Several of my seafaring ancestors headed for South America – some got there, others did not for a variety of reasons so this story has added poignancy for me.
It underlines the dangers of carrying too much cargo despite Samuel Plimsoll bringing about reforms which outlawed overloaded ships.
It was ironic that the ship in this story sank because she was carrying too much cargo, which was badly stowed.
This was more than 50 years after the Plimsoll Line was introduced, ensuring a clearly visible line on a ship’s hull indicating how much she was carrying.
Two young entrepreneurs started a shipping line that specialised in trade with three South American countries for well over a century.
William, the son of a Unitarian minister, was born in Lancaster. George Holt belonged to a commercial dynasty. His father was an influential Liverpool cotton broker with shipowning connections.
George had four brothers who were all prominent in business. William worked with their father in the family cotton firm, Alfred and Philip ran what became the Blue Funnel Line and Robert was the first Lord Mayor of Liverpool.
Lamport and Holt was an early pioneer of trade with Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.
In the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Liverpool: world gateway gallery there is a fine 1:64 scale model representing the Lamport and Holt sister ships Vauban and Vestris both built in 1912. They worked on Lamport and Holt’s New York – South America routes.
In November 1929, heading south two days out of New York for the River Plate, the Vestris capsized and sank in bad weather with the loss of 112 lives.
An inquiry found that the ship was overloaded and she went down because her badly-stowed cargo shifted.
Lamport and Holt suffered bad publicity from the loss of the Vestris. This, coupled with falling profits and the increasing economic depression, resulted in the New York – River Plate service being scrapped in 1930.
The Vauban was laid up at Southampton and was scrapped two years later. In 1944 Lamport and Holt was bought by the Vestey shipping group. The last Lamport and Holt ship was transferred to the Blue Star Line in 1991.
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 and bookshops.
Find out how good you are at safely loading cargo in the fun online game Cargo-a-go-go.