Records of The Castletown (Isle of Man) Steam Navigation Company

Scope and Content

The content consists of The Castletown (Isle of Man) Steam Navigation Company way book, ticket issue book, way bill book, register of shareholders, inward manifest book and (receipted) bills. Other material includes (incoming and outgoing) correspondence relating to business matters such as SS Ellan Vannin (1854), engineers & iron ship builders, other steam navigation companies, coal proprietors, railways matters, reports to shareholders, maintenance work and job applications. Further items present constitute legal papers (an indenture regarding a mortgage) and printed items and ephemera, such as pamphlets and posters.

Administrative / Biographical History

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution, the Isle of Man experienced a rapid expansion in the tourism industry. Towns like Douglas (with its natural harbour) were developed, made more accessible for seaborne passenger traffic and by the 1830s a Manx Steamship Company was operating out of Douglas harbour. During the latter half of the nineteenth century the capital town of Castletown (Douglas became the capital in 1869) decided it was necessary for the district to establish a steam boat communication system between Castletown and the rest of the British Isles. The people of Castletown saw the benefits brought by visitors; with landmarks such as Castle Rushen, a beautiful setting and the status of being the capital, Castletown believed its attractions the equal of any other Manx town.

In 1853 a steamship company was formed and named ‘The Castletown Isle of Man Steam Navigation Company’, with a capital sum of £12,000 in 1,200 shares of £10 each. The Company commissioned Birkenhead based ship builders John Laird and Co. Ltd to construct its first steamer: named the Ellan Vannin it was completed in June 1854. Arriving in Castletown on 1 August 1854, SS Ellan Vannin was given a warm welcome. A general holiday was declared with shops closing for the day. The quay was decorated with different coloured flags, a brass band played opposite the old pier and triumphal arches were erected in some parts of the streets. One arch (placed near the new steam navigation office) displayed the motto ‘We Are Progressing… Success To Our Steamer’. The Ellan Vannin quickly became known as the fastest vessel out of Liverpool, sailing to Douglas and Castletown every Monday and Friday and from Castletown to Liverpool (occasionally calling at Douglas) on Thursdays and Saturdays. There were also sailings from Castletown to Holyhead (North Wales) every Tuesday morning and from Holyhead to Castletown each Tuesday evening throughout the summer season. Sailings between Castletown and Glasgow (calling at Douglas and Ramsey) were also advertised by the Castletown Company.

Only three years later in 1856 the Castletown Steam Navigation Company was facing financial difficulties and accusations of mismanagement aboard/on-board Ellan Vannin were voiced. The company’s debt had risen to such an extent that the decision was made to sell the steamship. In June 1858 Ellan Vanninwas bought by Cunard Wilson and Co. for £4,070 on behalf of the Sardinian Government; the vessel was renamed Archimedes. The company was dissolved in 1860.

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Archivist's Note

The biographical information was gathered from Manx newspapers the Isle of Man Weekly Advertising Circular (5 January 1854), the Manx Sun (8 October 1853 & 5 August 1854), Mona’s Herald (12 December 1855, 29 October 1856, 21 October 1857, 24 February 1858 & 7 January 1936) and the Isle of Man Examiner (29 May 1936). Further information was gathered from a circular report of ‘The Castletown Isle of Man Steam Navigation Company’, see reference number: (MNH) M00504.

Isle of Man newspapers available online at

Fonds-level description created by Eleanor Williams (MNH Project Archivist), March 2016.