The Doric Columns
Aberdeen White Star Line
There's a jaunty White
Star Liner, and her decks are scrubbed and clean
George Thomson Jr - 1804-95, Clipper Ship Owner. Born in Woolwich and educated at Aberdeen Grammar School, he developed his own business as a Ship Insurance Broker in 1825. He became principal owner of the world famous shipping line The Aberdeen White Star Line, which included the fast tea clipper the Thermopylae. He was elected Dean of Guild in 1840-41 and Lord Provost of Aberdeen in 1847. George Thompson served as Provost of Aberdeen from 1847 to 1850. The highlight of his term of Office was welcoming Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to Aberdeen Harbour on 8 September 1848. They were on their way to Balmoral for the 1st time. This was the 1st occasion a Monarch had visited Aberdeen since 1650. A crowd of 80,000 people turned out to greet her.
George Thompson (always known as George Thompson Jr to distinguish himself from his grandfather) was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School. He then joined the Aberdeen office of the London Shipping Company. In 1825, aged 21, he set up his own business as a Ship & Insurance Broker, with offices in Aberdeen. In the same year his name 1st appeared as a subscribing owner of a small Aberdeen ship, and his ship owning interests rapidly developed. He also traded the imports which his vessels brought back to Aberdeen.
In his 1st 15 years George Thompson operated a seasonal liner service to Canada and built up a fleet of 12 vessels with trades extending to Cuba, South America, the Baltic, the Mediterranean, South Africa and the Far East. 1840 saw the launch of the 1st ship built at Walter Hood's Yard in Aberdeen for George Thompson, and this yard built most of his ships up to 1881. They included some of the world's finest Clippers.
In 1842 one of his ships undertook an emigrant charter to New Zealand, and in the same year his first ship visited Australia. By 1846 his ships had become established in the Australian trade. Initially this was to Sydney, but with the discovery of gold at Ballarat the ships also traded to Melbourne. George Thompson first established the Aberdeen Line (or Aberdeen White Star Line to distinguish it from Rennie's Aberdeen Line) on the Australian trade in his own right in 1856. From that time, Thompson's ships were distinguished by their green-painted hulls, their white masts and yards and the red and blue House Flag with the 6-pointed white star which gave rise to the alternative name. George Thompson entered the China tea trade in 1848. A regular voyage pattern was soon established: London to Australia with passengers and general cargo; Australia to China, Japan or Russia with coal; and thence via a Chinese Port with Tea.
John T Rennie's 'Aberdeen Direct' Line of Steamers. John T. Rennie died in 1878 and his 3 younger sons John, Alexander and David joined their brother George to continue the business. In 1882 a new steamship the DABULAMANZI was completed by Hall, Russell & Company at Aberdeen and in 1885 the MATABELE was delivered. By 1890 the Company owned 6 steamers mostly with Zulu or ‘In’ names. In 1895 the last sailing vessel the QUATHLAMBA was sold.
The famous clipper Thermopylae was designed for this Tea trade. On her maiden voyage in 1869 she broke records for London to Melbourne, Newcastle (NSW) to Shanghai and Foochow to London. Ousted from the tea trade by steamers in 1879, Thermopylae was deployed as a wool clipper on the Australian trade. In both the Chinese tea trade and the Australian wool trade her chief rival was Cutty Sark. Thermopylae was one of only two composite (i.e. iron and hardwood) ships owned by George Thompson. Thereafter his ships were mainly constructed of iron. They included Patriarch and Samuel Plimsoll. George Thompson had adopted the famous loadline recommendations long before they became mandatory in 1890.
In 1881 Walter Hood's yard was sold, as the Age of Sail was coming to an end. From then on the Line built up an initial fleet of 5 Steamers: Aberdeen, Australasian, Damascus, Thermopylae ll and Nineveh ll. Initially they steamed out to Australia via Cape Town and returned via the Suez Canal, but from 1895 they came back via Cape Town. Thompson died in 1895. His safety track record as a ship owner had been exceptional, seldom losing a ship, and despite his early profession he never insured his ships against loss. Instead he invested the money he had saved in insurance premiums in the purchase of new ships and the maintenance of his existing ships. In this way he developed what has been called 'one of the greatest Lines in British Merchant Navy History'.
George Thompson was a generous supporter of the Free Church of Scotland, and has been described as Aberdeen's most generous benefactor of his age. He supported an extension of the Royal Infirmary and bestowed money on Aberdeen University to provide bursaries in medicine. In later life he lived at Pitmedden House, his estate to the West of Aberdeen. He was a Deputy Lieutenant of Aberdeenshire. He is buried with his wife and some of their children in the family plot in the United Free Church graveyard at Dyce.
