Records of Ellerman City Line Ltd, 1901-1970s, shipowners, Glasgow, Scotland

Scope and Content

  • Directors minutes 1892-1969;
  • General meetings minutes 1893-1969;
  • Trade agreements 1936-1970;
  • Memoranda and articles of association and share records 1892-1970;
  • Sir John Ellerman's general notebooks 1911-1976;
  • Account books 1879-1902;
  • Balance sheets, profit and loss accounts and steamers' trading accounts 1888-1933;
  • Journals 1891-1923;
  • Homeward earnings books 1925-1946;
  • Colombo and Calcutta tea trade 1885-1932;
  • East India Steam Trade Conference 1927-1938;
  • Cash department records 1892-1966;
  • Correspondence 1912-1960;
  • Register of ships1952-1972;
  • Freight books 1901-1925;
  • Sailings and ship movement books 1883-1952;
  • Staff records 1836-1971;
  • War Service records 1939-1945;
  • Sir John Ellerman's bequests to staff 1933;
  • Quotations 1913-1936;
  • Conference minimum rates books 1905-1944;
  • Notices to shippers 1905-1939;
  • Dundee jute imports 1861-1966;
  • List of agencies 1936,1948;
  • Agency agreements and correspondence 1933-1955;
  • Particulars of fleet 1875-1950;
  • Estimated daily running expenses for fleet 1929-1970;
  • Ship files 1839-1970;
  • Sailings lists and sailing cards 1863-1955 (incomplete);
  • Passenger lists and tickets 1904-1906, 1954, 1955;
  • Records of The City Line (Travel) Ltd 1968-1970;
  • George Smith and family papers 1808-1894;
  • The City Line miscellaneous historical papers 1869-1935;
  • The City Line jubilee (1889) records 1889;
  • The City Line centenary (1939) records 1939;
  • Package re-measuring order books 1902-1959;
  • Contracts and berthage records 1912-1938;
  • Loans, insurance policies and guarantees 1885-1948;
  • Masters' wartime reports and correspondence 1940-1948;
  • Captain Francis Brown's papers 1828-1852;
  • Menus and wine lists 1930-1939;
  • Specifications books 1906-1952;
  • Steamer plans and rate books 1925, 1929;
  • Ship spar plans 1858-1890;
  • Presscuttings 1911-1972;
  • Publicity materials 1922-1960;
  • Photographs and images of ships, masters and personnel 1771-1976;
  • Ship plans 1936-1960;
  • Miscellaneous publications 1924-1958.

Administrative / Biographical History

George Smith & Sons, merchants of Glasgow, Scotland, purchased their first vessel, the Constellation, from New Brunswick, Canada, in  1839 . The barque was used in the company's trade with Calcutta, India, and also carried missionaries. It was sold shortly afterwards and the Oriental purchased, making her maiden voyage from the river Clyde, Glasgow, to Calcutta, India. The company realised that in order to succeed they would need to have vessels built to their own specification and their next two ships, the Majestic and Asia were designed especially for them and built in Clyde ship yards. At this time, London was the centre of the tea trade although merchants were eager to have tea and other commodities exported straight to Scotland from India. Smith soon established a sound reputation for successful handling these commodities, gaining a virtual monopoly of the tea trade to Scotland. By the outbreak of the 1914-1918 World War, the City Line, as the firm had become known, was carrying 500,000 chests of tea per year from India and Sri Lanka to London.

In  1848 , the launch of the City of Glasgow, built by Robert Barclay & Curle, shipbuilders, Kelvinhaugh, Glasgow, introduced the system of nomenclature from the which the City Line later derived its name. By the early 1860s, George Smith & Sons had separated their merchant business from their shipowning activities and possessed a fleet of ships able to outsail any ships afloat. The completion of the Suez Canal saw the company's first steamer, the City of Oxford, passing through the canal in December 1870 shortly after its opening bound for Bombay and Calcutta. Around this time, the company started to develop its steamer fleet, although sailing ships continued to be built until 1882, by which time the company had 52 sailing ships. As there was not always sufficient trade to India to keep both the steam and sailing ship fleets employed, sailing ships were often diverted to other parts of the world, carrying emigrants to Australia and New Zealand. The steamers also carried passengers, and by the 1890s were operating separate passenger and cargo fleets.

In  1892 , City Line Ltd was incorporated to acquire the business of George Smith & Sons and remained under the control of the fourth generation of Smiths. At this time, the City Line Ltd was maintaining a fortnightly cargo and passenger service to Calcutta from Liverpool and Glasgow, and a monthly cargo and passenger service to Bombay and Karachi.

In  1901 , the London, Liverpool & Ocean Shipping Company Ltd (later Ellerman Lines Ltd) acquired the company and its name was changed to Ellerman City Line Ltd. Ellerman's soon acquired many of the City Line's competitors, such as the Hall Line Ltd and Bucknall Steamship Lines Ltd. 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 Ellerman & Papayanni Lines 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.

In 1936, the City of Benares was launched and was regarded as the ideal passenger and cargo ship. She accommodated 219 first-class passengers and was specially designed for the Bombay service but in 1940 she was sunk in the Atlantic. Just prior to the 1939-1945 World War, the City Line was providing a regular service from Glasgow and Birkenhead to the Kathiawar ports and Bombay.

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 four 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, seven by air attacks, three by mines and one 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 was implemented 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 company concentrated on re-establishing their world wide trade routes and purchased from the Government 12 cargo ships which they had managed during the war. By 1952, the company had 25 of these new 12-passenger style 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.

Ellerman City Line Ltd appears to have ceased trading in the late  1970s  and no longer existed in 2002.

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

Private records deposited by the owners


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

No known copies

Conditions Governing Use

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

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

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Location of Originals

This material is original


No known publications using this material

Additional Information

Description compiled in line with the following international standards: International Council on Archives Ad Hoc Commission on Descriptive Standards, ISAD(G) General International Standard Archival Description Notesand 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.

Compiled by David Powell, Hub Project Archivist, 19 June 2002

Amended by Emma Yan, Assistant Archivist (Cataloguing), 24 January 2008