This book covers the history of Tyser & Company to 1914, Commonwaeth & Dominion / Port Line 1914 - 1991 and then specific detailed histories of associated companies such as MANZ Line, Albion & Overseas Shipping Agency, Atlas Line, Compass Line, Crusader Shipping Company, Associated Container Transport (Australia) Ltd and Pacific Australia Direct Line (PAD and other smaller companies mainly stevedoring, agency and wool dumping.
The book provides the first in-depth look at the politics and operations of the Conference systems, as well as providing a concise date-line history of the British lines in New Zealand overseas trade.
There are 100 pages of fleet lists covering all the Tyser Line sailing ships and steamers, the Cory Line and Royden steamers which were chartered to Tysers, the Milburn Line and "Port" steamers employed on the Anglo Australian Steam Navigation Company service 1883 - 1914, Commonweath & Dominion Line / Port Line owned time charted and war time managed MANZ Line ships including the ten Canadian Governmet ships, Crusader Shipping Company, ACT (A), plus ANL and Shipping Corporation of New Zealand emplyed on ACT (A) services.
The records of each ship also provide good coverage of incidents, casualties, origins of names.
A series of short paragraphs, mainly humerous gives an insight into the company culture, practices etc of Port Line.
Of the 243 illustrations, over 220 are being published for the first time, and there is a greater preponderance of these photographs taken in Australian and New Zealand ports.
Hardback 376 pages
To order this publication, please download the book order form, fill it in and send to the NZ Ship and Marine Society. Members NZ$60 + $7 postage within New Zealand
Australian Members A$70 (Australian cheques OK)
Non-Members NZ$80 + $7 postage within New Zealand
The book is available in the United Kingdom from firstname.lastname@example.org, price £30.00 plus postage.
Reviewed by Michael Grey
The Tyser Legacy Review from Lloyds List 22 January 2007.
Lessons from the longest trade of all
“The Tyser Legacy — a History of the Port Line and its Associated Companies”
WHAT do we really think about conferences? How is this for an unbiased and objective view: “The sole hope of idle men and rotten concerns whom they prop up at the expense of industrious men and sound commercial undertakings.”
It could be the official view of the European Commission’s Competition Directorate, pledged to rid the world of the liner conference and now triumphally on the home stretch with the mission virtually accomplished. It could be extracted from the mission statement of a European or Far East- ern shippers’ organisation, anxious to demonstrate to its members how they are remorselessly beating up the liner operators. Could such a dogmatic view ever be liable to change? Could there be some sort of last-minute Pauline conversion that, like a bolt from the blue, would convict the anti-conference camp that its adamantine stance was wholly wrong-headed?
Well, such things have happened. Indeed, the author of this fearsome condemnation of idleness and rottenness, William Haviside Tyser, was, within a relatively short time, one of the most enthusiastic and loyal supporters of liner conferences, a positive hammer of destabilising intruders into his trade. You may have guessed that this is no contemporary tale of freebooting liner operators pitched against the grim puritans of the European Commission.
The language itself is rather more uncompromising than that employed by the diplomatic lawyers that have been engaged in this 21st century battle, the real consequences of which have yet to be determined but may be very different from those anticipated.
WH Tyser, of the London shipping company GD Tyser & Co. was, when he made these remarks in 1885, attempting to establish a foothold in the Australasian trades, where a group of London owners had effectively sewn up the business. Like any outsider, Tyser made a great play to be the champion of the little man, with pledges to the shippers not to enter “The Ring”, offering fair rates and implying that the established lines were taking the wretched shippers for a ride.
How can you offer a shipping service to scattered communities on the other side of the earth in Australia and New Zealand that can possibly pay for itself? You could scarcely be expected to ballast out 12,000 miles in the hope that there might be some wool or meat which required shipment back to the “Old Country”. It was a very live issue in the 1880s, and curiously the same sort of arguments have been considered in contemporary times as shippers and liner operators alike consider what sort of world it will be when any form of conference activity is excluded by the EU.
It might be instructive for them to read a new business history recently written by the New Zealand shipping agent and maritime author Ian Farquhar, which contains many useful lessons from the past.
“The Tyser Legacy — a History of the Port Line and its Associated Companies” is a fascinating tale on many different levels.
Mr. Farquhar is an accomplished maritime historian. He loves ships and he understands the commercial criteria that make one voyage a financial success and another a failure And from his vantage point in the South Island city of Dunedin, where he worked as a shipping agent and stevedore for 46 years, he is able to see all sides of the timeless arguments between those who run ships and those who ship their goods in them.
But this story, published under the imprint of the New Zealand Ship and Marine Society, is also one of shipping and transport politics and of the importance of a handful of fine liner companies to the prosperity of New Zealand and Australia — isolated commonwealths so far away from their principal markets and dependent upon reliable shipping.
The relationship was not entirely commercial either. The British shipping companies became part of the warp and weft of these countries’ development, a bond forged in both peace and war. It is difficult to enunciate this sort of relationship in some Brussels meeting room in present times.
