Introducing the Ben Line Cataloguing Project

ACCN2949

The voyage record filing boxes previously held by Archive Services

Hello, I’m very pleased to be able to introduce myself as Neil Ogg, the Ben Line Cataloguing Project Officer. I’ve recently begun what is to be a 12 month project to catalogue the Ben Line collection here at Archive Services. Last year, staff from Archive Services visited Ben Line’s Edinburgh office to collect around 20 shelf-metres worth of records. This donation complements material already held in the Scottish Business Archive for Ben Line; adding to existing holdings of 162 volumes of the company’s voyage records (1851-1922) and 89 voyage record filing boxes (including details of accounts and finances, cargo and crew) which cover the period of 1939-1978. Details of the existing holdings can be found on our online catalogue.

The newly accessioned boxes contain a rich variety of material dating from the time of early Ben Line ships like Araby Maid (we have the ship’s official log book from 1874) right through to the drill ships and cargo ships of the last few decades that marked Ben Line’s ventures into the oil and freight industries. The material is currently being box-listed (which is the first stage in the cataloguing process to ascertain what material is present in order to determine how best to arrange it for description) but the following should provide a flavour of the material which will be catalogued and searchable online and in our search room when this project is complete:

  • Photographs of everything from the company’s ships (being built, launched and at sea) to its staff to photographs taken by crew across the world (I’ve been rather fascinated by hazy images of the Suez Canal)
  • General arrangement plans of ships
  • Capacity plans
  • Further voyage record books
  • Newspaper cuttings gathered by the company
  • Documentation of the company’s expansion during recent decades into the oil and freight industries
  • Calendars, brochures and postcards
  • Flags
  • Log books
  • Staff record cards
  • As well as press releases and correspondence documenting all aspects of the company’s operations throughout its development over the last century and a half at home and abroad – including the role Ben Line, its ships and crew played during both world wars

The records donated by Ben Line last year

As well as donating the material, the company also kindly provided Archive Services with funding to hire a cataloguer to process the collection and make it accessible, which is where I come in. I started this post on the 13th January this year, and have over the last few weeks been getting to grips with the collection as well as settling in to the daily goings-on in Archive Services. Having graduated from the MSc Information Management & Preservation course at Glasgow University, I’m excited to now be working within the University’s Archive Services on this project. My role will largely consist of cataloguing the material (incorporating the other Ben Line records already held) and producing an EAD description of the material for delivery through Archive Services’ online catalogue. This process will also involve making appraisal decisions, repackaging the material where needed and working with the preservation manager to address any preservation or conservation issues.

Part of these first few weeks have been spent gathering a broad overview of the company and its history, which has greatly aided my understanding of the material present.

ACCN2949/B50-54

The Ben Line was born out of Leith, Edinburgh, in 1825 when brothers Alexander and William Thomson acquired an 88-foot barque, Carrara, to carry marble from Italy back to Scotland. Soon this business expanded to establish trading links with Canada and Australia, and then the Far East where The Ben Line established itself as a major shipping company after the launch of its first steam ship, the Benledi, in 1871. The company built a strong identity for its fleet through the naming of each ship after a Scottish ‘Ben’ or mountain. The following century saw the company progress through a great many changes, and it was of course not left untouched by the two world wars. However, the initial thread of Ben Line’s foundation can be followed through its expansion into the oil industry and onward to the present day where Ben Line Agencies continues to provide shipping services in Asia.

Already it is clear to me that this collection serves to highlight the wide and varying insights and connections that a business collection such as this provides for us as researchers and curious individuals, as well as Scotland’s connections to the wider world that our pioneering businesses have forged.

As the cataloguing process progresses I will update on my experiences and discoveries of working with what promises to be an intriguing and valuable resource for the history of Scottish business and shipping. There’s also sure to be many intriguing treasures to be uncovered in this collection (I’ve already found many interesting records that threaten to distract me!) and so I will share these regularly with you all as the project develops.



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24 replies

  1. I would be very grateful if you could find any record of my fathers war record , his name was john watson Cowley .

  2. Hi Neil, I am doing some family research and am trying to trace the early record of Edwin Stott. He left Epdom College in 1878 and I believe joine the Ben Line probably in 1879. I understand that he served on clippers moving tea from Valvutta to London. I would be grateful if you would pass on any details you might find including photographs of him together with photographs of ships he was on. It would also be useful to know if he took any qualifications whilst he was with Ben lines. He died in 1917 whilst the Captain of a ship of another line which was torpedoed in the English Channel. Thank you in anticipation. Kind regards Hugh Stott

  3. I am trying to trace the career of a great uncle who died during WW1 when his ship was torpedoed. He left Epsom College in 1878 and apparently joine the Ben Line and was on clippers moving tea from Calcutta to London. I am not sure when he left the Ben line to join another company. The name is Edwin Stott and I would be grateful if you could let me have any information you have on him including any photographs of him also any pictures of the ships he sailed on.

  4. You might be interested to know that Stuart’s book, Memories of a Ben Line Man, is now available and on its second printing. http://www.russellturner.org/benline.asp

  5. Hi, Neil
    I just found your article on your Benline cataloguing project and it has caught my interest. I was a Benline Engineer October 1964 through July 1966. I sailed several Coasts on the Benrinnes and several voyages on the Benvenue. I wrote fairly regularly to my then girlfriend and now wife, she kept all of the letters which contained interesting info on our ports of call etc. Also some great photo,s one of “Jock McGregor” at Port Said.
    I am most interested in finding out when your work will be available on line.
    Thanks Barclay C Middleton

    • Many thanks for your comment- what an interesting record of your travels! Please stay tuned to our blog-site for news of when the catalogue will be available. Thanks and best wishes.