THOMPSON - Proprietor of the Pitmedden Estate from 1864 is commemorated
by a double monument erected in the United Free Church graveyard of Dyce. It
bears the inscriptions:-
George Thompson, junior, was the son of Andrew Thompson, of the H.E.I.C.S. In 1825 he commenced business in Aberdeen as a ship and insurance broker, and was the originator of the well-known " Aberdeen Line," of which his son-in-law, Sir William Henderson, was afterwards the head. A portrait of Mr Thompson, by Sir George Reid, R.S.A., is hung in the Art Gallery of Aberdeen.
The Pitmedden House itself had been badly damaged by fire in
but was rebuilt during the
probably by Thompson. Today, only the north wing contains visible fragments of
the 17th Century grand dwelling. It has been well documented that the fire
caused the destruction of family portraits, papers and the, all important, plans
of the original layout of the Garden. Indeed, the
is still keen to discover references to, or sketches of
Seton's Great Garden
in its earlier years.
is managed by the owners, Messrs. George Thompson & Co. (founded at Aberdeen),
who have long occupied a prominent position in the Australian cargo and
due to the " runs " of their noted clippers to Melbourne and to Sydney, the
general high standard of their fleet, and its exceptional immunity from loss
over more than half a century. Their S.S. Aberdeen, built in
was the earliest ocean steamer to demonstrate decisively the superior merits of
Aberdeen Line / Aberdeen & Commonwealth Lines
Some Aberdeen White Star Ships In The Australian and New Zealand Trade
(Inset) Built 1868.
She was a passenger ship on the Australian run and entered the wool trade for a short spell in the 1870’s [Passenger and General Carrier]
‘AVIEMORE’ Built 1870
at Aberdeen for the White Star Line.
She was sold to the Norwegians and turned into a
floating oil refinery.
ANEMONE - 205gt 1840 Aberdeen (The first of the Line to visit Australia - Melbourne - in 1840..)
ALEXANDER HARVEY - 272gt 1840 Aberdeen (Voyages to Adelaide and South America 1848-1851)
AGNES BLAIKIE - 381gt 1841 Aberdeen (Under new owners made two visits to Australia in 1852)
PRINCE OF WALES - 516gt 1842 Aberdeen (Carried 100 emigrants to New Zealand in 1852, voyages to Sydney 1847-1853)
The Maid of Judah was sold to Cowlislaw Bros., of Sydney, in 1870. In December, 1879, she left Sydney for Shanghai, coal-laden, with Captain Webb in command, and the following June was condemned and broken up at Amoy.
NEPTUNE - 323gt 1844 Aberdeen (Inaugurated the Lines regular trade with Sydney in 1846 - Scottish emigrants outbound and wool inbound)
LORD METCALFE - 495t 1845 Quebec (Voyaged to Bombay and Australia 1852-1854)
OLIVER CROMWELL - 527gt 1847 Aberdeen (made 3 voyages to New Zealand 1850-52)
JOHN BUNYAN - 526gt 1848 Aberdeen (Australian wool trade 1856-1859)
CENTURION (1) - w3s 656t 1850 Aberdeen (Australian wool trade from 1856)
WALTER HOOD - 937gt 1852 Aberdeen ( In maiden voyage reached Sydney in 80
WOOLLOOMOOLLOO - 654gt 1852 Aberdeen (Australian wool trade
‘OMAR PASHA’ Built 1854. Wood ship of 1124 Tons. Length; 207 ft. Breadth; 36 ft. Depth; 22 ft. Built by Hood of Aberdeen for the White Star line. She was burned at sea in 1869 while bound for England from Brisbane, Queensland. [Passenger ship]
‘DAMASCUS’ Built 1857. Wood ship of 964 Tons. Length; 194.4 ft. Breadth; 33.6 ft. Depth; 20.6 ft. Built by Hood of Aberdeen. Sold to the Norwegians and renamed ‘Magnolia’ Master; Captain Laird. Owned by O. Svendsen of Christiania in 1881. She was stranded on September 1st 1893 at Bersimis where she became totally wrecked. [Passenger Liner]
TRANSATLANTIC - 614gt 1857 Aberdeen (In the Australian trade when completed)
STRATHDON (1) - 1,011gt 1860 Aberdeen (Made a passage of 78 days to Melbourne
The Queen of Nations, under Captain Donald, went from Plymouth to Melbourne in 87 and 84 days; but the fastest of these earlier clippers was the well-known Star of Peace, which made four consecutive passages to Sydney of 77, 77, 79, and 79 days under the redoubtable Captain Sproat. A picture of this fine clipper, representing her off the Eddystone light when homeward bound. She was a very rakish looking craft with long overhangs and carried a heavy press of sail, which included double topsails, skysails, main and mizzen sky staysails and also 3 cornered moonsails stretching to the truck of each mast. The Queen of Nations was wrecked near Woolloagong, New South Wales, on 31st May, 1881, when bound out to Sydney. All hands were saved except one.
