The survival rate for these records is quite patchy, particularly for the nineteenth century. Much material is thought to have been destroyed during the heavy bombing of Hull and its docks during the Second World War, with the area around Commercial Road/Railway Dock, where the latter-day EWL was based, being particularly badly hit. Also, as one might expect, many more records were both kept, and therefore survived, after the firm's reconstitution in 1891. Indeed, there are no corporate and ownership records before that date, whereas registers of directors, share, debenture and mortgage registers, and general and directors' minute books abound from that time until the mid-1960s, with some gaps. There are also one or two interesting files relating to the acquisition of the Company by Sir John Reeves Ellerman, and the subsequent change of name to Ellerman's Wilson Line.
The survival rate for accounting and financial records has been quite good. There are ledgers from the time of the establishment of the initial Beckington/Wilson partnership in 1825 (with a gap for the 1837-52 period), and private ledgers, journals, balance books and other annual accounts from the late 19th century. There is a complete run of annual financial statements and reports for the 1904-64 period, with detailed reports for 1906-28. Investment ledgers cover the years 1920-72, whilst there are some salary and pension records from the 1920s into the late 1940s. Miscellaneous accounting records include a ledger from the Leeds Office, 1888-1961, and the account book of David Wilson, 1890.
Details of the Company's agreements with others have survived in large numbers from the late nineteenth century onwards. Such agreements have been assembled by type: thus there are categories corresponding to agencies, labour/wages, pooling, property, utilities, vessels and miscellaneous. The pooling and trade arrangements are of especial interest, particularly in relation to northern European, the Baltic and Russian trade. Thus there are agreements with the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company, Det Forenede Dampskibs Selskab of Copenhagen, and the Northern Steamship Company of St Petersburg from before the First World War, along with post-war agreements with Soviet companies. The latter include an agreement of 26 June 1925 with the Arcos Steamship Co. Ltd of London as agents for the State Mercantile Fleet of the USSR (Sovtorgflot Moscow) whereby EWL undertook to operate a service of three refrigerated ships to transport butter and other perishables between Leningrad and Hull.
The property agreements mostly concern the letting of buildings, offices, huts, and so on, mainly near the docks in Hull, but also in Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds, and elsewhere, often with useful plans. A variety of utility or service agreements have also survived, perhaps the most interesting relating to early telegraphic and telephone installations in Hull from April 1871. The great variety of miscellaneous agreements include such things as individual contracts for one-off shipments, one example being a contract with Hellyer Brothers of Hull for the carriage of frozen fish from the Davis Strait to Hull on the 'Borodino' in June 1932.
Information relating to vessels comes in several forms. Firstly, there are numerous bills of sale and mortgage agreements. The 200 or so bills of sale for the 1865-1937 period include the seven vessels purchased from Brownlow, Marsdin & Company between 1877 and 1879, and twelve lighters purchased from the Hull Keel & Lighter Company in 1923. There are many specifications and contracts for new vessels, including those built by Earle's Shipbuilding and Engineering Company of Hull (with a list of all vessels built between 1855 and 1925). There are also files relating to new vessels ordered by Sir John Ellerman (31 in all) during 1917-18 and contracts placed by the Company after World War II (23 in all) between 1945 and 1954. A series of four ships' registry books cover the period 1860 to 1944, and contain copies of certificates of British registry, with technical details (including subsequent alterations) and plans.
There are also records relating to the operation and running of vessels. These include rules and regulations, such as 'Regulations to be observed by the Commanders and Officers of Wilson Line ships' dating from January 1897. There are, too, some log and note books, the most significant being a series of some 25 note books by Capt W. Colbeck between 1913 and 1922 plus his log books whilst in command of various ships in the Baltic and Mediterranean between April 1906 and September 1912. Other miscellaneous items include, for example, files detailing the management of ships belonging to other companies during the Second World War, such as the 'Tweedsmuir Park' (of the Park Steamship Company of Montreal) between 1943 and 1946.
