Thomas Harrison (1815-1888) was an apprentice to the firm of Samuel Brown and Son and Company who operated as Shipbrokers in 1830. James Harrison (1821-1891) joined Samuel Brown in 1838, and in 1839 Thomas became a partner in the firm, which changed its name to George Brown and Harrison, George being Samuel's son. In 1849 James became a full partner and by this time the firm's main activity was the importation of brandy and wine from the town of Cognac, and the valley of the River Charente, France.
Upon George Brown's death in 1853, the Harrisons took over the business under the name of Thomas and James Harrison and 1857 they bought their first iron hulled sailing ship, 'The Philosopher'. In 1860 they bought two new steamers, Cognac and Gladiator, both used to carry brandy to London as well as Liverpool from 1861. However, competition with the General Steam Navigation Company (GSNC) forced them out of the London trade by 1863, after the brandy firms of Martell and Hennessy refused to give Harrisons a preference. Sometime in 1862 they had successfully started sending sailing ships to India, the Far East and to Central and South America, with regular sailings being advertised in 1863. The first steamer on a scheduled service to India was the Botanist sailing in March 1863. Brandy was also exported out of Liverpool for Demerara. In 1864 the Gladiator began services to Brazil and the "brandy boats" extended into the Mediterranean fruit trade. This was followed by steamer services to New Orleans, begun by Fire Queen in July 1866 in the cotton trade. The Fire Queen was also the first Harrison ship to sail to India via the newly opened Suez Canal in 1870, and commenced regular sailings on this route. In 1875 Harrisons were founder members in the Calcutta Conference, an attempt to control tonnage in this growing trade.
|Harrison Line's Fire Queen|
Harrison Line continued to grow and develop and by 1864 as steam ships were beginning to take over from sailing ships, the Charente Steam Ship Company was officially formed and Thomas and James Harrison were appointed managers of the holding company for the fleet and its operations. Under this new management structure Harrison Line continued to develop until the outbreak of war, during the two world wars Harrison Line lost 53 ships and more devastatingly, 536 Harrison Line seafarers. At the outbreak of the First World War, Harrisons owned over seventy vessels, of which twenty-seven were lost by enemy action. The Great Depression of 1929-1933 was a difficult period with fifteen ships laid up, and a modest upturn followed which led to the acquisition of modern new tonnage and the Gulf of Mexico routes of the defunct Leyland Line in 1934. Harrisons lost thirty out of forty-six ships in the Second World War including the famous Politician, of "Whiskey Galore" fame, which was stranded and wrecked off Scotland in 1941. The replacements were first, ten Liberty and six Empire type ships, and then twenty motor ships (Harrison's first) built by Doxfords at Sunderland between 1947 and 1955. The berthing rights to the brandy trade were finally sold in 1955. In 1970 Harrisons decided to diversify by buying three bulk carriers, Wanderer, Wayfarer and Warrior, and in 1976 they joined the container consortium, Caribbean Ocean Lines (CAROL). In 1978 they had a part share with Ellermans in the City of Durban, a container ship in the South African European Container Services (SAECS) and in 1981 were founder members of the East African (BEACON) consortium. They also managed bulkers owned by two Hong Kong registered subsidiary companies. During the Falklands War in 1982 three container ships.
By the middle of the last century Harrison Line was trading in the Caribbean and Latin America and in 1950 Thomas and James Harrison became a Limited Company. By 1970 they had invested in dry bulk carriers and their first container ships were built for the new containerised trade, Harrison Line were trading world wide.
During the Falklands War in 1982 the Harrison Line container ship Astronomer was chartered as an aircraft supply and transporter vessel, the Astronomer was later purchased and converted into a helicopter base.
In 1983 Harrisons acquired two bulk carriers, Lamma Forest and Lantau Trader, from Blairdale Shipping Ltd, of Hong Kong. Unfortunately, due to declining fleet numbers, Harrisons had to release 85 of its 300 seagoing staff, and by 1987 the Charente Steamship Co., Ltd. fleet was reduced to only three. However, several other ships continued to be chartered or managed by Thomas and James. Harrison.
