- Thomas Wilson Sons & Co.
Thomas Wilson Sons & Co. was founded in 1822 as a joint venture by merchants Thomas Wilson, his partner John Beckinton and two unrelated men both surnamed Hudson. None came from shipping backgrounds but were quick to see the opportunity of becoming involved in the industry. They acquired their first ship in 1825. From a background in iron importing, the focus was on steam shipping, still in its early stages and eventually saw the company become a prominent figure in modern steam shipping. Initially the firm concentrated on Swedish iron ore importing for the Sheffield iron trades but gradually turned to focus on the shipping lines all over the world, with Hull becoming one of the most significant ports to flourish under the advent of steam. Previously getting out of the Humber estuary was difficult despite the convenient location of Hull, but with steam it became easy to reach the sea and navigate around Britain.
Becomes a family business
In 1841 Thomas Wilson took full control after the other partners left, and so he brought his eldest son David into the business as his partner, making the name Thomas Wilson & Son Ltd. In 1850 his other sons Charles and Arthur joined and became active partners, the name changing to Thomas Wilson & Sons Co Ltd, though usually known as the Wilson Line of Hull. It has been suggested that Thomas Wilson is a good example of the emergence of specialist shipowners at this time.
Death of Thomas Wilson and change to Thomas Wilson Sons & Co.
Thomas died in 1869 and the company was taken over by Charles and Arthur Wilson, with David remaining, as he always had been, more of a silent partner. A few years later when they were beginning to question the ability of their own sons to continue running the firm they brought in a non-family member, Oswald Sanderson, to become the new Managing Director.
Sale to Sir John Ellerman
Eventually the firm was sold to Sir John Ellerman in 1916, owner of the successful Ellerman Line and supposedly the richest man in Britain at the time. Though it kept the Wilson name (Ellerman's Wilson Line of Hull) and continued for several years, it never saw the same success, despite a brief revival in the 1950s, and was eventually saw its demise in the 1970s when Ellerman began to focus on other transport services.
At one time the firm was 'the largest private shipowning concern in the world'. The company stands out as one of interest in the maritime and business world of the period, as it provides an example of the changing fortunes of a family business.
- Credland, Arthur G. (2000), The Wilson Line (Archive Photographs: Images of England), Stroud, UK: The History Press LTD, ISBN 978-0752417288
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