VESSELS OF DISTINCTION
The following history and pictorials are courtesy of A. J. Barratt and SHIPS MONTHLY. Port Line was renowned for building the best designed cargo liners ever to fly the Red Ensign.
The origins of Port Line go back to 1914 when its predecessor, Commonwealth & Dominion Line, was formed by merging the antipodean services of Thos B. Royden & Co's Indra Line, J.P. Corry's Star Line, William Milburn's Anglo-Australian Steam Navigation Co and G.D. Tyser & Co. This new fleet of 23 ships was quickly increased to 25 and all the vessels adopted a distinctive new livery made up from the buff, black topped funnels of the Corry fleet and the grey hulls and houseflag of Tyset. The 'Port' prefixed names came from Milburn's Anglo-Australian Steamship Company. The following is a brief history of the merged companies.
THOS B. ROYDEN & CO.
The oldest of the constituent companies that came together to form Commonwealth and Domion Line was Thos. B. Royden & Co. As early as 1800, Thos. Royden was building ships in Liverpool. He held shares in some of the ships built and when trade was slack, some vessels were built and traded by the Royden family themselves. These vessels sometimes served on the Liverpool to India routes, but also to other parts of the world, including Australia. By the mid 1860's, iron sailing vessels were being built. Steamers followed a few years later, the first being INDRA (1888/3,528 grt) which traded to India from 1888 to 1891 under the title The Indra Line of Steamships. All the Royden steamers had names beginning with the letters 'In'.
From 1891 some of the steamships were charted to G.D. Tyser for use on its New Zealand trade and were fitted with refrigeration machinery. The Royden shipyard closed in 1893 when the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board purchased the site for a dock extension. As well as chartering ships to Tyser, Indra Line also operated around 10 vessels out of New York to the Far East. These vessels passed to Blue Funnel in 1915.
JAMES P. CORRY
Robert Corry was a timber importer based in Northern Ireland. His first ship was acquired in 1826 to trade between Northern Ireland and Canada. Several more Canadian-built vessels were acquired over the next 30 years, culminating in CHARGER (1856/1,060 grt). Three years later the firm, now trading as Corry & Co. entered the Belfast-India trade, mainly carrying jute on the homeward voyage. In 1860, the first of 12 iron sailing ships were ordered from Harland & Wolff. However, the management of those vessels was carried out from London, not Northern Ireland. The second ship of this order was STAR OF ERIN (1862/949 grt), a name which introduced the 'Star' naming system to the fleet. Steam was introduced in 1887 with the entry into service of STAR OF VICTORIA (1887/3,291 grt). Initially she served on the Indian route but within two years was chartered to Tyser for the New Zealand trade. Royden's also operated sailing ships to Australia between 1888 and 1898.
WILLIAM MILBURN & CO.
William Milburn entered shipowning in 1849 carrying coal from the northeast of England to other British ports. Later voyages were made to the West Indies and India while voyages were also made to China. Through a partnership with Edward Watts (later to trade as Watts, Watts & Co and the Britain Steamship Company) Milburn's vessels began trading to Black Sea ports and William Milburn was also instrumental in founding what is now the Hamburg Sud shipping giant.
In 1874, the Ausralian trade was entered initially by chartering steamships to Orient Line and Colonial Line. These voyages were made into a triangular route: outward to Australia, then homeward via China with tea. In 1883, Milburn founded the Anglo-Australian Steam Navigation Co. and introduced the "Port" naming system, commencing with PORT JACKSON (1883/2,644 grt), a system of naming that was to last exactly a century. In 1883, Milburn still traded to India, China and South America (in association with Hamburg Sud) but within ten years the other routes had been dropped. The management of the Australian vessels was placed with Colonial Line but quickly passed to Tyser.
