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Registered: 10-2009
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White Star Line, The Begining

The White Star Line originated from very humble beginings in Liverpool as shipbrokers. In 1845 John Pilkington and Henry Wilson set up the company to act as brokers for sailing ships mainly on American and Canadian transatlantic crossings. Their first charter, the Elizebeth, sailed from Liverpool on February 26th heading for Canada. The chartering continued until the pair bought their first sailing ship, the 879 ton Iowa in June 1849 when they advertised the White Star Line taking cargo and emigrants to ports such as New York, Boston and New Orleans. It is at this time that the company`s legendary flag came into being, the now famous five pointed white star on a red background.

As the gret Austrialian gold rush began in 1851 the White Star Line were soon operating services to Austrailia and the company soon expanded and were advertising six ships sailing to Austrailia from June 1852, the Phoenix, Dundonald, Bhurtpoor, Ellen, The Earl Of Derby and Blanche. Unfortunatly Bhurtpoor sank of the coast of Ireland on September 18th 1852.

In 1853 White Star obtained the Tayleur in addition to their growing fleet, she was the largest British built ship at the time costing £34,000. On her maiden sailing she sailed into rocks just off Dublin Bay and was wrecked, her iron hull stopped the compass from working properly and with 652 passengers on board. 380 people died as she sank.

In 1854 White Star boasted the fastest sailing ship on the Austrailian run, the Red Jacket, she was so fast that she could outpace many of the steamships of the time, making the journey to Melbourne in just under 68 days.

In 1856 co founder John Pilkington decided to return to his family run business, Pilkington Brothers, and his place on the board was taken by Henry Wilsons brother-in-law James Chambers. Also in 1856 the company lost its Royal Mail contract to Cunard.

In May 1863 White Star acquired its first steamship, the 505 ton Albert Williams. Fast forward to November the same year the first large steamship ordered for White Star departed Liverpool for Melbourne on her maiden voyage, she was built in Jarrow by Palmer Brothers and was named Royal Standard. She was powered by a 165 horse power two cylinder steam engine and carried three masts and a full set of sails. On the way to Austrailia her Captain E. J. Allen died and was replaced for the return voyage by Captain G. H. Dorvell. On 21st March 1864 she sailed from Melbourne carrying a cargo of a half ton of gold bound for Liverpool but on April 4th she hit an iceberg, she lost her mast and her starboard side was severly damaged. Still afloat the Captain restarted the ships engine and she slowly sailed away eventually making Rio on May 9th where she was repaired.

Due to a great expansion White Star tried to sell some of its ships to repay a huge debt that the company owed. By 1865 White Star owed the bank £470,000 mainly to the Royal Bank of Liverpool who gaurenteed its loans for another six years. James Chambers was not happy at the company`s debts and resigned from the company in 1866 and set up his own company the day he left.

White Star, despite its huge debts, stayed afloat until 1867. When the Royal Bank of Liverpool collapsed, White Star who owed the bank £527,000 followed it into recievership and the fleet was sold to pay off its debts.

The White Star Line now faced an uncertain future. Henry Wilson died a broken man in November 1869 aged 44 but before his passing Wilson sold the name and the flag of the White Star Line to a director of the Transatlantic National Line in 1867, Thomas Henry Ismay and the rest is history.

Incidentally, the other co-founder of the White Star Line, John Pilkington, died in 1890 in Birkenhead, my home town.


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