Bank Line - Part 9
Narative by Alistair Macnab; Edited by Fred Henderson
For practical and technical reasons, the Articles covering Bank Lines'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
Early 20th. Century Developments: Basrah, Hong Kong, and Rabaul
'Remarks on several Bank Line/Andrew Weir offices are worth an extra word or two as individuals who were posted to these far-flung locations have kindly provided the author with some notes of their expatriate experiences.
Roger Loads was one of two sons of the resident Marine Superintendent in Basrah, Captain A.C. Loads, who went out to Iraq in 1940 to assist Captain William Murchison who had been there for many years representing Andrew Weir & Co. Captain Loads was joined by his wife and family later that year and as reported by Roger, the war-time voyage out aboard Strick Line’s “Baltistan” was a harrowing one and was routed via Capetown.
Photo 1: Armanistan (1937) the sister of Baltistan and built in the same year by John Readheads, South Shields
The situation in Basrah, however, was very well established and still safe with Weir’s interests located in a fort-like compound on the Iraqi (east) bank of the Shatt el Arab where a couple of 30-knot speedboats were moored along with other company launches. The Weir compound was very distinctive with its high walls. It was called “Beit Weirs House” with tall, nail-studded double doors in the Arab style providing access to the interior courtyard and a tall flagpole by the river in the British style.
Captain Murchison was a personal friend of the then Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri Said, and also the young King Faisal II. There is no doubt that the success of Andrew Weir’s in the region was largely due to the character and reputation of Captain Murchison and the faith with which leading Iraqis had in his good word. “If the Captain says it is so, it is so” was the watchword.
Weir’s in the early 1940s were majority shareholders in a public company called Latifiya Iraq Estates Ltd., which owned a 60,000 acre estate south of Baghdad near Babylon. Most of the area was cultivated on a share-cropping basis with the home farm operating on some 6,000 acres. It was very much in the company’s interests when British forces subdued German influences in Iraq in 1941.
Other business interests in Basrah and Baghdad were as general merchants, importers and exporters, and the operation of regular riverboat services. Management of the Persian Gulf Conference Lines was entrusted to the Weir office as well as trading in the dates and barley businesses. The eventual allocation of the Iraqi dates export and marketing franchise was awarded to the company; market outlets selling general produce were established in Basrah, Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Mosul. A regular inter-city air service was also being developed with on-board radio officers provided by the Marconi Company to maintain contact.
Captain Loads senior was posted to London in 1947 and eventually Glasgow whilst his sons, Roger and Brian, went on to sea-going careers in Bank Line. Captain W.H. Pearce went out to Basrah when Captain Matheson retired also in 1947 and went on home leave in 1950 when Captain C.S. Howe together with his family, spent “an enjoyable six months in Basrah” as he later reported. Captain Pearce returned and remained as Marine Superintendent in Basrah until 1955. But Weir’s had seen the political situation deteriorating and had already taken steps to liquidate their Iraqi holdings some three weeks before the army coup in 1958 brought about major changes in the country starting with the assassination of the prime minister and the young King Faisal.
Roger Needell (who has kindly provided most of the detail in this section) was sent out from London to Hong Kong to the Bank Line (China) Limited in 1950. With a background in ship broking, Roger joined a distinguished group of expatriates who had served the company pre-war in Shanghai and Tokyo and were eager to resume their duties in these dangerous locations. The Second World War had interrupted Far Eastern commercial operations and when peace was finally restored, turmoil continued in China. This lead to a serious diminution of British commercial interests in that country and Bank Line’s Mr. Laurie Beatty, was unable to re-open the Shanghai office and instead was transferred to Andrew Weir & Company Far East Limited in Tokyo.
Meantime, Mr. Beatty continued as a Director of The Bank Line (China) Limited, now relocated to Hong Kong where he was joined by expatriate directors, Messrs. Harry Penn and John Collis, with supporting staff, Peter Oliver, Geoff Sloss, Brian Weldon, and Roger Needell.
Photo 3: Bank Line's Hong Kong service launch
The Bank Line office in Hong Kong was responsible for the Far Eastern section of Bank Line’s Oriental African Line, started in 1912, calling at Singapore, Bangkok, Saigon, and Hong Kong then proceding to the main Japanese ports of Wakamatsu (Kitakyushu), Kobe, Osaka, Nagoya and Yokohama via alternate calls at Kaohsiung or Shanghai (the same vessel not being permitted to call at both Taiwan China and Mainland China on the same voyage for political reasons).
