Maritime Tales – Business Brothers

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Blue Funnel ship model

Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post & Echo

I have so far never been tempted to go into business but I notice that the most successful entrepreneurs often operate as families.

I suppose this can be down to trust but we have all heard of siblings falling out – usually over money.

I have always admired the Holts for their high business principles. They were good to their workers and gave away huge amounts of money to benefit the public.

Alfred and Philip Holt created the hugely-successful Ocean Steamship Company – known throughout the world as the Blue Funnel Line.

They thought up the idea while strolling around their father George Holt’s Liverpool garden.

George Holt senior – founder of a shipowning dynasty – was a successful cotton broker and a major player in banking and insurance. Alfred (1829 – 1911) was very like his father with a strong moral character and mental discipline from an early age. Alfred had wanted to be a railway engineer but could not find work because of an economic slump. He turned to his brother George, a partner in the Lamport and Holt shipping line, who gave him a job.

Alfred quickly shone and at the age of just 22, at his father’s suggestion, set himself up as a consultant steam engineer. He designed a new type of compound tandem steam engine that was to help make his fortune.

Alfred and Philip set up their shipping line in 1865, placing a £156,000 order with Scotts of Greenock for three new ships for the China trade.

The Agamemnon, Ajax and Achilles were the first of many successful Blue Funnel vessels that were part of the maritime scene for more than 120 years.

The two brothers worked successfully together for nearly 50 years. Alfred had a constant involvement in the technical side of their ships while Philip, who died in 1914, had great commercial know-how.

As a result Blue Funnel ships and services were among the finest in the British merchant fleet.

A 1:96 scale exhibition model in Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Liverpool World Gateway gallery depicts the motor vessel Priam of 1966 (pictured). She was first in a class of eight ships that were the last conventional cargo liners built for Blue Funnel.

Many would say that her sleek and graceful lines marked the apogee of merchant ship design before the arrival of huge utilitarian container ships.

Built by Vickers-Armstrong of Newcastle, she carried general cargo and 150 containers on Blue Funnel’s traditional UK – Far East services.

In 1972 Blue Funnel became part of Ocean Transport and Trading plc and sold its last ships in the late 1980s.

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.