Saturday, February 16, 2019
Olivebank Crew

This is the story of a remarkable achievement. How one man built an amazing shipping empire throughout his long life, weathering the ups and downs along the way, and going from strength to strength.

From 1885 onwards for well over 100 years, the iconic British shipping company called the Bank Line, criss crossed the globe with a fl eet of up to 50 ships. Trading to all ports in the world within 60 degrees north and south, and visiting remote locations on all the continents, the ships could regularly be seen in most ports with their distinctive buff and black funnel. For this writer, sailing on the long and often mysterious voyages in the 1950’s, the sight of another Bank Line ship toiling away in an arrival port engendered a feeling hard to describe. It was a strange mixture of pride, curiosity and camaraderie. Today, the ships are all gone, another victim, mainly of rampant containerisation, but it might be said that the special hunger for success died with the founder. It was a magic ingredient only gifted to true entrepreneurs.

The build up began in sail, continued into steam, and then continued into a fleet of modern diesel vessels. Like many of the traditional shipping companies, the fleet successfully weathered two world wars, and numerous economic crises, including the Great Depression. A heavy price was paid however. For example, a venture into tankers in the Second World War, owning ships with names beginning with an ‘ Inver’ prefix ended with the whole fleet of seven vessels being lost to torpedoes and mines from enemy action.

The full story of the Bank Line growth would fill a fascinating book or two, but this brief overview of the ‘glory’ years from a mariner’s perspective, only aims to highlight the scale of the growth, together with some of the achievements and some of the setbacks.

The entrepreneurial owner was a young man called Andrew Weir, born into a family of cork merchants in Scotland, and he was imbued with the essential ingredients for success - hard work, shrewdness, and above all, vision. The sailing fleet he built up rapidly became the largest under the red ensign.

Today, we have not only the benefit of hindsight, but a clearer picture of this sailing ship achievement, and it is impossible not to be awed by the risk that owners, and particularly seafarers faced in that age. Nearly half of the vessels met an untimely end from stranding, burning, or simply going missing on passage, an all too frequent ending. One noted graveyard in the sailing ship era was the trade with coal from Australian ports like Newcastle to the Nitrate loading berths in Chile.

Looking looking through the fleet lists, this was the fate of at least three of the Weir fleet. Of all the handsome sailing ships built for Andrew Weir, the Beechbank, one of an eight ship order, stands out for she somehow managed 32 years afloat, a rare feat. Wrecks from the fleet dotted the world, for example at Goto Island, Japan (Ann Main), Goodwin sands, (Hazelbank), Isle of Arran, (Elmbank), Mozambique Channel, (Fernbank), Iquique Chile, (Oakbank), Recife, (Trafalgar), Chinchas, Chile, (Forthbank), Scilly Isles, (Thornliebank), and many more.

Numbers of vessels were sold out of the fleet to Norwegian owners over the years, no doubt when good money was to be made. Then, only 11 short years after starting up, and already with a substantial fleet of sailing vessels, Andrew Weir took delivery of his first steam driven ship, the Duneric in 1896, a measure of the confidence and ambition that drove him forward.

Before leaving the sailing ships, mention should be made of probably the most famous of them, the Olivebank. This beautiful vessel made fast passages, for example taking only 85 days from Melbourne to Falmouth in 1900. She achieved passages which were up there with the best of her class, and Sea Breezes magazine of 1935 reports in the ‘Signal Station’ section of that time, Olivebank, arr. Port Lincoln, 19th January, 85 days from Elsinore. This put her firmly in the same class as the renowned Pamir and Passat and the other ‘Flying P Liners’ of the F Laeisz fleet. Olivebank was sold to Norwegian owners in 1913, and in 1924 became a part of the well known Gustav Erikson fleet of Finland in whose hands she continued to make fast passages, mainly in the Australian grain trade.

In the early 30’s she was regularly featuring alongside the flying ‘P’s’ and others competing on the long passage from Europe to mainly the Spencer Gulf and back. A typical decent passage was around 85 to 100 days to Falmouth, ie,. A good three month voyage each way. These hazardous passages were faithfully reported in the Sea Breezes. In 1939, Olivebank met her end when she was mined in the North Sea. A few fortunate survivors were rescued from a mast which remained sticking up above the waves.

