Archives and Special Collections: Subject guides - Business Records


Ellerman's Wilson Line (and associated companies)

The firm was founded in Hull by Thomas Wilson (1792-1869), who bought his first ship in 1825 and initially specialised in the importation of Swedish iron ore for use in the Sheffield iron trades. The company prospered, diversified into other trades and, under Thomas Wilson's sons Charles Henry (later 1st Baron Nunburnholme) and Arthur, became the largest privately owned shipping company in the world by the early twentieth century, with over 100 ships sailing to destinations around the globe. The Company was sold in 1916 to Sir John Reeves Ellerman (1862-1933), reputedly the richest man in Britain at the time. The re-named Ellerman's Wilson Line suffered badly during the First World War, the trade depression of the 1920s and 1930s and again during the Second World War. A recovery of sorts was made during the 1950s, but the onset of containerisation, roll-on roll-off ferries and chronic labour problems eventually led to the demise of the shipping line in the early 1970s, with Ellermans pursuing other transport, leisure and investment interests after the death of the second Sir John Reeves Ellerman in 1973. The Wilson Line archive was deposited in the Library in 1978 and comprises about 1000 items covering the period between 1792 and 1974, with most items dating from between 1825 and 1916. There are accounts, pooling agreements, bills of sale and mortgages for over 200 ships, subject files (including papers on leading members of the Wilson family), papers relating to the acquisition of the Bailey & Leetham Line, instructions and regulations for officers, some log and note books (1890-1922), personnel details (mainly for masters and officers), some ship specifications and contracts, details of vessels (including several Registry books with plans, 1860-1944) printed material (mainly publicity), press cuttings, a small collection relating to the West Hull Liberal Club and other miscellaneous material, including a detailed family tree of the Wilson clan. A second deposit of around 7000 items is also held, dominated by the records of the various subsidiary and other related companies of the Wilson Line, in addition to accounts, maps, plans, personal files and correspondence from the parent company. Fairly full corporate and financial records are available for such wholly owned subsidiaries as Key Warehousing and Transport Company Limited, London and East Riding Marine Insurance Company Limited and Ellerman's Wilson Line Insurance Limited. Less material has been acquired in respect of more independent companies such as Associated Humber Lines, for which the minutes of the Control Committee/Board of Directors and a series of correspondence are the primary source. Other firms in this second category include Storry Smithson (the paint and finishings group), the Polish-British Steamship Company, Wilson's and North Eastern Railway Shipping Company Limited and United Shipping Company Limited. Within both deposits, some personal papers of members of the Wilson family accompany the main business archive. The most important of these comprises the business and personal correspondence of Oswald Sanderson (1863-1926) who was appointed General Manager of the firm in 1901 and Managing Director in 1905. There is also a series of account books dealing with the financial affairs of the founder Thomas Wilson, after his death in 1869. [DEW]

See also the records of Earle's Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Limited

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Maintained by Archives and Special Collections, Brynmor Jones Library
Created: 20 February 1997 [Last updated: 17 September 1997]