Thomas Wilson Sons & Co. was a British shipping company, founded in 1840,It evolved from a joint venture formed by merchants Thomas Wilson, John Beckinton and two unrelated partners named Hudson in 1822.
The company expanded and by the early 20th century operated a relatively large fleet, but in 1906 part of the operation was merged with the North Eastern Railway creating Wilson's & North Eastern Railway Shipping Co. Ltdand later in 1916 the remaining company was sold to Sir John Ellerman who created Ellerman's Wilson Line which continued to trade until closed in 1973.
None of the partners came from shipping background but were quick to see the opportunity of becoming involved in the industry and they acquired their first sailing ship the "Thomas and Ann" in 1825, and a schooner "Swift" in 1831.
In about 1836 John Beckington dropped out of the partnership and the new company was formed.
The two Hudson partners retired in 1840–41 allowing Thomas Wilson to take full control. He brought his eldest son David into the business as his partner.
In 1850 his other sons Charles and Arthur joined and became active partners, the name changing to Thomas Wilson Sons and Company, though usually known as the Wilson Line of Hull.
Thomas died in 1869 and the company was taken over by his sons Charles and Arthur Wilson, with David remaining a silent partner. A few years later the brothers were beginning to question the ability of their own sons to continue running the firm and brought in a non-family member, Oswald Sanderson, to become the new Managing Director.
In 1878 the company purchased the seven ship fleet of Brownlow Marsdin and Co., bringing the Wilson fleet to 52 ships.
In 1903 23 ships were purchased from Bailey & Leetham.
In 1906 part of the operation was merged with the North Eastern Railway creating Wilson's & North Eastern Railway Shipping Co. Ltd.
In 1906 the company purchased the shares in the ailing local firm Earle's Shipbuilding and ordered ships from them.
The company was sold to Sir John Ellerman in 1916, owner of the successful Ellerman Line and supposedly the richest man in Britain at the time. There can be little doubt that the loss of three of its largest and most prestigious ships to enemy action (Aaro and Calypso sunk; Eskimo captured) in a three-week period in the summer contributed greatly to the Wilson family's decision to sell the company.Though it kept the Wilson name (Ellerman's Wilson Line of Hull) and continued for several years, it never saw the same success, despite a brief revival in the 1950s, and was eventually closed in 1973 when the Ellerman company turned its focus elsewhere.
From a background in iron importing, the focus was on steam shipping, still in its early stages and eventually saw the company become a prominent figure in modern steam shipping. Initially, the firm concentrated on Swedish iron ore importing for the Sheffield iron trades but gradually turned to focus on the shipping lines all over the world, with Hull becoming one of the most significant ports to flourish under the advent of steam. Previously getting out of the Humber Estuary was difficult despite the convenient location of Hull, but with steam, it became easy to reach the sea and navigate around Britain.
At one time the firm was well on its way to becoming the world's largest private shipowner. [ citation needed ]The company stands out as one of interest in the maritime and business world of the period, as it provides an example of the changing fortunes of a family business. It has been suggested that Thomas Wilson is a good example of the emergence of specialist shipowners at this time.
Funnels: Red with black top.
Hull: black (Thomas Wilson Sons) or dark green (Ellerman's Wilson) but occasionally white where the vessel had refrigerated capacity.
|Notes and references|
|Tasso||1852||610||Built by Denny and launched as Scandinavian but renamed Tasso in 1870.|
Lost at Bergen in 1885.
|Hero||1866||Operated on the Hull–Trondheim service.|
|Rollo||1870||Built by Earle's Shipbuilding for Gothenburg service|
|Orlando||1870||Probably a sister of Rollo built by Earle's for Gothenburg service.|
|Eldorado||1873||3,300||Built for Wilson's Indian service.|
|Romeo||1880||1,840||Built by Earle's Shipbuilding for Hull–Gothenburg service.|
Transferred to London–Riga service in about 1904 and operated alongside Bailey & Leetham's Jaffa and Zara until the outbreak of the First World War.
