Clement-Jones family v2/21 - Person Sheet
Clement-Jones family v2/21 - Person Sheet
NameAlfred HOLT , 7655
FatherGeorge HOLT , 7654 (1790-1861)
MotherEmma DURNING , 7657 (-1871)
Notes for Alfred HOLT
Founded the Blue Funel Line

Alfred Holt and Company, marketed as the Blue Funnel Line, was founded by Alfred Holt on 16 January 1866.[1] The main operating subsidiary was the Ocean Steam Ship Company, which owned and operated the majority of the company's vessels.

A Dutch subsidiary, the Nederlandsche Stoomvaart Maatschappij Oceaan, was founded in 1891, as was the East India Ocean Steam Ship Company, operated from Singapore. This latter was sold in 1899 to Norddeutscher Lloyd. The company acquired the competing China Mutual Steam Navigation Company in 1902, keeping it on the books as a separate company but operating it as part of the Blue Funnel Line.

Ships of the Blue Funnel fleet all had names from classical Greek legend or history.[2] The majority were cargo ships, but most of the Ocean SS Co cargo ships also had capacity for a few passengers.[2] The line also had a small number of purely passenger vessels.[3]

The Blue Funnel Line came to an end in 1988, when Ocean Group withdrew from the Barber Blue Sea Service, its last shipping line.