Founded in 1860 as Tyser & Haviside, G.D. Tyser initially chartered sailing ships for the Indian trade although after a short period vessels began to be purchased. The first foray into the Australian and New Zealand trades was made in 1867. This move experienced much animosity from the companies already on the route. Eventually a contract was secured with Nelson Bros (later owners of Nelson Line) for the carriage of meat from New Zealand. This gave Tyser a foothold in the trade and lead to a chartering of ships from Corry and Royden. Initially, a single ship, HAWKES BAY (1891/4,583 grt) was built. In 1898, sailings from New York to Australia commenced and in the following year the first of seven advanced refrigerated vessels were added to the fleet.
THE MERGED FLEET.
The four companies that came together to form Commonwealth and Dominion Line had developed a high degree of cooperation prior to the formation of the new company in 1914. As well as inter-company chartering a successful joint bid had been made in 1912 for a contract to carry emigrants to the State of Victoria. Seven ships were built for this service, each capable of carrying between 600 to 1000 emigrants in temporary, 'tween-deck accommodation. However, large scale passenger carrying was not resumed after World War I, even though the emigrant vessels had seen some service as troopships.
The early operation of the merged company were to a large extent governed by the effects of the war. perhaps the most notable change was the introduction across the fleet of the "Port" naming system. The independance of the new concern was short lived as in June 1916 the Cunard Steamship Company, in a bid to diversify, bought Commonwealth & Dominion Line for 5 million pounds. renamed Cunard Line Australasian Services, Commonwealth and Dominion Line, not surprisingly it quickly became known as Port Line, although this name was not officially adopted until 1937.
In general, Port Line was left alone but a version of the red and black Cunard funnel colours was introduced in 1919.
THE INTERWAR YEARS.
When peace returned in 1918, 13 replacement ships were quickly ordered with deliveries spread over six years. Following this programme, motor ships were introduced into the fleet. The first was PORT BOWEN (1925/7,463 grt), which served the Company for 37 years and was not broken up until 1962. A major source of outward bound cargo for the company in the 1920s and the early 30s was the carrying of materials required for the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, opened in 1932.
In 1933, the Company, along with the New Zealand Shipping Company, Shaw Savill & Albion and Blue Star Line built a group of refrigerated cargo ships which became known as the Empire Food Ships. These arose out of the doctrine of Imperial Preferences which endeavoured to promote trade between different parts of the Empire and Domion.
In 1936, Port Line, along with the Ellerman & Bucknall and the New Zealand Shipping Company took over the Canadian National Steamships Line's Australian services, principally serving the Canadian east coast. This concern had been established by the Canadian Government to utilise some of the cargo ships built in that country during World War I. However, this venture had not been a financial success. Port Line's contribution to the new service was to immediately order three purpose-designed vessels which operated along with vessels from the other partners. This concern traded as the Montreal, Australia & New Zealand Line, which became abbreviated to the MANZ Line. The new ships were the PORT MONTREAL (1937/5,882 grt), PORT HALIFAX (1937/5,820 grt) and PORT SAINT JOHNS (1939/5,668 grt).
Built in 1920 by Workman, Clark & Co in Belfast, PORT CURTIS was sold in 1936 and renamed TOWER DALE. She sailed under various other names, including KRONOBORG and KRONSTADT, until being demolished in 1970 as ALGENEB.
Built by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson in 1928, PORT FAIRY was one of the first generation of Port Line motor ships. After an eventful war time service on convoy duties, she was demolished at Hong Kong in 1965
WORLD WAR II.
In 1939 the fleet comprised 28 modern ships of which 13 were lost during the War. A further two vessels then under construction were completed as the aircraft carrier HMS Vindex and HMS Nairana. Both were returned to the Company at the end of hostilities. Two further vessels, PORT QUEBEC (1939/5,936 grt) and PORT NAPIER (1940/8,947 grt) were completed as minelayers. Unfortunately, the latter blew up whilst carrying 400 mines, unbelievably with no loss of life, shortly after entering naval service. The German raider Pinguin sank two Port Line ships, PORT BRISBANE (1923/8,315 grt) on 21 November 1940 and PORT WELLINGTON (1924/7,868 grt) nine days later, both in the Indian Ocean.
