Records of Hall Line Ltd, shipowners, Liverpool, England

Scope and Content

  • Minutes 1899-1968;
  • Share records 1889-1976;
  • Financial records 1963-1967;
  • Ship records 1853-1943;
  • Publicity materials, early 20th century;
  • Photographs 1870-1907;

Administrative / Biographical History

The Hall Line Ltd was founded as Robert & Young , shipmanagers, in Liverpool, England, in 1864  . The first sailing ships, the Bayard and Vernon , made their maiden voyages in 1864, one being despatched to India and the other to Australia. In 1868  , this partnership was dissolved when Robert Alexander started his own fleet of sailing ships in Liverpool named after historic English country houses and halls and trading under the name Robert Alexander & Co . The next three vessels were named the Haddon Hall , Locksley Hall and Eaton Hall , built in 1868, 1869, and 1870 respectively, and it was from the adoption of this distinctive nomenclature that the Line subsequently derived its name.

At that time, the firm's ships principally traded to India, Australia and the west coast of America, although the firm were already tending to concentrate their interests in the Indian trade in competition with George Smith & Sons, shipowners, Glasgow, Scotland. A typical voyage of the period was from Liverpool to Australia with passengers and general cargo, then on to San Francisco, USA, and home with wheat, or from Australia to Burma and then home with rice. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 it soon became evident that traffic through the Canal would adversely affect the employment of sailing ships to India, and the firm accordingly determined to establish a regular service of steamers to India with Bombay as their terminal port. The steamer service was inaugurated in 1873 with the City of Baltimore . Three new steamers entered into service over the next two years, the Branksome Hall , Merton Hall , and Werneth Hall . They were exceptionally large for their time, with superior passenger accommodation, and carrying about 6,000 tons dead weight of cargo. Additional steamers were built to meet the growing demand of trade, their last sailing ship being disposed of in 1881.

In 1874  , Robert Alexander formed the Sun Shipping Co Ltd and this was the official title of the Hall Line for many years. In the late 1870s  , the firm of Alexander & Radcliffe was formed in Liverpool to manage the Sun Shipping Co Ltd and it also took over some of the ships personally owned by Robert Alexander. The fleets of the companies were divided in 1883  between the Sun Shipping Co Ltd , Robert Alexander & Co and Alexander & Radcliffe but the three companies worked closely together. The Alexander & Radcliffe company was dissolved in 1885  and Robert Alexander & Co became the sole managers of the Sun Shipping Co Ltd

For a number of years the Hall Line maintained a regular and successful passenger service to Karachi, Pakistan; and Bombay, India. The carriage of cargo, however, was their major interest and in 1898 they relinquished their passenger interests and sold their passenger vessels to the P & O Co. In 1899  , the Sun Shipping Co Ltd was liquidated and the company re-established as Hall Line Ltd with Robert Alexander as chairman.

The Hall Line Ltd then restricted its activities to the transport of cargo and it was not until after the Ellerman group of companies acquired them in 1901  that they re-entered the passenger trade in association with the Ellerman City Line Ltd , Glasgow, Scotland.

The absorption of the City and Hall Lines into the Ellerman Group in 1901 rendered possible a close integration of their respective organisations and a wider development of their Eastern services, which now embraced all the principle ports in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). In addition, the Hall Line operated services to and from South and East Africa. The tradition "Hall" nomenclature was allowed to die out and the Ellerman trademark "City" designation took over.

The outbreak of the 1914-1918 World War saw the government requisition a large number of the Ellerman fleet for use as troop carriers, munitions carriers, or for conversion into war ships. The Ellerman group of companies continued to operate a skeletal service with the ships it had left. After the war, the immediate aim of the Ellerman group was to secure sufficient tonnage to restore a level of service comparable to the group's old standards which lead to the purchase of several German liners as well as new tonnage being ordered. The passenger services to Egypt, India, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the Far East were soon re-established and the network of cargo services restored.

By 1939, the Ellerman group of companies owned 105 ships capable of carrying a combined 920,000 tons making Ellerman's one of the biggest fleets in the world. They had 4 classes of ship: cargo ships with space for a considerable number of passengers; cargo ships with limited passenger accommodation; pure cargo ships; and short sea traders for the Mediterranean and Iberian services. Prior to the war, the Hall Line was providing a regular service that loaded in south Wales, Manchester and Birkenhead for the Middle East, Kathiawar ports, Bombay and Karachi; and in south Wales, Glasgow, Birkenhead, Dunkirk, Middlesbourough and Hull for Marmagoa and the Malabar coast.

During the 1939-1945 World War many ships were requisitioned for Government service while a number of ships were retained to continue as cargo vessels bringing supplies to the United Kingdom and government departments. Forty-one ships were sunk by submarines, seven by air attacks, three by mines and one by surface raider. In total, 60 ships were lost from a fleet of 105.

Following the war, a new building programme was undertaken, with the City of Bristol being the first new ship. A new policy was implemented of building fast steam cargo liners that held no more than 12 passengers who were to travel in style and comfort with similar standards for crew accommodation. The company concentrated on re-establishing their world wide trade routes and purchased from the Government 12 cargo ships which the company had managed during the war. By 1952, the company had 25 of these new style 12-passenger ships and had restored the bulk of their pre-war services with a total of 45 new vessels and a further 14 for the Portuguese trade and Mediterranean services. By 1953, the fleet had a total of 94 ships with a carry capacity of 900,000 tons.

Hall Line Ltd appears to have ceased trading in the late 1970s and was dissolved in 1994  .

Sources: UGD 131/1/60/1/5 The Journal of Commerce: Ellerman Line Number (January 1953) and UGD 131/1/60/1/2 Ellerman brochure (c1948)


This material is arranged into series as shown in the scope and content. Within series, the items are generally arranged chronologically

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Gift : P&O Containers :London: 1992 : ACCN155*, 159*, 160*

Indefinite loan : 6 February 1992 : ACCN157*

Other Finding Aids

Digital file level list available in searchroom

Manual file level list available at the National Registers of Archives in Edinburgh (NRA(S)3480) and London (NRA17571)

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

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Additional Information

This material is original

Amended by Emma Yan, Assistant Archivist (Cataloguing), 30 January 2008