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National Maritime Museum

General Steam Navigation Co Ltd


Reference code(s): GB 0064 GSN

Held at: National Maritime Museum

Title: General Steam Navigation Co Ltd

Date(s): [1824-1970]

Level of description: Collection

Extent: Department of Ships: 6 boxes

Name of creator(s): General Steam Navigation Co Ltd


Administrative/Biographical history:

In 1821 a small group of London businessmen and steam packet operators formed a syndicate for the purpose of developing steam-ship communication. The success of this venture prompted the membership to turn the existing arrangement into a joint stock undertaking and in 1824 the General Steam Navigation Company was incorporated by private Act of Parliament. One of the earliest steamship concerns on the Thames and almost certainly the first to operate a steamer service to foreign ports, the new company began to increase its tonnage and by the time of the first half-yearly meeting of the shareholders owned fifteen steamers; by 1834 it had won the contract for carrying the mails from London to Boulogne, Ostend, Rotterdam and Hamburg. Earlier, in the mid-1820s, the company had gained permission for its ships to engage in the movement of goods as well as passengers, whereupon it moved into the carriage of live cattle from the Continent, a trade upon which the prosperity of the company was to be founded for much of the nineteenth century. In 1836 the company acquired the London and Edinburgh Steam Packet Company, a purchase which included six steamers and property in both London and Edinburgh. Soon afterwards the Margate Steam Packet Company was also taken over and by 1840 the General Steam Navigation Company operated forty steamers serving all the principal East Coast and near Continental ports. After its early success the company encountered a number of setbacks. The railways began to affect the passenger business while the cattle trade was adversely affected, by an outbreak of plague on the Continent and also by the Order-in-Council of 1884 prohibiting the carriage of live cattle, which by the early 1890s had virtually put an end to this trade. In 1902, under the chairmanship of Richard White (d.1926), the structure of the company was reorganised and its capital reduced. During this period the company consolidated its long association with the London river, where in the 1880s it had successfully revived the excursion trade between the capital, Southend and the North Kent resorts. At the same time it took over the firm of John Crisp and Sons, whose activities included not only a service between London and East Anglia, but the river trade as well, a transaction which incidentally made G.S.N. the operator of a fleet of Norfolk wherries. At this time the G.S.N. company also began to develop its wharf age interests near Tower Bridge, an extension of its shore-side activities which had begun in 1825 when it had taken over a yard at Deptford for the building, maintenance and repair of its ships. At the end of the First World War, the company was able to expand its interests in several fields but larger companies, keen to acquire a fleet of smaller ships to provide feeder services and a network of agency services for their own vessels, began to look at the potential of G.S.N. in this respect and in 1920 it was taken over by the P and 0 Company. In turn, G.S.N. acquired several other small companies. Although wholly owned by the larger company, the G.S.N. Company led a largely autonomous existence until 1971. In this year the P and 0 Group, as it had now become, reorganised its subsidiaries and the old G.S.N. Company became a part of P and 0 European and Air Transport Division. See L Cope Cornford, A Century of sea trading (London, 1924); H.E. Hancock, Semper Fideles: The Saga of the Navvies (London, 1949).


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the General Steam Navigation Co Ltd. They consist of: minutes of the Board, 1824 to 1859, 1861 to 1893, 1896 to 1970; minutes of the managing committee of the Board, 1833; Deeds of Settlement and printed extracts from Acts of Parliament relating to the company, 1825, 1840, 1845, 1874; two commercial agreements with other companies, 1874, 1906; Directors' half-yearly reports to shareholders, with balance sheets, 1825 to 1906; profit and loss accounts, 1896 to 1924; Employee Record of Service Book, 1850 to 1914; circulars and instructions to staff, 1874, 1875, 1884, 1903; Sailing Bills, 1839, 1844, 1874, 1875, 1939; books of time tables, 1876 to 1914; notes on various ships in the company, 1842 to 1904; copies of Certificates of British Registry, 1836 to 1965. Only a small amount of correspondence survives, including several letters to and from the Board, 1832 to 1922; some items concerning the working of the Holland to Hamburg mail contract, 1834, and a few letters from shareholders, 1902, 1906 and 1916 to 1920. There are also documents recording the history of the Company, including records of General Steam Navigation Company ships and men in the two world wars, copies of parliamentary papers, newspaper cuttings and photographs. In addition, there are records of three companies acquired by G.S.N. Moss Hutchinson Line Limited: the records consist of Memorandum and Articles of Association, with attendant papers, 1934 to 1968; Directors' minute book, 1941 to 1971; annual returns, 1941 to 1965, return of Directors and Secretaries, 1954 to 1964; balance sheets and profit and loss accounts, 1916 to 1971. Those for the New Medway Steam Packet Co Ltd include Directors' minute books, 1919 to 1968; annual returns, 1920 to 1937; annual reports and balance sheets, 1931 to 1938; profit and loss accounts, 1929 to 1960; and ledgers, 1920 to 1960. Grand Union (Shipping) Limited: these include Memorandum and Articles of Association, 1937; Directors' minute book, 1937 to 1957; and balance sheets and profit and loss accounts, 1938 to 1966. (Section 3: GSN/: 16ft: 488cm) Ships' Plans: these were presented in 1963. The collection consists of books with arrangements and particulars of twenty-nine G.S.N. ships in the 1920s and 1930s. Further details are available in the P and O collection.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:

Please contact the Archive for further information.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Please contact the Archive for further information.

Finding aids:

Detailed catalogue online at the: National Maritime Museum website .


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

The records were deposited on loan by the P&0 Group in 1975, on the understanding that the company has first sight of any work making extensive use of the collection.



Archivist's note: Edited by Sarah Drewery, Jun 2011.

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: 2010-08-26

Merchant navy | Transport personnel | Personnel | People by occupation | People
Shipping | Maritime transport | Transport
Ships | Vehicles | Transport
World War One (1914-1918) | World wars (events) | Wars (events)
World War Two (1939-1945) | World wars (events) | Wars (events)
Water transport

Personal names

Corporate names
General Steam Navigation Co Ltd