Information sheet

Thomas and John Brocklebank

Sheet number 18

Brocklebank is one of the oldest firms in the world of merchant shipping, dating back to 1801 when the two sons of the founder of the business took control following their father's death.  The founder was Captain Daniel Brocklebank, a master mariner and shipbuilder, whose shipbuilding enterprise was first established at Sheepscutt (near Portland, Maine, North America) in 1770.  Brocklebank was a Loyalist and when the Revolution took place in 1775 he sailed back to Whitehaven in his own ship, 'Castor'.  The Letter of Marque for the 'Castor', dated 1779, is the earliest document in the collection.

Captain Daniel Brocklebank restarted his shipbuilding business at Whitehaven in 1785 and the plans and specifications of his yard's products from 1792 are one of the most important sources for 18thand early 19th century merchant ships.  By 1795 his fleet consisted of eleven vessels totalling 1,750 tons.

In 1801 Daniel Brocklebank died and the firm became Thomas and John Brocklebank, later shortened to Thos. and Jno. Brocklebank.  The firm suffered somewhat in the Napoleonic Wars but by 1809 it was sending ships as far as South America.  By 1816 the fleet totalled seventeen ships.

In 1815 the new ship 'Princess Charlotte's maiden voyage to Calcutta was a successful venture following the end of the East India Company's monopoly.  Her return freight was estimated to realise more than £10,000 in profits for her owners and other merchants.  This trade was eventually to eclipse Brocklebank's South American and China trades.

In 1819 Thomas Brocklebank moved to Liverpool and an office was opened there in 1822.  His brother John remained in Whitehaven to run the Bransty shipyard and the ropery.  In 1829 Brocklebanks began trading to China but on an irregular basis.

In 1831 John Brocklebank was killed by a fall from his horse, while trying to avoid a small child who ran into his path.  Daniel Bird became manager of the Whitehaven shipyard.  In the same year Thomas Fisher Brocklebank moved to Liverpool to assist his uncle, Thomas Brocklebank, in the family business.  In 1843 Thomas would make his nephew, Thomas and cousin, Ralph (later to become Chairman of the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board), partners in the firm.  Thomas (Jnr.) was politically and socially active and became a Baronet in 1885.

By 1844 the fleet had reached its highest number, comprising fifty vessels.  The Whitehaven shipyard was closed in 1865 and larger iron and later steel sailing ships were bought mainly from Harland & Wolff, Belfast.  Their first steamer, 'Ameer', was not purchased until 1889.

In 1911 Brocklebanks ceased to be a family business.  A substantial shareholding was sold to Sir Percy, Frederic and Denis Bates (grandsons of Sir Edward Bates) who had built up an Indian trading firm and were major Cunard shareholders.  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 Bates brothers, Sir Alfred Booth and Sir Thomas Royden, strengthened the business under the chairmanship of Sir Aubrey Brocklebank.  In 1916 the Well Line was acquired and in 1919 Cunard bought out the Brocklebank and Bates shares and the final one-fifth shareholding held by Anchor Line was acquired in 1940.

The firm experimented with motor ships including, for a short time, the first all-welded vessel, the coaster Fullagar of 1920.  The shipping depression of the 1930s saw a reduction in the size of four of its ships in 1935 - a unique operation at the time.

Sixteen out of twenty-six ships were lost in the Second World War including the Malakand, which blew up with an ammunition cargo in Liverpool in 1941.  The fleet was rebuilt and services extended because of the decline of business at Calcutta after Indian Independence in 1948.  In 1964 they bought HE Moss & Co, tanker owners, and in 1967 Cunard reorganised its business.  Cunard Line became responsible for the passenger business and a new Cunard Brocklebank company took on all cargo services.

However, the 1970s witnessed further deterioration for the financial situation of the company.  The last two Brocklebank liveried ships were sold in 1983.

The Brocklebank collection is varied and includes not only shipping business but also family papers and research notes on the history compiled by JS Rees which were used by JF Gibson for the company history.  There are also excellent photographs and, under the care of the Merseyside Maritime Museum, Maritime History Department, paintings (especially extensive for the sailing ships 1815-1891) and models (1854-1946) which make the collection one of the most outstanding and of national importance.

Thomas and John Brocklebank Archive


Minutes of Directors Meetings, 1898-1963

Annual General Meetings, 1918-1965

Executive Committee, 1912-1961

Whitehaven Letterbooks, 1801-1841, 1852-1863

Liverpool Private Letterbooks, 1888-1907

Letterbook of Denis H. Bates, 1912-1919

Letter of Thomas Harrison to Captain Daniel Brocklebank, re privateering and new ships, 1782

Business Letters, 1825-1829, 1861-1864

File, re Thomas Brocklebank's chairmanship of Liverpool, London and Globe Insurance Co., 1874


Lease of Brantsy Ropeworks, Whitehaven, 1775

Conveyance of Isaac Littledale & Co.'s Ropeworks, Whitehaven, to Daniel Brocklebank, 1749

Agreements for the sale and construction of ships, 1810, 1811, 1812

Partnership Agreements, 1843 & 1892

Articles of Association, 1898-1948

Seal Book, 1898-1948

Heads of Agreement between T. & J. Brocklebank and Anchor Line, 1912, with Correspondence, Accounts and Articles of Association, 1907-1922

Correspondence, re the liquidation of Anchor Line, 1935-1942

Memorandum and Articles of Association of Well Line, and Agreement of Sale to T. & J. Brocklebank, 1916

Papers, re war compensation against the Ministry of Shipping, 1921, and Inland Revenue, 1923-1925


