Ben Line Steamers Ltd.



Ben Line Steamers Ltd. has been associated with Singapore since the 1860s. Its ships, bearing names prefixed by “Ben”, used to ply the Europe–Far East route, calling at Singapore and other ports in the region.1 However, an inability to compete with larger carriers ultimately led to Ben Line selling off its shipping operations to concentrate on the shipping agency business.

History
While the Edinburgh-based Ben Line Steamers Ltd. was set up in 1919, the shipping line originated from a partnership formed in 1825 between brothers Alexander and William Thomson. The establishment was renamed Wm. Thomson & Co. in 1847, after Alexander left to pursue a merchant business.2


Wm. Thomson & Co. made its first visit to Singapore in 1859 when its ship, the Araby Maid, was on its maiden voyage to the Far East. The vessel called at Singapore to unload and load cargo before proceeding to China and Japan.3

In the 1950s, Ben Line started to establish offices in the region to manage and develop its liner services between Europe and the Far East.4 On 1 August 1955, a Ben Line office was established in Singapore.5 Offices were subsequently opened in Malaya, Hong Kong and Thailand in the late 1950s.6

Ben Line Containers Ltd. was formed in the early 1970s, marking Ben Line’s entry into the container shipping business.7 In 1987, Ben Line Agencies was established to complement Ben Line’s core container shipping business with an agency business, which later became a key contributor to the group’s operations.8

In 1990, Ben Line started the process of developing a cooperative arrangement on Europe–Far East trade with the East Asiatic Company of Copenhagen. The resulting joint venture was named EacBen Container Line.9 In 1992, however, Ben Line sold its shipping operations to East Asiatic Company, citing its inability to compete with larger carriers, thus ending more than 150 years of ship ownership.10 Today, Ben Line is focused on the shipping agency business through Ben Line Agencies.11

Nature of business
Ben Line’s main interests began to shift towards the Far East starting from the 1860s.12 Following the Araby Maid’s voyage in 1859, other Ben Line ships began to ply a similar route in the 1860s, carrying a general cargo from Britain to the Far East, and returning with cargoes of tea and other items purchased in China, Japan or other ports along the way. By the 1880s, Ben Line ships were travelling a predetermined route from Britain to Singapore or Hong Kong, whereupon they roamed between different ports of call. The ships picked up cargo and traded between the places until they had enough to justify a return voyage. This practice continued into the years up to World War II.13

After World War II, Ben Line was able to take advantage of its experience with shipping items such as steel, concrete, locomotives, bulldozers and munitions. These items were called for as the British re-established themselves in the Middle East and the Far East. From Singapore, Ben Line ships continued to transport cargo such as timber, sago, flour, pepper and spices, alongside rubber, which was in great demand in Britain, and manufactured products from Hong Kong.14 In the early 1950s, the company started a coastal service between Singapore and Bangkok to transport rice, jute and sometimes elephants.15 In the late 1950s, a fast direct service was introduced between London and Singapore.16

Container shipping gained prominence in Singapore in the early 1970s, and Ben Line’s first container ship, City of Edinburgh, arrived in August 1972.17 While Ben Line’s Singapore office had become the hub of its operations in Southeast Asia by the late 1970s, the company’s operations in the Far East were overseen by its Hong Kong office.18

In the late 1980s, Ben Line entered the shipping agency business, which has since become its main activity, after it ended its shipping operations in 1992.19



