In the early 1900s Captain John Thomas Kee (1854-1926) and his son John Brown Kee (1883-1934) ran a coal merchant’s business on Ramsey quay. By 1913 the Kee’s decided to work in partnership with some local businessmen and investigate the possibility of purchasing steamships, the better to bring in cargoes at more favourable rates. The businessmen included banker Frederick Brew (c.1867-1933), grocer Robert Brew (c.1857-1914), farmer Alfred Christian (c.1852-1931), corn merchant Thomas Baker Cowley (c.1884-1941), advocate, John William Hyde (c.1874-1937) and corn merchant Robert Evan Kennish (c.1865-1935). The group established the Ramsey Steamship Company Limited (RSSCL) with an authorised capital of £4,200 in £1 shares. Its objective was ‘to acquire one or more small steamers for the purpose of Trading between the Isle of Man, chiefly Ramsey, and ports on the Mainland'. The Company’s business included ship owning, shipbroking, carries and acting as forwarding agents, warehousemen and wharf keepers (wharfingers).
Robert Brew was Chairman, John Brown Kee was Secretary and Manager and the registered office was 25 West Quay, Ramsey. The company commissioned a new vessel built by the Northern Irish Larne Shipbuilding Company at the cost of £4,089 13s. 6d. Called the Ben Veg (Little Woman), she was a 159 gross tonnage coaster and was completed in August 1914; her maiden voyage was 17 August 1914 where she carried a cargo of stone to Liverpool. During the First World War the company’s trade increased as the Isle of Man became host to large numbers of civilian aliens who were detained in internment camps. The camps put extra demands on essential imports of the commodities in which the RSSCL dealt. On 7 February 1918 the Ben Rein vessel was sunk by the German submarine UB 57 (all crew survived). By June 1919 the Ramsey fleet increased to four vessels and by April 1924 it further increased to six vessels.
In 1922 the Company started a side venture involving the purchase by three Board members of a steam drifter to import casks of petroleum to Douglas. The venture did not prove successful and disbanded before the year ended. In May 1923 RSSCL entered into a second side venture in the form of the Island Steamship Company Limited. The Company had connections to Liverpool shippers Lowden, Connell and Company. By 1930 the Island Steamship Company ceased trading and was taken over by a newly formed shipping company called J.B. Kee (1930) Limited. J.B. Kee traded until 1957.
During the Second World War the Island became home to branches of all three armed services, with extensive and heavily-populated training camps. It was also home for a second time to internment camps. This large increase in residents saw the Ramsey Steamship Company become the Island’s second life-line for the transport of essential supplies. On 22 May 1941 the company lost the Ben Veg in an accident due to blackout conditions.
The post-war years were a period of austerity for everyone as many industries attempted to return to their normal peacetime production. There was a general shortage of raw material, and certain supplies were still rationed. However the RSSCL managed to make a profit in the 1940s-1950s. In 1964 the RSSCL obtained the contract to supplying fuel, fresh water and general stores to the pirate radio ship Radio Caroline, a radio station operating 3 miles off Ramsey Bay. The company acted as the ship’s agent until March 1967. The 1950s-1960s was also a time of modernisation for the company, for instance investigating new motor ship models: in July 1956 the motorised Ben Rein (3) joined the fleet; by 1965 the entire Ramsey fleet was motorised.
In the 1970s and 1980s the British Isles were blighted by loss of trade and various work strikes. By 1978 the RSSCL had reduced its fleet to three vessels. Further industrial unrest, such as the National Union of Seamen action and mechanical troubles with its various ships also adversely affected the company’s activities. However by the 1990s the Company began to prosper and in October 1999 the fleet was increased to four ships. From 1913 onwards the company’s business diversified to involve carrying single bulk cargoes, stevedoring services, expertise in freight cargoes and acting as shipping agents for assorted clients including cruise ships, tankers and offshore supply vessels. It also had a marine engineering department, able to undertake engine overhauls, steel fabrication, welding work and emergency repairs. However in 2013 its centenary year, the company was hit by a large fee owed to the Merchant Navy Pension Fund. The fee was unattainable and it was decided the only option was for the RSSCL to be wound up and voluntary dissolved.