Narrative by Alistair Macnab; Edited by Fred Henderson
A 20th Century Perspective of a British Ocean Shipping Company
Andrew Weir - Lord Inverforth
Andrew Weir was born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland on 24th April 1865 and after an education in the town’s High School he joined a local bank. In 1885 he moved to Glasgow where he briefly joined a shipowner’s office before establishing his own firm – Andrew Weir & Company, to purchase the 24 year old sailing ship Willowbank. Weir’s company was remarkably successful during the latter years of the 19th Century; prior to the events covered in these fourteen chapters printed here in Ships Nostalgia.
In 1896 Andrew Weir moved to London and began converting his fleet from sail to steam. During the First World War he was asked to produce a report on the commercial organization of the supply branches of the army. Weir recommended the appointment of a Surveyor-General of Supply, with a seat on the Army Council, to take on the task of supplying the army with all its stores and equipment other than munitions. His recommendations were accepted and he was given the job.
In January 1919, after the war had ended he was appointed Minister of Munitions to close down the supply operation and dispose of unwanted materiel. He remained in office until March 1921. For his services Weir was raised to the peerage, as Baron Inverforth, of Southgate in the County of Middlesex, and received the American Distinguished Service Medal.
Inverforth continued to go to his shipping company offices four days a week, into his ninety-first year. He died at his home in Hampstead on 17 September 1955. During his long period in office he created an unusual, major British shipping company; its routes covering the World in a unique hybrid of liner services and connecting charter voyages, but its ships rarely touched British ports, except to return for special surveys or major overhauls.
For practical and technical reasons, the Articles covering the company's 20 Century history are presented in the following parts: -
- Part 1 – The transition from sail to steam, then to motorships
- Part 2 – The Inter-War Years
- Part 3 - Bank Line at War & Post-War Rebuilding
- Part 4 – Backing the Multipurpose Ship Concept
- Part 5 – The Varying Fates of the Liner Services
- Part 6 – Bank Line and British Shipbuilding
- Part 7 – The end of Bank Line's Multipurpose Ship Liner Services
- Part 8 – The Sailing Ship Fleet in the 19th Century
- Part 9 – Early 20th. Century Developments: Basrah, Hong Kong, and Rabaul
- Part 10 - United States and Mexico: Western Hemisphere Developments
- Part 11 - Participation in the Petroleum Industry
- Part 12 - Passenger Ships
- Part 13 - Bank Line London
- Part 14 - The Bank Line and the British Merchant Navy
The Transition from Sail to Steam, then to Motorships
The story must start when Andrew Weir was at the height of his entrepreneurial skills and was busy transitioning from 'the largest fleet of sailing ships under the British flag' via steamships to a full motorship fleet that exclusively favoured British shipyards and British-built oil engines. There is no better place to examine this remarkable story than commencing in the years of the First World War, when the transitions were taking place.
The last of the sailing ships left the fleet between 1914 and 1917 when two iron barques, the "Trongate" and the "Mennock" dating from 1891 and 1893 respectively were hulked at Valparaiso and the "Thistlebank", "Isle of Arran" and "Philadelphia were sold out of the fleet.
It is worth recording, however, that the 4-masted steel barque “Olivebank” (1892), although sold out of the fleet in 1913, survived under another name and several owners to again be named “Olivebank” under the ownership of the legendary Gustav Erikson of Mariehamn and to become one of the “Last of the Windjammers”, only to be mined and sunk off Jutland in the North Sea in September 1939.
Photo 1: Olivebank
Compared with other British shipowning interests, the steamship era was to be late in starting for Bank Line. Whilst comparatively long-lived and ranged from 1896 to 1957, often with second-hand tonnage, but always with straight-forward reciprocal machinery of 3 cylinders but sometime 4 cylinders (see "Deebank" Class from Workman Clark in 1930), Weir's steamship years can be viewed with hindsight as merely an interim measure prior to the wholesale acceptance of the virtues and reliability of the marine oil engine.
The first steamer was the "Duneric" built on the Clyde in 1896 and sold out of the fleet in 1916. Like most of the ships under Andrew Weir management, the "Duneric" was owned by a one-ship company until 1905 when the Bank Line Ltd. was registered after which nearly all ships were registered as owned and managed by that well-known name. Indeed, the sailing ships that had been built for Andrew Weir from 1885 onwards had had the suffix '-bank' but as the sailing ships went and the steamships came into the fleet, the 'banks' had all disappeared even although the company was called Bank Line. The story surrounding the 'bank' suffix is perhaps lost to history but there is no doubt that Andrew Weir's first ship was already named "Willowbank" when bought in 1885 and perhaps he liked the concept.