The correspondence and other subject files are voluminous. Probably the most important are those relating to Sir John Ellerman, from shortly before his takeover of the firm until his death in 1933. These contain literally thousands of letters and copy letters between Ellerman and his staff in Hull, and touching on almost every conceivable topic. In stark contrast, there are hardly any letters subsequently with the second Sir John Ellerman, and the correspondence files tail off dramatically after 1933. Correspondence thereafter is arranged chiefly by subject, with all aspects of EWL's operations covered, including the various trades, and work undertaken for the Ministry of War Transport during World War Two. There are also many artificial files containing useful background information relating to aspects of the firm's history, including biographical material, advertising, services (India, Norway, Leningrad), and associated lines (such as Bailey & Leetham). There is a particularly interesting file covering the activities of the EWL Detective Department at Hull during World War Two.
The surviving personnel records cover masters and officers only, with some cadet records for the period 1917-73. Very little has survived before 1865, with particulars of just three captains before that date. However, a series of bound volumes contain details of service careers covering the period between 1865 and 1963, whilst there are also patchy records of pensions, lists of officers on individual ships, and so on, for various periods. There is a series of over 700 detailed individual personnel record books from the late 19th century to the mid-1960s.
Labour relations are patchily covered. For example, there are papers relating to the fitting up of a shed on Albert Dock for use by policemen during the strike of June 1893, including communications with the Watch Committee. There is a file relating to the Shipping Clerical Staffs Guild (later the Shipping Guild), with a copy of its Rules, press cuttings, correspondence, memoranda and leaflets, etc., between May 1919 and February 1931. And there are also files covering the Docks dispute with the National Amalgamated Stevedores & Dockers Union (including daily reports of members working in Hull docks) in June and July 1955.
Survival of material relating to the private and financial affairs of leading members of the Wilson family and chief managers has been quite poor, with a few exceptions. There is a sizeable collection of papers regarding the administration of the estate of Thomas Wilson, the founder, with a copy of his will and codicils (June 1868 and February 1869), accounts, bank pass books, press cuttings and some correspondence. Few papers of Charles Henry and Arthur Wilson have survived. What little correspondence remains is to be found chiefly amongst the correspondence files of their chief manager during their final years, Oswald Sanderson, giving instructions and opinions (often at variance with each other) when away from Hull. Very little survives for the second Lord Nunburnholme or his brother, Guy, and cousins, Kenneth and Clive, even though Kenneth remained a director of EWL until his death in 1947. Indeed, the most significant and revealing, though fairly small, collection relates to Oswald Sanderson himself. This contains original and copy correspondence (about 150 items) concerning his initial contacts with Charles and Arthur Wilson, and his relations with the Wilsons during the period running up to the sale of the firm in November 1916. An interesting oddity here is some correspondence regarding his possible purchase of the island of Gigha, Argyll (with sale catalogue) between November 1922 and April 1923.
There are substantial twentieth century records covering, directly or indirectly, companies wholly or partly owned by TWSC and/or EWL, and also various associated bodies. Representation in the collection varies according to the degree of involvement/ownership, and location of the body concerned. Thus there are fairly full corporate records (articles of association, directors and general minute books, details of share ownership, etc.), and financial and other records for wholly owned subsidiaries, such as the various insurance concerns (EWL Insurance Limited, London & East Riding Marine Insurance Company Limited, and London & Kingston Marine Insurance Company Limited); the transport operations run by Key Warehousing & Transport Company Limited and McMasters (Haulage) Limited; and the printing operation, which eventually became Tranby Printers Limited (1965-70 only). There is considerably less material for partly owned or independently operated firms, such as Amos & Smith Limited, Antwerp Steamship Company, Associated Humber Lines, the Polish-British Steamship Company, the paint and finishings group Storry Smithson & Company Limited (including its numerous subsidiaries), the United Shipping Company Limited, and the Wilson's and North Eastern Railway Shipping Company Ltd. Also, there are one or two oddities, including a minute book of Maritime Transportation Limited (1944-1969) (formerly the Gulf of Suez Steamship Company Limited), which was an Ellerman company, but joined EWL in the reorganisation of 1973. Most of the records for these firms are fairly routine, but with some unusual items. The United Shipping Company collection, for instance, includes papers concerning the problems experienced in obtaining payment for several loads of bristles evacuated from Archangel to New York and London in the autumn of 1919 - with, in some cases, negotiations over debts for non-payment dragging on into the late 1920s. For those operations which either folded, or were totally subsumed within TWSC or EWL operations, very little has survived, good examples being Bailey & Leethams (where there are some financial papers, and fleet and other valuations), the Humber Keel and Lighter Company (papers for the 1897-1904 period only), and WFLL (including various agreements - to found the Line, and later to sell it).
