While the Maritime Archives & Library was recently closed for refurbishment, a lot of work was going on behind the scenes. At our reserve store, which houses the archives of various local businesses, I have been cataloguing collections previously inaccessible to the public.
Here I’d like to highlight just one of the fascinating collections that are now available for the first time.
John Holt & Co (Liverpool) Ltd. was founded in 1867 when John Holt bought out his employer’s company. Operating across West Africa in all the main centres of trade, particularly Lagos, Nigeria, the shipping company played a notable part in the pioneering and development of British trade in West Africa, helping to develop trade in important new products, including cocoa, cotton lint and groundnuts, alongside the traditional trade in palm oil and rubber.
Along with these commercial interests, in later years John Holt himself became a champion of African welfare, developing friendships with notable humanitarians of the day, such as ED Morel, Mary Kingsley and the author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
While the collection is highly relevant to maritime history and the history of Liverpool, it is also significant for the study of legacies of transatlantic slavery and post colonial development in Africa.
The papers we hold run until the 1990s and as such cover the period of the struggle for African independence, providing insights into government policy making on British companies. For example, the collection includes Agreements with West African governments and with the Imperial Ethiopian Navy, and files detailing staff redundancies due to ‘civil disturbances’.
In addition to John Holt, several other important collections have now been catalogued and made available to staff and the public, including the papers of Ben Shaw, the Liverpool councillor who helped to establish Merseyside Maritime Museum; Roby & Utley, a firm of brass founders who carried out work for most of the major companies in the shipbuilding industry and the Admiralty; and General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union, which includes trade union material from various maritime organisations.