In 1835, the Southampton Dock Company was formed. Engineer Francis Giles was asked by London and local businessmen to undertake a survey of the “Western Mudlands” for the purposes of constructing deep-water berths.
On 19th May 1836 the King gave Royal Assent to “An Act for making and maintaining a Dock or Docks at Southampton”. The town council cut a deal to permit the compulsory purchase of Canute Road and Platform Road water frontages in their ownership, in lieu of shares in the new company. The idea was to link the construction of the docks to the completion of a railway to London.
Amid much Masonic pomp and pageantry, the foundation stone was laid on 12th October 1838 by Sir Lucius Curtis. He later became Admiral of the Fleet and his name is commemorated on a plaque on the public house at the entrance of Ocean Village. The foundation stone for the docks was recovered many years ago and is now on display in the Eastern Docks.
In 1850 Terminus Station was also completed. P&O started to use Southampton Docks and other passenger lines followed including Cunard. Expansion took place in 1850 when the inner dock was first used. The Inner dock was to the west of the current Marina and was filled in and built on in 1963. The Outer Dock is now the Ocean Village Marina. By 1859 it was necessary to improve the Inner Dock as ships continued to grow in size. In 1859 the famous steamship “Great Eastern” designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel left Southampton Water on her maiden voyage. The two largest shipping lines, P&O and the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company established their HQs in the town. The P&O offices were built circa 1850 at Oriental Place situated to the east of Royal Crescent Road on Canute Road. In 1850 P&O had 30 steamers operating from the Port.
The emigrant ship Ballengeich sailed from Southampton for Australia in 1852. This ship was one of those that sailed with emigrants taking advantage of the Family Colonisation Loan Society.
In 1854 the Royal Mail Steam Packet ”Orinoco” left Southampton Docks carrying troops to the Crimea. In 1879 Britain was embroiled in the Zulu War. Highlanders left on the Union Line Ship “Pretoria” – The Union Line being one half of the famous Union Castle Line.
In 1886 a deal was struck with South-Western Railway for funds to construct what would become Empress Dock. This Dock was the only one in Britain where ships could enter and leave at any state of the tide, whatever their draft. By 1907 facilities in Southampton were once again becoming insufficient for the largest ships – especially the Olympic class ships. Work on the White Star Dock (later Ocean Dock) started in1907 and finished in 1911. In 1912 the “Titanic” sailed on her doomed maiden voyage.
On May 27th 1936, Cunard – White Star Lines “Queen Mary” began her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York.
In the 1950s the iconic Ocean Terminal was built, it was later demolished. In 1968 the Container Port was constructed at the northern end of Southampton Water. The commercial side of the docks is as important as the liner business, probably more so, but is often overlooked.
In 1969 the “QE2” sailed on her maiden voyage and in 1982 she sailed as a hospital ship to the Falklands to help in the conflict there.
The maiden voyage of the “Queen Mary 2” was in 2004 and since then the port has become the busiest cruise port in Europe.