A London Tramp Concern

by Dorothy Laird  

BOLTON ships are all named after artists with names beginning with the letter “R”. The reason for this choice lies in the fact that the father of the founder of the firm was himself an artist. The original colours of the fleet were grey topsides with white upperworks, “mastcoloured” lower main mast, and black topmasts. Now, for practical reasons, the hull is painted black, with grey paint around the hatch-coamings and inside the bulwarks, although the deck-houses remain white. The mast colours are unchanged. The ships have always had plain black funnels. The house-flag is a red flag, with a white diamond running right to the edges of the flag and containing the initials “F B”in red.

The ship owning firm was founded in 1884 by Mr.(later Sir) Frederic Bolton, who had as partner Mr. L. T. Bartholomew. Ten years earlier Mr. Bolton had founded an underwriting syndicate at Lloyds. Incidentally, this connection with Lloyds has been maintained and strengthened through the years. The firm also has large ship broking connections, so that shipowning is only one leg of a tripod of activities. The first ship was built for the new company in 1885. This was the Raphael, an iron steamer of 1,860 gross and 2,600 deadweight tons. She was propelled by compound steam engines, but was also fitted with auxiliary sail power. Her dimensions were 271.4ft. x 36.1 x 20.5ft. She was built for the company—as all of their early ships were to be — by J. L. Thompson, of Sunderland.

This iron steamer Raphael was destined to have a remarkably long and useful life, yet strangely enough she is almost the only one of the ships owned by the Bolton company of which it has no photograph. Every effort has been made to obtain a picture of her, but so far without success. Perhaps, through some “Sea Breezer”, one may yet be found. The first ship was followed at regular yearly intervals by three more. In 1886 was built the first Rembrandt, constructed of iron like the Raphael, but with triple expansion engines. Her gross tonnage 1,828, was almost the same as the earlier ship, and she was also square-rigged on the foremast. Her yards were rigged down early in her career, but she continued to make occasional use of stay-sails for some years. Built in 1887, the Rubens was the company’s third vessel. She was Bolton’s first steel ship, and had the now-general triple-expansion engines. She made a brave picture on her trial trip, name pennant flying from the foremast, and with jibs, stay-sails, foresail and fore-topsails bent. It is interesting to look at her bridge, which was quite open and exposed to the weather, and contrast it with the elaborately-equipped, weatherproof structure of a modern vessel. The Rubens was no sooner accepted and had returned to her moorings from her trial trip when she was rammed amidships by a collier, and sank at her moorings. Although she was afterwards raised and repaired, it was an unfortunate opening to her career.

Last of the original four ships was the Ruysdael, of 2,095 gross and 3,000 deadweight tons. All four ships were employed, as were all the smaller Bolton ships before the First World War, principally with the Mediterranean. They were regular traders to Smyrna and Alexandria, and were often employed in carrying coal out and bringing home grain from the Black Sea. The larger ships went East with case oil from Batoum, and brought rice home. For the third and fourth ships (the Rubens and Ruysdael) only, a third partner, Mr. Henry Kenneth had been taken into the company, but this partnership was dissolved in 1895, when Mr. Frederic Bolton took over Mr. Kenneth’s share. Up to this time the ships had all been held in 64th shares. In 1897, however, they were formed into one company, the Bolton Steam Shipping Co., Ltd. with F. Bolton and Company as managers.

Meanwhile, two further ships had been built for the original two partners. These were the Romney, of 2,806 gross and 4,400 deadweight tons, which was built in 1893 and was the biggest ship the company had so far owned, followed by the Rossetti, built in the following year. With the Rossetti, Boltons reverted to a steamer of about 3,000 deadweight tons. Both ships came from Thompson’s yard. The company followed these ships with three more vessels, all from Thompson’s. The Reynolds, of 3,264 gross and 5,100 deadweight tons, was built in 1898. She was followed in 1902 by the still larger Ramsay, of 4,318 gross and 6,500 deadweight tons. Then, in 1904, came the Ribera, of 3,500 gross and 5,500 deadweight tons. In a period of 17 years Bolton’s had built up from scratch a fleet of nine cargo vessels of a capacity of 35,700 deadweight tons. All had been specially built for the company and none had been lost. Indeed, the freedom of Bolton ships from marine casualties is still a marked characteristic of the fleet.

