Records of Ellerman & Bucknall (Steamships) Co Ltd, shipowners, London, England

Scope and Content

  • Minutes 1949-1970;
  • Memorandum and articles of association 1900-1908;
  • Share records 1909;
  • Annual accounts 1901-1937;
  • Ledgers 1896-1972;
  • Journals 1900-1971;
  • Trade agreements 1893-1938;
  • Staff records 1907-1931;
  • Telegraph cable books 1892-1914;
  • Voyage records 1892-1943;
  • Agency records 1936, 1946;
  • Publicity material 1892-1968.

Administrative / Biographical History

Ellerman & Bucknall (Steamships) Co Ltd began in 1740 as Henry Bucknall & Sons, shipowners, London, England, who traded in cork from Portugal. During the 1850s, the company decided to purchase a fleet of sailing ships with the primary objective of transporting their own merchandise. In 1868, the firm began to replace their sailing ships with steamers but still restricted their activities to trading between the United Kingdom and Portugal. In 1888, the firm of Bucknall Brothers, shipbrokers, was established and in 1890 Bucknall Nephews was established to take over the ships of the parent firm, Henry Bucknall & Co.

The development of gold and diamond mining in South Africa led the company, along with a contract with the Netherlands South African Railway, to inaugurate a regular service to South Africa in 1892. To undertake this service, the British & Colonial Steam Navigation Co was formed by Bucknall Nephews in 1891 with a fleet of 9 steamers and a passenger service being added in 1895. Various contracts to transport livestock and goods to South Africa were secured although goods for the return journey were scarce. As a result, the ships would often cross from South Africa to Burma to carry rice or undertake charter services to Australia. Sometimes the ships would call at the Canary Islands to collect ballast of fruit, potatoes and tomatoes. In 1893, a service carrying mules from New York, USA, to Cape Town, South Africa, for the Cape Town Tramway system was started and later extended to India with a full service being inaugurated in 1898, loading for Canada as well on the return journey.

In 1900, Bucknall Steamship Lines Ltd was incorporated to acquire the business of the British & Colonial Steam Navigation Co with a share and debenture capital of å£1,985,000. The company struggled in its early days due to the price it had to pay for the assets it acquired and also due to a slump in business following the Transvaal War in South Africa. It gradually recovered and services were developed to the Malay Straights, China, the Philippines and Japan; from Australia to England; also between North America and South and East Africa; the Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, India, Java, Malaya, the Far East, Australia and New Zealand.

In 1908, the Bucknall Steamship Lines Ltd found themselves in difficulty again though overbuilding and it was arranged that the company should be acquired by Ellerman Lines Ltd, shipowners, London, Scotland. Ellerman Lines Ltd already owned and operated the Ellerman City Line Ltd, Hall Line Ltd, and Ellerman & Papayanni Lines Ltd. In the early days of the company the ships bore names distinctly redolent of South Africa and China, but with the construction of new tonnage these names lapsed and the "City" system of nomenclature used by the Ellerman group of companies including the City, Hall and Bucknall fleets was adopted. In 1912, the company's passenger services were taken over by the Hall and City Lines and in 1914, the company was renamed Ellerman & Bucknall (Steamships) Co 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 previous 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 main Ellerman & Bucknall (Steamships) Co Ltd services were Middlesborough, England; Antwerp, Netherlands; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Hamburg, Germany; and London to South African ports, Lourenco Marques, Beira, Mozambique; and Mauritius. Services were also provided from the United Kingdom and Europe to the Far East. They also ran various cross-trades from Canada and USA to the Persian Gulf, South and East Africa, the Indian Ocean, the Far East and Australia returning to the USA or Britain.

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 out of the fleet of 105.

Following the war, the Ellerman group undertook a new building programme, with the "City of Bristol" being the first new ship. A new policy of building fast steam cargo liners that held no more than 12 passengers who travelled in style and comfort with similar standards for crew accommodation. The group concentrated on re-establishing their world wide trade routes and purchased 12 cargo ships from the Government 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.

The company appears to have ceased trading in the 1970s and was dissolved in 1999.

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

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Access to records within this collection is open, however an appointment may be required. Please email Archives and Special Collections for advice:

Acquisition Information

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

Indefinite loan : 6 February 1992 : ACCN157*

Other Finding Aids

See also University of Glasgow Collections

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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Custodial History



Gift : GLAASC-ACCN:00018 : 2021

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This material is original