|Juno||1882||1,302||Built by Earle's mainly for Hull–Hamburg service.|
Sold in 1888 to Tyne Steam Shipping Co., and joined newly amalgamated Tyne Tees Steam Shipping Company in 1904, retaining her name and trading generally to Hamburg.
|Eldorado||1885||935||Built by Earle's for the Hull to Bergen service and exclusively for passengers.|
Sold after less than a year in 1886 to the Greek government and renamed Sfaktirea and used as a naval auxiliary until returned to commercial service about 20 years later as the Mykali.
|Built by Earle's Shipbuilding as a replacement for the earlier vessel of same name on Hull to Stavanger & Bergen route.|
She undertook occasional cruises during the winter off-season, and in January 1890 her itinerary took her from Hull to Madeira, Nice, Malta, Constantinople and Odessa returning home in early April.
|Juno||1889||1,080||Built by Earle's mainly for use on Hull–Trondheim route with the Hero. Sold in 1899 to Bergen Line who employed her on their Hamburg–Kristiansand–Vadso service having renamed her Hera.|
In 1910 she was switched to their coastal service from Bergen to Vadso until March 1931, in her 42nd year of service, when she ran aground and was wrecked in a storm off the Norwegian coast. Six lives were lost but thanks to the extreme gallantry of crewman Einar Ramm, 56 people were saved.
|Ariosto||1889||2,376||Built by Earle's Shipbuilding for the Hull–Gothenburg service and was the largest North Sea passenger vessel of her day. Romeo was her running mate on the service which carried large numbers of emigrants on what was the first leg of the journey to the New World.|
The Romeo was replaced by the new Calypso in 1904.
|Tasso||1890||1,328||Built by Earle's Shipbuilding for the Trondheim route. Lengthened in 1899 and later switched to Hull–Bergen service.|
She was badly damaged in a collision in poor visibility with 18,000 ton Hamburg America Line ship President Lincoln in January 1911 and escorted to Dover by the liner. Following repair she was sold to W. Morphy and Son of Hull and changed hands again before the First World War when sold to Greek interests and renamed Elefsis. She was lost on passage between Corsica and Elba on Christmas Day 1920 by which time she was named Photios.
|Montebello||1890||1,735||Built by Richardson, Duck and Company, at Stockton-on-Tees for the Kristiansand and Oslo service.|
She became surplus to requirements in 1910 and sold to Spain's Compania Valenciana and renamed Barcelo, operating between Spanish ports and the Canary Islands.
|Spero||1896||1,132||Built by Archibald MacMillan & Co at Dumbarton.|
She was utilised on various services mainly on the emigrant traffic and made numerous calls to Stettin.
|Zero||1896||1,143||Near sister of Spero although built at Earle's in Hull.|
She served with Spero in the emigrant trade until switched to Copenhagen route before the First World War.
|Salmo||1897||1,721||Built by Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Company in Dundee at a time when Earle's were experiencing considerable difficulties.|
One of seven vessels built by that yard at the time for the Line of which only Salmo was for passenger service.
|Una||1899||1,406||Built by John Scott & Co at Kinghorn for Hull shipowner Bailey & Leetham, who had been taken over by Thomas Wilson in 1903.|
Under Wilson ownership she traded mainly from Hull or Newcastle upon Tyne to Copenhagen in a joint service with DFDS.
|Calypso||1904||2,876||Built by Earle's Shipbuilding and was largest North Sea passenger vessel of her day. She was the first two-funnelled vessel in the owner’s short sea fleet.|
She entered the Hull–Gothenburg service.
|Oslo||1906||2,296||Built by Earle's Shipbuilding and notable for her name as the Norwegian capital only adopted that name in 1927.|
Entered service to Oslo transferring to the Bergen/Trondheim route in 1910 and continued to trade the Norwegian routes during the First World War. Having survived one attack in October 1915 outrunning her assailant, she was lost to a torpedo attack by U-87 off Shetland on 21 August 1917.
