Bank Line - Part 2
Narrative by Alistair Macnab; Edited by Fred Henderson
A 20th Century Perspective of a British Ocean Shipping Company
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 Articles.
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, 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
Photo 1: m.v.”Forafric” Venture Weir & Cie.
Between 1926 and 1934 a varied group of second-hand tonnage was bought in, in addition to the newbuilding programme unfolding at Workman Clark in Belfast. Mainly for liner services, they could be viewed as Bank Line's 'captive' ships to given services. These were:
- ss."Foreric" (1926 - 1927) ex-"War Lemur" for Cree Investments,for general trading;
- mv.s "Dunafric", "Forafric" and "Solafric" (acquired 1927) ex-EAC for Venture Weir; the Andrew Weir French subsidiary;
- ss."Surat" and "Tinhow" (acquired 1927) ex-James Nourse, for the Indian-African and Oriental African Lines;
- ss."Cabarita" (acquired 1930) from Howard Smith for the Indian-African Line;
- ss."Glenardle" (acquired 1932) for general trading;
- tsmv."Congella" (acquired 1933) for the Indian-African Line;
- tsmv "Kelvinbank" (acquired 1934) for general trading.
- ss."Rowanbank" ex-"War Miner" (acquired 1937) for "Inver Transport & Trading Co.
As mentioned above, the three diesel '-africs" were bought from Danish East Asiatic interests to replace the three steamship '-africs' in service with Cie Venture Weir S.A. that had originated the service with French West Africa in 1925. The Venture Weir company had had its beginnings in 1921 in France and Algeria with the steam tanker "Francunion" (1921 - 1925) and the oil depot ship "Francunion II" (1924 - 1927) that preceded the first three steam-driven cargo ships. The steamers were replaced by the motorships in 1927 and the service seems to have been active until 1937.
The James Nourse ships had been operated by that company in the Calcutta - West Indies gunny trade. Additionally, they were designed to accommodate a number of emigrant-class passengers carrying indentured Indian labour to the West Indies sugar plantations and Bank Line had a need for this special capability for their own 'deck passenger' services to Africa from the Bay of Bengal and Hong Kong/China.
The "Surat" (1927 - 1935) was placed on the Indian - African Line as an extra ship to the three "Gujarat" Class ships, whilst the "Tinhow" was allocated to the Oriental African Line to replace an older unit of the same name that was sold in 1913.
The Oriental African Line was a successful two-way service established in 1912 originally between the Union of South Africa and South East Asia. It would later be extended to include Portuguese and British East Africa, Mauritius, Reunion and Madagascar at the African end and China, Japan and the Philippines in the Far East. Passenger services were offered on a sporadic basis based on Chinese labourer requirements in the plantations of Africa with a few cabin-class passenger berths. The new "Tinhow" was dedicated to the service and from time-to-time an Indian-African Line cargo-passenger ship of the “Gujarat” Class was allocated to cover the berth as needed.
"Cabarita" and "Congella" were allocated to the Indian African Line or the Oriental African Line as required and "Glenardle" and "Kelvinbank" were bought as opportunistic good deals. The two ships were available at a good price with the added benefit that the "Kelvinbank" had an interesting twin-screw British experimental oil engine and Inverforth wanted to rate its capabilities and economics.
Photo 2: m.v. Kelvinbank was bought from Paddy Henderson’s British & Burmese Steam Navigation in 1934. She was built by Wm Hamilton, Port Glasgow in 1921 as Brocklebank’s first, experimental motor ship “Malia”, with two of the rare, Cammell Laird-Fullagar, 4 cylinder, two-stroke oil engines. These gave cylinder wear problems and suffered inadequate oil cooling in hot climates, as well as failing to provide the ship with a satisfactory service speed. The engines were replaced by 8 cylinder engines in 1923, but these still failed to meet Brocklebank’s requirements and Malia was sold to P Henderson in 1926. Brocklebank did not buy another motor vessel for 40 years. Henderson renamed the ship Daga and again re-engined her in 1928.
Ships built by Workman Clark
The shipbuilding industry in Belfast had been going through a great deal of turmoil after the surge of newbuildings to replace WWI war losses had been revealed as unprofitable This occurred partly because the Royal Mail Group had become the owners of Harland and Wolff and had defaulted to their banks but also because Harland's had for many years made volume discounts coupled with ‘cost-plus’ contracts to certain shipowners without regard for the bottom line. The Bank Line had benefited from this unique accounting with their Glasgow-built order for 21 ships and also for the Belfast-built order of 21 shallow draft tankers but now there were moves by creditors to tighten up everything at Harland's head office.
