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Prince Line was founded by James Knott who was born on 31st January 1855, the eldest son of Matthew Knott, a grocer of Heddon on the north bank on the River Tyne. Matthew Knott owned a corner shop where he manufactured his own brand of biscuit and other relatives included a chemist and a rope manufacturer. By the end of 1855 Matthew Knott had expanded into beer, wine and spirits retailing and had moved to North Shields. When James was ready to leave school at the age of 14 his father's business was moderately successful and James could have taken an easy path and joined the family firm. However, having become a regular worshipper and helper at the Howard Street Wesleyan Church, the puritanism of the chapel probably influenced James's choice of career.
Consequently, in 1869, he found a job as an office boy with a shipping company on Newcastle Quayside and six years later, at the age of 20, started his own business as a shipbroker and merchant. He quickly came to the conclusion that shipowning provided more opportunities than broking and in 1878 he purchased his first ship, the Scarborough registered collier brig Pearl, for £186. At the same time he began to manage other sailing ships which were owned by shareholders on the 64ths principle. In the same year James married Margaret Annie, the daughter of the Reverend Thomas Garbutt, who was destined to bear him three sons, Thomas, James and Henry.

James was quick to see the advantages of steam and in March 1881 his fist steam ship, the Saxon Prince, was launched at C.S. Swan & Hunter's yard at Wallsend and during the following two years eight additional vessels joined his fleet. On 11th July 1884 James formed the Prince Steam Shipping Company to manage some of his ships even though the shipping industry was at the time in a depressed state. The Highland Prince, which had been built by Short brothers at Sunderland in 1883, was the first ship registered under the new company. The company, in which James was the principal shareholder, had a nominal capital of £250,000 of which only £52,060 was initially paid up. The Prince of Wales feathers were adopted as the company crest.

James Knott (1855-1934)

During the following two years six more six new ships joined the fleet and a close relationship developed between James Knott and the Short Brothers at Sunderland, a relationship which provided financial stability for the shipyard. When John Young Short took control of the yard upon the death of his father George in 1870 he was keen on ship design development and advocated the construction of cargo vessels with greater beams to improve stability. This new trend won the company awards for ship design and established the shipyard as a builder of quality ships.
In 1886 James Knott sold his remaining sailing ships to W. Milburn of South Shields and by 1888 his fleet of steam ships consisted of twenty one vessels. The company was, by now, reasonably well established and James called upon his shareholders to contribute further paid up capital to finance the building of four additional ships, each of around 3,200 tons. One of the new buildings, the Asiatic Prince, had the distinction of being one of the first ships to enter the new port at Buenos Aires in 1889.

Still very aware of new opportunities within the shipping industry James Knott ordered a bulk 4,380 dwt bulk oil-tanker from the yard of Armstrong, Mitchell & Co. Ltd at Tyne only three years after the first purpose built oil-tanker, the Gluckauf, entered service in 1886. Named Russian Prince she was quickly joined by the Circassian Prince and the Oranje Prince, the former being the first bulk oil-tanker built by C.S. Swan & Hunter. The ships were deployed on the company's routes which, by now extended from North to South America, the UK to the Continent and South America and a service from the Mediterranean to West Indies and Gulf ports.

In building a major shipping company James Knott was a hard task master. All his ships carried the notice 'All accidents are the result of carelessness' pasted on the forepart of the bridge and the wise master took every precaution to avoid a confrontation with the owner. In addition to building a shipping empire James Knott also studied law and was called to the Bar in 1889 but had to abandon his legal practice after only four years to concentrate on his marine business. In 1906 he unsuccessfully contested the Parliamentary seat at Tyneside but in 1910 was elected to the House of Commons as the Conservative member for Sunderland. Since most of his ships were built in Sunderland this may have contributed to his election and certainly to the Presidency of the Institute of Marine Engineers in 1907. James Knott was a man of many talents, shipowner, barrister, Member of Parliament, farmer, colliery owner, churchman, sportsman, deep sea fisherman, yachtsman, philanthropist, student and gardener, attributes which were recognised when he became a Knight of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.


By 1890 the fleet consisted of 29 steam ships and three years later the size had increased to 47 ships with new ships arriving at regular intervals. Up until 1896 most of the ships had clipper bows and were affectionately referred to as 'Jimmy Knott's yachts'.
The company commenced a regular service to the Mediterranean in 1894 just prior to the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal. This came about primarily because Moss Line, who had a virtual monopoly of the Egyptian cotton trade, refused to use the canal in line with other Liverpool shipowners who had opposed the maritime link to Manchester. James Knott, who up until the canal's opening used Saltport for a service to Tunis, Malta, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Greece and Cyprus, accepted an invitation to use the canal and was represented at the Opening Ceremony on 1st January 1884 by the Belgian Prince which had recently arrived from Alexandria with a cargo of raw cotton.

Prince Line (1895) Ltd was incorporated on the 28th February 1895 with fourteen ships so as to make the company more attractive to shippers using the regular liner trades to the River Plate, West Indies, Levant, Greece, Egypt and Syria. The company, whose registered office was at the Prudential Assurance Buildings in Dean Street, Newcastle was formed with a nominal capital of £500,000 divided into 50,000 shares of £10 each. The first six directors were C.H. Scott, J. Donald, W.R. Kay, J.D. Harrison, J.Unwin with James Knott as Managing Director. G.H. Elder was the company's first managing clerk. James Knott, however, had the powers of the full Board and permanency of office as long as his shareholding remained above 100, he remained solvent and healthy and did not undertake any action which was deemed to be wilful misconduct. He had full power to make all seagoing and shore based managerial appointments and to effect all contracts relating to insurances, charters, repairs etc. James's remuneration was based on gross registered tonnage and a percentage of the voyage profits.

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