COLONIAL EMPIRE - 1,305gt1861 Quebec (In Australian wool trade)
CHRISTIANA THOMPSON - 1,079gt 1866 Aberdeen (In the Australian trade)
Inset - George Thompson
‘GEORGE THOMPSON ’ Built 1865. Wood ship of 1128 Tons. Length; app 170 ft. Breadth; app 36 ft. Depth; app 22 ft. Built for the ‘White Star’ line and was sold to Nicol of Aberdeen who then sold her to J.Bamfield of Sydney NSW. She was finally bought by the Chileans and was wrecked at Carlemu on the 13th of June 1902. She was a very well known passenger liner on the Australian run. [Passenger Ship]
The celebrated Star of Peace, after being run for some years by Burns, Philp & Co., of Sydney, was converted into a hulk at Thursday Island, being only broken up in 1895.
The Wave of Life was sold to Brazil, and sailed as the Ida until 1891, when she was renamed Henriquita, Finally she was condemned and broken up in March, 1897.
She was built for the Aberdeen ‘White Star’ line and was painted Aberdeen Green with white decks and bottom. She also had a gilded streak and scroll work.
She did her time in the Austalian passenger trade and was sold to J. E. Ives of Sydney. She was converted to a Hulk and then was broken up in March 1895. [Passenger liner]
The wooden sailing vessel 'Moravian', shown at anchor in Far Eastern waters. She was built in Aberdeen 1858 by Walter Hood. Many of the vessels built at Hood's yard were destined for George Thompson Junior's Aberdeen White Star Line. He set up the company in 1825 to send sailing ships to the St. Lawrence with a few passengers, returning with timber. By 1837 he was running a fleet of 12 sailing vessels and trading to South America, the Pacific, West Indies and the Mediterranean. From 1842 the vessels sailed mainly to Australia in the emigrant and wool trade. The 'Moravian' was subsequently sold to J.E. Ives of Sydney and ended its days as a hulk before being broken up at Sydney in March 1895..
The Kosciusko, like the Maid of Judah, was bought by Cowlislaw Bros., being broken up at Canton in 1899.
‘NINEVAH’ Built 1864. Iron ship of 1174 Tons. Length; 209 ft. Breadth; 36.5 ft. Depth; 22.7 ft. Built by Hood of Aberdeen for George Thompson Jr. Master; Captain J.Ross. Registered; Aberdeen, VWLS. She was nicknamed ‘Lucky’ because of her accident free career, she was sold to Goodlet and Smith of Sydney, NSW and was finally abandoned in the North Pacific in February 1896. [Passenger and General Carrier]
The Lucky Nineveh.- The Nineveh built the same year as the Ethiopian, was an extremely lucky ship in her freights and passengers and made a great deal of money. Old Stephen Thompson was so pleased that he gave Captain Barnet a banquet at the Holborn Restaurant, and all through the dinner kept toasting "the lucky Nineveh,"
The Ethiopian, on her first voyage to Melbourne, went out in 68 days under Captain William Edward. She sailed her last voyage under the British flag in 1886. She was then rigged as a barque, and on her passage home from Sydney had a remarkable race with the iron Orontes, belonging to the same owners. The 2 vessels cast off their tugs together outside Sydney Heads, sighted each other off the Horn, were becalmed together in the doldrums, spoke the same ship off the Western Isles; and when the chops of the Channel were reached, the Ethiopian was hove to taking soundings in a fog, when the Orontes came up under her stern within hailing distance. Finally the Ethiopian got into the East India Docks one tide ahead of the Orontes, thus winning the race and a considerable sum in wagers.
The Ethiopian was sold to the Norwegians. In October, 1894, when bound from St. Thomas to Cork, she was abandoned near the Western Isles. She was afterwards picked up 15 miles from Fayal and towed into St. Michael's, where she was condemned.
The Harlaw was wrecked at Hongkong in 1878
Journal, 25th Sept 1878:
A court of enquiry has exonerated Captain and officers of all blame, but pilot
has been suspended. Names of those drowned are:- George Cowie, Steward,
Aberdeen; John Doig, London; A. Dalgairn, ordinary seaman, Aberdeen; George
Littlejohn, D.S., Aberdeen; Coppel and Parker, 2 seamen shipped at Sydney;
apprentices Mitchell, Crombie and Black, all Aberdeen.
‘JERUSALEM’ Built 1867.
