Records of The Ben Line Group Limited, shipping company, Edinburgh, Scotland

Administrative / Biographical History

The Ben Line Group was a family owned company with its origin in the shipping company, A & W Thomson, set up by brothers Alexander and William Thomson in Leith, near Edinburgh, in  1825 . Following the departure of Alexander from the partnership, the company was renamed  Wm Thomson & Co in 1847. This Company employed sailing ships engaged in trade around the globe, particularly in the Far East but also Australia and North America. Wm Thomson & Co went on to become the managers of several shipping companies in the 20th century, and continued in some capacity until  1987 .

In  1889  Wm Thomson & Co entered into a partnership with John Jordan, a Leith Merchant with business connections in Russia, to establish The Leith and St Petersburg Steam Shipping Company. This company, with a fleet distinct from Wm Thomson & Co's other developing interests, ran the Baltic trade route until the Russian Revolution in  1917  put an end to much of the trade. Wm Thomson & Co soon after took full control of the company and renamed it  The Petrograd Steamers Limited in  1921 . It continued formally until dissolved in  1941 , although in reality it ceased to function after the First World War.

Developing in parallel to The Leith and St Petersburg Steam Shipping Company was a line of steam ships owned by Wm Thomson & Co that became identified as 'The Ben Line of London and China Clippers' by  1881 . By  1900  this service was being advertised as 'The Ben Line of China and Japan Steamers'. In  1919  The Ben Line Steamers was incorporated as a limited company in its own right, with Wm Thomson & Co as managers. For much of the 20th century  The Ben Line Steamers Limited  was a dominant name in Scottish shipping that continued to maintain strong trade links with the Far East. This company built such a strong reputation that as the company diversified into a group later in the century, 'The Ben Line' became a by-word for what in reality was a series of separate business entities, including earlier companies such as The Petrograd Steamers and the Wm Thomson & Co sailing fleet that contained only a handful of ships named after a 'Ben'. In  1964  Wm Thomson & Co transferred all of its assets to The Ben Line Steamers Limited which then kept the name Wm Thomson & Co as a trade name.

In the 1970s the company began to diversify, and the modern Ben Line Group began to emerge.

In  1970  Ben Line Containers Limited was established as a partnership with Ellerman Lines who held a 20 percent share. This company ran a container shipping service within the 17 strong fleet of a three-nation consortium (the Trio Group) made up of Ben Line, Hapag-Lloyd, Mitsui-OSK (MOL), Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) and Overseas Containers Ltd (OCL) all engaged in the Far East trade.

In  1972  the company further branched out into ship management services, establishing Ben Line Ship Management as a joint venture with Galbraith Wrightson Limited. This company provided ship management services until the  1987  reorganisation of the associated companies into the  Ben Line Group Limited. At this point Ben Line Ship Management was renamed  Benmarine Limited and it continued to offer ship management services as well as marine consultancy. Also at this point all of the ships previously registered as being owned by Wm Thomson & Co appear to have been transferred to Benmarine Limted, as recorded in Lloyd's Shipping Register.

In the mid-1970s further expansion occurred into the growing oil industry.

Ben Odeco Ltd was established in  1974  as a joint partnership between the Ocean Drilling and Exploration Company Ltd (ODECO) of USA and Ben Line Ocean Contractors Limited, which was set up by Ben Line for the partnership.

In  1976 , following the purchase of The Sheaf Steam Shipping Company from W. A. Souter, Ben Line acquired a 50 percent share in  Atlantic Drilling Company Limited (ADCO), with Reardon Smith holding the other 50 percent share.

In  1987  a major re-organisation of the related Ben Line companies took place and The Ben Line Group Limited was established. At this point all of the business entities, including The Ben Line Steamers Limited, became subsidiaries of The Ben Line Group Limited. Wm Thomson & Co appears to have ceased to exist at this point, with Benmarine Limited being listed as owners of the fleet.

In  1992  The Ben line Group Limited sold all of its assets, including remaining fleet, to The East Asiatic Company Limited. Most of the Group companies were dissolved by  2002 . Ben Line Group Limited was liquidated  c2002 . In its place the holding company E G Thomson (Shipping) Ltd retained a few subsidiaries including E G Thomson (Bulk Carriers) Ltd, Ben Travel Ltd and a newly named Ben Line Agencies Ltd which continues to operate as a shipping agency today in Asia.

Further detailed histories of each company within the Group, including the initial Wm Thomson & Co, can be found in the administrative histories in the respective catalogues for each company.


The arrangement of this material reflects the original order in which it was received

Access Information

Some files in this collection are subject to Data Protection legislation as they contain sensitive information. These records will not be fully accessible to the public until 100 years from the date on each file. However, they may be accessible to bona fide researchers and academics. Please contact the Duty Archivist for advice on how to apply for access to these files. Contact details are as follows: Duty Archivist, Archive Services, University of Glasgow, 13 Thurso Street, Glasgow, G11 6PE;

Acquisition Information

Gift : E G Thomson (Holdings) Ltd : June 2013 : ACCN 3773

Gift : E G Thomson (Holdings) Ltd : February 2013 : ACCN 3744

Transfer : Edinburgh University Library : June 2006 : ACCN 2949

Other Finding Aids

Digital file level list available in searchroom

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

None which affect the use of this material

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Archivist.

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 248 procedures

Custodial History

All materials held by Ben Line Group Limited until it was wound down in 2000. Thereafter transfered to and held by E G Thomson (Holdings) Ltd until deposit at GUAS, with exception of ACCN 2949, containing voyage account books and voyage account boxes, which were held by Edinburgh University Library until transfer to GUAS in 2006.


None expected

Related Material

  • GB 248 UGC 199/1, Records of Wm Thomson & Co
  • GB 248 UGC 199/2, Records of The Petrograd Steamers Limited
  • GB 248 UGC 199/3, Records of The Ben Line Steamers Limited
  • GB 248 UGC 199/4, Records of Benmarine Limited
  • GB 248 UGC 199/5, Records of Ben Line Containers Limited
  • GB 248 UGC 199/6, Records of Ben Odeco Limited
  • GB 248 UGC 199/7, Records of Atlantic Drilling Company Limited
  • GB 248 UGC 199/8, Ben Line Group records

Location of Originals

This material is original


The Ben Line Steamers LtdThe Ben Line: The Story of a Merchant Fleet at War. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd , 1946 .Somner, G.Ben Line: Fleet List and Short History. Kendal, England: World Ship Society , 1st edition 1967 , 2nd edition 1980 .Blake, G.The Ben Line - The History of a Merchant Fleet, 1825-1955. Edinburgh: Wm Thomson & Co , 1970 .Strachan, M.The Ben Line 1825-1982. Norwich: Michael Russell , 1992 .Somner, G.Ben Line. Preston: Ships in Focus Publications , 2009 .

Additional Information

Description compiled in line with the following international standards: International Council on Archives, ISAD(G) Second Edition, September 1999and National Council on Archives, Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names

Scotland is the location of all place names in the administrative/biographical history element, unless otherwise stated.

Fonds level description compiled by Neil Ogg, Ben Line Archive Cataloguer, 2015.

Family Names