The firm of T. & J. Brocklebank Ltd., was one of the oldest in shipping with its origin dating back to the late eighteenth century. The firm was formed in 1801 when the two sons of the founder of the business, Thomas and John, took control following their father's death. Their father was Captain Daniel Brocklebank (1741 - 1801), a shipmaster and shipbuilder who, after emigrating from Cumberland to New England in 1770, began a shipbuilding enterprise at Sheepscut, near Portland, Maine. Daniel Brocklebank was a loyalist and when the Revolution broke out in 1775 he sailed back to Whitehaven in his own ship, Castor. The letter of marque for the Castor's privateering activities during the American War of Independence is the oldest surviving document in the collection [B/BROC/6/1].
Daniel Brocklebank re-started his shipbuilding business at Whitehaven in 1785 and the surviving plans and specifications of the vessels built by his yard, provide an important source for the construction of eighteenth and early nineteenth century merchant ships. [See B/BROC/8/1-2 for their specifications and agreements.] Valuable information concerning the activities of the Whitehaven shipyard can be found in the journals of accounts and ledgers, 1808-1865 [B/BROC/4/1-3] and letterbooks, 1801-1860 [B/BROC/1/2/1-7]. By 1795 Daniel Brocklebank owned a fleet of eleven vessels of 1,750 tons. After Daniel's death in 1801 the firm of T. & J. Brocklebank was formed by his two sons, Thomas and John Brocklebank, and despite the firm suffering heavily in the Napoleonic Wars, by 1809 it was sending ships as far as South America. In 1815 the success of the Princess Charlotte's maiden voyage to Calcutta, following the end of the East India Company's monopoly, led to the beginning of a Calcutta trade that was to eventually eclipse Brocklebank's South American and China trades many years later.
Thomas Brocklebank (1774 - 1845) moved to Liverpool in 1819 and the firm opened an office in Rumford Street in 1822. In 1827 Brocklebanks built their first paddle steamer, the Countess of Lonsdale, and two years later in 1829 Brocklebanks began trading to China. In 1843 Thomas made his forty year-old cousin Ralph a partner (who was later to become Chairman of the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board), and also his nephew Thomas Fisher, who took the name Brocklebank, and was made a Baronet in 1885. By 1844 the Brocklebank fleet had reached its highest number ever, comprising a total of fifty vessels. After the closure of the Whitehaven shipyard in 1865 and the move of its headquarters to Liverpool, the company concentrated solely on shipowning, purchasing larger iron and steel sailing ships mainly from Harland & Wolff, Belfast. [For specifications of these vessels see B/BROC/8/1/2-3.] Brocklebanks were reticent in investing in steam and did not purchase their first steamer, the Ameer until 1889.
In 1895 Sir Thomas, the second baronet, became Chairman and in 1898 the firm became a limited company. On his death in 1911, his brother Harold succeeded him as Chairman, followed in 1913 by Sir Aubrey, who had been Managing Director since 1898. In 1911 Brocklebanks ceased to be a family business after a substantial shareholding was sold to Sir Percy, Frederick and Denis Bates, grandsons of Sir Edward Bates, who had built up the Indian trading firm of Edward Bates & Sons. In the same year Cunard acquired the Anchor Line, which retained its independence and in turn gained a controlling interest in Brocklebanks in 1912. The business was strengthened by the presence on the board of the Bates brothers, Sir Alfred Booth and Sir Thomas Royden. In 1916 the Well Line was acquired and in 1919 Cunard bought out the Brocklebank and Bates shares; the final one-fifth shareholding held by Anchor was acquired in 1940. In 1929 Colonel Denis Bates became Chairman on Sir Aubrey's death.
The firm experimented with motor ships with the first all-welded vessel, the coaster Fullagar 1920. The shipping depression of the 1930s resulted in the company performing what was, at that time, a quite unique operation, that of reducing the size of four of its ships, the Mathura, Mangalore, Magdapur and Manipur in 1935 [see photographic record in B/BROC/8/7/1]. The firm suffered heavy losses during the Second World War, losing sixteen of its fleet of twenty-six ships, including the Malakand, which blew up with a cargo of ammunition in Liverpool docks in 1941. The fleet was re-built and services extended because of the decline of business at Calcutta after Indian independence in 1948. In 1964 Brocklebanks bought H.E. Moss & Co., tanker owners, and in 1967 Cunard Line became responsible for the passenger business and a new Cunard Brocklebank company took over all cargo services, including two Cunard-owned container ships in the Atlantic Container Lines consortium.