Also included in the general turmoil of the Great Depression and the downturn in world-wide shipbuilding was the Belfast yard of Workman Clark which went out of business and was resurrected as Workman Clark (1928) Ltd. Known as the "Wee Yard" Workman Clark as opposed to the "Big Yard" Harland & Wolff, it was seen as important that they also survived as much of Belfast's (therefore Northern Ireland's) economy depended upon shipbuilding and the many services that were involved.
Accordingly, Bank Line, one of Workman's saviours, entered into orders for 12 ships to be built between 1929 and 1934. These were:
Single screw quad. exp. coal/oil-fired Cargo Steamships:
- "Deebank" (1928 - 1955)
- "Trentbank" (1929 - 1942)
- "Forthbank" (1929 - 1953)
- "Lindenbank" (1930 - 1939)
Twin-screw Cargo Motorships:
- "Irisbank" (1930 - 1961)
- "Lossiebank" (1930 - 1962)
- "Taybank" (1930 - 1961)
- "Tweedbank" (1930 - 1960)
Single-screw Motor Tanker:
- "Corabank" (1932 - 1937)
Twin-screw Passenger-Cargo Motorships (See below):
- "Isipingo" (1934 - 1964)
- "Inchanga" (1934 - 1964)
- "Incomati" (1934 - 1943)
Workman Clark (1928) Ltd closed down in 1935 and its facilities were merged into Harland & Wolff.
The Oil Burning or Coal Burning steamships had interesting quadruple expansion engines and were built expressly for Weirs with interchangeable fuel burned in their boilers. Coal or oil was purchased when required in either format dependent upon price and availability, the ship's engineers being required to make the boiler burner alterations to suit. Generally, however, the engineers preferred the cleaner oil over the dirty and heavy work of coal.
Out of the 12 Workman Clark ships, the "Lindenbank" was wrecked in 1939 whilst the "Trentbank" and the "Incomati" were war losses by enemy action. The motor tanker "Corabank" in 1937, and the steamers "Forthbank" and "Deebank" in respectively 1953 and 1955, were sold on for further trading.
The remaining six ships - "Irisbank", "Lossiebank", "Taybank", "Tweedbank", Isipingo" and "Inchanga" eventually went to the ship breakers, having served the company well for 30 or more years, before, during and after the Second World War.
Photo 3: t.s.m.v.”Irisbank” of 1930. The white sheerline was in existence only from 1947 to 1952
The four motorships of the “Irisbank” Class from Workman Clark’s, mentioned above, were initially assigned to the Bombay-America Line and the American and Oriental Line to make a round-the-world westward service but were augmented by two interesting 'flyers' bought from Harland and Wolff in 1930. These were the "Foylebank" and "Laganbank" with twin 8-cylinder 4 S.C.S.A. oil engines giving a good 14 knots.
Introduction of speedier schedules by the other shipping operators in the round-the-world consortium necessitated faster ships so the two Harland ships were Weir’s contribution along with the Workman Clark four. The other operators at that time on the same or similar round-the-world services were Wilhelmsen and Fernley and Egar of Oslo and Chambers, Prince Line and Silver Line of the U.K. At this time, most American ship operators were struggling financially despite generous American government subsidies and incentives to provide support for national-flag liner services and European shipowners had largely stepped in to service the growing commerce created by the USA's increasing importance to world trade. The European shipowners engaged well-known North American agency houses to represent them, among them, Kerr Steamship Line and Barber Lines which later became liner operators under their own names.
"Foylebank" was ceded to the Admiralty and converted into an anti-aircraft ship, HMS “Foylebank”, being sunk in Portland Harbour by enemy action in 1940 whilst the "Laganbank" was wrecked in 1938.
Bank Line’s “I” Class Passenger Liners
Photo 4: South African Note Pad for Bank Line’s liner service
The three Workman Clark Passenger-Cargo ships were meant for the Indian African Line which had recently been augmented by the purchase of Bullard King's Natal Line to India so a twice monthly service was envisaged by Bank Line with a monthly passenger and cargo service alternating with a cargo-only string. The second string was known as the India-Natal Line with its own houseflag and separate agents.
Photo 5: t.s.m.v.”Incomati” sister to “Isipingo” and “Inchanga”
The Isipingo" Class were known as the "White Ships" because their livery was updated from the customary black hull and buff upperworks of previous ships on the service to white hull, green boottopping and a gold sheerline around the ships at the upper edge of the sheer strake along with white ventilators with blue cowls and buff masts and derrick posts. The small funnel was the then customary "Belfast Motorship" type of heavily raked shape and a horizontal top edge. The rake of the funnel was matched by the rake of the two masts and the overall appearance was pleasing and something like a cross between a gigantic private yacht and a typical British "Intercolonial" service passenger ship connecting up the far-flung British Empire and Colonies. Portugal Mozambique and British East Africa were added to the itinerary with Capetown at one end and Calcutta at the other acting as terminal ports.
