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Unit History: Thomas and James Harrison

Thomas and James Harrison
The Harrison Line dates back to 1853 when the brothers Thomas and James Harrison took control of the shipping and shipbroking interests of George Brown and Harrison.
Prior to 1853 the business was mainly concerned with handling cargoes of brandy and wines brought by French schooners to Liverpool, mainly from Charente, although Oporto and Cadiz were occasionally ports of loading. A milestone was reached, however, in 1857 by the purchase of its first iron ship, which bore the name Philosopher. She was built by Thomas Vernon, of Liverpool, and was of 1,329 tons.
This particular vessel is of great interest, not only because she heralded the passing of the wooden ship, but because she was the first to bear the name of a trade or profession, which has characterised the vessels of the Harrison fleet ever since. She traded to India throughout her whole career, which ended when she was totally wrecked on September 26, 1879, the day after leaving Calcutta.
From the year 1860 onwards, the firm extended their trade beyond the Continent, and the countries of Brazil, India and the West Indies were being served with regular sailings by sailing vessels and steamers: It was in 1860 that the steamer Cognac and her sister Gladiator were built specially to cater for the expanding trade in brandy shipments from France to this country.
In this period, the firm had 25 vessels consisting of iron and wooden brigs, barques and steamships, with a total of over 21,000 tons, a tonnage exceeded today by that of a single ship such as latest bulk carriers.
1n 1888 Thomas Harrison died, and the death of his brother James followed in 1891, but the family business was continued by Frederick James and Heath, the sons of James, and Thomas Fenwick, the son of Thomas.
1n the 1860s, Mr. John William Hughes was admitted a partner, and the Hughes family have since played a large part in the development and progress of the firm until the present day.
In 1884, the Charente Steam-Ship Co. Ltd. was formed with a capital 01 GBP 512,000 to take over the steamship business, the firm of Thos. and Jas. Harrison being the managers. Three years later, the last of their sailing ships, the Senator was sold, and from then on steamships were the order of the day.
In 1889, in order to improve their business with Calcutta, and have access to the Indian tea trade, and berthing rights under conference agreements, Harrisons bought the Star Line from Rathbone Bros. and Company for the sum of GBP135;000. The steamers concerned were the Mira (1875), Vesta (1881), Pallas (1888), Orion (1889), and one on order at the time, the Capella, delivered in 1890. It is interesting to note that these vessels retained their original names, and were not given the "trades and professions" that were then characterising the fleet.
In 1911, the fleet was increased by the purchase of the Aberdeen Direct Line, managed by John T. Rennie Son and Company.
The year 1913 saw the delivery of the passenger and cargo vessel Ingoma of 5,686 tons, built by D. and W. Henderson and Co. Ltd., Glasgow, to join the fleet of the Harrison-Rennie Line, on the South African service. For this purpose, she was painted in Rennie colours, buff funnel, grey hull, but at the conclusion of the First World War, the Inanda, Intaha and Ingoma were switched to the London- West Indies service, and the Rennie Line as such ceased to exist.
With the cessation of hostilities, a big re-building programme was undertaken, and an experiment was made in turbine propulsion in the steamers Dramatist, Diplomat and Huntsman, the latter two being the last vessels in the fleet to be fitted with four masts. However, this type of machinery, not proving economical, was not repeated in subsequent steamers.
In 1920 to allow for a further development in the West Indies and Guiana trade from Glasgow and London, two fleets were purchased, eight ships from the Crown Line, managed by Prentice, Service and Henderson, Glasgow and five from Scrutton, Sons and Company, of London.
In 1935, the fleet was augmented by the acquisition of four vessels from Furness, Withy and Co. Ltd., the Royal Prince, Imperial Prince, British Prince and London Merchant, which were renamed in order, Collegian, Craftsman, Statesman and Politician. These sister ships of 8,000 gross tons were turbine- driven, with a speed of 14 knots, and were all built between 1922-3 for the Furness North Atlantic service. On being taken over by Harrisons they were placed on the South African run in conjunction with the joint Ellerman-Clan service.
At this time the fleet was rapidly expanding, and seven ships from the Leyland Line were also purchased in 1935, and placed on the West Indies and Mexico services. They were all shelter- deck vessels, strongly constructed for the North Atlantic trade, and quite out of character with usual Harrison practice, they retained their original names throughout their service.
It was also in 1935 that the first vessels for Harrisons to be built with a cruiser stern appeared. These were the Inventor and Explorer, and although slightly larger and faster, they were in other respects similar to earlier vessels built for the company.
When war broke out in September 1939, Harrisons had a fleet of 45 ships, but were to lose 29 before hostilities ended in 1945. The first casualty suffered was the capture on October 10, 1939 of the Huntsman. One of the largest vessels in the fleet, she was on voyage from Calcutta to London, when she was intercepted by the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee. The next loss occurred on December 2, 1939, when the steamer Chancellor was sunk in collision with the tanker Athelchief off Halifax. A loss much nearer home took place when the Counsellor sank after striking a magnetic mine off the Mersey Bar on March 9, 1940.
With the end of the war in 1945, Harrisons embarked on the replacement of their heavy losses, and purchased between 1945-1949 10 American "Liberty" and six British-built "Empire" vessels. These proved successful until the company’s own building programme made them surplus to requirements.
With the building of specialised tonnage, the time came to dispose of the older units, and the first of the post-war built ships to go was the turbine-driven Biographer of 1949, sold in 1964 to Panamanian operators.
The building of new tonnage continued and in 1968 two vessels were designed primarily for the African trades. They were the Magician and Historian, ordered from the Pallion yard of The Doxford and Sunderland Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. Ltd., Sunderland, vessels of 8,454 gross tons with a speed of 18 knots, fitted with a Stulcken derrick of 150 tons lifting capacity.
In keeping with several other well- known liner companies, Harrisons sought to diversify their trade by entering the bulk-carrying business and ordered in Japan three large bulk carriers, vessels of 16,317 gross tons and 27,135 dead- weight, giving them the names Wanderer, Wayfarer and Warrior.
Following the success of these bulk carriers, all let on voyage or long-term charter, two more of even larger tonnage were ordered from the Danish builders Burmeister and Wain, named Strategist and Specialist.
In the 1977 Harrisons joined the container revolution on their Caribbean routes by becoming a partner in the Caribbean Overseas Lines (CAROL) consortium with Hapag Lloyd A.G. Hamburg, and Koninklijke Nederlandsche Stoomboot Maatschappij B. V. of Amsterdam. The new Caribbean service serving in Europe: Bremerhaven, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Tilbury, Le Havre and Liverpool. In 1978 the group was joined by Compagnie Generale Maritime (CGM) which brought the group’s sailings up to a weekly service.
The South African trade then also joined the container revolution when Harrisons had the City of Durban built by A. G. Weser, Germany. This ship was jointly owned by Ellerman-Harrison Container Lines, of which Ellermans, having the larger stake was be the

Active From: 1853 - 2000

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