There is also no definitive story about the suffix '-eric' for the steamships but it has been conjectured that a close deceased relative or friend of Andrew Weir was called Eric and the nomenclature chosen was in remembrance of this person. This was and still is a matter of private interest only to the Weir family. Recent investigations by an SN member, however, into the immediate Weir family have failed to reveal anyone with the name Eric so to this writer the origins of the steamers' -eric suffix remain a mystery.
Photo 2: Weir’s third steamship was Boveric of 1898. She was sold to W H Smith & Sons Pty Ltd, Melbourne in 1900, passing to Howard Smith & Co Ltd in 1901 and had been renamed Cycle in 1906 by the time this photograph was taken
From 1896, no fewer than 43 steamers joined the fleet up until the outbreak of WWI. In addition to the 22 '-erics' there was a wide range of names that came with the ship when bought. Many units of the fleet were disposed of or became war losses during the First World War. These were:
- "Tymeric" Captured by "Emden"
- "Croydon" Wrecked;
- "Gifford" Interned Hamburg (First Doxford Built ship for Weir's)
- "Burnock" Sold
- "Quito" Sold
- "Orteric" Torpedoed
- "Desabla" ( first Andrew Weir tanker) Torpedoed
- "Duneric" Sold (First Weir steamship )
- "Elleric" Sold
- "Comeric" Sold
- "Foreric" Sold
- "Katanga" Sold
- "Luceric" Sold
- "Miramichi" Fire Loss
- "Mansuri" Disappeared
- "Huntscape" Sold.
- "Aymeric" Torpedoed (First ship registered with Bank Line Ltd.)
Surviving WWI were:
- "Barneston" (for Bank Line)/"Oyleric" (for Andrew Weir) (tanker)
- "Ricardo A. Mestres"/Wyneric" (tanker)
- "Caloric" (tanker)
Total: 19 steamships.
The ships noted above with two names where the second name ends in '-afric' ("Rivafric", "Monafric" and "Capafric" ) went to the Andrew Weir subsidiary Cie Venture Weir S.A. a French subsidiary in 1925, trading with francophone North and West Africa and having interests in oil bunkering services.
Joining the Liner Conferences
With the advent of steamships, Bank Line began taking an interest in liner services and sought to join the relevant ocean shipping Conferences. The Calcutta Trade was the oldest and best established British shipping cartel (established in 1875) and was jealously protected by its members. Bank Line were, however, eventually able to gain admittance but were then awarded the lesser non-home services from Calcutta to East Africa, South Africa, the River Plate and the West Coast of South America. The two South American liner services outbound from Calcutta were inaugurated in 1904 whereas the round-trip Bay of Bengal / East and South African service grew out of its early 20th. Century origins to become an established cargo / passenger line by 1913.
To be an effective Conference member, more ships were required, so in 1919, eight standard steamships were bought from British shipyards. These were:
"Luceric" (ex-"War Agate) "Orteric" (ex-"War Coral") and "Comeric" (ex-"War Jasper") from Doxford, 'F' Class War Standard Ships, raised forecastle, extra derrick posts forward of mainmast serving three hatches aft of the accommodation. six hatches overall.
"Aymeric" (ex-"War Nemesia") from Thompson, 'F' Class War Standard.
"Tymeric" (ex-"War Mammoth") and "Haleric" (ex-"War Sparrow") from Hawthorn Leslie, 3-island hull form, counter stern.
"Yoseric" (ex-"War Parrot") from Laing, 3-island hull form, counter stern.
"Elveric" (ex-"War Capitol") from Northumberland, Raised forecastle hull form.
In addition to these coal-burning steamships, the twin-screw motorship ""Invercorie" was managed by Andrew Weir during 1920, coming from and returning to the British Mexican Petroleum Company with Andrew Weir still retained as managers. This was the Bank Line's first motorship.
Post World War Rebuilding
We now come to the ship classes that survived into post WWII.
The "Gujarat " Class of motor cargo-passenger ship was built by Harland & Wolff at their Govan, Glasgow, shipyard with single-screw propulsion by a 6-cylinder 4 S.C.S.A. oil engine also constructed at Harland's Govan engine works. This class of three was designed for the Indian-African Line serving the Bay of Bengal ports of Calcutta, Rangoon and Madras then proceding via Colombo to Southern Africa in the Mocambique to Capetown range of ports. These ships had a five cargo hatch configuration with accommodation for 12 first, 20 second and 400 deck passengers, the last consisting mainly of indentured Indian labourers recruited for the sugar cane fields of Natal and their repatriation at the end of their contract. The service had been upgraded to carry passengers in 1913 when three Bucknall cargo-passenger steamships had been purchased. They were originally, the "Johannesburg", Fort Salisbury" and "Buluwayo" and were renamed by Bank Line respectively "Surat", "Gujarat" and "Kathiawar". With the "Gujarat" and "Kathiawar" having been sold out of the fleet by 1923, the new "Gujarat" Class were able to use the same names with the exception of the "Surat" which was scrapped in 1926.