    • Hi Neil
      I am pleased to see to project on Ben Line. I was a radio officer on Benvenue 1964/1965.Athough I was employed by Marconi .
      also sailed with Barclay c Middleton and I may have photos of him.If you could put him in touch with me I would forward them to him.
      Thanks Kenneth Beaton.

  6. Hi Neil,
    have you any indecation if there is such a log book available to my question in my last reply from me . many thanks Ian.

  7. Dear Neil,

    I have read about your project with great interest and well done, it sounds really worthwhile.
    The reason for my reply is to tell you that I have a selection of quite beautiful Ben Line Old Ship Prints from 1875. There are 7 of them. They were given to my Dad as a present.
    Is this the sort of thing that you could add to your collection? If so I would be happy to donate them. Perhaps you could email me, and we could talk further.
    Janette.

    • Hi Janette,

      Many thanks for thinking of us, sorry for the delay in responding to your comment. We have a Collection Development Team that meets once a month to review offers. If you could email details of the prints to our duty archivist at archives@glasgow.ac.uk they will consider your offer.

      Kiara

  8. Reblogged this on stuartedmonddotcom and commented:
    Hello Neil,Just discovered this and your fascinating work on Ben Line Archives. I am just finishing an account of my time with Ben Line from 1953-61 when I was cadet and deck officer. I would very much like to speak to you on telephone. Can you give me a number to ring? I am on 01381 620753
    Regards Stuart Edmond

  9. Hi Neil,
    All your blogs so far have been very interesting and i await for the completion of your task so i can visit Glasgow and discover more. I was at sea with Ben from 1965 to 1972 then i joined the HQ and worked in the crew dept crewing the fleet and picking certain skilled men for certain vessels ,it was all challenging. I then moved on to one of the Associated companies ACTServices where I serviced Ben Line Containers with land-side operations all over the north of England ,this came to an end in 1991 when the major British shipping companies decided to pull the plug and P&O bought the ACT group . I then was with EacBen for the period they survived handling Project cargo from Europe to the Far East, Maersk took over and I was on to P&O, in 2005 it became PONL and then Maersk bought them out in 2006. I stayed till end of 2007 and retired . All the way through my career I have found shipping fascinating just like you have found this project ,it grips you. I have always been very proud of Ben line and I am sure you will be proud of your achievement as will many others who will be looking forward to seeing the finished voyage. You maybe getting what we called the “channels” when homeward bound and nearing the western approaches of the English channel we could pick up UK radio broadcasts and Radio Luxemburg was clearer on your new transistors bought out east. You had packed all your gear and presents,hidden the extras from the HM customs and excise. .Hoping your payoff money would last till you rejoined the vessel in London , In about three to four weeks.. It was the excitement of a good voyage the ship was fully loaded to the gunwales and you were looking for something new at home.
    Regards and Thanks again.
    Ian Keyl.

    • Hi Ian,

      My apologies for not replying sooner – a few comments slipped by my email inbox!

      Thanks for letting me know about your time with the company – it’s great to hear from those who worked with the company and actively participated in it. It sounds like you were there at an interesting period for Ben Line – I’ll admit that the records from the 70s-80s proved challenging in terms of working out what was going on with all of the various companies and partnerships at the time!

      Thanks again for getting in touch.

      Neil

      • Hi Neil,
        Thanks for your reply,I wonder if you can help me,I am interested in one official log book belonging to the M.V ?Benwyvis ,she was launched on my birthday 19th June 1966 and I was appointed to her for the maiden voyage starting from Princess Quay Gourock. It was to be a great voyage full of events from leaving Gourock for Hamburg on the 21dec1966 then breaking down to nearly being blown onto the rocks off Cape Wrath when we broke down. failing to do the measured mile run fully loaded off Malta due to a broken piston. nearly caught up in the 7 day war in the Suez Canal being in the last convoy South bound.
        If this log book is available for voyage no:1.command Capt Adam Addison. could you please let me know if this log is available,. many thanks for your help and assistance , Ian Keyl. (keyl5ie@btinternet.com )

  10. Hi
    I was employed by Ben Line as an Engineer in the 70s so the results of your work will be very interesting.

    What might be of interest that many years ago when I was researching Family History links at Kew I came across log books from some of the original Ben LIne ships – Ben Alder was one – a clipper ship I believe in the 19th century – and I took the opportunity to have a look at some of them.

    Cheers, Tim

    • Hi Tim,

      Thanks for your comment & apologies for the sluggish reply. Thank you for letting me know of these log books – it’s important for us to know where other related material is held.

      Thanks,

      Neil

  11. Dear Neil; I want to wish you every success with this most valuable and important task. I have just completed a new book for a publisher in Denmark about liner shipping under the Danish flag and, of course, EAC eventually took over the Ben-EAC Europe-Far East liner service, which subsequently passed to Maersk Line.

    I think that Ben Line had many very interesting ships; structurally, they were advanced, but the majority – including the container ships – were seriously hindered by their turbine propulsion after the 1973 Oil Crisis.

    Wishing all the best regards

    BRUCE PETER

    Dr Bruce Peter BA (Hons) MA RCA PhD
    Reader in Design History and Theory
    The Glasgow School of Art
    167 Renfrew Street
    Glasgow G3 6RQ
    Scotland-UK

    Tel 0044 141 353 4553
    b.peter@gsa.ac.uk
    http://www.brucepeter.blogspot.com

    • Hi Peter,

      Thank you very much for your comment and encouragement. Your comment is well timed as I am currently in the process of box-listing material relating to the takeover of which you mention. I agree that their ships are interesting – I’ve found some great photographs of scale models of their ships that are incredibly detailed.

      Thanks again,

      Neil

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