula, in the Shetland Islands.
In 1897, the new flagship Oceanic was built at Harland and Wolff’s Queen’s Island yard at Belfast, as was the tradition with White Star Line ships. She was named after their first successful liner RMS Oceanic of 1870, and was to be the first ship to exceed Brunel’s SS Great Eastern in length, although not in tonnage. At 17,272 gross tons, the future “Queen of the Ocean” cost one million pounds sterling (equivalent to £110,570,000 in 2018), and required 1,500 shipwrights to complete. Oceanic was not however designed to be the fastest ship afloat or compete for the Blue Riband, as it was the White Star Line’s policy to focus on size and comfort rather than speed. Oceanic was designed for a service speed of 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph). She was powered by two four-cylinder triple expansion engines, which were when constructed the largest of their type in the world, and could produce 28,000 ihp
In order to build the ship a new 500 ton overhead gantry crane had to be constructed at the yard in order to lift the material necessary for the ship’s construction. Another innovation was the use of hydraulic riveting machines, which were used for the first time at Harland and Wolff during her construction.
Oceanic’s bridge was integrated with her superstructure giving her a clean fluid look, this design feature would later be omitted from the next big four White Star ships, Cedric, Celtic, Baltic and Adriatic with their odd but distinguishable ‘island’ bridges. “Nothing but the very finest”, was Ismay’s policy toward this new venture. The architect Richard Norman Shaw was employed as the consultant for the design of much of the interiors of the ship, which were lavishly decorated in the first-class sections.
Oceanic was built to accommodate 1,000 third-class, 300 second-class, and 410 first-class passengers, plus 349 crew. In his autobiography, Titanic and Other Ships, Charles Lightoller gives an account of what it was like to be an officer on this vessel.