- "Gujarat" (Delivered in 1923; Sold for further trading in 1957; Scrapped in 1961);
- "Kathiawar" (1924 - 1937), Wrecked;
- "Luxmi" (1924 - 1961), Scrapped.
When the “Gujarat” was sold for further trading in 1957, this ship had sailed upwards of 1,750,000 miles for her owner. The original engine propelled the ship at 10 knots at sea carrying 6,100 tons of cargo on a daily fuel consumption of 7-1/2 tons. Quite a remarkable achievement and a fine testament to what had been, after all, a brand new form of ship propulsion; the oil engine.
Photo 3: Gujarat
After the WWI 'Standard' ships had mostly been taken up by ship-owners who had suffered war losses, Lord Inverforth (Andrew Weir had been ennobled in 1919 for services to the British government) correctly predicted that British shipyards would be desperate for new building orders. This brought about the ordering of no fewer than 18 twin-screw motorships from Harland & Wolff, but from their Glasgow shipyard rather than from Belfast which was still busy with passenger liner construction for the White Star/Royal Mail Group. Inverforth had become a close friend of Lord Pirrie the Chief Executive at Harland's, and had entered a pact with the shipyard along with other ship-owners, to buy ships at a form of volume discount. In any case, Harland's engine works were also in Glasgow and since 36 units of the 6-cylinder 4 S.C.S.A. oil engines would be required, it made sense to build in Glasgow.
The "Inverbank" Class, as it was named after the first ship delivered, was a flush-decked cargo ship of six hatches, with two hatches forward of the bridge house, one hatch between the bridge house and the fidley served by a pair of derrick posts just forward of the funnel, and three hatches on the after deck served by cargo booms hung from the mainmast and a pair of derrick post right aft. The derricks were of open lattice construction rather than tubular as was already common. The crew were housed forward at tween deck level and there were shipside utility structures abreast of the foremast housing crew galleys and wash spaces.
For the record, the ships were:
- 1924: Inverbank/Glenbank/Birchbank/Cedarbank/Comliebank
- 1925: Clydebank/Alynbank/Elmbank/Forresbank/Nairnbank/Weirbank/Larchbank/Levernbank/Myrtlebank
- 1926: Olivebank/Oakbank/Speybank/Springbank
Photo 4: Glenbank
Out of the 18 units, only one was lost to misfortune and that was the "Forresbank" by engine room fire and stranding as late as in 1958 when she was 33 years old, off South Africa's Wild Coast.
Second World War losses, however, were somewhat extensive:
- "Alynbank" (as an Anti-Aircraft warship conversion)
- "Speybank" (captured by enemy and operated as "Doggerbank" until sunk in 1943)
- "Springbank" (as a Catapult warship conversion);
Astonishingly, two units were sold for further trading after 28 years of Bank Line operation, the "Nairnbank" in 1953 and the "Olivebank" in 1954, a fine testament to the builders and the crews that had maintained their ships and engines over the years!
But, sadly the inevitable end came for six units at the breakers yards:
1958: "Inverbank" and "Levernbank"
1959: "Glenbank", "Comliebank" and "Clydebank",
1960: "Myrtlebank" at no less than 35 years old!
But even she did not hold the record for corporate longevity, that going to the "Luxmi" which was 37 years' old when she eventually went to the breakers yard.
Bank Lines incursion into the tanker business commenced with the steamer "Desabla" in 1913 but was short-lived with her being torpedoed in 1915. This ship was the first ‘engines-aft’ built for the company, much like the traditional 3-island hull profile of tankers in recent times but with cylindrical cargo tanks in the holds.
An interesting development, however, involved the tanker "Barneston" which was built by Hawthorn Leslie for Bank Line Ltd in 1914. She was 'sold' to Andrew Weir & Co. in the following year with a name change to "Oyleric"
and was soon involved with Weir's Mexican venture and actually ended up as the Pemex-owned, Mexican-flagged "Faja de Oro" in 1941. As a 'neutral flag' ship, she was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-Boat in 1942 whilst operating in the Gulf of Mexico hastening Mexico's decision to enter WWII on the side of the allies.
But shortly after the end of WWI, Bank Line had entered tanker operations in a big way, taking over the management of the fleet of the British-Mexican Petroleum Company in 1919 with, ultimately, 12 steam tankers and 11 barges for harbour service. All had "Inver-" prefixed names like the twin-screw motorship tanker "Invercorie" in 1925 which went over to the sister company Lago Shipping Co., Ltd.