The return southbound voyage usually started in Otaru on the Northern Japanese island of Hokkaido where packaged hardwoods were loaded. Then a return call at Hong Kong was followed by calls at Manila and several Philippine lumber outports then on to North Borneo logging ports (Sandakan, Boihan, Wallace Bay) to complete loading of general cargo in Singapore if additional calls were not required in the Gulf of Thailand, again at Bangkok or Koh Talui or Sihanoukville.
Ships then proceded directly to Mauritius, Reunion, and sometimes Madagascar, en route to Lourenco Marques (now Maputo), Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, and Capetown.
Other liner services represented by Bank Line’s Hong Kong office were as Far East General Agents for Ellerman Line’s European service and Klaveness Line’s Trans Pacific Service extending at its Western end down the West Australian coast to Fremantle.
Bank Line tramp voyages within the region were also supervised from Hong Kong as were other chartering and sales and purchases (S&P) broking work. Commercial activities included constant contacts with the principal commodity traders in the region as well as insurance services. British Paints Ltd. were also based in the Bank Line’s Hong Kong office.
On the technical side, Mr. Joe Prentice retired and was replaced by Mr. Joe Gilbertson in 1954 as Superintendent Engineer. During his earlier years in Hong Kong Mr. Gilbertson had the responsibility of keeping the old blast twin-screw motorships of the “Inverbank” Class of 1923 that had been assigned to work out their declining years on the Oriental African Line, in reliable working condition – a daunting task! His other responsibilities included surveys and drydockings throughout the region.
In 1957, Harry Penn’s son, John, replaced his father and Mr. Nick Neve from Andrew Weir’s Tokyo office and an ex- Dodwell executive, came down to head the Hong Kong office. Meantime, the formation of the Atlas Line, a partnership amongst Ellerman’s, Blue Star, and Port Line to link the Far East with Australasia and represented by Bank Line (China) did not prosper and was discontinued. This was followed by the loss of Ellerman Line’s Europe service when they co-ordinated sailings with Ben Line in 1967 and moved their agency representation to that company’s offices.
Photo 4: Hong Kong in 1965; Bank Line ship in the middle left?
Between 1958 and 1964, a substantial number of elderly Bank Line ships were sold to Hong Kong ship-breakers. Three Liberty ships, “Springbank”, Ericbank” and Edenbank” were sold to Mainland China for further trading. Other ships sold for further trading were “Corabank”, “Rowanbank”, “Titanbank”, “Ivybank” (Liberties), “Eskbank” (pre-war motorship), and “Moraybank”, “Weybank”, “Roybank” and “Meadowbank” (war-built motorships), sold to Far Eastern interests. All of these disposals were managed by the Hong Kong office which required close attention to detail to ensure that the new owners did not get anything they had not paid for – a demanding task considering the acuteness, experience, and sheer business savvy of these buyers! As these sales were going on, the Bank Line fleet was being extensively renewed by newbuildings from Belfast and Sunderland.
Photo 5: Weir's Liberty Ship Rowanbank
The office of the Bank Line (China) Limited was closed down in 1968 with the expatriates finding other positions for themselves as well as for the 50 local staff who remained up to the end. The Oriental African Line continued for several years thereafter with a non-conference southbound service in conjunction with Ahrenkiel and ended in the 1980s. It is interesting to observe in 2013 that the crisis now engulfing German owners of container ships deepened with reports that Ahrenkiel, a leading charter operator, is being pressed by its bankers to put itself up for sale. At least three rival owners are weighing an offer for the Hamburg-based company Be it noted that Ahrenkiel has survived for 40 years longer than Bank Line!
Bank Line had offered ships to load copra and coconut oil around the Pacific area for most of the 20th. Century, originally in coordination with Lever Brothers Pacific Limited and with other trading companies as the business matured. Certainly, early steamers and eventually the motorships of the fleet were involved with full cargoes. A review of pre-WWII autobiographies of retired Bank Line personnel, reveals that Mr. “Piper” Macdonald, then Chief Engineer of the ss “Roseric” wrote that the ship was “one of the first to go on the Copra Run and we had to take on board sufficient coal in Australia to reach Singapore after loading at Rabaul, Cocapo, Kavieng, and Madang in 1930”.