Operations in New York are well represented, with records of EWL New York Incorporated from its establishment in 1921 until 1969, and substantial records covering the acquisition, rental, maintenance, and financing of piers at Castle Point and Hoboken, New Jersey, between 1883 and the early 1940s. There are some papers relating to the firm of Wilson & Co. in Gothenburg, but mainly concerning the deposition of securities with the Swedish government in relation to emigration agents at Stockholm between 1889 and 1892. And the Ellerman & Wilson Lines Agency Company Limited, Trieste is also represented, with correspondence and reports for the 1925-52 period.
Papers relating to other bodies with which the Company was associated include: the Humber Conservancy Board (with various committee papers and minutes between 1933 and 1957); the Humber Steam Ship Owners' Conference (minutes, 1919-1925); and Victoria Mansions Limited. The latter was founded in 1903 in Hull by the Wilson brothers as an independent hostel for up to 400 single working men, most of whom were dock workers. It survived until 1953, when it became a Salvation Army hostel. The surviving files contain monthly reports of lettings, receipts, wages and so on, between September 1926 and July 1953. There are also files relating to the Hull Port Emergency Committee between April 1936 and May 1946 which, interestingly, begin with a paper on the use of EWL steamers during the General Strike of 1926. A fascinating associated series of some 25 later port data files contain port statistics, plans and photographs for places such as Colchester, the Humber anchorage, Felixstowe, Goole, Grimsby, and, of course, and in great detail, Hull.
The remaining material is very wide-ranging, including, for example: a huge pedigree chart (some 12 feet wide) of the Wilson family (1792-1963); a list (marked 'Secret. Government Business') of orders placed for armaments and explosives in the United States, c.1914-15); copies of reports (by skippers and other survivors) regarding the sinking of vessels, many during World War One; rules for the use of Riga Floating Dock, 1898; a bundle of papers relating to land belonging to West Hull Liberal Club, 1811-1907 (given to it by Charles Wilson); and a notice concerning the theft of propellers from the 'Tasso' at Genoa in October 1915.
There is a large amount of printed and published material, chiefly comprising publicity and other information for the Wilson and other lines. This includes press cuttings and releases relating to Wilson Line activities and personalities, with special volumes covering the deaths and funerals of both Charles and Arthur Wilson, 1907-1909. One of the most interesting items here is a Wilson Line 'Handbook of Royal Mail, Passenger and Cargo Services', dating from 1893. This contains assorted information, including: a list of the Company's steamers with tonnages; maps showing service routes, together with a plan of Hull showing the location of the Wilson Line offices; a list of British and foreign shipping agents; and information about conditions of carriage. There follow details of services to Norway, Sweden (including Scandinavian tours), America (New York, Boston) and steamers to the River Plate 'to suit the trade'. The fares, too, are of interest: £10 single (victualling included) Hull-New York, and £18 return. Services to India (Bombay and Karachi or Kurrachee) operated fortnightly via the Suez Canal, with first-class singles at £30 (£50 return). There were weekly services to St Petersburg and other Baltic ports (5 guineas single, £7 17s 6d return, with victualling 6s 6d a day extra). Other services operated to Australia (with the Anglo-Australian Steam Navigation Company Limited) and the Mediterranean. And in the home trades, services included Hull-Jersey 'during the Potatoe (sic) Season' at £1 first-class single and 30s return (victualling extra). Finally there is a distances table, a Hull tide table, and plans of saloons and state rooms of a number of Wilson vessels.