Of the British-Mexican fleet, four ships were laid down as "N" or “AO” class wartime standard 3-island steam tankers with engines amidships:
“War African”, “War Malayan”, “War Fijian” (all 1918) and “War Pathan” (1919 to 1929 operated by the Admiralty) and “Inverarder" (1920 - 1930) ex-"War Hagara”
Photo 5: Inverarder
These ships were followed by seven engines amidships vessels built by Harland & Wolff in Belfast with cylindrical cargo tanks in the cargo spaces looking for all the world like standard cargo ships although a trained observer would have noticed the absence of cargo derricks: Another recognition feature was, of course, the raise trunk deck enclosing the summer or expansion tanks down the ship's centerline.
- "Inverleith" (1921 - 1930)
- "Inverurie" (1921 - 1930)
- "Invergoil" (1922 - 1930)
- "Inveravon" (1923 - 1930)
- "Invergordon" (1923 - 1930)
- "Invergarry" (1924 - 1930)
- "Inverglass" (1924 - 1930)
Photo 6: Inverurie painted in 1997 by Ian H. Boyd
and depicts the ship passing Key West on 15 January 1925,
Photo 7: Inverglass
The un-powered “bunkering barges” employed in various British ports were the seven ships of the “Inveritchen” Class of approximately 700 gross tons: “Inveritchen (1920); Inverampton (1920); Invertyne (1920); Invertest (1920); Francunion (1921 to Venture Weir S.A.); Redline No.1” (1924) and “Inverpool” (1925). But in 1924, the Harland's Glasgow-built "Francunion" and "Inverhampton" were dispatched to Aruba followed by the "Invercorrie" in 1925 as the initial ship operations of the Lago Shipping Company.
Management of the British - Mexican Petroleum Company was transferred to other operators in 1930 following civil unrest in Mexico and eventually to Anglo-American Oil Company, Ltd. (Standard Oil/Esso/Exxon)
The French subsidiary, Venture Weir S.A. was formed in 1921 as an oil trading and bunkering service company in France and francophone North Africa. This company later moved into the cargo liner service to and from West Africa and this operation is discussed later.
The Lago Shipping Company, yet another Weir subsidiary, was formed in 1924, and registered in Canada, to operate shallow-draft twin-screw tankers out of Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela, to a new refinery on Aruba in the Dutch West Indies which was also one of the Weir interests. Altogether, 21 steam tankers were built by Harland & Wolff, also in Belfast. These were built between 1925 and 1931 and were named:
- "Invercaibo" (1925 - 1936), "Inverlago" (1925 - 1936), "Inverosa" (1925 - 1936), "Inveruba" (1925 - 1936)
- "San Nicolas" ((1926 - 1936), "Ambrosio" (1926 - 1936), "Icotea" (1927 - 1936)
- "Lagunilla" (1927 - 1936), "La Salina" (1927 - 1936), "San Carlos" (1927 - 1936), "Sabaneta" (1927 -1936), "Oranjestad" (1927 - 1936)
- "Punta Benitez" (1928 - 1936), "Tia Juana" (1928 - 1936), "Hooiberg" (1928 - 1936), "Punta Gorda" (1928 - 1936), "Yamanota" (1928 - 1936)
- "Tamare" (1929 - 1936), "Ule" (1929 - 1935), "Surinam" (1929 - 1933)
- "Maracay" (1931 - 1936)
In 1936, the Lago Shipping Company management was also sold on to the Standard Oil Company which, is, of course, today's Exxon but it is interesting to learn that what eventually became the strategic Tank Landing Ships of WWII were based on the design of these Lake Maracaibo ships with twin-screws and shallow draft with three of the subsequent Standard Oil newbuildings of 1937-1938 being taken over by the Admiralty in 1941 for conversion to LCTs as the prototype of what would become a substantial fleet of purpose-built logistics craft.
A complete Bibliography for all of these Articles is given at the end of Part 7
Seven photographs used to illustrate this article are from the Ships Nostalgia Galleries, which are available for use in the Directory. The other is from Wikimedia Commons and is in the public domain. The individual photographs used in Part 1 have been provided as follows: -
Frontispiece – Wikimedia Commons
- Ships Nostalgia - Stein
- Ships Nostalgia – Gordy Ross
- Ships Nostalgia – Brent Chambers
- Ships Nostalgia – Brent Chambers
- Ships Nostalgia – riversea
- Ships Nostalgia – Ian H. Boyd
- Ships Nostalgia – Brent Chambers
Article written and compiled by Alistair Macnab
Formatting and presentation only, by Fred Henderson
© RVW Productions LLC, 2010
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