Passenger numbers were originally 50 first-class, 20 second-class and 500 deck passengers as the 12 lifeboats indicated. The standard of accommodation was a great improvement over the original ex-Bucknall ships and the "Gujarat" Class that had served the route in the past and had been instrumental in building up the service.
The twin-berth first-class cabins were paired with a full en suite bathroom between each pair. What was unusual was the provision of fresh water baths and showers when other ships of this type usually had salt water baths which were only available in separate bathrooms. There were also a number of single berth cabins for single passengers or personal servants.
First class amenities included a Dining Room, Sitting Room, Glassed-in Tea Verandah, Sports Verandah, Bar-Lounge with open verandah, Hair Salon and Shop as well as the customary Purser's Bureau. The interior style was generally Edwardian with Art Deco touches except the Bar-Lounge which was Jacobean with a featured stone baronial fireplace. A portable large swimming pool was originally fitted over No.4 Hatch overlooked by the Bar Verandah but in post WWII days this had been reduced to a smaller pool just forward of the bridge abreast of No.2 Hatch. Second Class passengers were served by a combination Dining Room and Social Hall with their accommodation aft in 2 and 4 berth cabins. Third Class passengers were located in No.2 and No.4 tweendecks with staircases to the main deck through the masthouses where there were cooking and sanitary facilities. Cargo deadweight was 7,000 dwt.
On the Boat Deck with the lifeboats turned half-way out, there was a wide expanse of wooden deck for deck golf and quoits with horse racing nights on top of No.3 Hatch which was just forward of the funnel. At this boat deck level were the five de luxe cabins that could be converted to suites in various configurations. In pre-war years these special accommodations were used by the vice-regal party from Calcutta on their annual tour of Rangoon and Burma.
Post war, the crew numbered 105 persons and the passenger numbers were progressively lowered as the third-class of migrant disappeared leaving only ship crew repatriations. Lifeboats were also reduced in number. The first to go were the two boats on the Bridge wings and other lifeboats were removed until latterly, only the four boats on the Boat Deck remained. Passenger numbers came down to 70 in two classes then eventually to 12 in first class as travellers were now able to fly between Africa and India.
The Final Inter-War Years Cargo Ships
Between 1934 and 1940: 13 cargo ships were delivered from three shipyards. Harland & Wolf delivered 3 motorships, Doxford delivered 4 motorships that were close sisters of the famous Doxford 'Economy' ship except with a 4 cylinder oil engine instead of the 'economy' 3-cylinder, and the Readhead Yard in South Shields delivered 6 steamships. These were:
- "Ernebank" (1937 - 1963)
- "Araybank" (1940 - 1941)
- "Shirrabank" (1940 -1963)
Araybank" was a war loss and "Ernebank" and "Shirrabank" were war survivors, eventually sold for breaking up.
- "Eskbank" (1937 - 1961)
- "Teesbank" (1937 - 1942)
- "Ettrickbank" (1937 - 1962)
- "Willowbank" (1939 - 1940).
"Teesbank" and "Willowbank" were war losses, whilst "Eskbank" was sold for further trading and "Ettrickbank" was scrapped, both ships having survived the war. It is interesting to note that the "Eskbank", "Teesbank" and "Ettrickbank" were delivered to Inver Transport and Trading Company and not to Bank Line. This separate company was a legal entity unto itself but was completely integrated into Andrew Weir's Bank Line operations. It only ever had two more ships, the second-hand ss "Rowanbank" (ex-"Empire Miner") acquired in 1937 and the mv "Laganbank" of 1955.
The decades of the 1920s and 1930s could be seen as years of slumping fotunes for British, and indeed world shipping but the Bank Line had been able to take advantage of the downturn in shipbuilding. By remaining firm customers of British shipyards, Bank Line had built up its fleet by 48 units added to which were the 36 ships for Lago Oil, a total of 84 ships at a time when very few other British shipowners were expanding their fleets. This was bourne out by the fact that during these interwar years, Harland and Wolff, as the leading yard, built 10% by gross tons of all British shipyard output. Indeed, in 1930. The United Kingdom still operated the largest merchant fleet in the world.
Photo 6: "Eskbank"
The six coal/oil-burning steamships from Readhead's:
- “Tynebank" (1934 - 1955)
- "Tielbank" (1937 - 1941)
- "Testbank" (1937 - 1943)
- "Teviotbank" (1938 - 1955)
- "Thornliebank" (1939 - 1941)
- "Thursobank" (1940 - 1942).