Not that it was always “happy families”. Mr. Farquhar tells of the tensions between the shippers and the lines, with the former always looking for extra services, the latter hoping to squeeze a little more out of the rates. He captures the ferocity of the early days, when it was quite usual to retrofit refrigerated machinery into a conventional steamer. He tells of the efforts of the conference, using patent law, to prevent Tyser, who liked to be seen as “the terror of the Rings”, using the best refrigerated plant in the market.
Extraordinarily, Shaw Savill, it transpired, was paying the manufacturer to restrict the sale of the machinery. Just imagine what the competition folk would make of that today! Eventually, of course, Tyser became a member of the conference and went from strength to strength. It was the initiative of Tysers which saw the amalgamation with Milburns and the Corry and Royden interests to form the Commonwealth and Dominion Line in 1913, which was eventually to become Port Line with its sleek grey hulls and increasingly beautiful ships.
The relationship between shippers and lines became quite fraught sometimes, which perhaps was not surprising as it was the farmers who grew the produce and who had a very vested interest in having it delivered at a reasonable price. Freight negotiations between the representatives of the lines and the producer boards were followed avidly by whole populations, editorials and front page stories written about the hopes and fears of the shippers as if the very lifeblood of New Zealand depended on the talks. It was a business that became almost personalised. In the port of Nelson, I can still remember chatting to a wharfie in No 2 lower hold who told me that he was a farmer down the road and had grown some of the very apples we were loading. He hoped that we would take good care of them. In some of the smaller ports you would hear the same sort of remarks about meat or cheese or butter.
I can remember an enormous advertisement in the Wellington newspaper The Dominion taken out by the lines in the early 1960s, when I gather there was one of the periodic arguments about rates. “This is a sight you will never see!” said the caption. And there on the waters of Port Nicholson — Wellington Harbour — was an artist’s impression of the 120 or so ships of the conference lines, anchored in columns like a Jubilee fleet review and stretching into the far distance. I have no idea whether the New Zealanders were greatly reassured by the advertisement.
I recall we were somewhat peeved that the ship at the head of the nearest column was a Shaw Savill or NZS vessel and not one of our mighty meat boats. There were probably some cracks to the effect that the reason we were all queued up was because the wharfies were on a go slow. There was growing pressure, in both Australia and New Zealand for a reduced dependence upon the conference lines, leading to the establishment of the Australian National Line and the short-lived experiment years later of the Shipping Corporation of New Zealand.
The latter, perhaps, was a sad reminder that political and public enthusiasm for policy could not entirely replace commercial reality. Maybe that, too, is a lesson that comes down the years and offers a contemporary relevance.
The Tyser Legacy takes the reader on a long and fascinating journey from the shipping of Victorian England, when serious shipping people doubted that steamships could ever make money on voyages of such length. It takes us to a different world, to containerships running their easting down like the old sailing ships to the Horn rather than pay for a Panama transit en route to Europe. And our companion on this journey is the Port Line, Tyser’s legacy, and its elegant, beautifully maintained ships.
Mr Farquhar knew these ships well and those who sailed in them, and he captures their essence perfectly. This is much more than a list of ships. It is a carefully researched history in which the fortunes of the company merge with the personal stories of those ashore and afloat, in peace and war. The Port Line was always a modest size of company, with a distinctly “family“ atmosphere, even when it became a Cunard subsidiary. Fathers and sons, brothers and cousins sailed in the ships. No shortage of “characters”, people who stamped their personalities down through the years, afloat and ashore. There was even a high proportion of ratings on company contracts and considerable loyalty to the firm.
The final chapters also offer an insight into the decline and fall of this famous company, with the arrival of containerisation, the colossal investments, the domination of the Cunard management and its obvious inadequacies. Perhaps there are more than a few clues as to the decline of British shipping in general in this excellent book, in the complacency, the arrogance, the failures and the gradual ebbing away of confidence.
I was 12 years with this old company, and I do not mind admitting that it has coloured so much of my thinking over the years. It has been a long time coming, this fine history, but Ian Farquhar’s book does justice to the Tyser legacy.
And as for the conferences, which will require some sort of requiem before too long, I cannot think of a better summation than the remarks of P&O’s Sir Donald Anderson, which Mr. Farquhar recalls from a speech made in New Zealand in 1968, as the uncertainties of containerisation and pressure for a “national” line loomed. Said Sir Donald: “We carry easy and difficult cargo, we serve good ports and bad ports, we send ships out to New Zealand in ballast because the trade is unbalanced. “We get cargo on our merits or lose it on our demerits. We have no patronage, no special privilege, no exclusive rights we have not earned... because service in a liner trade is not an idle name. “We offer service, and this is quite different from skimming the cream and leaving the rest to others.”
I doubt that the competition commissioner, will, like Tyser, change his views on conferences. But someone ought to read this in Brussels before they bring down the final curtain.