In 1906 the company parted with its first four Ships, which were now between 16 and 19 years old, although their subsequent histories show that there was still plenty of life left in them at the time they were disposed of. All were sold to the Chilean company Cia. Chilena de Nav, a Vap., of Valparaiso. The first Raphael was renamed Presidente Bulnes shortly after passing into Chilean hands, but the Chilean company did not prosper and soon went into liquidation. In 1912-13 she was resold to L. C. Ubeda and J. L. Delano who renamed her Ercilla, and in the following year she passed into the hands of M. Ramis Clar and L. Gonzales and was renamed after the Chilean nitrate port of Antofagasta.

In the same year she passed on to R. W. James and Company, who called her Fresia and kept her in its fleet throughout the First World War. All this time she retained the port registry of Valparaiso. After the war ended she was sold to Telles, Romaguera and Company, of Rio de Janeiro, retaining, in Brazilian ownership the pretty name of Fresia. She sailed for this company until 1930, when she was hulked in Valparaiso. This stout iron ship was still afloat in 1942. The other iron steamer’s life was considerably shorter. The Rembrandt’s name was changed to Presidente Prieto. After the liquidation of her first Chilean company, she was purchased by A. Puccio, also of Valparaiso, who did not rename her. She stranded and was condemned as a constructive total loss in 1912-13.

The Rubens —which had been sunk at her moorings at the very outset of her career— had an unusual experience since she returned to European ownership after passing to the South American flags. The Chilean Nav. a Vap. called her Presidente Manuel Montt, and she was renamed Iquique when she passed into the Gonzales fleet in 1912-13, in which she sailed until 1918. In that year she was sold to Argentina, but was soon resold to the Algerian State Railway, by which she was renamed Souk-Ahras and registered first at Havre and then at Bordeaux. In 1925-6 she passed into the ownership of J. de St. Aignan, but remained under the tricolour. In the following year she was sold to the Italian company Soc. Anon. di Nav. Nettuno, being registered at the Sicilian Port of Catania. Her name was also changed to Sara. In the following year, although retained by the same company, managed by D. Saglimbene. her port of registry was changed to Trieste, and she was given her final name of Sara Saglimbene. She was broken up in 1928.

Last of the original Bolton ships was the Ruysdael, which was named by the Chileans Jeneral Freire. She retained this name when she was sold to G. Pommerenke at the outbreak of the First World War. In 1919-20 she was sold to Borquez and Company, also of Valparaiso, who renamed her Lautaro. She was still sailing for them in June 1928, when she was wrecked. Meanwhile, in 1906, the same year in which the original ships had been sold to Chile, Bolton’s built another ship, the Rubens (II). This time they took the contract to Gray’s of West Hartlepool. This ship was similar to the Ribera which Thompson’s had built two years before. She proved an extremely successful ship. In the following year, Mr. Frederic Bolton received a knighthood from King Edward VII. The last ship to be built for the Bolton Steam Shipping Co. Ltd., before the First World War was the Ruysdael (II) of 5.800 tons deadweight, in 1912. She also came from Grays shipyard at West Hartlepool.

When the war broke out in 1914 Bolton’s owned the Romney, Rossetti, Reynolds, Ramsay, Ribera, Rubens (II) and Ruysdael (II)—seven vessels aggregating 35,800 deadweight tons, almost exactly the same quantity of tonnage that they had owned a decade before. But misfortune followed fast. The eight-year-old Rubens (II) was caught by the Germans in Hamburg. Her crew were interned at Ruhleben, where her master Capt. T. A. French died. The Germans took the Rubens (II)—which was, of course, typically British in appearance—and fitted her out as a blockade runner, loading her with guns and ammunition for their colonies in East Africa. After a preliminary successful venture, she was eventually chased by a British cruiser off the African coast, but managed to make the safety of a creek, where she was scuttled by the Germans. There was some talk of salving her after the war, but nothing transpired in this direction.

The new Ruysdael (II) was also in the Baltic at the outbreak of war, but she was more fortunate in that she was in a Finnish, and therefore neutral port. She was laid up in Kristinestad, in the Gulf of Bothnia until November 1916 when, under the command of Capt. R. Hurford and in the company of some other British ships, she managed to slip through the shelter of Swedish territorial waters out of the Baltic into the Kattegat, thence through the Skagerrak and home across the North Sea. On her arrival in England she was sold to A. D. Axarlis, of London, who later resold her to W. J. Williams. She was sunk by enemy action N.W. of Finisterre on September 7, 1918, one of the last casualties of the war.