Scrip Book, 1898 - 1912

Debenture Holders' Minute Book, 1912

Companies Act Registers:   1900,  1903-1906, 1911-1919, 1948

Register of Mortgages and Debentures, 1907-1921

Register of Transfers - Debenture Issue, 1907-1921

Register of Applications and Allotments, 1911-1945

Correspondence with the Treasury, re Shares, 1951


Ledgers, Whitehaven, 1808-1855

Cash Books, Whitehaven, 1833-1860

Cashier's Office Letterbooks, 1882-1905

Loan Book, 1900-1924

Register of Bills Payable, 1929-1947

Private Ledger, 1938-1943

Valuation of Assets, 1921-1954

Correspondence and Accounts, re Excess Profits Duty - obsolescence claims, shareholdings, profit and loss accounts - Income Tax, 1920-1931


Reports: Japanese and Korean Ports, 1908

               Bombay, 1920-1921

               Suez, Aden and Calcutta, 1931

               Calcutta Agency, 1933-1934

Reports: Visit to India and Sri Lanka, 1948-1949

               French, U.S. and Canadian Ports, 1959

Reports on Overseas Visits, 1950 & 1960

File, re Calcutta Conference, 1916

Correspondence and Reports on the Liverpool Steamship Owners Association, 1931-1937

Report:  Indian Railway Cargo, 1897

Correspondence, 1925

Report of Disagreement, re Calcutta berths, 1922-1934

Continental Conference Agreement, 1930

Chairman's Notes on British Shipping Speech, 1936

Report: Shipping Conference, 1944

National Maritime Board - Rates of Pay, 1947

Memorandum of Meeting, 1950

Correspondence on Malpractice, 1958

Correspondence on Calcutta Conference, 1957-1959

Reports: Chamber of Shipping

 Liverpool Steamship Owners Association, 1960


Letter of Marque to Daniel Brocklebank for privateering against Spain in the Castor, 1779

Store Book, 1895-1899

Notebooks of ship movements, 1907-1932

Schedule, Anchor - Brocklebank Line, 1912

Notebooks of Voyage Details, 1931-1950

Anchor - Brocklebank Charter Parties, 1911-1936

Correspondence, re berthing arrangements of T. & J. Harrison and T. & J. Brocklebank at Liverpool, 1950


Whitehaven Apprentices Book, 1809-1840

Liverpool Apprentices Books, 1820-1897

Officers and Apprentices Books, 1851-1900

Officers and Engineers Books, 1891-1923

Sea Staff Index, 1890-1920

Seaman's Apprenticeship Indenture, 1787

Letter of Instruction to the Captain of the 'Lord Althorp', 1851

General Rules for Commanders, Officers and Chief Engineers, 1889

Volume of Crew Lists, 1938

Merchant Navy Pension Fund Correspondence, 1939-1961

Documents of Indian Seaman's Home, Mere Hall, Wirral, includes accounts, plans, correspondence, photographs


Log of: 'Princess Charlotte', 1826, 'Ariel', 1831, 'Boyton', 1841

Specifications for building steel and iron sailing ships, 1884-1885

Hull Specification: single-screw steamer, 1898

Specification for steel twin-screw cargo steamer, 1911

Agreement for construction and sale of steamships:  1913-1917,  1919,  1924 & 1925, 1937 & 1939

Legal Protests, re damage or loss to vessels, 1939-1940 & 1955

File: values of ships, 1921-1935

Whitehaven Shipping

Dimensions of ships built and repaired, 1792-1841

Shipyard Ledgers, 1818-1865

Shipyard Journals, 1832-1865

Original Plans of Ships: Nestor, 1792,  Everest, 1863

World Wars I and II

Reminiscences of sea staff during World War I

Files relating to losses, staff experiences, awards for gallantry

Record of decorations and recommendations, 1939-1945

Official protests against the torpedoing of Brocklebank vessels, 1939-1945

Radio Logs of ships, 1944-1945

Confidential Logs, 1941-1945

Log of 'MV Samovar' towing 'MV Trocas', 1943

File containing:     

Application for Trading Licence, 1948

Certificate of Tonnage Replacement Scheme, 1941

Ministry of Shipping Agreement, 1940

Wartime Dock Labour Correspondence, 1941

Fire Prevention Guidelines, 1942 - 1943


Series of ship photographs

Four photograph albums

Set of Photographic Copies of Paintings

Historical notes

Fleets, 1770-1962

Voyage Details, 1770-1901

Calcutta Trade, 1814-1933

Sailings to China, 1829-1911

Sailings to Bombay, 1833-1885

Marine Superintendents in Liverpool, 1836-1934

Building specifications, launches, fast passages, 1834-1858

Brocklebank family

Copies of Parish Register Entries, 1734-1779

Epitome of Will of Thomas Brocklebank, 1843

Licence for Thomas Fisher to take the name "Brocklebank", 1845

Official appointments of Thomas Brocklebank, 1864-1869

Papers, re Baronetcy, 1885

Obituary volume, Sir Aubrey Brocklebank, 1929


GIBSON, John Frederic.  Brocklebanks, 1770-1950, Vols. I & II.  Liverpool: Henry Young & Sons Ltd., 1953.

HAWS, Duncan.  Merchant Fleets, Thos. & Jno. Brocklebank.  TCL Publications, 1994.

HOLLET, D.  From Cumberland to Cape Horn.  The Sailing Fleet of Thomas and John Brocklebank of Whitehaven and Liverpool, 1770-1900.  London: Fairplay Publications, 1984.

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