Information sheet

Blue Funnel Line

Sheet number 11

Alfred and Philip Holt established the Blue Funnel Line in 1865 to run steamers, equipped with Alfred's own design of compound engines, from Liverpool to Asia.  After initial difficulties the company achieved success when the Suez Canal was opened in 1869.  The Suez reduced the long voyage and gave Blue Funnel steamships an advantage over their sailing contemporaries, to which the Suez Canal was not accessible.

In the 1870s the Holts developed the service further with the assistance of Butterfield and Swire, agents in Shanghai, and were instrumental in establishing the Far Eastern Conference in 1879.

Blue Funnel continued to expand, for example, into Sumatra and the tobacco trade, and later a Dutch subsidiary was established to run a direct service from Amsterdam to Indonesia.  By 1901 a direct UK to Australia service commenced.

By 1911 Blue Funnel Line had acquired ownership of numerous previous competitors and owned between sixty and seventy ships.  The First World Ward did, however, cost Blue Funnel twelve vessels and the 1920s witnessed such reduced demand for the Australia service that a joint service was established with the White Star Line.  In the 1930s the Holts acquired control of the Elder Dempster Line (1932), the Glen and Shire Lines (1935) and the Straits Steam Ship Co.

The Second World War proved extremely costly for the Blue Funnel Line, with a loss of forty-one ships.  Peacetime services utilised Liberty Ships for many sailings until A-class replacements were delivered between 1946 and 1953.

The Blue Funnel Line maintained its dominant position in Asia until the 1970s, their stability due, in part, to participation in the Overseas Container Lines consortium, set up in 1965.  Blue Funnel changed its name to Ocean Transport and Trading Co. in 1972.  Further developments included the takeover of the Cory Fuel Distribution Group, the creation of Ocean Inchcape Ltd., the operating of off-shore supply vessels and the purchase of bulkers, tankers, gas carriers and the Barber Blue Sea transpacific service.

The Ocean Archive

The Ocean Archive collection offers a sound body of records regarding the development of the parent company, Blue Funnel Line, which extends back over a hundred years.  General arrangements of many Blue Funnel ships can be located in the Maritime Archives' Plan Collection.

The Ocean Archive also contains the records of numerous shipping companies including: African Steamship Co.; British & African S.N. Co.; China Mutual S.N. Co.; William Cory & Son Ltd.; Elder Dempster Lines; Glen and Shire Lines; Henderson Line and Straits Steam Ship Co., Ltd.  Researchers are advised to refer to the Guide to the Records of Merseyside Maritime Museum, Vol. 1, or to the relevant information sheet, in order to obtain the historical background and summary of records for the shipping company of interest.

The catalogue relating to the Ocean Archive is in file E7, located in the Maritime Archives & Library Searchroom.  The collection was originally catalogued and indexed by the company and so the primary index utilised is not related to the archival structure or consistent with our usual archive standards.  Therefore the location of records can be problematic.  Unfortunately, it is unlikely that this substantial collection can be re-catalogued or re-indexed in the near future.

Secretarial (Ocean Steam Ship Co.)

Minute Books, Annual Meetings, with Reports and Accounts, 1866-1955

Managers' Minute Books, 1902-1980

Directors' Meetings Minutes, 1957 on

Finance Committee, 1973-1976

Articles of Association, 1865

Annual Reports and Accounts, 1965-1966

Filmed Annual Reports, 1976-1980

Investment Papers, 1910-1976

Register of Members, 1903-1956

Documents, re legislation (includes A. Holt's evidence before Board of Trade), 1874

Requisition of Vessels, World War I

Legal Opinions, Judgements, etc., 1942-1958

Merger Letters, A. Holt & Co./Glen Line, 1935


Ledgers, 1853-1914

Prime Costs of Vessels, 1921-1963

Final Costs, 1913-1917, 1944-1952

Birkenhead Accounts Book, 1913-1957

Freight Ledger, 1938-1943

Ships Ledgers, Voyage Books, 1897-1902

Managers' Commissions, Depreciation Statements, 1908-1947

Captains' Commissions, ditto, 1934-1947


Personal files relating to leading personalities in the firm's management, including members of the Holt family, Bruce Glasier, Sir Sydney Jones, Sir John Hobhouse, Sir John Nicholson, Sir Lindsay Alexander and RH Thornton, c1870-1980.

Reports and notes by senior managers on various subjects, for example, UK south coastal ports, Australian and Far Eastern ports, dock labour, Dutch ports, stevedorage and air cargo economics.  Additional notes regarding various management issues including ship management, security, fleet operation, Rochdale Report, Suez Canal, China visitors and cruise ships, c.1915-1985.


Mainly regarding overseas property and affairs.  Additional material includes early letters, references to Singapore, Melbourne, Kowloon, Indonesia, Shanghai and Yokohama (earthquake).  Information on South Africa, Chinese crews, Suez Canal and trading in World War II, c.1870-1980 is also included.

Speeches and Addresses    

1950 - 1956


Directions to Captain Middleton, master on the Agamemnon's first voyage, 1866.

Shore staff records (including overseas), 1955-1980.