Meanwhile the Ribera, on a voyage from Aden to India, was caught by the German cruiser Emden, being one of the three ships taken by the raider on September 29, 1914. The crew was placed on board the Andrew Crawford steamer Gryfevale, together with the crews of five other British ships taken by the Emden. The Gryfevale was then released, and brought them all safely to Colombo. Within two months of the outbreak of war, the Bolton Steam Shipping Co. Ltd., had therefore lost the use of its three latest ships, comprising 16,800 deadweight tons.

In 1915 the fleet was reinforced by the Ribera (II), which was built by Gray’s at West Hartlepool, and was a similar ship to the Ruysdael (II). In 1916 the Reynolds was sold to Watts, Watts, and Company, of London, being renamed Chertsey, but she was sunk by enemy action in the Mediterranean later in the same year. Sir Frederic Bolton had been suffering from ill-health, while his partner, Mr. L. T. Bartholomew wanted to retire from business. The decision was therefore made to wind up the company in 1917. The ships then owned were the Romney (which had given the company 24 years of service), Rossetti, Ramsay and Ribera (II).

Sold to the Franco-British Steam Ship Co., Ltd., managed by Olivier and Company, the old Romney was renamed City of Amiens and registered in London. She was sold in 1921-2 to the Hydra Steam Ship Co. Ltd., managed by G. M. Crussachi, and was wrecked soon afterwards. The Rossetti, a useful little ship, had a much longer career. She was first sold to the Cambo Shipping Co. Ltd., of London, which was managed by J. P. Cadogan. They parted with her in 1919-20 to the Egypt and Levant Steam Ship Co. Ltd., managed by T. Bowen Rees and Co. Ltd., by whom she was renamed Antinoe. She went under the Greek flag in 1923-4. when she was sold to T. A. Syrmas of Andros and given the f amily name of Anastassios A. Syrmas. Six years later she exchanged the blue and white of Greece for the blue and gold of Sweden, when she became the Gerania, of Gefle, under the management of E. Hogberg. The company, after the Scandinavian manner, bore her own name. In 1935-6 J. J. Malmberg became her manager, although the company name was not changed. In 1939-40 she became the Wilhelmina and changed her port of registry to Stockholm, where she belonged to Red. A/B. Fredrika, manager Erik Hogberg. She stranded and became a total loss off Karlskrona in 1941. She was then 47 years old.

The Ramsay went from Bolton’s to the Sutherland Steam Ship Co. Ltd., and was named, according to that company’s usual custom, after a Scottish county. She became the Caithness. In 1921-2 they sold her to the Anglo-Celtic Shipping Co. Ltd., managed by Griffiths Payne and Co. Ltd., of London. She went to the Italians in 1926-7, when she was renamed Edera, by her new owners, A. Lauro of Naples. She was broken up in 1930. The newest of the four ships sold by Bolton’s had the shortest life. She was the two-year-old Ribera (II), which was sold to the Globe Shipping Co. Ltd., of Cardiff, (managed by Humfries (Cardiff) Ltd), who renamed her the Glorose. She was sunk by German submarines 70 miles north of Cape Wrath in June 1917.

