Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sir James's Table

Of all the masters who commanded the RMS Aquitania during her lengthy career, it can be argued that Commodore Sir James Charles was by far the most popular. Commodore Robert G. Thelwell described him as "the most remarkable man I served in my life at sea." His seamanship was superb and he radiated a sort of serene confidence to all who encountered him. He commanded "The Ship Beautiful" for most of the 1920s, and according to historian Daniel Allen Butler:

He was quite possibly the most debonair captain ever to stand on the bridge of any liner: square-jawed, handsome, and dignified in his double-breasted jacket with its four bands of gold braid on the cuffs and two rows of decorations on the left breast, Charles looked and acted every inch the part of a master of the most popular ship on the Atlantic.

He was a charming, affable and humorous host who always kept his passengers entertained and absolutely delighted with stories of his early days at sea. If the man himself was impressive, however, his table was even more so.

Sir James was a known trencherman, or hearty eater. His table was scene to tremendous culinary undertakings, as Elspeth Wills explains:

Whole roast oxen or small herds of gazelles, surmounted by hillocks of foie grass decorated with peacock feathers, were wheeled to [Sir James's] table where champagne was served in jeroboams and souffl├ęs were size of chef’s hats. Confectioners spent hours creating centre pieces in carved ice or spun sugar: on one occasion an electrically illuminated Battle of Waterloo was carried in to the ship’s orchestra playing Elgar.

Is it any wonder that Commodore Sir James Charles was so popular among the passengers?

References: Commodore Robert G. Thelwell, I Captained the Big Ships, comp. Robert Jackson (London: Arthur Barker Limited, 1961), 36.

Daniel Allen Butler, The Age of Cunard: A Transatlantic History 1839-2003 (Annapolis: Lighthouse Publishing, 2003), 241.

Elspeth Wills, Cunardia: A steamer trunk of titbits, trivia and trifles. (London: The Open Agency, 2005), 24.

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