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The General Steam Navigation Company c.1850-1913: a business history

The General Steam Navigation Company c.1850-1913: a business history

Forrester, Robert Edward (2006) The General Steam Navigation Company c.1850-1913: a business history. PhD thesis, University of Greenwich.

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This thesis concerns the history of the General Steam Navigation Company from 1850to 1913, immediately prior to the First World War. Established as a joint-stock company in 1824, this London-based shipowner operated a range of steamship liner services on coastal and near-Continent routes and, from the 1880s, to the Mediterranean.

The focus of the study, essentially a business history, is on the management by the directors of the Company's considerable financial, shipping and property assets and their ability to meet commitments to shareholders in terms of dividends and share values. Measures of financial governance, Profit and Loss Accounts and Balance Sheets are detailed throughout. These, together with information on trades and cargoes, including live animal imports, in an increasingly competitive environment, are recorded in a series of chapters each covering a period of the Company's development.

The operation of the fleet of usually around fifty vessels of from 500 to 2,500 tons is considered against the background of constantly changing ship design and technology: the paddle wheel was replaced by screw propulsion, ever more efficient engines were introduced and cargo capacities greatly increased. In order to retain its prime position the Company was obliged to be to the forefront of these developments.

The uncertain economic climate of the period of the study greatly affected British industry, particularly the years from 1873 to 1896, usually referred to as the 'great depression'. The cycles of expansion and recession in that time posed problems for all ship owners and for General Steam in particular. The effects of these and of other trade influences are explored.

Particular emphasis is placed on the roles of two key Board chairmen, J. Herbert Tritton, appointed in 1874, and Richard White, 1902, in influencing the Company's fortunes. It is argued that, whereas the Company was well managed and profitable up to 1870 under a Board which still included connections with the original directors, overinvestment following substantial capital increases in 1874 and 1877 presented problems in the more challenging business environment of the late nineteenth century, leading to shareholder unrest and the near collapse of the Company.

Financial restructuring in 1902/3, disadvantageous to shareholders, and a revision of the Company's operating policy under Chairman White led to a slow recovery prior to the First World War, in still difficult trading conditions.

Appendices include the first full list of the many vessels owned by General Steam, with, in most cases, details of entry and exit from the Company's service, Balance Sheets and information on capital structure.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: shipping companies, business, history, eighteenth century, nineteenth century,
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
H Social Sciences > HE Transportation and Communications
Pre-2014 Departments: Greenwich Maritime Institute
Last Modified: 27 Mar 2017 09:32

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