Authors

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia & Chan Fook Weng



References
1. Blake, G. (1956). The Ben Line: The history of Wm. Thomson & Co. of Leith and Edinburgh, and of the ships owned and managed by them, 1825–1955. London; New York: T. Nelson, pp. 40–41, 52. (Call no.: RCLOS 387.5 BLA); Morais, A. (1972, June 23). Linking S-E Asia with Japan and Europe. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Blake, G. (1956). The Ben Line: The history of Wm. Thomson & Co. of Leith and Edinburgh, and of the ships owned and managed by them, 1825–1955. London; New York: T. Nelson, pp. 6, 11, 14, 111. (Call no.: RCLOS 387.5 BLA)
3. Blake, G. (1956). The Ben Line: The history of Wm. Thomson & Co. of Leith and Edinburgh, and of the ships owned and managed by them, 1825–1955. London; New York: T. Nelson, p. 35. (Call no.: RCLOS 387.5 BLA); Singapore International Chamber of Commerce. (1979). From early days. Singapore: The Chamber, p. 173. (Call no.: RSING 380.10655957 SIN)
4. Ben Line Agencies. (2000). About us. Retrieved 2016, December 28 from Internet Archive website: http://web.archive.org/web/20070607224541/http://www.benlineagencies.com/aboutus.asp
5. Singapore International Chamber of Commerce. (1979). From early days. Singapore: The Chamber, p. 173. (Call no.: RSING 380.10655957 SIN)
6. Ben Line. (1958, January 23). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Ben Line Containers, (1977, May 17). The Business Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Ben Line Agencies. (2000). About us. Retrieved 2016, December 28 from Internet Archive website: http://web.archive.org/web/20070607224541/http://www.benlineagencies.com/aboutus.asp
9. Ben Line Agencies appointed EAC-Ben’s S’pore agent. (1991, August 13). The Business Times, p. 29; Lee, D. (1990, November 2). Ben Line to join Scan Dutch consortium next year. The Business Times, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Divyanathan, R. (1992, July 10). Ben Line sells EacBen container stake. The Business Times, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Until it sold its ships Ben Line achieved more than a century and half of ownership. (2000, June 30). Lloyd’s List International. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
11. Ben Line Agencies. (2000). About us. Retrieved 2016, December 28 from Internet Archive website: http://web.archive.org/web/20070607224541/http://www.benlineagencies.com/aboutus.asp; Divyanathan, R. (1992, July 10). Ben Line sells EacBen container stake. The Business Times, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Blake, G. (1956). The Ben Line: The history of Wm. Thomson & Co. of Leith and Edinburgh, and of the ships owned and managed by them, 1825–1955. London; New York: T. Nelson, pp. 36, 45. (Call no.: RCLOS 387.5 BLA)
13. Blake, G. (1956). The Ben Line: The history of Wm. Thomson & Co. of Leith and Edinburgh, and of the ships owned and managed by them, 1825–1955. London; New York: T. Nelson, pp. 40–41, 72, 76–77. (Call no.: RCLOS 387.5 BLA)
14. Blake, G. (1956). The Ben Line: The history of Wm. Thomson & Co. of Leith and Edinburgh, and of the ships owned and managed by them, 1825–1955. London; New York: T. Nelson, pp. 170, 174–175. (Call no.: RCLOS 387.5 BLA)
15. Blake, G. (1956). The Ben Line: The history of Wm. Thomson & Co. of Leith and Edinburgh, and of the ships owned and managed by them, 1825–1955. London; New York: T. Nelson, p. 178. (Call no.: RCLOS 387.5 BLA); [Page 11 advertisements column 2]. (1950, March 17). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore International Chamber of Commerce. (1979). From early days. Singapore: The Chamber, p. 176. (Call no.: RSING 380.10655957 SIN)
16. Blake, G. (1956). The Ben Line: The history of Wm. Thomson & Co. of Leith and Edinburgh, and of the ships owned and managed by them, 1825–1955. London; New York: T. Nelson, p. 35. (Call no.: RCLOS 387.5 BLA)
17. Until it sold its ships Ben Line achieved more than a century and half of ownership. (2000, June 30). Lloyd’s List International. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
18. Singapore International Chamber of Commerce. (1979). From early days. Singapore: The Chamber, p. 176. (Call no.: RSING 380.10655957 SIN)
19. Ben Line Agencies. (2000). About us. Retrieved 2016, December 28 from Internet Archive website: http://web.archive.org/web/20070607224541/http://www.benlineagencies.com/aboutus.asp; Divyanathan, R. (1992, July 10). Ben Line sells EacBen container stake. The Business Times, p. 29. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2007 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Commerce and Industry>>Transportation
Shipping companies (Marine transportation)--Singapore
Ben Line Steamers Ltd.
Transportation
Law and government>>Safety administration>>Marine transportation