|Aaro||1909||2,603||Built by Earle's and was the first of the regular Humber ferries to have a W/T aerial fitted between her two very tall masts.|
Entered Oslo service but switched to the Bergen/Trondheim route in 1911. In January of that year the vessel collided with the Norwegian registered Richard (1,082 grt), whilst entering the Humber Estuary, sinking the vessel, but all on board were rescued by the Aaro which continued relatively undamaged into Hull.
|Eskimo||1910||3,326||Built by Earle's for the Oslo service and was quite unlike any other vessel built for the line before her. Achieved an average speed of 17.3 knots on trial thus becoming the line's fastest vessel by a considerable margin.|
Requisitioned by the Admiralty in November 1914 she was fitted out as an armed merchant cruiser, but like the Calypso before her, was found to be too small for the Atlantic in all weathers and was returned to her owners in July 1915 and resumed her North Sea services.
|Bayardo||1911||3,570||Built by Earle's for the Gothenburg service. Very similar to the Eskimo (1910) in general design but was slightly larger with only one funnel. Her slightly larger size afforded her the title 'The Queen of the Fleet'.|
Her reign was sadly cut short after only seven months when she grounded whilst creeping up a fog-shrouded Humber Estuary in January 1912. The strength of the tide pushed her partially onto a bank and as the tide fell she broke her back and became a total loss. All on board were rescued, and much of the cargo and expensive fittings were salved. The hulk quickly began to break up and sink in the mud and she was finally blown up being a hazard to navigation.
|Rollo||1899||3,658||Acquired in 1920 to replace war losses. Built by Barclay Curle in Glasgow as the Fantee for the Elder Dempster Lines managed African Steamship Company's West African trade.|
Sold in 1915 to Ellerman & Papayanni and renamed Italian before being transferred to Ellerman's Wilson Line and renamed Rollo in 1920.
|Orlando||1904||4,233||The second vessel acquired in 1920 to replace war losses. Built in Aberdeen by Hall Russell & Company for the Harrison / John T. Rennie service from the U.K. to Natal.|
Employed initially in the Hull–Danzig service before transferring to the London / Hull – Gothenburg / Oslo routes. In the winter of 1927/8 she performed a round voyage for Ellerman & Bucknall to South Africa.
|Calypso||1897||3,817||The third vessel acquired in 1920 to replace war losses. Built by Sir Raylton Dixon in Middlesbrough and entered service as the Bruxellesville between Antwerp and the Congo for the Woermann controlled Soc. Maritime du Congo.|
In 1901 she was transferred to full Woermann ownership, renamed Alexandra Woermann and entered the Hamburg to German West Africa trade.
|Spero||1922||1,589||Built by the Dundee Shipbuilding Company at a time when shipbuilding capacity was fully stretched.|
The vessel was initially used on the Oslo service but entered the long established joint service with DFDS for which she had been built between Hull and Copenhagen alternating with their Hroar during 1923.
|Bravo||1947||1,798||Built by Henry Robb of Leith.|
|Borodino||1950||3,206||Built by Ailsa Shipbuilding Company of Troon she was the last conventional passenger/cargo vessel in the Wilson fleet. Entered service from Hull to Copenhagen and Aarhus in the joint service with DFDS and switched in 1965 to the similar service out of London.|
Mini cruises on the round voyage became very popular but the increasing competition from the faster North Sea ferries gradually reduced her passenger carryings resulting in her being withdrawn at the end of 1966 and eventually sold for scrapping in Bruges in mid-1967 when no buyer for further trading could be found.
|Spero||1966||6,916||Built by Cammell Laird at Birkenhead for the Hull–Gothenburg service but spent part of 1966 also serving London.|
A fine traditional looking car ferry which relatively quickly became dated by the new drive through vessels being introduced by competitors.
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