White Star Line

30 May, 2010

Awarded to: Captain Officers and Crew of R.M.S. Carpathia from the survivors of the S. S. Titanic
Awarded to: Captain Officers and Crew of R.M.S. Carpathia from the survivors of the S. S. Titanic
Image: Jennifer McNair
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: Was the Titanic the only ship the White Star Line built?

Answer: No, Titanic was not the only ship built by the White Star Line, in fact the White Star Line story begins back in 1845 in Liverpool when Henry Threlfall Wilson and John Pilkington set themselves up as partners and ship brokers.  They chartered their first ship, the Elizabeth, in 1846 and bought their first ship three years later in 1849.

When gold was discovered in Australia in 1851, the partners saw the need and potential for sailing ships to Australia for the gold rush.  They began with advertising sailings of the Bhurtpoor, Blanche, Dundonald and Phoenix.  Despite this, White Star Line became known for holding the worst shipping disaster record with the wrecking of the Bhutpoor off the coast of Ireland, and later the Tayleur crashed into Lambay Island when 420 people perished. 

Pilkington and Wilson continued to buy and sail ships, and in 1854, they bought the Red Jacket.  The ship had a carving of a North American Indian wearing a red jacket with a large five pointed star on the breast; this design was then adopted and became the symbol on the White Star Line flag.

In 1856, John Pilkington left the partnership to return to his family glass business and James Chambers, Wilson’s brother-in-law, took over his half of the partnership but this did not last long.  Wilson knew that the fastest trip to Australia, and the gold fields, would attract the largest number of passengers.  He promised a 68 day trip from Liverpool to Australia and this was to be the end of another partnership.  Chambers was concerned about his potential liability at this promise and he resigned from White Star Line at the end of that year.

The White Star Line, under Wilson was sent into liquidation in 1867 owing the Royal Bank of Liverpool a massive £527 000.  The name, the flag and the goodwill were snapped up by Thomas Henry Ismay for the princely sum of £1000 and would soon move shipbuilding to the Harland and Wolff Belfast yard with a business agreement guaranteeing an income for both Ismay and Harland and Wolff.

In 1902, the White Star Line was bought by the International Mercantile Marine Company owned by US financier J.P. Morgan. Harland and Wolff continued to build ships for the Line. Between 1871 and 1914, 75 ships had been built by Harland & Wolff for the White Star Line.

Comments (2)

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Niki 18 August, 2012 19:58
My ancestors came to Australia from Ireland on the Red Jacket, in 1863. Thanks for this article!
Christine 27 January, 2015 12:10
So did one of mine--have you come across a passenger list?
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