The Asia was built by Messrs. Steele, of Greenock. She was the sister ship of the Africa
. The engines and boilers were furnished by Mr. Robert Napier, of the same town, who had supplied the machinery for all the Canard liners. From the time of the first sole-plate of the engine being laid, till the whole machinery and boilers were completely fitted up, only eight weeks elapsed; which, considering their enormous size and weight, was a feat of unexampled occurrence. The upholstery work was by Messrs. M'Murray and Boyd, of St. Enoch-square, and the general painting by Messrs. Archibald Liddel and Co. At the time of her launching the Asia was the largest steamship which had ever been built on the Clyde. She was the eleventh vessel constructed for the Cunard line, and was of considerably greater power than any of her predecessors. Her chief dimensions were:
Keel and fore rake..........267 feet
Keel for tonnage..........256 feet
Length over all..........280 feet
Breadth of beam..........41 feet
Breadth across paddles..........67 feet
Diameter of paddle..........27 feet
Burthen per register..........2226 tons
The Asia was propelled by two splendidly-finished engines of 400-horse power each which were constructed in the most substantial Manner possible. The steam was supplied by four boilers, any number of which could be worked separately if necessary; and although any one should be disabled, or require cleaning, no inconvenience would be occasioned. The engine-house was divided into two flats, formed of iron gratings, which were so arranged that access could be had at a moment's notice to any part of the machinery. This Important department of the vessel was superintended by one principal engineer and five assistants, with thirty stokers and coal-trimmers. They all had comfortable sleeping-berths adjoining the engine-house, and were also provided with a large mess-room on the main deck.
The Saloon was a very spacious and handsome apartment, erected on the quarterdeck, and having a large vacant space on either side, suitable for promenading in fine weather. The saloon itself was about sixty feet in length by nearly twenty in breadth, and well lighted by two roves of large windows, nine on each side; and was furnished with eight telescope mahogany tables. The sofas extended completely round the saloon along the walls, and were covered with crimson Utrecht velvet. Besides these, there were a number of telescope settees, covered with the same material, and arranged on the outside of the dining-tables. The panelling and ceiling was of wainscot, with gilt mouldings; and on either side were ten beautiful paintings in papier maché, representing scenes in India, China, England, Russia, &c., among winch were the following; viz. "The Greet Wall of China," " Palace of Peterhoff, with numerous fountains," " Imperial Palace of Tseaow," " Windsor Castle," " Buckingham Palace", " Western Gate of Pekin" (From the bridge), "Estuary of Tahea," or " Ning River," " Temple of the Bronzes," or the" Quang Yen Rock," " View in St. Petersburg," &c. In addition there were several paintings in the stern, including a beautifully executed device, entitled "Asia," representing a rural scene in India, and views of the Bridge of Nankin, Amoy from the anchorage, the Harbour of Hong Kong, and the Tai Wang Fort on the Canton River. There were also two elegantly stained windows, by Mr. Cairney, looking towards the stern and by which the saloon could be aired, or communication held with the steersman. At the opposite end of the apartment were two large and handsome mirrors in richly carved gilt frames, and each window was hung with rich crimson add gold silk damask. The gentlemen's cabin and sleeping-berths were placed on the second deck, and entered from the lobby to the saloon. The former was a large and comfortable apartment, and was furnished with sofas for lounging on of a similar description with those in the saloon. The panelling of this apartment was an imitation of Moorish work, being richly painted in gold and morone. The state rooms for gentlemen were on the same deck, under the main saloon, and were arranged on each side of two lobbies, which extended from the gentlemen's cabin to the stern of the vessel.
The ladles' cabin was the most elegant and tastefully decorated apartment in the vessel. The woodwork was all of the finest bird's eye maple, highly polished; and round the sides were arranged twenty-one exquisitely painted ornamented panels, in fruit and flowers, in imitation of enamel. These were on a French white ground, the vases in gold. They were, the work of Mr. M`Calman, of Glasgow. Another admirable specimen of workmanship in that apartment was a richly carved gilt frame, representing groups of tropical flowers and animals surrounding a mirror placed above the mantelpiece. The sofas of this apartment were made to correspond with those in the saloon, while the floor was covered with a handsome light-coloured pile carpet. The ladles' state rooms were precisely similar to those already described, with this exception, that the bed curtains were of blue and white tabarette, while those in the former were of printed Tourney.
The gentlemen's fore cabin was placed in front of the engine-house, and was of a large size, and furnished with as much regard to comfort and convenience as the after, although not in so costly a style. Adjoining this apartment was an additional supply of state-rooms, each containing two berths, similar to those in the other part of the ship, but a degree plainer in so far as regards decoration. Immediately in front of the fore hatch, and entered by a separate staircase, was the second cabin, which in the Asia was a much larger apartment than in any of the previously built vessels of the Cunard line. For this description of passengers there were six state rooms, four of which contained four berths each, and two half that number. Off the second cabin was a separate apartment, containing eighteen berths, which were set aside for second-class passengers. In all, there were berths for 130 first-class passengers, and 30 second cabin.
Besides the state rooms of the principal officers of the ship, chief engineer, boatswain, &c., there were the baker's-shop, the butcher's-shop, the potato-store, a cow-house, two ice-houses, a paint-shop, scullery, and several other equally useful conveniences. In the centre of the vessel, also on deck, was a large mess-room for steerage passengers, a similar room for the mates of the ship, and a smoking saloon for cabin passengers, fitted up with every requisite for such an apartment. There was also the cabin galley, fitted up in a very superior style, by Messrs. James Allan sen., and Co., of the Elmbank Foundry. So complete were the arrangements in this department, that cooking could be provided, if requisite, for fully 300 passengers. Of rolls alone, the baker could turn out, smoking hot, above 200 every morning.
The Stores were situated on the lower or third deck, and comprise, first, the steward's sleeping apartment, fitted up to contain fifteen berths, which could be shipped and unshipped at as circumstances required; then there was the grocery store adjoining, for containing all sorts of good things, including tea, coffee, sugar, spices, &c. Near the above was the wine-cellar. There was also a large potato store, in addition to the one on deck, and a boatswain's store for spare ropes, rigging, &c. The apartment for the mail bags was likewise on that deck, and, as well as the other apartments just named, was rendered air and waterproof by being lined all over with galvanised iron. Immediately beneath the wine-cellar was the powder-magazine.
[Source: This description has been extracted from an article in The Illustrated London News, May 25, 1850]