In 1921, the Bolton family decided to revive the company, which had been wound up four years previously. The partners in this second enterprise were Mr. Louis Hamilton Bolton, son of Sir Frederic Bolton and the present chairman of the company, and Mr. H. E. de Rougemont. In 1923 a third partner, Mr. E. Ollivant, was brought in. Mr. de Rougemont died in 1933, and Mr. Ollivant in 1945. The first ships bought by the company were the Rubens (III), ex-Pera, 4,071 gross and 6,200 deadweight tons, and the Ribera (III), ex-Hanau 4,221 gross and 6,800 deadweight tons. Both were bought from the Shipping Controller and had previously been in German hands. The Rubens (III) was actually a British-built ship and came from the Glasgow yard of D. and W. Henderson. She was built in 1905 for the Strick Line, by whom she was named Armanistan, but was sold in the same year to the Hamburg Union Company and renamed Wellgunde. In 1912-13 she was sold to the Continentale Shipping Company, also of Hamburg, who renamed her Heimfeld. Just before the war she changed ownership again, corn11 coming into the hands of the Deutsche Levante Line, by whom she was renamed Pera. The Ribera (III) was a German built ship with finer lines than are usually found in a cargo-carrying vessel. She came from the Flensburg shipyard in 1907. She had been owned by the German-Australia Steamship Line, of Hamburg, but was seized by the Allies at Antwerp during the war. Later in the same year, 1921, the Bolton Steam Shipping Co. Ltd. acquired two further vessels. These were the Ruysdael (III), ex-Blackwell, of 4,712 gross and 7,600 deadweight tons, and the Ramsay (II), of 5,053 gross and 8,200 deadweight tons. The Ruysdael (III) had been built in 1907 by a yard whose high standard of workmanship was well-known to Bolton’s, namely J. L. Thompson of Sunderland.

This ship was built in exceptionally fast time for those days. She was launched in 114 days after the laying of the keel, and completed in a total of 177 days. The total weight of iron and steel used in her construction was 2,174 tons. Incidentally, 1907 remained the record production year for Thompson’s for no less than 35 years. In that year they launched 12 vessels, aggregating 48,178 tons. The Blackwell’s first owners were Tyzack and Branfoot. At the end of the war she passed into the fleet of Thos. and Jno. Brocklebank, from whom she was purchased by Bolton’s. The Ramsey (II), of 5,053 gross and 8,200 deadweight tons, was bought while under construction at the Wearside yard of Bartram and Sons Ltd.

After the war the importance of the Black Sea trade had greatly declined, and the new Bolton ships, which were considerably bigger than their predecessors, went much farther afield. They never specialised, as did so many others, in the River Plate grain trade, but instead were particularly concerned in the Australian grain trade, and in trading in the Far East. Just after the First World War Bolton ships twice carried cargoes of case oil from U.S. to South American ports. It is interesting to recall that only 30 years ago oil was still occasionally carried in dry-cargo vessels. In 1927 the company built at Robert Duncan and Company’s Port Glasgow yard their first vessel specially constructed for them in post-war years. She was the Reynolds (II) of 9,000 deadweight tons.

In 1928 the Bolton Steam Shipping Co. Ltd., sold the Ramsay (II), the vessel they had bought while she was under construction in Bartram’s yard. She went to a Dutch company, the NV. Scheepvaart Maats “Millingen” of Rotterdam, managed by G. A. Spliethoff, by whom she was renamed Kerkplein. In 1946-7 she went to Phs. van Ommeren, who gave her the name Ossendrecht. She was sold to the Germans in 1950-51, and at the time of writing is still sailing for the Porta Company, of Hamburg. (managers Fisser and Doornum), by whom she has been renamed the Alstertor. She is now 30 years old, but this stout ship has been well maintained throughout her life, and should see years of service yet.

Two of the second-hand ships it had bought in 1921, were disposed of by Bolton’s in 1929. The Rubens (III) went to the Greek owners P. J. Corcodilos, of Andros, who gave her the name Ioannis Corcodilos; she was broken up in 1933-4. The other British-built second-hand ship Ruysdael (III), went to the same Italian company, A. Lauro of Naples, who had bought the first Ramsay at the close of her long life. The Italians gave the Ruysdael (III) the name Iris. She was broken up in 1934-5. In the same year, 1929, in which they had sold these two ships, Bolton’s launched another ship at Duncan’s yard, this being the Romney (II), of 10,200 deadweight tons. She was followed from the same yard in the following year by he Ramsey (III), a smaller vessel of 8,700 deadweight tons. The last of the four ships which had been bought to restart the company was the Ribera (III), which was sold for breaking up in 1931. In her early years as a Bolton ship she had in unusual and unpleasant experience, when most of her crew sickened with dengue fever on a voyage from Lourenco Marques to Colombo. Eventually they all had to be repatriated to Britain and, as a white crew was not available, a Chinese crew was shipped temporarily. The Ribera (III) is the only Bolton ship which has ever been sold direct to the shipbreaker. In 1936 F. Bolton and Company ceased to be the managers of the company, being replaced by a board of directors. The first directors were Mr. L. H. Bolton. Mr. E. Ollivant and Mr. C. F. B. Arthur.

