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 (10)

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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?
Steve Collins 27 March, 2016 16:07
I have been trying for years to obtain a scanned copy of a drawing, painting or etching of the White Star clipper, "Golden Era", which my ancestors came to Australia in. It made 3 trips to Australia in 1854, 1855 and 1856 before being wrecked in India in 1858. Are you aware of any images of the ship?
Paul Guy 26 July, 2016 09:24
My ancesters were on the ill-fated RMS Tayleur but swam ashore. I am looking for a passenger list. Can somebody help ? They eventually on the Eagle, I think
Discovery Centre 26 July, 2016 13:11

Hi Paul

Try searching for this passenger list using the National Archives of Australia record search. You will need to know the date of the ships arrival in Australia and the names of the passengers to be sure that you've found the correct list. 

Best of luck with your research. 

Steve Collins 23 December, 2016 19:39
Paul, Some 88 of the survivors of the "R.M.S. Tayleur" wreck, came out to Melbourne, Australia a couple of months later in 1854 aboard the "Golden Era", which was the "White Star Line's" next ship to depart. Passenger lists for that sailing are available on P.R.O.V. website. Like the "Tayleur", the "Golden Era" was on its' maiden voyage, and it, too almost sank after hitting an iceberg in Antarctica, but that was after it had dropped off its' outgoing passengers in Melbourne.
Elizabeth McDonald 24 February, 2017 21:52
Gill Hoffs in her book The sinking of RMS Tayleur gives a detailed passenger list. I have the book if you would like me to check the names. Only three females survived.
Jennifer Coombes-Heinecke 7 October, 2016 16:30
My great grandfather's brother Robert Coombs born Liverpool Eng. 1841 was an apprentice to H.T. Wilson (Shalimar) 3rd October 1854 until 1858. I would love to know what happened to him
Alan Lorrimer-Riley 31 January, 2017 07:15
My greatgrandfather arrived in Sydney in 1854 on a ship called SS Forest Queen. Would that have been a White Star Line vessel? For some reason the journey took almost 6 months. I would be interested to know why. Any suggestions as to where I might look?
Discovery Centre 8 February, 2017 12:32

Hi Alan,

The SS Forest Queen is not listed as a White Star Ship. We also haven’t been able to ascertain why this voyage took six months. You might try searching for more information on Trove, the National Library of Australia’s online archive.

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