Alfred, who, like his father, was a man of strong moral character and mental discipline, showed an early interest in steam engines and became apprenticed to a railway engineer. When, at the age of 21 in 1851, he completed his apprenticeship, he was unable to find work in a railway industry that was suffering a depression, and so he took employment as a clerk in the shipping firm of Lamport and Holt that had been founded by his elder brother George in partnership with William James Lamport. Later that same year, 1851, Alfred assisted with the fitting of the steam engine to the new steamship Orontes and then sailed as supernumerary engineer in her on her maiden voyage to Sicily, Egypt and Syria. In January 1852, after his return from the Mediterranean, Alfred, at his father’s suggestion, set himself up as a consulting engineer.
It was not too long before Alfred was able prove his considerable talent as a marine engineer and, as a result, in 1852 he became manager and engineer of the Dumbarton Youth, a steamer jointly owned by his father and Thomas Ainsworth of Cleator.
The Dumbarton Youth was the first ship to have a blue funnel, and, as a result of the profits made from her voyage, Alfred was able to persuade his father and Thomas Ainsworth to advance the capital for the laying down of a second ship, the Cleator, for the iron ore and coal trades. By the time she was delivered in 1855, the Crimean War had broken out, and so she was hired to the French government at such “an outrageous rate” that it caused Alfred to suffer a degree of moral discomfort. This did not prevent him, however, from investing the profit from the Cleator in the construction of a larger ship, the Saladin, but peace was declared in the Crimea before she was ready, and so he and his brother Philip put the Saladin into the West Indian trade. Success with the Saladin persuaded Alfred and Philip to expand the fleet and, with financial help and encouragement from their father, the Plantagenet, Talisman, Askalon and Crusader were added during the next few years. There was a depression in the ship building industry in 1857, and, by taking full advantage of this, Alfred secured excellent terms for the construction and purchase of these ships. He was to follow this pattern of ordering ships when prices were low in future years.
Success in the West Indian carrying trade was to be relatively short lived, and, largely as a result of severe competition from well established rivals, Alfred decided to abandon this operation, and so, in 1864, he sold all his ships, bar the Cleator, to the West India and Pacific Steamship Company.
During 1864, Alfred and Philip turned their attention to investigating the feasibility of building and operating steamships that could compete successfully with the sailing ships in the China trade. Alfred had designed a new type of compound tandem steam engine, and sea trials of this were carried out in the Cleator in December of that year. These trials successfully demonstrated that, with the right design of hull, the relatively low fuel consumption of this new engine should enable vessels of around 2000 gross tons to operate competitively on regular services from Liverpool to China. Accordingly Alfred and Philip placed orders, worth a total of £156,000, with Scotts of Greenock for 3 new steam ships for the China trade. They were to be called Agamemnon, Ajax and Achilles, and they were to be the first of many ships to be operated by the Ocean Steam Ship Company, which was registered on 11 January 1865. Details of the Agamemnon, Ajax and Achilles, and of all the other Blue Funnel Line ships, are in Appendix 1.
The Agamemnon sailed for China on 19 April 1866. She, along with the Ajax and Achilles had been designed, in accordance with Alfred’s specifications, to have the latest design of iron hull with a length to beam ratio of 8:1. Driven by Alfred’s revolutionary compound tandem steam engine, Agamemnon’s performance amply demonstrated that she should be able to operate at a profit.
The Ocean Steam Ship Company began formal operations on 1 July 1866 with Alfred and Philip Holt as Managers, and so began a partnership that was to last for more than 30 years.
Although the Holts’ steam ships were undoubtedly superior to sailing ships with regard to speed and carrying capacity, several years were to pass before the Holts gained the upper hand. Whilst the sailing ships were slower, this disadvantage was offset by their lower freight rates. Also merchants in the China trade exhibited a marked reluctance, born of prejudice, to move away from the known environment of the sailing ship.
The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 was undoubtedly the deciding factor that swung the advantage from sail to steam. The passage through the Canal reduced the distance to China by as much as 3,300 miles – a reduction in voyage time of 10 to 12 days. At this time the most important cargo from China was tea, and the race to bring the new season’s crop to London was an intensely competitive one. In 1869 the Holt ships were undoubtedly the winners. The Agamemnon, for example, carrying a massive cargo of 2,516,000 pounds of tea from Hankow, passed Gravesend in-bound to London after only 77 days at sea.
Alfred and Philip Holt were, however, quick to recognise that, whilst the Canal guaranteed success of steam over sail on the China trade, it also heralded the beginning of serious competition from other steamship companies. Always keen to improve the design and carrying capacity of his fleet, Alfred placed orders for more ships, and, by the end of 1872, the Holt fleet had increased to 14 ships. Alfred’s technical skill and close supervision of the construction and operation of his ships ensured that the Holt fleet could compete effectively with its rivals on the China trade, the biggest of which was the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. The Holt ships now provided a regular service to and from China, carrying mixed cargos of cotton and woollen goods on the outward voyage from Liverpool and mainly tea, tin and tobacco on the homeward voyage to London.
Nevertheless, continual improvements in the speed and efficiency of the Holt ships were, in themselves, not enough to ensure success in an increasingly competitive market. It was also necessary to find the right agents to secure sufficient cargos for the Holt fleet. In this Alfred Holt was supremely successful, and he formed lasting partnerships with ‘Butterfield and Swire’ and ‘Mansfield, Bogaardt and Company’. The former looked after Holt’s interest on the China coast and in Japan whilst the latter took care of business from Singapore. John Swire, in particular, played a major role in the Holt's fortunes. He was a man of great vision, particularly with respect to the development of sea-borne trade with China, and in 1872 he formed the China Navigation Company.
The years between 1875 and 1885 were to prove to be very difficult ones for the Ocean Steam Ship Company: more ships, both Foreign and British, competed for the China trade; some, like those operated by the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, had the advantage of government subsidy; there were several economic depressions; and, to cap it all, the Holt fleet suffered from a series of mishaps.
In 1875, the Blue Funnel fleet suffered its first total loss when the Hector struck a reef and sank. This and a succession of collisions, groundings and breakdowns, all contributed to a reduction in earnings through lost freight. It is worth noting here that, from this point onwards, Alfred and Philip Holt decided that the Ocean Steam Ship Company would cease insuring its ships and that the Company would assume the whole of the risk on its vessels.
Competition became so intense in 1878 and 1879 that the Ocean Steam Ship Company’s financial stability was threatened. John Swire proposed a practical plan for a Far Eastern Conference to produce a working agreement with other competing lines as to freight rates and a fair division of cargoes. He argued that shippers did not want the uncertainties brought about by cutthroat competition, but, instead, sought stable freight rates and regular, reliable services. Despite initial reluctance by the Holts, full agreement to the Conference was reached in August 1879.
The growing demand within Europe for tobacco from the Far East, particularly North Sumatra, led the ever-resourceful Holt brothers to decide in 1880 that the Ocean Steam Ship Company should invest in this trade. As a result a sizeable business, in which the Ocean Steam Ship Company was the controlling shareholder, was developed with its main base in Singapore. It comprised a fleet of coastal ships and storage facilities to be used to feed tobacco and other commodities into the Holt fleet for transhipment to Europe. This operation was run by Theodore Bogaardt of ‘Mansfield, Bogaardt and Company’, Holt’s Singapore agents. It played a significant part in the Ocean Steam Ship Company’s prosperity.
During the 1880s an increasingly bitter argument developed between John Swire and the Holts. Swire argued that faster ships would earn higher freight rates whereas the Holts held stubbornly to the opinion that the speed of their ships, in relation to economy of fuel consumption and general reliability, was satisfactory for their purposes. Alfred and Philip’s intransigence led, in 1882, to John Swire’s resignation as Chairman of the Conference, although the Ocean Steam Ship Company remained within the Conference system for several more years.
The year 1882 also saw the publication of the prospectus for the China Mutual Steam Navigation Company, which, by 1889 had grown to be a significant competitor in the China Trade with a fleet of 7 steamships. The China Mutual, as it came to be known, caused particular anxiety to Alfred and Philip Holt because its ships loaded cargo from both Glasgow and Liverpool, and were thus a direct threat to the Blue Funnel ships.
By 1887 the overall level of competition between British rival companies led to a freight rate war and a complete breakdown of the Conference system. The profits of the major British rivals: P & O, Ocean Steam Ship Company, Glen Line, Castle Line, Shire Line and the China Mutual were all affected to the extent that, finally, agreements were made that led to a new Conference system being introduced in the 1890s.
This was undoubtedly a turning point for Alfred and Philip Holt who now became firmly wedded to the Conference system and the principle that equalisation of freight rates would eliminate wasteful competition. They were, nevertheless, determined to maintain competition in the provision of quality of service whereby the most efficient company was sure of receiving the largest reward.
The 1890s also saw a change in trading patterns and in the types of cargo required to be carried in the China trade. Light measurement cargos such as textiles from Yorkshire, for example, were being replaced by heavier, dead-weight cargos such as machinery from the Midlands, and the Holts took the decision to build new vessels designed to accommodate these changes.
In 1891, the Holts created two new shipping companies in order to strengthen their competitive position against Dutch shipping lines. The first, Nederlandsche Stoomvaart Maatschappij Oceaan was founded in Amsterdam, and its fleet consisted of a number of older Blue Funnel ships but now under the Dutch flag. The second, the East India Ocean Steam Ship Company comprised a part of the Bogaardt fleet together with other vessels already purchased by the Holts for the East Indies trade. This latter company was to be operated from Singapore but under the control of the Ocean Steam Ship Company Managers.