These ships were a pre-war version of what was to become the "Empire" Standard ship. This was the one and only time that a class of Bank Boat was identified by a common initial. They were somewhat low-powered and only good for 11 knots. The "Tielbank", "Testbank" Thornliebank" and "Thursobank" were war losses. The "Tynebank" and the "Teviotbank" survived the war and were part of the post war Bank Line fleet that saw the end of steamships and the beginning of an all motorship fleet.
Bank Line had started out as tramp operators and had become recognized in all the customary bulk trades that were operated by British interests. These included Chilean nitrate, Australian coal and sugar, Argentine wheat, Caribbean sugar and Pacific Islands copra and phosphate, but with the introduction of steamships at the turn of the 20th Century, Andrew Weir saw the possibility of entering the liner or conference controlled services. Calcutta was the place to do this and by aggressive placing of Bank Line ships against scheduled Conference ships, it became important to the Conference to have Bank Line inside the cartel rather than outside. As we have previously noted, Bank Line were allocated the secondary cross-trades, and not the home runs to and from the UK but that suited Andrew Weir as his ship operations strategy had become mostly one-way liner services connected by tramp cargoes to construct a trading pattern that was difficult to copy and compete against without all the requisite connections in place. Ships would go one-way around the world on alternate liner and tramp legs, never touching the United Kingdom. The exceptions to this unique ocean shipping service structure were the two-way Indian African, India-Natal and Oriental African Line services.
As a final note, it should be recorded that there was activity in the United States and North America in pre-WWII years. At first the activity was centered around oil trading as Andrew Weir, now Lord Inverforth and his British partners sought to control Union Oil Company of California (UNOCAL) Generally speaking, he was up against the Rockefeller combine and has already been seen, even his Mexican and Venezuelan oil interests eventually came under control of the American Rockefeller monopoly.
The trade-off, if it could be viewed as that, was the contracts to carry ‘case oil’ from the U.S. Gulf to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Case oil was the shipment of oil products including petrol, paraffin and lubricating oils in handy-sized squared steel drums for retail sale, packed four, six or eight to a crate.
But before that happened, there was a scheme to build a refinery in Dublin and operate a string of motor tankers to bring crude oil from the refinery in Aruba (which was partly owned by the Weir Group) to refine aviation spirit for the coming war effort as a shortage of this product was predicted and U.S. interests could not be seen as sending aviation spirit to British interests thus breaking their neutrality.
These seven ships, all built in Germany with frozen Weir money accumulated in that country through trading ventures and not permitted to be repatriated, were apparently ordered for the Irish company Crusader Petroleum Industries Ltd., but the ships were delivered to Liffey Transport and Trading Co. during 1938 to sail under the Irish flag. This company eventually became Inver Tankers Ltd., with the ships transfered to Glasgow registry and was managed by Andrew Weir & Co. These ships were: "Inverlee" (lost 1941); "Invershannon (lost 1940); "Inverliffey" (lost 1939); "Inverdargle" (lost 1940); "Inverlane" (lost 1939); "Inversuir" (lost 1941) and "Inverilen" (lost 1943)
Photo 7: m.v. “Inversuir” (1938) Inver Transport & Trading Co.,Ltd
Liner Trade Development
Other activities in the USA were the development of separate liner services from the U.S. Gulf to South Africa, New Zealand and Australia based on the case oil contracts. The South African service was in conjunction with the German flag Hansa Line and the Australian and New Zealand services were operated by German and British interests at the time of Bank Line's entry into the route. The German-flag operators were Hamburg American Line and Nordeutcher Lloyd and the British-flag operators were Port, Ellerman and Federal Lines. Bank Line were offered the lower-paying U.S. Gulf ports as they had already cornered the case oil business from Texaco whilst the others retained the Montreal and U.S. East Coast loading ports (MANZ Line). Bank Line's Gulf -ANZ services turned out to be, yet again, a good arrangement for the company, especially during and after WWII with the German lines out of the route, resulting in a near Bank Line monopoly to be eventually developed into the company's premier revenue earner.
The Pacific Islands - Homewards service also started in pre-WWII years, initially as charter business for Lever Brothers carrying copra and coconut oil from Lever plantations to Lever's facilities in the UK, Holland and Germany. This modest beginning was also to develop into one of the more successful liner operations which actually brought the Bank Line ships into Home Waters on a regular basis.
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 2 have been provided as follows: -
Frontispiece – Wikimedia Commons
- Ships Nostalgia - Andrey Nelogov
- Ships Nostalgia – Stuart Smith
- Ships Nostalgia – Brent Chambers
- Ships Nostalgia – Charlie Stitt
- Ships Nostalgia – Brent Chambers
- Ships Nostalgia – Brent Chambers
- 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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