Records of Westcott and Laurance Line Ltd, shipowners, London, England

Scope and Content

  • Minutes 1924-1961
  • Publicity materials 1930-1951
  • Ship records 1870-1926

Administrative / Biographical History

In the late 1850s an infrequent service between London and the Levant was maintained by the Greek & Oriental Shipping Co , shipowners, London, England. This company was ruined by a bank crash and in 1864  , Captain W G Westcott, previously of the Greek & Oriental Shipping Co, along with a former member of the office staff set up a shipbrokers and, in 1867  , despatched their first steamer, Harriet Agnes, on her first voyage. This partnership was known as Westcott & Houseden , changing its name to Westcott and Laurance in 1871  . The company established trade lines to the Mediterranean with routes to Malta; Alexandria, Egypt; and Odessa; Ukraine; and also to Malta; Piraeus, Greece; Syria, Istanbul, Turkey; the Black Sea and ports on the river Danube.

Ellerman Lines Ltd , shipowners, Glasgow, Scotland, acquired Westcott and Laurance in 1901  , establishing Ellerman Lines Ltd in the port of London. The line already owned the , City Line Ltd , Hall Line Ltd and Bucknall Steamship Lines Ltd and had a dominating position in the Mediterranean and Near East.

The companies all came together under the Ellerman flag and adopted the Ellerman funnel colour of buff with a white band and black top. Rather than being in competition, the companies now worked together. The older City Line passenger vessels were transferred to the Mediterranean services and remained popular with tourists until they were replaced by modern vessels built for the Ellerman & Papayanni Line Ltd.

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.

Westcott and Laurance Line Ltd was incorporated in 1924  .

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.

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, 7 by air attacks, 3 by mines and 1 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 of building fast steam cargo liners was implemented that held no more than 12 passengers who were to travel in style and comfort with similar standards for crew accommodation. The group 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 group 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 carrying capacity of 900,000 tons.

Westcott and Laurance Ltd 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

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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

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