In 1895, Richard Durning Holt, Maurice Llewelyn Davies and George Holt junior joined Alfred and Philip Holt and Albert Crompton as Managers of the Ocean Steam Ship Company. Albert Crompton had become a Manager in 1882. The new Managers undoubtedly made a major contribution to the improvements in the profitability of the Ocean Steam Ship Company. Significant operating economies were made, even to the extent of reducing salaries and wages of Ocean Steam Ship Company employees by 15%. New markets were identified, and operating practices revised. Old ships were disposed of, and, between1894 and 1902, twenty-two new, large steam ships were added to the Blue Funnel fleet. Agreements were made with the Dutch lines, and relations were markedly improved with the China Mutual. Overall, a combination of shrewd financial management and a willingness to exploit any business opportunity saw the Ocean Steam Ship Company Managers take net profits from £27,500 in 1892 to £266,100 in 1902.

The East India Ocean Steam Ship Company was sold as a going concern in 1899 to North German Lloyd as part of a policy to cut wasteful expenditure and increase the Ocean Steam Ship Company’s earning capacity.

In the late 1890s, the Holts began to open up the Western Australian trade route from Singapore, and, in 1898 the Holts were approached by a powerful group of Australian shipping agents, known as the ‘Syndicate’, to start a direct service to Australia from the United Kingdom. As a result, the Holts began a monthly direct service in 1901 between Glasgow, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, and Sarpedon, Nestor and Orestes were fitted with refrigeration holds to accommodate perishable cargoes. These ships were first of the Blue Funnel fleet to be so equipped. The first 5 years of this direct service produced little in the way of profit, but, largely due to the efforts of the Syndicate to secure freight for the Blue Funnel ships, the Holts persevered with a venture that was to prove to be highly successful.

The China Mutual got into financial difficulty during a recession in 1901 and 1902. As a result, an agreement was reached in 1902 that led to Holts acquiring a controlling interest in the China Mutual. This astute move on behalf of the Ocean Steam Ship Company Managers meant that the Blue Funnel fleet increased in size by 13 modern and well-equipped ships, enabling considerable economies of scale. It also meant that the Ocean Steam Ship Company no longer had a serious competitor in trade from Glasgow and Liverpool.

Thus, in the very early years of the 20th Century, the Holts presided over a much-enlarged fleet of ships and a business that was expanding to cover more areas of the world. The major trade routes that contributed to the bulk of the Company’s earnings were those to and from China and Japan, Java and Australia together with the trans-Pacific route between Japan and British Columbia. In addition, there were the subsidiary routes centred upon Singapore.

In 1902, the Ocean Steam Ship Company became a limited company.
Last Modified 7 May 2012Created 11 Feb 2021 using Reunion for Macintosh