Gold Ribbon Banner
Tuesday, August 20, 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

Latest Issue - Look Inside!

Boudicca

Most Popular

  • Lifeboat Withdrawn After Some Crew Stood Down +

  • Scorpene Sub Snags +

  • An Unexpected Job in Cuba +

  • New Crane Lifts Business Growth +

  • Test Spells The End of Paper Bills of Lading +

  • 1
  • 2

Latest Products

Maritime Log

  • Lifeboat Withdrawn After Some Crew Stood Down +

    Peterhead Lifeboat Peterhead lifeboat has been taken out of action by the RNLI. Read More
  • Test Spells The End of Paper Bills of Lading +

    CargoX Demo It is possible to stop using the paper Bill of Lading according to a test of CargoX’s blockchain-based Smart Bill Read More
  • New Crane Lifts Business Growth +

    Hull Port A new £3.5mn hybrid Liebherr crane has been delivered to Associated British Ports (ABP) for operation at Hull to support Read More
  • Crowds Tribute to the Last Tyne +

    Annie Blaker The last of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s famous Tyne class lifeboats was launched for the last time at her Read More
  • Clyde’s Vital Role in Onshore Windfarm +

    Clydeport Clydeport has played a vital role in the building of the UK’s largest onshore windfarm on Eaglesham Moor, just 20 Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Record Set by Largest US Ship for Hawaii Service +

    Lurline The largest combination container, roll-on, roll-off ship ever built in the United States was formerly named in a ceremony at Read More
  • $293mn for Port Projects +

    Long Beach port The United States is to invest $292.7mn in the country’s ports through a new Port Infrastructure Development Programme. Read More
  • Facility Exports First Cargo of Propane to Japan +

    Sumire Gas The first marine export facility for propane in Canada has been officially opened. Read More
  • Changes in Tolls for Using Panama Canal +

    MSC Pohlin The Panama Canal plans to modify its tolls structure for all types of ships “to better serve the global maritime Read More
  • Largest LNG Carrier Sails From West to East +

    Al Safliya The largest LNG tanker to use the Panama Canal since it was expanded less that three years ago passed through Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • Line Adds Automated Power Kite to Propulsion +

    Airseas The Japanese shipping company Kawasaki Kisen KK (K Line) aims to cut ship greenhouse gas emissions with automated power kites. Read More
  • ONE Express to North Sea and Baltic +

    ONE Apus The Japanese shipping line Ocean Network Express (ONE) was due to start an enhanced North Sea Baltic Service with Russia Read More
  • MOL Links with Russian Uni for Crew Training +

    Makarov University The Japanese shipping company Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a Russian university on co-operation Read More
  • “Prelude” Makes its Debut With First LNG Cargo +

    Prelude The first shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) has left Shell’s floating LNG facility Prelude some 475kms north-east of Broome Read More
  • Special Navigating System to be Fitted to VLCCs +

    AR Nav Following two-ship trials, augmented reality (AR) navigation systems are to be installed on 21 very large crude oil carriers (VLCCs) Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • Scorpene Sub Snags +

    INS Khanderi indian News The troubled Scorpene class submarine program hit another snag in June. Read More
  • US Navy’s Frigate Program Passes Significant Hurdle +

    USS Minneapolis-St Paul US News The US Navy has unveiled its plans for the purchase of a new frigate known as FFG(X). Read More
  • Fourth Dreadnought Named HMS “King George VI” +

    Dreadnought Class UK News The fourth member of the new Dreadnought class of nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines will bear the name Read More
  • US Navy Orders Flight II Landing Platform Dock +

    LDP30 American News The contract for the construction of LPD30, the first Flight II Landing Platform Dock of the San Antonio Read More
  • US Navy Seeks Faster Ship Delivery +

    FFGX Rendering American News The future frigate program for the US Navy is getting fully underway and some idea of the urgency Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Fragile Future for Calmac +

    Isle of Arran TMore and more, I am reading reports that say the media, and the public too, are well aware of the Read More
  • Oscar Goes to Italy +

    Oscar Wilde Irish Continental Group has entered into a bareboat hire purchase agreement for the sale of its 1987-built Oscar Wilde to Read More
  • CalMac Heritage +

    Columba I include a fine poster and artist’s image of the famed Macbrayne paddler Columba. Read More
  • Russian Adventure +

    Ocean Adventurer To the North East Coast and arriving at Aberdeen for the first time for many months, I witnessed a passenger Read More
  • Windemere Jetties +

    Osprey and Branksome Last month I commented on the new setting of the classic collection of mainly steam boats held at Windermere. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • The Green Band of Marstal +

    Bessie Ellen The Danish Maritime Museum had the schooner Bonavista built on the island of Aero at Marstal and this year they Read More
  • Norweigan National Day +

    Thorodd I was in Montrose on the Norwegian National Day, 17 May, when its independent constitution from Sweden was confirmed in Read More
  • Port of Aberdeen Fifty Years On +

    Aberdeen Harbour Extension Project When I first arrived in Aberdeen in 1968, I couldn’t believe my luck. Read More
  • Thames Tributary Barges +

    Lady of the Lea Most of the rivers flowing into the Thames had their own barge type. Read More
  • Dry Rot and Dry Dock +

    HMS Victory For some time Victory, the 110gun ship of the line, has had trouble with dry rot and is in danger Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • President Opens ‘Largest UK Ship Simulation Centre’ +

    Sir Michael Bibby With the training of seafarers being so important to safety at sea, and in particular navigation equipment and bridge procedures, Read More
  • Hands-Free Mooring at St Lawrence Seaway +

    St Lawrence Seaway I feel there are probably many readers, like me, who feel a shiver down their spine when they think of Read More
  • Flying the Flag on Merchant Navy Day +

    Red Ensign For more than 35 years, it has been my immense privilege to be a local Isle of Man committee member Read More
  • Lifeline Cash for “Waverley” Agreed +

    Waverley The Paddle Steamer Preservation Society (PSPS) has announced that it will provide immediate funding to support efforts to “Save The Read More
  • Viking Glory Celebrates Keel Laying +

    Front Altair The construction of Viking Glory is proceeding on schedule. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • Boudicca Pays Tribute to D-Day Veterans +

    Boudicca Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines were proud to have played its part in hosting 250 D-Day veterans. Read More
  • Captain of a Modern Passenger Carrying Sail Ship +

    Sea Cloud 2 If you have ever wondered what qualities a Captain of a cruise vessel might need to have listed on his Read More
  • Every Ash Cloud Has A Silver Lining +

    The ash cloud crisis continues to cause uncertainty as we see sporadic closures of airspace and cancelled flights, and this Read More
  • Damen Group Superyachts +

    Amels With 25 projects underway, business is booming for Amels, the Dutch luxury yacht builder. Read More
  • Singer Andrea Bocelli Trades Up in Size +

    Stella del Nord Andrea Bocelli, the blind Italian tenor and song writer whose work spans both popular music and classical opera is a Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

Cuba

An Unexpected Job in Cuba

In 1948, I joined the MV Yamaska Park as an EDH and, over the first few days aboard, I became Read More
Suez Canal

The Creation of the Suez Canal - Part Two

IAt the end of 1858, the company’s Works Committee convened for the first time. It included an impressive assembly of Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

Gudvangen

From Fjords to Fiji

On the morning of 9 October 2014, two patrol boats from the Spanish Maritime Service and Public Safety Unit were Read More
MV Laganbank

Bank Line's Building Boom

50 British built ships over a ten-year period from 1957 to 1967. Read More
  • 1
  • 2