The Brocklebank collection is one of the most important archives held at the Maritime Archives & Library, and is certainly one of the earliest comprehensive collections of shipbuilding and shipowning records in the north-west of England, unrivalled by any held elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The archive is important not only for its early shipbuilding and business records, but also for the family papers and great bulk of research notes on the history of Brocklebanks compiled by W.S. Rees, which were used by J.F. Gibson for his company history in 1953. The collection also includes a large number of photographs [see section 11], and also paintings (especially extensive for sailing ships, 1815-1891) and models (1854-1946), both of the latter are in the care of the Maritime History Department.
Gibson, J.F., Brocklebanks, Liverpool, 1953
Brief Chronology of Brocklebank History, 1741 - 1935
1741 Captain Daniel Brocklebank born, son of a Rector in Westmoreland.
1770 He emigrates to America and begins shipbuilding in New England.
1773 Daniel Jnr. born.
1774 Thomas born.
1775 American War of Independence. Captain Daniel Brocklebank returns to Whitehaven in the Castor.
1777 Anne born. Trading across the Atlantic.
1778 John Paul Jones attacked Whitehaven, France and Spain join America.
1779 The Castor was granted a Letter of Marque by George III. John Brocklebank born.
1784 Captain Daniel sailed to West Indies.
1788 Captain Daniel retired from the sea to start a shipyard at Whitehaven.
1794 Brocklebank ships sailing to Russia.
1801 Daniel died aged 59. Firm became Thos. & Jno. Brocklebank.
1809 Trade began to South America.
1812 Anne marries William Fisher.
1814 Thomas Fisher born.
1815 Trade began to Batavia and Calcutta.
1819 Thomas Brocklebank moved to Liverpool.
1822 Brocklebanks opened an office in Rumford Street, Liverpool.
1829 Trade began to China.
1831 Thomas Fisher started work in Liverpool office.
1833 Trade to Bombay.
1843 Thomas Fisher and Ralph Brocklebank made partners.
1845 Thomas Brocklebank died, Thomas Fisher, senior partner, took the name of Brocklebank.
1848 Thomas Brocklebank born.
1853 Harold Brocklebank born.
1854 Edward Bates started service to Calcutta.
1855 Brocklebanks' trade to Bombay discontinued.
1860 Started London to China service.
1865 Brocklebank shipyard at Whitehaven closed.
1873 Aubrey Brocklebank born. South American service discontinued.
1879 Rope-making at Bransty ceased.
1882 Thomas and Harold Brocklebank became partners.
1885 Baronetcy conferred on Thomas Brocklebank (Fisher).
1886 Ralph Brocklebank retired. Office moved to 20 Bixteth Street.
1894 Sir Thomas Brocklebank, 1st Baronet, retired.
1895 Thomas Brocklebank becomes Chairman, Harold, Director.
1898 Brocklebanks becomes a Private Limited Company.
1905 Service from Antwerp to Singapore, Shanghai, Kobe, Yokohama begins. Half of Shire Line purchased.
1907 Royal Mail Steam Ship Co. bought remaining Shire shares.
1911 Sir Thomas (1st Baronet) died. Edward Bates & Sons bought controlling interest. Three Bates brothers, Percy, Denis Haughton and Frederick Austin on Board, with Sir Aubrey Brocklebank as Chairman.
1912 Brocklebanks bought Calcutta conference rights of Anchor and four ships. All Anchor shares held by Cunard. Henderson (of Anchor) joined Brocklebank Board.
1913 Sir Alfred Booth and Sir Thomas Royden joined the Board.
1916 Bought Well Line (Dundee trade). All ships commandeered at "Blue Book" rates.
1917 Office of Anchor-Brocklebank moved to Cunard Building.
1919 Won appeal against Government refusal to permit sale of ships abroad. Cunard bought shares held by Brocklebank and Bates interests (remaining 2/5ths held by Anchor, bought later in 1940).
1929 Denis Bates, Chairman, Herbert Corry and Austin Bates on Board.
1931 Anchor discontinued Liverpool office. A.B. Hughes (General Manager and Joint Managing Director) retired after 52 years service, succeeded by D.W. Williams.
1934 Trade recovering, Anchor taken over by Runcimans.
1935 As a result of depression, undertook shortening of four ships at Smiths Dock Company.
1945 Brocklebanks had 25 ships worldwide at outbreak of World War II, lost 16 ships (125,075 tons) during the war.
1964 Bought H.E. Moss & Co.
1967 Cunard took over passenger and cargo business.