When war broke out in 1939, Bolton’s owned three vessels, the Reynolds (II), Romney (II) and Ramsay (III), aggregating 27,900 deadweight tons, while two further vessels, aggregating 19,500 deadweight tons, were on order. These were the Ribera (IV), launched in 1939 by Lithgows, of Port Glasgow, and the Rembrandt (II), which followed her in 1940 from the same yard, and was taken over by the owners on January 1, 1941. Bolton’s were fortunate in that both their latest ships survived the war, and are still sailing for the company. The Romney (II), largest of the three ships built for them by Duncans, also survived the war, although she took part in the “D” Day landing, as did the Rembrandt. Indeed, of that great venture, the master of one of the Bolton ships made the remark that he thought the invasion considerably safer than an Atlantic crossing!

The year 1942 was a bad one for Bolton’s. In that year both the Reynolds (II) and the Ramsey (III) were lost with heavy casualties. The former disappeared at sea, while carrying a particularly valuable cargo from New York to Karachi. The Admiralty has been able, recently, to attribute the loss of the Reynolds to the German submarine U504, operating some 200 miles East of Durban on October 31, 1942. The Ramsay (III) was sunk on her seventh voyage across the Atlantic. She had been hit by one torpedo and was settling slowly, giving her crew time to take to the boats, when the submarine put another torpedo into her and she went down at once. The master jumped into the sea as she sank, and was picked up by the bosun, who was alone in the boat. Later they managed to pick the third officer out of the water.

This boat, with its three occupants, was fortunate enough to be picked up two days later. The other boats were sucked down with the sinking ship. One boat came to the surface again and a number of men managed to get into it. These survivors drifted for 10 days before being picked up. Although it was June, they were in such poor trim after their ordeal that only two survived. So that, of the total complement of these two ships, only five men were saved. During the war, in common with most British shipping lines, the Bolton Steam Shipping Co., Ltd. was given a number of vessels to manage on behalf of the Ministry of War Transport. These were two Oceans, a Liberty and, after the war a requisitioned German vessel.

One of the two Ocean ships, the Ocean Vigil is the oldest surviving Ocean, as, although she was “No. 2,” the first was sunk almost immediately after coming into service. The Ocean Vigil was built in Richmond, California, by the Todd California S.B. Corporation in 1941. Her war career might have been terminated, almost as quickly as her predecessor’s, for she was attacked by a surfaced submarine in the Indian Ocean, but she managed to frighten it off with her guns. She took part in both the landings on Madagascar and, on “D”-day in Normandy.

The other Ocean ship which the company managed has had an unusual career. She was the Ocean Viking, and came from the same yard in the same year as the Ocean Vigil. In 1944 she was mined off Taranto with Indian troops aboard. She was beached, but afterwards condemned, and towed round to Bari, where she was used as a blockship to close up part of the hole torn in the breakwater there by the terrible explosion. After the war the Italians set to work to salve her, and in 1948 she sailed again as the Alceo, in the ownership of the Soc. Ligure di Armamento of Genoa. She was involved in a collision some months ago with the RN. target vessel Grenville off Start Point in the English Channel, and this resulted in the loss of seven lives on board the naval craft.

Bolton also managed the Samcebu, a Liberty ship built in 1944 by the South Eastern S. B. Corp., of Savannah, Georgia. After the war the Empire Towy, a German Hansa-type ship, was taken over in Flensburg. In 1943 the old-established firm of Glover Brothers, which will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 1953, and which has been closely associated with the Bolton concern for many years, was taken over by the Bolton Steam Shipping Company. Glover Brothers managed two further ships for the Ministry of Transport. These were the American-built ship Empire Lynx, ex-Maine, and the Empire Lotus, which was built as the Alness in 1920, and was afterwards the Star of Ramleh. Both ships were lost.

