The origins of the company started in 1839 with the completion of the sailing ship CARRARA for William and Alexander Thomson to import marble from Italy. In 1847 Alexander Thomson retired from the partnership and William Thomson & Company, Leith was founded. The main trade at this time was coal to Canada, returning with cargoes of timber. In 1859 the first voyage to Singapore, China and Japan took place and eventually the Far East became the company’s major trade route. Routes were extended to the Baltic and Mediterranean, and the Canadian timber trade ceased in the mid-1880s. In 1919 the company became Ben Line Steamers Ltd and in 1927 the last of the Baltic Sea ships was sold. In 1976 Sheaf Steam Shipping Co, Newcastle was taken over, but by 1991 with the decline in British shipping, Ben Line combined with East Asiatic Co, Copenhagen to operate a weekly service to the Far East and the following year sold their remaining ships. By 1996 their only remaining maritime asset was an oil rig.
* 1847-1885 Leith and Scottish ports to St. Lawrence, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
* 1859-1992 UK East Coast and North European ports to East Indies and Far East (cargo / passenger)
* 1878-1927 Leith and London to Baltic and Russian ports (cargo / passenger) Also general tramping.