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
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
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
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
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
Halfdeck, Midshipman's Magazine, 1956-1966
Staff Bulletin, 1940-1967
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:
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.