Papers on office organisation; includes Staff Handbook.

References to principals of Aulis Training Establishment and appointments of senior staff - shore staff files, 1872-1977.

Nestorian Association Minute Books, 1962-1975.

Salary and Establishment Surveys, 1969, 1972, etc.

Deck Officers Registers, c.1890-c.1920

Officers' Reminiscences, etc., c.1880-1960

Engineers' Records, 1888-1949

Stewards Records, 1914-1957

Carpenters' Records, c.1920 onwards

Chinese Crews, Miscellaneous Papers, c.1945-c.1970

Seamen's Strike, 1960-1961

Medical Staff Records, 1940-c.1960

Wages Books, 1868-1967 (one of the finest surviving series)

Papers, re Training, c.1960-c.1970

Superannuation and Pension Records, 1910-1977


Pooling Rules, 1913

Agreements, Australian, Conference and Trade, c.1890-c.1960

Minutes, Far Eastern and Indonesian Trade Division, 1973-1975

Marine Committee Minutes, 1974-1979

Far Eastern Conference Minutes, 1918-1940

Papers, re Services to Japan, 1872

Stevedoring Agreements, 1912-1951

Charter Parties, 1958-1961

America, China, Australia, Far East, Various Papers, re Cargo Services

Stowage Plans, 1924-1975

Port Log Books, 1960-1975

Bills of Lading (selected), c.1940-c.1970

Sample Manifestos, 1972-1976

Movements of Freight, 1901-1919

Blue Funnel Tonnage, 1923-1964

Voyage Results, 1935-1949

Steamer Earnings, 1876-1967

Carryings and Earnings, 1930-1968

Outward Cargo Tonnage and Net Freight, Summary, c.1950-c.1968

Freight Statistics, c.1950-c.1960

Freight Tariffs for areas in the Middle and Far East, incomplete voyage, 1937-1972


Far Eastern Passenger Conference Agreements, 1954

Advertising, 1938

Enquiry into the Future of BH & Class of Ships, 1962-1963

Passenger Literature, 1892

Cruise Brochures and Passenger Lists, 1923-1924

Passengers aboard Phemius when lost, 1943

Chinese Passengers, Piracy, 1928

Papers, re Pilgrims to Mecca (includes photographs), 1929-1961

Trade (General)

Air Cargoes, 1966-c.1975

Suez Canal, 1936-1964

Tallow, uranium, latex, tobacco, Tasmanian apples, copra, frozen cargoes, carbon black, timber, rubber, c.1950-1980

Containerisation, c.1951-1967

German Agencies, c.1921


Ships Journals, 1866-1974 (virtually complete)

Other Records, are extremely extensive (1910 onwards), particularly for the Second World War and post-War

Wireless Code Books, pre-1938

Shipbuilding Records, c.1885-1978, includes drawings, specifications, agreements, papers written on specific issues and engine arrangements, c.1885-1895

Papers, re Phemius Typhoon Salvage, 1932

Fires on Various Ships, 1953-1969

Suez Canal Problems, 1964-1968

Incidents in China, 1949, 1968, 1970


Press Reports, 1944-1977

Publicity Material and Ephemera, c.1920-c.1970, includes calendars, diaries and menus

Sailing Cards and Notices, 1866-c.1970

Promotional Films, 1965-1968


Papers, re company property, Birkenhead, Liverpool and Overseas, 1912-1980

House magazines

Halfdeck, Midshipman's Magazine, 1956-1966

Staff Bulletin, 1940-1967

Ocean, 1967-1979

Ocean Mail, 1970-c.1985

Nestorian, 1984 to date (Library)


Ships, Directors, Captains, Port Scenes, c.1860-c.1980

Please request a member of staff to search the following ACCESS databases:





Tape recordings

Interviews with long serving staff members, c.1970

Other unofficial records

There is a large amount of this material, including the following personal documents:

§         The diary of Captain Kidd, first master of the Ajax, 1845;

§         The diary of Philip Wearing, Steward on Nester, 1875;

§         The reminiscences of G.A. Pridgeon, a dock worker, 1887-1940

These records also include virtually all books, articles and papers, published and unpublished, which were relevant to the Ocean Company history.


LE FLEMING, H.M.  Ships of the Blue Funnel Line.  Southampton: Adlard Coles Ltd., 1961.

BEATTIE, Neil R.  East with a Blue Funnel.  Devon: Merlin Books, 1985.

CLARKSON, John, HARVEY, Bill, FENTON, Roy.  Blue Funnel Line.  Preston: Ships in Focus, 1998.

HAWS, Duncan, Merchant Fleets 6: Blue Funnel Line.  Hereford: TCL Publications, 1988.

FALKUS, Malcolm, The Blue Funnel Legend - A History of the Ocean Steam Ship Company, 1865-1973.  London: MacMillan, 1990.

The Blue Funnel Line - Passenger Steamers.  Liverpool: Alfred Holt & Co., 1924.

HYDE, Francis E.  Blue Funnel - A History of Alfred Holt and Company of Liverpool, 1865- 1914.  Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1957.

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