The Harrison Line ended in October 2000, when the last of the liner trades managed by Thomas and James. Harrison Ltd, on behalf of the Charente Steamship Company, had been relinquished and all rights and privileges transferred to P & O Nedlloyd. By now named Harrison Logistics, the Charente group continued to flourish, as the parent of a range of companies, which comprised shipping and forwarding, warehousing,logistics, marine instrumentation and chart distribution, including ownership of two bulk carriers by subsidiary Crossfish (UK) Ltd.
|Mersey Chambers, The Harrison Line Offices|
seen from the steps of Our Lady and St Nicholas
In January 2002, Harrison Logistics went into voluntary liquidation, and the Mersey Chambers offices were closed. However, Charente Limited continues to trade in the maritime field, particularly in chart and nautical instruments, currently based in the Port of Liverpool Building, Pier Head (2005). The company had maintained its own records at Mersey Chambers, Liverpool in a small museum on the top floor until the building was sold in November 2002, some of the archives were donated to the Merseyside Maritime Museum and other artefacts, ship models and paintings were sold at auction.
The last true Liverpool ship-owner, had finally rung ``finished with engines'' for its ships and the fleet has sailed into the nautical history books. No more would the distinctive livery of red, white and blackbanded funnels (which gave rise to the quip ``two of fat and one of lean'' and thus the nickname ``Hungry Harrisons'') be seen on waters anywhere. The ships, named after just about every profession except Anarchist or ``the oldest one'' have all been sold.
Harrison Line Ships,Routes:
Harrison Line Ships,Routes:
1836-1936 Liverpool - Tonnay Charente.
1860-1882 (sail) UK - Brazil, India and West Indies.
1861-1863 London - Tonnay Charente.
1863-1875 Liverpool - Oporto - Cadiz - Malaga - Cartagena.
1870-1960 Liverpool / Glasgow - Malta - Port Said - Suez Canal - Port Sudan - Colombo - Calcutta.
1870-1981 UK - Suez Canal - East African ports.
1870-1880 (sail) Calcutta - Demarara - British Guiana - New York - Liverpool (emigrant service)
1870-1914 Liverpool - Colon for transhipment by Railway for West Coast of America.
1873-1880 (sail) Calcutta - New York - Liverpool.
1876-1988 Liverpool - Porgreso - Vera Cruz - Tampico - La Guaira - Curacao - Columbian ports - Havana - Liverpool.
1876-1988 Liverpool - Barbados - Trinidad - Puerto Cabelllo - Curacao - Savanilla - Barranquilla - Cartagena - Liverpool.
1876-1988 Liverpool - Kingson, Jamaica - Belize - Liverpool.
1886-1887 Belize - New Orleans (fruit)
1880-1939 Liverpool - Central Brazil.
1902-1977 Liverpool / London - South Africa - Mozambique - Mauritius.
1906-1936 Calcutta - River Plate.
1910-1939 Glasgow - Liverpool - Suez - East Africa - Dunkirk - Liverpool.
1910-1914 Antwerp - London - Glasgow - Liverpool - South Wales - Santos - Straits of Magellan - US North Pacific ports.
1911-1921 London - Durban.
1915-1929 Antwerp - London - Glasgow - Liverpool - Newport - Colon - Panama Canal - US North Pacific ports.
1920-1978 London - West Indies - British Guiana.
1920-1929 Liverpool - Houston.
1925-1940 London - Antigua - St. Kitts - Barbados - Grenada - Trinidad - Demarara (passenger service)
1977-1988 Hamburg - Bremerhaven - Amsterdam - Antwerp - Tilbury - Le Havre - Liverpool - Barbados - Trinidad - Aruba - Curacao - Puerto Rico - Dominican Republic - Haiti - Kingston, Jamaica - Guatemala - Honduras.
Article by Robert F Edwards
Liverpool Records Office