The Bolton Steam Shipping Co. Ltd. ended the Second World War as it had begun it with three ships. These were the Romney (II), Ribera (IV) and Rembrandt (II), aggregating 30,700 tons deadweight. The company immediately set to work to build up its fleet, obtaining secondhand tonnage. as it did after the First World War, as a stop-gap measure pending the time it was possible to build tonnage for its own account. It first bought two of the ships which it had been managing for the Government. These were the Ocean Vigil, which was renamed Ramsay (IV), in 1946, and the Samcebu. which was renamed Reynolds (III) in 1947. Also bought were two other Ocean ships. These were the Ruysdael (II) purchased in 1947, which, as the Ocean Wanderer, had been managed by the Donaldson Line, of Glasgow, followed in 1949 by the Atlantic Vagrant, formerly the Ocean Vagrant, which was bought from the Baltic Shipping Company (Newcastle-on-Tyne) Ltd., and which was renamed Raphael (II), after the company’s first vessel. The Empire Martaban was also bought; a 10,300ton (deadweight) steamer, built in 1944 by the Burntisland Shipbuilding Co. Ltd., she had been on a bareboat charter from the Ministry for five years from March 1946. Bolton’s resold her without giving her a company name.

Having embarked upon a big programme of rebuilding, the company recently sold all its second-hand tonnage. The Ramsay (IV) is now the Stork, under the Panamanian flag; the Reynolds (III), ex-Samcebu, is flying the Costa Rican ensign and has been renamed St. Nicolas; the Ruysdael (IV) has also gone to Panama and is now the Santa Irene; the Raphael (II), ex-Atlantic Vagrant, is under the Panamanian flag with the name Siram. Only the Empire Martaban, which was sold to the Aviation and Shipping Co. Ltd. managed by N. W. Purvis and renamed Avistone, is still under the British flag. Bolton’s also sold their Duncan-built Romney (II) to A. J. Tsavliris of London, who gave her the somewhat incongruous name of Granny Suzanne. Last year she passed to the Ernst Komroski Reederi, of Hamburg, and has been renamed Montan. At the moment the Bolton Steam Shipping Co. Ltd. has only two ships in service—the 13-year-old Ribera (IV) and the 11-year-old Rembrandt (II) both Lithgow-built ships from the Clyde. But five new ships are on order. These will each be about 10,000 tons deadweight, and will all be built at North-East Coast yards. One ship is already under construction at Smith’s Dock Ltd., South Bank-on-Tees, and will be delivered this year. The keel of a second vessel was laid recently in the Sunderland yard of William Pickersgill and Sons Ltd. A third vessel is ordered from Smith’s for delivery in 1953. These vessels will be fitted with triple-expansion engines, working in conjunction with a Bauer-Wach exhaust turbine, and will give a service speed of 11 1/2 knots. The company has also recently placed an order with Smith’s for its first two motorships, which will have four cylinder Hawthorn, Leslie-Doxford oil engines, giving a speed of about 13 1/2 knots. All the new ships will be built to the highest modern requirements, and will have single-berth cabins for their personnel.

The present directors of Bolton’s are Mr. L. H. Bolton, a member of the board of the Port of London Authority, the Committee of London General Shipowners, and the Committee of Lloyd’s Register of Shipping; his son, Mr. F. B. Bolton, who represents the third generation of the family in the firm; Mr. C. F. B. Arthur, present chairman of the London Deep Sea Tramp Ship owners’ Association; and Mr. C. H. Glover.

Until recently, the superintendents of the company, who have all been engineers, had their headquarters in the Bristol Channel, but now they are in London. The first superintendent. was Mr. Terrot Glover, to whom Mr. James Bonnyman, a well known personality in the Bristol Channel, was assistant. On Mr. Glover’s death Mr. Bonnyman took over as superintendent, with Mr. James Porter, afterwards succeeded by Mr. Robert Wilkinson, to assist him. When Mr. Bonnyman retired in the late ‘twenties a dinner was given in his honour, and this was attended by men of the shipping world from all the ports along the Bristol Channel. He was succeeded by Mr. Wilkinson, whose first assistant was Mr. T. M. Gibson, who died shortly afterwards, and was succeeded by Mr. G. B. Lockley. Mr. Lockley is the present superintendent. He was promoted alter the death of Mr. Wilkinson during the Second World War. Mr. D. Grierson, his assistant, who had been serving the company afloat, was then brought ashore and appointed assistant superintendent. The senior master is Capt. W. A. Kyne, at present in command of the Rembrandt.

Recently the headquarters of the firm were transferred from Bevis Marks House to new premises in Plantation House, Mincing Lane, London. This London company has had an exceptionally clear record from serious marine casualty, and has never, in peace-time, suffered a total marine loss.