The company was founded in 1856 by Ralph Ward Jackson and Robinson Watson, both of Hartlepool, to operate five early, newfangled coastal steamers in the North Sea liner trades between West Hartlepool and Hamburg or St. Petersburg in summer when ice-free. Unfortunately the company’s bankers went into liquidation in 1866 and the fleet was sold to Christopher Webster of Pallion Hall, Sunderland with management in the hands of his son-in-law Capt. W.J. Young. In 1879 the tramping trades were entered with coal out to the Mediterranean and grain homewards from the Black Sea, with variations to Eastern seaboard U.S.A. and Canada. Capt. Young had previously served as a Master in the company ships and was made a partner for the twenty years he managed the company until his death in 1886.
Thomas Barraclough of Hartlepool was then appointed manager and he was maintaining the Hamburg service with three steamers in 1896, with another to Gothenburg and the Baltic and the remaining nine tramps operating world-wide.
In 1898 Sir Christopher Furness, the locally born shipping millionaire, gained control of the company and immediately set plans in motion to merge the company ships with the tramp fleet of another large Hartlepool shipowner, J.E. Guthe and set-up a limited liability company of the same name with a capital of £500,000 to expand the tramp fleet. This was done on the 2nd March 1899 with Christopher elected Chairman, J.E. Guthe as managing director, the other directors being Stephen W. Furness, Joseph F. Pease and Sir Edward T. Gourley, M.P. for Sunderland.
J.E. Guthe was a German immigrant who came from Leipzig to Hartlepool in 1875 and gained much of his early shipping experience with the local company Cory, Lohden & Co. His appointment meant that the previous managers Ernest Alfred Webster and Thomas Barraclough were free to set up their own tramp company as Webster & Barraclough of Hartlepool, trading successfully until the end of WW I. Sir Christopher Furness had now created a tramp company owning fifteen fine tramps with two more steamers, Gipsy Queen and Panther, maintaining the Gothenburg service, and three more operating to Hamburg, German Empire, Kaiser and Sprite. The first tramp with the suffix ‘Hall’ was the Haddonhall from the merged Guthe fleet. Orders were now placed for thirteen brand new large tramps mostly with yards under the control of Sir Christopher Furness:-
Irvine’s SB & DD (7) Clumberhall
Furness, Withy (1) Daltonhall
R.Craggs (2) Askehall,
R. Stephenson (Tyne) (3) Dinsdalehall,
Triple expansion engines were provided by engine-builders in the Furness empire, Richardsons, Westgarth & Co. Ltd. of Middlesbrough and Hartlepool and W. Allan & Co. Ltd. of Sunderland. DaltonhallL was the first completed at the Middleton harbour yard of Furness, Withy & Co. Ltd. in Hartlepool in June 1899 but was purchased by Sir Christopher shortly after completion for his own fleet and traded for him under this name for the next 15 years.
In 1902 a joint service to the Persian Gulf from Manchester and Cardiff and London with Bucknall Line and Strick Line was started, quota agreement being reached in July 1903 as 23/60ths each to Strick and Bucknall and 14/60ths to West Hartlepool Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. In addition Frank C. Strick vigorously attacked the Army and railway trade into Bombay, which was open to tender, but both Bucknall and West Hartlepool Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. refrained to do so in case of retaliation into the Persian Gulf from the Bombay Conference companies of P&O, British India and Clan Line. The Persian Gulf quota agreement was for a period of six years until 1909, but by that time West Hartlepool Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. had ceased to trade there and concentrated on general tramping. The North Sea liner trades to Hamburg and Gothenburg ran on a reduced frequency until abandoned on the outbreak of war in August, 1914.
Sir Christopher Furness had sold his shareholding to J.E. Guthe in 1904 to concentrate on his own tramp fleet, the West Hartlepool Steam Navigation tramps having carried the ‘G’ of Guthe on their yellow funnels with a black top since the merger of 1899. He resigned from the Board together with Stephen W. Furness and Joseph F. Pease, leaving J.E. Guthe to be appointed as Chairman, with his son of the same name being appointed a director in 1906 and two further brothers joining the management company which was known as Guthe Brothers & Company at this time.
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