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Cairn Line of Steamships Limited

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0064 CRN
Held at: National Maritime Museum
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Full title: Cairn Line of Steamships Limited
Date(s): 1891-1975
Level of description: Collection

Name of creator(s): Cairn Line Of Steamships Limited


Administrative/Biographical history:

Thomas Cairns was born in Sunderland in 1854. In 1876, while employed a as a clerk with the Newcastle firm of Davidson and Charlton he was offered a partnership by Captain B B Starks who had just commenced business as a shipbroker and merchant. The new firm was styled Starks and Cairns. On the retirement of Captain Starks in 1883 Cairns formed a new partnership with his brother-in-law, William Joseph Noble, and Lindsay Young as Cairns, Young and Noble. Their first ship, the CAIRNGOWAN 1, was launched in June 1883.

In 1891 the Cairnglen Steamship Company was formed as the owner of the first vessel of that name. The formation of further single ship companies followed. In 1892 the Cairn Line of Steam ships was founded with Cairns, Young and Noble as the management company and these single ship companies were gradually merged with the Cairn Line, along with the Gaelic Steamship Company Limited, another associated company. By 1911 this process was complete.

With the retirement of Lindsay Young in 1903 the management company had become known as Cairn, Noble and Company. Thomas Cairns died in 1908. In that same year the company purchased the Thomson line of Dundee, a cargo concern specialising in services to Canada. Thomson entered the passenger trade in 1909 with two vessels, the CAIRNRONA and the TORTONA on the Newcastle-London-Canada route. A licence was acquired from the Italian Government for the conveyance of emigrants from Italy to Canada. In March 1911 as the third vessel intended for service, the GERONA, was nearing completion the goodwill of the passenger services and all there vessels were sold to the Cunard Steamship Company.

The company suffered heavy losses during the 1914-18 war- eight vessels were lost to enemy action. William Black Noble, son of William Joseph Noble, died on service in France.

In the post war period, William Joseph Noble and Russell Cairns, son of the founder continued as directors of Cairns, Noble and Company and the Cairn Line. Noble was created a baronet in recognition of his services to shipping. He retired in 1928 when Furness Withy and Company acquired the management company. The Cairn Line retained its separate identity and services.

The fleet numbered five at the outbreak of war in 1939. Of these vessels, only two the CAIRNESK III and the CAIRNVALONA, remained in 1945. Additions to this number in the following years were the CAIRNAVON IV, the CAIRNGOWAN IV and the CAIRNDHU IV.

In February 1967 agreement was a reached with Furness Withy and Company for the purchase of ordinary stock units of the Cairn Line not already beneficially owned by them. These amounted to approximately 85% of the total. The company thus became a wholly owned subsidiary of Furness Withy and Company.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Cairn Line Of Steamships Limited including minutes and related records of the Cairn Line and associated companies from 1891; annual reports and balance sheets, 1893-1971, copies of annual returns, 1909-1972; registers of shareholders, 1892-1964; records of ships' movements, 1908-51; officers' records of service, c 1939-69; and papers relating to the offer made in 1967 by Furness Withy and Co Ltd for Cairn Line stock. There are also some papers of the "K" Steamship Co Ltd, including balance sheets and profit and loss accounts, 1920-75.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:

Please allow 4 working days to process your order for viewing (see website for full details).

Conditions governing reproduction:

Please contact the Archive for further information.

Finding aids:

Detailed catalogue online at the: National Maritime Museum website .

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

The bulk of the records were presented by Furness Withy (Shipping) Ltd in 1983. A small number of items had previously been presented as specimens in 1970.

Allied Materials

Related material:

See also Furness Withy main collection (FWS)

Publication note:

Description Notes

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:

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