Booker Line

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detail of a ship model in a display case

Image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.

I am interested in how families have helped shape our world through business, politics and other forms of human endeavour.

Sibling rivalry can cause great competitive energy but I’m more concerned about how relatives work together to do great things.

One prominent family that springs to mind are the Holts – several Liverpool brothers who helped transform shipping. The Booker brothers are another shining example.

These three sons of a Lancashire miller ran a sugar plantation in South America and set up their own shipping company which prospered and became Booker Brothers, McConnell & Co.

Josias Booker had emigrated in 1815 to Demerara (now Guyana) as one of the first British settlers. Booker Brothers was formed after he was joined by brothers George and Richard.

Following a dispute with Liverpool shipowners, they founded what later became the Booker Line in 1835 to carry raw sugar from their plantations. Its first ship was a Scottish brig called Elizabeth.

The company bought and sold many vessels including the early vessels Lord Elgin, John Horrocks and Palmyra.

The company ran regular cargo services between Britain, the eastern Caribbean and British Guiana (Guyana) until the 1980s.

John McConnell started working as a clerk for the brothers in Demerara in 1846. He was successful and branched out in 1874 by founding his own shipping line John McConnell & Co.

The two companies merged in 1900 and became known as Booker Brothers, McConnell & Co with offices in The Albany, Liverpool city centre. The company became Booker Line.

In Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Liverpool: world gateway gallery there is a small 1:96 scale exhibition model of the Booker Line’s Amakura of 1949. Amakura is an Arawak name for a river in Guyana.

The passenger and cargo steamer was built by Smith’s Dock Company of Middlesborough, sailing on the Booker Line’s services out of Liverpool. The model has finely-detailed rigging and Amakura Liverpool emblazoned across the stern (pictured).

The company’s last vessels were the Booker Crusade, Challenge, Courage, Voyager and Vulcan.

Smith’s Dock Co, founded in 1810 as William Smith & Co, opened its Middlesborough yard in 1907. The company merged with Swan Hunter in 1966 and the yard closed in 1987.

Josias Booker, who died in 1865, owned land in Allerton, Liverpool, where Booker Avenue is named after him.

The Booker Prize, awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, was named after the Booker-McConnell company which originally sponsored the award in 1968.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents or bookshops.