Wood ship of 901 Tons. Length; 196.5 ft. Breadth; 33.7 ft. Depth; 20.7 ft. Built
by Hood of Aberdeen for the White Star Line. She was an Australian passenger
ship and remained in that trade until sold to the Norwegians. Master; Captain
Mark Breach then Captain Largia. Registered; Aberdeen HVLF. She left New
Brunswick under the Norwegian flag on the 28th of
October 1893 and was never seen again. G Thompson owned her in her Aberdeen
days. [Passenger liner]
The Jerusalem. These wooden clippers were often very tender coming home with wool. A most exciting race with the large American ship Iroquois. She was homeward bound from the Colonies, flying light and very crank, a not uncommon condition with a wool cargo. The Yank was first sighted on our quarter, the wind being quarterly, blowing moderately, though squally at times. Whilst the wind remained so the Iroquois had no chance, but when it freshened the Jerusalem heeled over to such an extent that it necessitated sail being taken in. Soon the American was ploughing along to leeward carrying her 3 topgallant sails and whole mainsail and going as steady as a die, whilst the Jerusalem was flying along with fore and main lower topgallants and reefed mainsail, but heeling over to such a degree that one could barely stand upright, the water roaring up through the lee scuppers, and during the squalls lipping in over the rail. '*In a short time the topgallant sails and mainsail were handed and preparations made to reef the fore topsail. By this time, however, the Iroquois had just passed the beam, when, apparently, her skipper, satisfied to have passed us, snugged his ship down to 3 reefed topsails and we shortly after lost sight of her in a blinding squall." To see this ship when moderately light was a great pleasure, her lines were the perfection of symmetry. In one day 324 miles were got out of this ship ; she was one of the first to carry double top-gallant yards." As a matter of fact, the Jerusalem was generally considered the fastest ship in the fleet next to Thermopylae, She made several very good passages from China in the seventies of under 110 days. Captain Crutchley , in his book My Life at Sea, gives an instance of her speed, in describing how she raced ahead of the tea clipper Omba, both ships being bound up the Channel with a strong beam wind. On this occasion, however, it was the Omba which was the tender ship, as she could not carry her royals though the Jerusalem had all plain sail set.
‘THYATIRA’ Built 1867. Composite ship of 962 Tons. Length; 201 ft. Breadth; 33.9 ft. Depth; 21.7 ft. Built by Walter Hood for George Thompson’s White Star Line. She was sold to J.W.Woodside and Co of Belfast in 1894. In July 1896, she was wrecked on Pontal Da Barra when bound from London to Rio. [Passenger Ship and Tea Clipper - Inset]
The Thyatira, Thompson's first composite ship, was also a very ticklish vessel to handle when wool -laden. On her maiden voyage she went out to Melbourne in. 77 days, but took 96 days to get home, during which passage she gave her officers much anxiety owing to her extreme tenderness. The Thyatira was bought by J. W. Woodside & Co., of Belfast, in 1894. In July, 1896, when bound from London to Rio with general cargo, she was wrecked at Pontal da Barra.
Captain Mark Breach's First Encounter with his Owner
21st September 1877 Death of Stephen Thompson
‘AVIEMORE’ Built 1870 at Aberdeen for the White Star Line. Wood ship of 1091 Tons. Length: 214.9 ft. Breadth: 36.8 ft. Depth: 22.2 ft. Last wooden vessel owned by the White Star Line [George Thompson and Co]. She was sold to the Norwegians and turned into a floating oil refinery. Master: Captain Mark Breach then Captain T. Ayling. She was still there for the Norwegians in 1915, re-rigged as a barque. [Passenger Liner and finally General Carrier]
‘SALAMIS’ Built 1875. Iron ship of 1079 Tons. Length; 221.6 ft. Breadth; 36 ft. Depth. 21.7 ft. Built by Hood of Aberdeen for George Thompson and Co. Master; Captain Phillips Snr. She was built on the same design as that most wonderful and fastest of clippers, ‘Thermopylae’. She was about 100 Tons heavier and 10 feet longer but she also was a very speedy ship. She was sold to the White Star Line for use in the Australian passenger trade and after very good service, was sold to the Norwegians. They converted her to a barque and they eventually wrecked her on the 20th of May 1905 on Malden Island in the South Pacific. [White Star Passenger Liner]
The Smyrna was an iron hulled Clipper sailing ship built in Aberdeen by Walter Hood in 1876. She had 3 masts and 2 decks and a tonnage of 1372 gross. It measured 232ft 3in in length, 38ft 5in in breadth and 22ft 2in in depth. The vessel was launched as a wool clipper operating between Britain and Australia. Smyrna made the voyage numerous times, on one occasion in 1887 making it from Sydney to Aberdeen in 96 days. At the time of the accident the ship was owned by Geo. Thompson and Company of the Aberdeen White Star Line. Bound for Sydney she was rammed in fog off Southampton and sank uninsured in 1888. At approximately 10.30am, Moto's Captain Digman was at the wheel when the Symrna was spotted on the port bow. The Moto reversed engines and over the next few minutes very nearly stopped, but inevitably collided with the Smyrna, 1,305gt 1876 Aberdeen (Australian wool trade)
Aberdeen Journal, 16th & 30th Dec 1863:
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