One of the talents of Andrew Weir was a gift for creating a strong network of worldwide agents, many of whom were also friends and business partners, and who shared independent trading and shipping activities in their own sphere. These bonds grew very strong, and they were to form the sinews of world wide shipping services that endured for decades. Over the years patterns emerged, and Lines were created with fixed schedules, the loading not always carried out by dedicated ships, but by company vessels that could be stemmed on to the loading ports just at the right time.

The uninitiated maritime onlookers often referred to the Bank Line as a tramp operator, but the truth was more complicated. A typical voyage could consist of passages in world wide Liner trades, stitched together with charters arranged at the Baltic Exchange in London, and true tramping voyages. This pattern strengthened as time went by, and worked very successfully for more than 100 years.

Orders for the first steamships were given to the Russell & Co yard, and it was a characteristic of Bank Line buildings over the years that batches were ordered. It is an impressive list, ie, single ships were first ordered, namely Duneric and the Elleric.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - May 2017 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic
Stad Amsterdam

Most Popular

  • 1
  • 2

Top Ten Books and DVDs of 2018

Latest Products

Maritime Log

  • RNLI Help Save Historic Boat from Sinking +

    Cervia The Ramsgate harbourmaster Rob Brown had to call the Ramsgate RNLI Lifeboat Station for help to prevent the historic tug Read More
  • Conservation of World's Oldest Lifeboat +

    Zetland For only the third time since she arrived in 1802, the famous lifeboat Zetland has left her home town of Read More
  • Liverpool Praised Over Handling of Special Metals Cargo +

    Port of Liverpool The Port of Liverpool, part of Peel Ports, has been praised for the efficient way it handled a new primary Read More
  • Rolls-Royce in Fully Autonomous Ferry Trials +

    Falco Control Room The world's first fully automated ferry has been demonstrated by the UK technology giant Rolls-Royce and the Finnish state-owned ferry Read More
  • New Teeside Port Handles Fertiliser +

    Teeside Port The contract for the design and build of the port handling facilities on Teesside for Sirius Minerals Plc, owners of Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Switching On at Vancouver Terminal +

    Vancouver Power Large ships berthed at Vancouver, Canada, can now switch off their diesel engines and connect to an electrical grid ashore Read More
  • First of Four New Ships for Hawaii Service +

    Daniel K Inouye The first of four new ships for the US container line Matson Inc arrived at Hawaii on her maiden voyage Read More
  • Special Anniversary Of Wartime Victory Ships +

    American Victory This month marks the 75th anniversary of the completion of the first of the famous Victory type standard ships built Read More
  • All Crew Rescued as Liftboat Takes on Water +

    RAM XV111 All fifteen people were rescued from a listing self-propelled self-elevating jackup platform, known in the US offshore industry as a Read More
  • Imports Up but Exports Fall in China Trade War +

    Port of Long Beach For the second year running, the Port of Long Beach, California, has broken its record for the volume of cargo Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • "Intelligent Bulk Carrier" Enters Service +

    Pacific Vision What is claimed to be the world’s first ‘intelligent very large ore carrier’ has been delivered to the China Merchants Read More
  • Port Expansion Given the Federal Go-Ahead +

    Port of Cairns The Australian Federal Government has given the final environmental approval to the Cairns Shipping Development Project which aims to attract Read More
  • Five Year Contract for Harbour Towage Services +

    Smit Lamnalco Tugs The Rotterdam-based marine services provider Smit Lamnalco has won an exclusive licence from the Gladstone Ports Corporation in Australia to Read More
  • Tabletop Drill Checks Staff's Response +

    MOL Emergency Control Headquarters A simulated collision - known as a tabletop drill - involving a LNG carrier and a fishing boat in Japanese waters has Read More
  • The Future of Ships to Come +

    NYK Ship The major Japanese shipping group Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) has come up with a new concept of how a ship Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • Brazil to Take Over HMS Clyde +

    HMS Clyde British News It has been announced by the Brazilian Government in early December that the Falklands Patrol ship HMS Clyde Read More
  • Navy And NASA Complete Recovery Test +

    USS Anchorage American News In what might be seen as a return to the heady days of NASA’s Apollo moon program, the Read More
  • F-35s Touch Down on HMS Queen Elizabeth +

    HMS Queen Elizabeth British News Many people never thought they’d see it happen, but F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters have finally flown Read More
  • Sea Trials Recall for Zumwalt-Class Destroyer +

