Elder Dempster Lines


Elder Dempster Lines timeline

A potted history of Elder Dempster Lines

Browse through the dates below to learn more about the history of the Elder Dempster Lines shipping company.

  1. 1852

    The African Steam Ship Company, later part of the Elder Dempster group, commenced the first regular steamship sailings between West Africa and the UK.

  2. 1856

    Regular sailings of the African Steam Ship Company commenced from Liverpool.

  3. 1868

    John Dempster was approached to form a Liverpool agency for the British and African Steam Navigation Company. Dempster chose his friend Alexander Elder as his partner and Elder, Dempster and Co. was formed.

  4. 1873

    British and African S.N. Co. gained the new Royal Mail contract and reached an agreement with the African S.S. Co. to limit competition between the two companies.

  5. 1879

    Alfred Jones chartered his first steam ship in direct competition with both the British and African S.N.Co. and the African S.S.Co. Alfred was offered and accepted a junior partnership at Elder Dempster, bringing his business with him.

  6. 1884

    Alexander Elder and John Dempster retired. Alfred Jones became the senior partner and took control of Elder Dempster.

  7. 1895

    Alfred Jones instigated the first West African Shipping Conference to agree on schedules, sailings and rates, confirming Elder Dempster’s dominance of West African shipping, and the rights to use the port of Hamburg.

  8. 1898 -1905

    Elder Dempster developed shipping interests in North America, the Caribbean and South Africa.

  9. 1909

    Sir Alfred Jones died. Sir Owen Philips (later Lord Kylsant) of the Royal Mail Group became the majority shareholder in Elder Dempster.

  10. 1914 -1918

    36 Elder Dempster vessels and 417 personnel lost during the First World War, which served all over the world from Archangel to Mesopotamia, from New York to South Africa, from South America to India. 

    The worst incident was the loss of the ss MENDI which collided with the Royal Mail DARRO in the English Channel on 21 February 1917.  The MENDI sank in 20 minutes with the loss of about 625 men of the South African Army and about 31 crew.

  11. 1929

    Despite containing competition from Dutch and German shipping companies, as well as other British interests in the wake of the First World War, the Wall Street Crash ushered in the Great Depression, and Elder Dempster’s fleet value fell by 50%.

  12. 1930 -1937

    Following exposure of Lord Kylsant’s fraudulent activities, Elder Dempster was reorganised, leaving Liverpool’s Ocean Steam Ship Company as the leading shareholder.

  13. 1939 -1945

    Elder Dempster lost over half its tonnage and some 478 sea-going personnel during the Second World War.

  14. 1945 -1951

    Ambitious post-war reconstruction programme in the wake of the Second World War including the new flagship Aureol and the purchase of Paddy Henderson’s British & Burmese Steam Navigation Company.

  15. 1957 -1960

    Formation of the Black Star Line and Nigerian National Shipping Lines as Ghana and Nigeria became independent in the post-war wave of decolonisation.

  16. 1965

    Full merger between Elder Dempster and the Ocean Steam Ship Company.

  17. 1967

    Ocean Fleets Ltd formed within the Ocean Group, subdivided into Elder Dempster Lines Ltd and Blue Funnel Lines Ltd Ship and staff interchange within the Ocean Group became more frequent.

  18. 1974

    Passenger services to West Africa ceased, having moved from Liverpool to Southampton in 1972.

  19. 1982

    The Sapele was chartered by the Ministry of Defence during the Falklands War.

  20. 1989

    Elder Dempster Lines (along with Palm Line and Guinea Gulf Lines) was sold to the French shipping company, Delmas-Vieljeux. Delmas-Vieljeux transferred staff, and Tilbury replaced Liverpool as the main shipment port.