A similar fate also befell PORT CHALMERS (1935/8,535 grt) which was nearly intercepted by Graf Spee on 2 December 1939. The crew of PORT CHALMERS earned no less than 25 decorations during the War. She participated in two Malta convoys, including Operation Pedestal in August 1942.
Although this convoy of 14 merchant ships had an escort of over 30 warships, including two battleships and four aircraft carriers, only five merchant vessels got through to the Island. Of the five survivors, three had been torpedoed during the passage. OHIO, the sole tanker in the convoy, was torpedoed twice as well as receiving direct hits by bombs and several near misses. Of the warships, losses included one aircraft carrier, two cruisers and a further carrier and two more cruisers were damaged. PORT CHALMERS. however, was unscathed.
As well as operating its own vessels, the Company also managed eight vessels for the Government, including the ill-fated FORT STIKINE (1942/7,130 grt). This vessel blew up at Bombay on 14 April 1944, causing the loss of over 700 lives, with over 1,000 missing and about 2,500 injured, along with the destruction of ten other vessels.
Laid down in 1941 at John Brown & Co. Glasgow, PORT VICTOR was taken over by the Admiralty and launched as the escort carrier HMS Nairana. Loaned to the Royal Dutch Navy in 1946 as KAREL DOORMAN, the vessel was acquired by Port Line in 1948 and renamed PORT VICTOR. She was broken up at Faslane in 1971.
Following World War II the Company's surviving naval vessels were re-acquired and, after reconstruction, returned to the fleet under their original names with the exception of HMS Vindex. She was renamed PORT VINDEX, even though there is no such port, the name reflecting her wartime service. As well as these vessels several entering service were given a streamlined bridge and funnel structure, a feature which became a trademark of the fleet until its demise.
Two of the post war vessels, PORT MELBOURNE (1955/10,470 GRT) and PORT SYDNEY (1954/10,166 GRT) were later converted into passenger liners after being sold in 1972.
Built in 1946, the 7,250 grt 15-knot PORT LINCOLN served the company until she was broken up in the early 1970s.
By 1964 half the Cunard Group profits were being made by the Port Line. But with the onset of a recession in Australia, profits shrank, putting the Group in considerable financial difficulties. A further problem arose in 1967 when PORT INVERCARGILL (1957/10,463 grt) was detained in the closed Suez Canal. The vessel languished for eight years in the Canal before being released. Whilst detained she was declared a constructive total loss and the Company received 1.4 million pounds in compensation. Released in 1975, she saw four more years of commercial service, albeit for a Greek owner, before being broken up in 1979.
PORT WYNDHAM was built in 1935 by John Brown & Co. She survived convoy duties during World War II and was broken up in Japan in 1967.
TRANSFER OF VESSELS.
Between 1967 and 1972, Port Line and Blue Star Line formed the Blue Star-Port Line Joint Management Company to look after their respective South African, Australian and New Zealand routes. At the end of this arrangement, control of Port Line vessels was transferred to a Cunard subsidiary, Cunard Cargo Shipping and Port Line's fleet soon began to reduce in size. In 1968, the fleet had numbered 28 ships, but declined until the last two ships, PORT CHALMERS and PORT CAROLINE (both 1968/12,398 grt) were transferred in 1982 to the Brocklebank fleet, also a Cunard subsidiary.
Built on Tyneside by Hawthorn Leslie & Co. in 1947, PORT LYTTELTON was scrapped in Scotland at Faslane in 1972.
Launched in 1968, PORT CAROLINE was the second of two refrigerated cargo liners built for Port Line by Upper Clyde Ship builders Ltd., (A. Stephen & Sons, Linthouse Division). During her subsequent career she carried the names MATRA and GOLDEN DOLPHIN and was broken up in China in 1985.
It is hoped that you have enjoyed this short history of PORT LINE. A more comprehensive background to this fine British company may also be enjoyed in "PORT LINE" by H.C. Spong, published by the World Ship Society.
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