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History of the Wilson Line

Wilson Line. - Thomas Wilson, Sons & Co. is at the present time the largest private ship-owning company in the world. This line traces its origin as far back as 1835. It was founded by Mr Thomas Wilson in conjunction with Messrs Hudson and Beckington, and on the retirement of the two last-named gentlemen it acquired its present title.

Early in the 1840s the firm was running three steamships to Gothenburg, and was engaged largely in the iron trade, importing large quantities of Swedish and Russian iron, and running a regular line of sailing boats to Swedish ports. It also despatched a regular service to Dunkirk. Steamships gradually superseded the sailing vessels, and new steamers year by year were placed on the Scandinavian service.

About this time the firm secured the mail contract between England and Sweden, which it still holds. After the Crimean War it started the St Petersburg, Stettin and Riga trade. During the FrancoGerman War the trade to Stettin had to be suspended; and as a set-off the service to Trieste was inaugurated, which has developed into an independent Adriatic and Sicilian service.

The Norwegian trade was then improved by the despatch of steamships to Bergen, Stavanger and Trondhjem, and subsequently a service of large steamers began running to Constantinople and the Black Sea. After the opening of the Suez Canal the trade to India, which has since assumed such considerable proportions, was inaugurated.

In 1875 the firm launched out into a more hardy enterprise, by commencing to run steamers to America. Its vessels in 1902 ran to New York regularly from Hull and the Tyne ports. The original Calcutta trade was discontinued when the New York line was started, but in 1883 a service was established between Hull and Bombay. In 1891 the firm became a private limited company and in 1894 took over the coasting trade between Hull and Newcastle.

The company employs a number of large and swift ships in the Norwegian passenger traffic, which in the summer season now reaches very considerable proportions. It has frequent services of passenger and cargo vessels to the ports of northern Europe, carrying passengers in the season as far north :as the North Cape. Of course the winter season necessitates considerable variation of summer services to Baltic ports.

In 1903 the fleet of the oldestablished Hull firm of Messrs Bailey & Leetham was absorbed, and in 1908 that of the North-Eastern Railway Company. There are also steamers leaving Grimsby, Manchester and Liverpool regularly for Scandinavian and Baltic ports; weekly services to Ghent, Liverpool and Newcastle; and services to Mediterranean and Black Sea ports. Besides the New York line there are ocean services to Boston, to New Orleans and the river Plate.

There is also a weekly service to and from London and Boston in conjunction with the Furness-Leyland Line.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica 1911

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