T & J Brocklebank, shipowners



From the Guide to the Records of Merseyside Maritime Museum, volume 1: Thomas and John Brocklebank Ltd. This firm was one of the oldest in shipping, dating to 1801 when the two sons of the founder of the business took control following his death. The founder was Captain Daniel Brocklebank, a shipmaster and shipbuilder, whose shipbuilding enterprise was first established at Sheepscutt (near Portland, Maine) in 1770. Brocklebank was a Loyalist and when the Revolution broke out in 1775 he sailed back to Whitehaven in his own ship, Castor (its letter of marque of 1779 is the earliest document). He re started his shipbuilding business at Whitehaven in 1785 and the plans and specifications of his yard's products from 1792 are one of the most important sources for eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century merchant ships. By 1795 his fleet consisted of eleven vessels of 1750 tons. The firm suffered somewhat in the Napoleonic wars but by 1809 it was sending ships as far as South America. By 1815 the fleet totalled seventeen ships. In 1815 the Princess Charlotte's maiden voyage to Calcutta was a success following the end of the East India Company's monopoly. An estimate of its return freight suggested more than £10,000 in profits for her owners and other merchants. This trade eventually eclipsed Brocklebank's South American and China trades. In 1819 Thomas Brocklebank moved to Liverpool and opened an office there in 1822. In 1829 Brocklebank began trading to China. In 1843 Thomas made his forty-year-old cousin Ralph a partner (later to become chairman of MDHB), and also his nephew Thomas Fisher, who took the name Brocklebank and was politically and socially active, becoming a Baronet in 1885. By 1844 the fleet had peaked at fifty vessels. The Whitehaven shipyard was closed in 1865 and larger iron and steel sailing ships were bought mainly from Harland and Wolff, Belfast. The first steamer, Ameer, was not purchased until 1889. In 1911 Brocklebank ceased to be a family business. A substantial shareholding was sold to Sir Percy, Frederic and Denis Bates, grandsons of Sir Edward Bates who had built up an Indian trading firm. In the same year Cunard acquired the Anchor Line, which retained its independence and in turn gained a controlling interest in Brocklebank in 1912. The Bates brothers, Sir Alfred Booth and Sir Thomas Royden strengthened the business under the chairman¬ship of Sir Aubrey Brocklebank. In 1916 the Well Line was acquired and in 1919 Cunard bought out the Brocklebank and Bates shares; the final one fifth shareholding held by Anchor Line was acquired in 1940. The firm experimented with motor ships including, for a short time, the first all welded vessel, the coaster Fullagar of 1920. The shipping depression of the 1930s saw a reduction in the size of four of its ships in 1935 a unique operation at the time. Sixteen of twenty six ships were lost in the Second World War, including the Malakand, which blew up with an ammunition cargo in Liverpool in 1941. The fleet was rebuilt and services extended because of the decline of business at Calcutta after Indian independence in 1948. In 1964 it bought H.E. Moss and Co., tanker owners, and in 1967 Cunard Line became responsible for the passenger business and a new Cunard Brocklebank company took over all cargo services, including two Cunard owned container ships in the Atlantic Container Lines consortium. The Brocklebank collection is varied and includes not only shipping business but family papers and research notes on the history compiled by J.S. Rees, which were used by J.F. Gibson for the company history. There are also excellent photographs, paintings (especially extensive for the sailing ships, 1815 1891) and models (1854 1946), which make the collection of national importance. For further details see the attached catalogue or contact The Archives Centre for a copy of the catalogue.