Captain Newton as an Apprentice aboard the tsmv “Comliebank” did a New Guinea loading of bagged copra in 1936, additionally calling at a Solomons Island anchorage called Faisi. The entire loading programme took about six weeks and as Captain Newton noted: “Loading of copra in bulk did not start till 1947”. A discharging call was made to Karlshamm in Sweden before finishing in London, where berthing was obtained at Charlton or Woolwich Buoys or in the Surrey Commercial Docks with discharge of copra into barges.
Another pre-war copra cargo in bags was recorded by Captain J. Kemp when he joined the ss ”Teviotbank” as Chief Officer. This coal-burning steamship had just returned to London from New Guinea at the conclusion of her maiden voyage in January 1939.
It is perhaps difficult to compare these early shipping activities with the later liner services that eventually involved the Bank Line’s most sophisticated ships of the “Corabank” Class and the Finish-built “Tiksi” Class, but ocean shipping is one of gradual development of a promising commercial venture translated into a liner service, with opportunities grasped and carefully developed.
Photo 8: Eastbank loading copra at Wreck Berth, Rabaul, which was an improvised facility using a sunken Japanese ship
The homeward cargo having been secured over many years of working with friendly merchants, the corresponding outward direct cargo was eventually seen as viable in 1960 when the mv. ”Ashbank” commenced loading on the near Continent and London for New Guinea via Suez on Bank Line’s first “home based” liner service after 74 years! Even so, the customary “bottom cargo”, in this case: bulk anthracite to Noumea, was the catalyst to support a monthly frequency.
Photo 9: Ashbank
This “out and home” line eventually became a monthly Round-the-world Westbound service and included direct calls at Papeete, Auckland, and Noumea via the Panama Canal en route to the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea then back to Northwest Europe via the Suez Canal with opportunistic additional loading in Indonesia, eastern and western Malaysia, or Singapore.
Photo 10: Ivybank loading at Noumea in November 1994
Photo 11: Ivybank transiting the Panama Canal
Coordinated sailings were eventually made with Hamburg-Sued and a shuttle link established between Singapore and the Islands. Eventually, however, an operational agreement was made with Singapore-based Swire Shipping with Swire performing all the commercial operations and the Bank Boats that were assigned to this business chartered to these friends. The entire operation was closed down in 2009 during the world-wide shipping recession and the winding down of Andrew Weir’s traditional business interests.
Whilst the Pacific Islands area was under the management of Bank Line’s Sydney office, a Rabaul office was opened when Captain John Mackenzie was posted to that location. Other appointments were subsequently made including Captain Alan MacGregor, who relieved in 1967 and Captain Dave Vincent who held the post thereafter. Unfortunately Rabaul was subsequently destroyed by a volcano eruption in 1994.
Photo 12: Captains Mackenzie and Vincent inspecting Rabaul Depot Officer John Bennett's new motor boat
Over the years, however, several ex-Bank Line individuals have been employed in the development of the Papua New Guinea economy, including ex-Chief Engineer, Mr. N.E. Snelleksz (Education) and Mr. Robert Hanraads, ex-Second Officer (Port Administration).
At its height, the Pacific Islands homeward service incorporated separate strings, one returning via Suez having loaded in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea and the other sailing eastward via the Panama Canal having loaded island produce in Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa and twice-yearly in Tarawa and the Line Islands (Christmas, Fanning and Washington Islands). Occasional calls were made at USA ports en route to Europe.
But this section cannot be concluded without mention of the famous (or infamous?) phosphate runs taking in Nauru, Ocean Island and Makatea. An annual contract with the British Phosphate Commissioners (BPC) required Bank Line to uplift bulk phosphate cargoes at one of the islands, initially by basket but later by mechanical cantilever for discharge in Australia or New Zealand. The sea buoys at Makatea were originally laid and subsequently serviced by Bank Line ships.
The photographs used to illustrate this article are from the Ships Nostalgia Galleries, which are available for use in the Directory. The individual photographs used in Part 9 have been provided as follows: -
- tynebuiltships.co.uk - Eric Johnson
- The author (The Bank Line Magazine)
- The author
- Ships Nostalgia - jaceva
- Ships Nostalgia - dom
- Ships Nostalgia - Doug Mathews
- Ships Nostalgia - Brent Chambers
- Ships Nostalgia – rcraig
- Ships Nostalgia - CRANFIELD
- Ships Nostalgia - yvon
- Ships Nostalgia - rabaul
- The author (The Bank Line Magazine)
- Ships Nostalgia - pete
Article written and compiled by Alistair Macnab
Formatting and presentation only, by Fred Henderson
© RVW Productions LLC, 2010
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