Germanic was launched on 15 July 1874, and fitting out was completed in early 1875, but delivery was delayed until May of that year, so that she would arrive in time for the summer transatlantic season. Germanic was primarily powered by steam, although she also carried four masts, three of which were square-rigged. She departed on her maiden voyage on 30 May 1875, and in doing so, replaced Oceanic the White Star's first post-Ismay steamliner.
In July during an eastbound run, Germanic set a transatlantic speed record of 15.76 knots (average), crossing the ocean in seven days, 11 hours and 17 minutes, winning the coveted Blue Riband. In February, 1876, she beat her own record. On a subsequent trip, when the ship was south of Ireland, the propeller shaft sheared, and she had to limp into Waterford on sail power alone.
In 1895, Germanic underwent a major re-fit, during which a larger triple-expansion steam engine was installed, and consequently the square rigging was removed from the masts. On 13 February 1899, while being coaled at the White Star's New York City pier, a blizzard blanketed her decks with a heavy layer of snow. Now top heavy, she listed to port so much that water began to enter doors opened for coaling and Germanic settled on to the shallow harbour bottom. She was raised, and determined to be worth saving, so she returned to Belfast for four months' worth of repairs.
On 3 September 1903, Germanic left on her final run as a White Star liner. She was then laid up for the winter, and in 1904, Germanic was sold to the American Line, one of White Star's sister companies under the International Mercantile Marine Co. umbrella. There, still named Germanic, she served the Southampton to New York route, but for only six voyages. She was transferred yet again to another IMM company, the Dominion Line, a niche company that served the immigrant trade. On 5 January 1905, Germanic was renamed Ottawa. For the next four years, Ottawa plied the Canadian waters, sailing only in the summer, between Quebec City and Montreal. With the summer sailing for 1909 over, Ottawa was laid up for winter, but her age was showing, and her future clouded.
In 1910, the Government of Turkey bought the ship from IMM, and it became part of a five-ship transport fleet, leaving Liverpool for the last time on 15 May 1911, carrying the name Gul Djemal, and operated by the Administration de Nav. A Vapeur Ottomane. In a few months, she was carrying Turkish soldiers to war duty in Yemen. When World War I began, Turkey joined forces with Germany, and she again became a troop ship, ferrying fighters to the Gallipoli Peninsula. On 3 May 1915, Gul Djemal was on this run, carrying over 4,000 soldiers, when she was torpedoed by the Allied submarine E-14. Though she sank in shallow waters, and only up to her superstructure, most of those on board lost their lives.
Because Gul Djemal had not completely sunk, it was determined that she could be raised and repaired, and afterwards she continued to serve the war effort. In 1918, she carried 1,500 German troops to Dover, to the Allied control point there, where the soldiers were disarmed and sent home.
With the war finally over, Gul Djemal went to work for the Ottoman American Line, again carrying immigrants to new lives in America, making her first trip in this role on 10 October 1921. She later did duty in the Black Sea.
In 1928, she was transferred to Turkiye Seyrisefain Idaresi, and became the Gulcemal. In 1931, she was grounded in the Sea of Marmora, but managed to live on beyond that mishap, and even survived World War II, although she played no notable part in it. By 1949, she was a storage ship, and in 1950 she was converted to a floating hotel. Finally, on 29 October of that year, the end had arrived, and she was moved to Messina for scrapping, having survived 75 years, three major mishaps and two World Wars. As the scrappers cut up her hull, her original White Star Line gold stripe could still be seen along her hull. Only Cunard's SS Parthia (1872) served a longer time afloat than Germanic, ending her days as a garbage scow in 1956. Parthia's record(84 years) as longest serving floating palace, in any capacity, still holds today.