    USS Michael Monsoor American News The Zumult class destroyer USS Michael Monsoor was in dockyard hands at Bath in Maine for the removal Read More
  • HMS Albion Proves Big in Japan +

    HMS Albion British News The assault ship HMS Albion, at time of writing, had just completed a five day visit to Tokyo Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Ferguson's Woes +

    Glen Sannox It is depressing to follow the sad story of ferry building in the UK, especially involving Ferguson at Port Glasgow Read More
  • Irish Moves to Beat Brexit +

    WB Yeats The major new vessel for Irish Ferries, delayed at the Flensburg builders, is at Dublin and very impressive she looks Read More
  • Appledore's Legacy +

    Clansman The impending closure of the Appledore Yard is another loss of merchant ship-building capacity even though its bread and butter, Read More
  • New Builds for Stena +

    E-Flexer RoPax The first three of the large ro-ros on order by Stena, from the Avic Co’s Weihai yard in China, are Read More
  • Tragedy in Tanzania +

    Nyerere A country well used to tragedy, saw another, on Lake Victoria in September. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • Gravesend Tankers +

    Forth Fisher On a recent visit to Gravesend just before Christmas, I witnessed a parade of tankers of various shapes and sizes. Read More
  • All Change at Sea-Change +

    Cambria Since she was rebuilt in 2011, the mulie barge Cambria has been based in Kent, but in September, after her Read More
  • Kaskelot Becomes Le Francais +

    Kaskelot At the end of the Southampton Boat Show in September, the barque Kaskelot, which had been on display, was sold Read More
  • Brexit Impact on Ports and Cars +

    CIty of Amsterdam I am amazed the port industry has not made more thorough and timely comments about the potentially negative impact of Read More
  • Barge Race Review +

    Edme Apart from the Whitstable Harbour Barge Race, all the other barge races have a yearly points system that counts up Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • Griffon Hoverwork Launch Latest Model +

    995ED The world's leading hovercraft builder Southampton, UK-based Griffon Hoverwork staged the official global launch of its new 995ED model, at Read More
  • Cammell Laird Shortlisted for Fleet Support Contract +

    Cammell Laird Merseyside shipyard Cammell Laird says it is delighted to have been shortlisted, as part of a syndicate of British firms, Read More
  • Stena Line and its Customers "Round Up for Charity" +

    Africa Mercy As a great admirer of the work carried out by the charity Mercy Ships, I was delighted to hear that Read More
  • A New Era for Norwegian Shipping +

    Harald Solberg I was impressed by the positivity and optimism of a recent press release from the Norwegian Shipping Association which I Read More
  • The Fjords Targets Oslo With New Zero Emission Vessel +

    Future of the Fjords The Fjords DA has announced it plans to add another all electric passenger vessel to its award winning fleet, with Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • "Splicing the Mainbrace" +

    Drink! It appears that the phrase ‘One for the road’ needs an update, particularly where travelling on the ocean wave is Read More
  • Balmoral Voyage Report +

    Balmoral Most readers will be aware of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines and many, in fact, would have travelled on one of Read More
  • New Turquoise Yachts 77m Unveiled +

    Project Quantum Turquoise Yachts, the Turkish based shipyard under the same ownership as the Dutch Oceanco shipyard, has commissioned Ken Freivokh Design Read More
  • Steady as a Rock +

    Rock When Ali Sayakci, the Turkish businessman, set out to build his new yacht Rock, his primary concern was how to Read More
  • Le Ponant on the Move +

    Ponant Icebreaker Following the example of the Lindblad Cruise Line and National Graphic in the USA, Ponant, the French cruise line which Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

Cadiz

Captains in Cadiz

The very name Cádiz has always held a special place in my imagination from schoolboy days, when I learned that, Read More
Kelvinbank

To The Bürgenstock by Bürgenstock

Although the Vierwaldstättersee in central Switzerland is now surrounded by roads and railways, there are still journeys for which the Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

Falklands medal

Twenty-First Century Press Gang

In 1932, the popular comedian and ukulele player George Formby released the song “Chinese Laundry Blues” Read More
Steuben

The Sinking of the "Steuben"

There was an ominous feeling in the air as the old liner Steuben slipped her moorings under dark clouds and Read More
  • 1
  • 2